Saturday, February 25, 2006


Sweet Dreams of Killer Crabs...
I’ve been re-reading David Attenborough’s Life On Earth (Little, Brown & Co., Boston/Toronto, 1979). Right at the place where he switches over from the water to the land, on page 130, he makes this rather ominous statement:

"Three-quarters of the world’s surface is covered by water. Three-quarters of the world belongs to the fish."


What boggles my mind is the way he can make crystal clear the process by which water creatures came to live on land, but then blithely continue to treat land life as something other than altered aquatic life. I shudder in sympathy when I think of that first moment when some creature, somewhere realized that she had reached a point of no return and had to stay dry forever. But I refuse to back down on this point: We’re all on the same continuum, and we’re all made of the same protoplasm. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to convert the landscum back to our way of life, and Soylent Green would be a true story.

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON The Origin Of The Crabs

Guy N. Smith, New English Library, London, 1979

Where do I begin on this stunning series of killer-crab books? Well, with the first volume, I guess, and this is it. (I think. Smith makes it hard to tell.) There are SO MANY THINGS TO LIKE about it. The characters are wooden; the writing is slow, choppy and melodramatic; the plot starts in the middle of nowhere, and from there seems to go deeper and deeper into nothingness. And a lot of people die violently. In short, it is classic pulp horror of the finest type. I really had to force my way through it except at the places where the BIG KILLER CRAB SCENES made me fall out of my chair laughing. I know you’ll like them as much as I did.

The book reminds me a lot of the darn-near-immortal Roger Corman film, Attack Of The Crab Monsters. Both storylines go pretty much like this: there were these nuclear tests, see, and these crabs got really big and ate some people. The end. The movie has all of those fine Corman touches – the scientists trying to outwit the creatures and solve the mystery of their appearance on the island, crab chases in underground caves, manly attempts to protect the pretty ichthyologist from the menace, etc. etc. Smith, however, doesn’t bother with such niceties in his killer crab books. There are no scientists out there with their test tubes and Geiger counters working on the problem. In fact, almost nobody in The Origin Of The Crabs knows the problem exists.

A probably-unique feature of this crab epic is that it starts in a Scottish peat bog. There is a whisper of doubt in my mind that even the most determined and adaptable ocean crabs could or would really venture into Scotland’s peaty interior. Smith doesn’t address this question, or any others you may have. In the best tradition of Fifties pulp horror and B-pictures, he just hints around that radiation is the cause…AND HE LEAVES IT AT THAT. Now – and I feel it’s important to ask this -- if you were looking for a Giant Crab Menace, isn’t a Scottish peat bog about the last place you’d try? Maybe the crabs thought of that, too. I wouldn’t put it past them.

In fact, these are some amazingly devious crustaceans. I, for one, couldn’t bash in the front entryway of a Scottish castle, eat everyone inside, and stroll away again without leaving a few telltale traces of my presence. Apparently there isn’t so much as a trail of bloody crab prints on the flagstones to show which way they went. What did they do, take showers before they left the scene? Even if they did, can’t these coppers afford a spray bottle of Luminol? Or a tracking dog? It all suggests that the crabs are smarter than the humans hunting for them.

You ladies all know your undersea sociology, I HOPE. Seems to me there is no crab of any size with a thought in her head of using a battering-ram technique to reach live food on the other side of a solid obstacle. Any crab worth her salt would climb up the outside walls, peel back the roof, then just walk downstairs. All I can think is that this is another technique the killer crabs use to throw investigators off the scent. I sure wouldn’t look at a scene of destruction like that and ask, "I wonder if crabs did all this?"

There are also some small gaps in the author’s grasp of basic physical laws. In our first encounter with the menace, a crab the size of a cat breaks a wooden pole used as the handle of a fish gaff...just by sitting on it. Sorry, Guy, crabs are just not that heavy for their size. Maybe the wood was rotten? Some of you have exoskeletons yourselves by now. Can you bash through stone walls without sustaining some injury to the carapace? Some of the crabs had big piles of debris fall on them in the course of the trashing-the-castle scene. You all know that when excited or injured, CRABS DROP LIMBS. Surely a discarded crab leg THE SIZE OF A WHALING HARPOON would excite some notice during the police investigation. Or maybe I’m wrong. You tell me. Of course, these crabs are such slyboots that they probably retrieved all their limbs and carried them off to elude detection.

Of course, most crabs don’t hunt live prey, period. They’re scavengers who don’t move fast enough to catch anything that isn’t already…um…"undergoing postmortem changes." Let us keep close the Crustacean Dining Doctrine: THE DEADER, THE BETTER. These crabs are working the piranhas’ side of the street, ganging up on a screaming live victim and reducing it to bloody ribbons in seconds. I’m not sure a screaming live victim would even taste right to a crab. And again, why would they tramp upstream to the interior of a peat bog, come ashore, and hike cross-country to prey on living animals of any kind?

The military-style organization of these crabs seems fairly unlikely to me. I’m no scientist, just a humble chapter leader in a global conspiracy against the human race, but forming a hunting party or putting together a demolitions operation seems beyond the powers of even the most heavily-irradiated crabs. At least the ones in my underwater lair NEVER EVEN DISCUSS IT.

You’ve been pinched by a crab a time or two, right? So have I. So you all know that crabs have blunt claws built for prying and pulling at things. What’s with these razor-sharp pincers that can dismantle a car and clip off a man’s limbs too fast for him to scream? WHERE CAN I GET SOME CLAWS LIKE THAT?

On the other hand, you’ve never been bitten by a crab, have you? Neither have I. THEY DON’T HAVE TEETH. What’s with the gnashing razor-sharp teeth on these crabs, huh? Huh? And have you ever taken a good look at a crab’s face? Different species have different fixed "expressions" built into their faceplates, but in the eyes you never see anything but the cheerful curiosity that makes us all love them as friends, relatives, household companions, and key players in our worldwide takeover scheme. The specimens in this story must be pretty funky-looking, to say the least. Smith has these crabs glaring, scowling, sneering, leering and fearing. Their eyes glow red! With hate! THAT I GOTTA SEE!

Here’s the same complaint you’ll hear me make about all these nature-run-amok stories. The crabs start by clearing the peat bog of all the waterfowl and such, then turn to domestic animals, but naturally, as soon as they’ve tasted human blood, they want nothing else for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You ask anyone who’s tried it. We’ll –- they’ll all tell you the same thing. Humans do not taste good. They are emergency rations to us, like muskrats are to humans. WHO COMES UP WITH THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?

Now, let us turn to the prey in this unlikely tale. Frankly, these people deserve to be eaten even more than the cardboard-cutout people in Meg. Here’s the cast of characters:

Early on we meet the harsh, crusty, ruthless, hard-hearted, money-grubbing, ambitious laird o’ the bog. Trust me, you won’t be sorry to see him go. Personally, I thought his demise could have been much nastier, or at least more lovingly described to give us a better sense of the horror. Sort of an anticlimax.

The female lead is a trip: a callous, seductive, coldly practical, sex-addicted gal who meets the fearless crab hunter on the trail of the menace, and at that moment transforms horribly into a demented love kitten whose only desire is to follow him into the chelicerae of doom. She cheerfully goes crab-hunting with him in the dark, unarmed, and doesn’t mind a bit when they are suddenly surrounded by giant arthropods intent on eating them. She feels, and I’m quoting the author here, "euphoria." Why? They’re about to die and go to heaven…together. Cue the violins. Cue the crabs. Yikes.

The male lead is the only man smart enough to solve the crab mystery, but dumb enough to forget to call in any professional assistance, even when he realizes what he’s up against. He knows perfectly well what’s happening to people in the bog, so he heads out there at night, when he knows the giant crabs are active, and he takes along his pregnant girlfriend, with not so much as a sharp stick to defend them. They get killed. DUH!

We also meet some amazingly casual police. Two well-heeled hunters disappear while duck-shooting in the bog, but when the police don’t find anything, they just sort of shrug and leave. There also isn’t any undue talk or investigation when a car is torn apart in the middle of a road near the bog and its driver carried off in small pieces. Not even the car-rental company raises a squeal about it.

We get to witness the antics of some amazingly dumb people who hear about the disappearances around Cranlarich Bog and, thinking hard, decide it means that the Loch Ness Monster has somehow moved to another lake. They set up Nessie spotting stations and so forth, and pretty soon every idiot in the country is in attendance. OK, where do I start? Can you think of a time when the Loch Ness Monster has even been clearly sighted in living memory? Can you imagine a Plesiosaurus humping across I-don’t-know-how-many miles of open ground to get to another lake? With NO WITNESSES? Why would she move after all this time, and then – another first -- go on a killing spree when she got there? Can you list the people who have been eaten by Nessie? Am I the only one who has a problem with this? What really makes me smile is that it would probably happen just like this in real life. You know what humans are like. We COULD send out operatives on a cross-country hike in poerfect safety, for this reason. I'm going to think about that for the future...

I, for one, would welcome a chance to see this story on film, by a director willing to play up the angle that THE CRABS ARE SMARTER THAN THE HUMANS, outwitting the police and the public easily, immune to poisons and dynamite, eating anyone they hanker for without paying a price. I also want to see someone design a special-effects crab with gnashing teeth and a face blazing with hate. Is anyone working on this worthy project? Is Ray Harryhausen free this week?

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Blogger The Hideous North said...

Your rant on Guy N. Smith "Killer Crab" series had me rolling with laughter. I have all 6 books in this series and have read them all again and again. Why - they're damned amusing!

On a side note, did you know that the author, Guy N. Smith, while probably enormously wealthy on the profits he raked in from these flawless novels, is also the 2003 British Pipe Smoking Champion? Yeah. No kidding. British Pipe Smoking Champion! Does this man have a penchant for the unusual or what? How do you make a sport of pipe smoking?

Probably much the same way you write a series of 100-some page novels about incredibly cunning crabs with human expressions and instincts, up against incredibly ignorant people with... well, with crablike instincts, I guess.

Anyway, funny post!


6:11 PM  

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