Spider Riders is a three-book series published by Newmarket Press. Conceived and fleshed out by Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron-Anasti. The husband and wife team wrote and produced over 500 episodes in various Walt Disney series. Their work includes Duck Tales, Beetlejuice, and The Little Mermaid.
They wrote the first novel in the series, Spider Riders: Shards of the Oracle. Stephen D. Sullivan – author of several novels in the Dragonlance line of novels put out by Wizards of the Coast as well as other novels based on Legend of Five Rings, and junior novels based on movies about the Fantastic Four, Elektra, and Iron Man – helps with the writing chores on the last two novels: Spider Riders: Quest of the Earthen and Reign of the Soul Eater.
The books were created to launch an animated series for syndication. So far 52 episodes have been made, though there were several changes from the books. More changes were made when the series went from the United States to Japanese syndication.
The novels center around a teenager (in the novels, though he’s only 11 years old in the animated series) named Hunter Steele who accidentally falls into a tunnel that drops him into Arachnia. Spider Riders: Shards of the Oracle tells the story of Hunter’s advent into this mysterious subterranean world. Once there, he finds the world menaced by the Insectors, who look pretty much like giant preying mantises – at least, they did when I imagined them.
The Turandot, the human people who capture him, don’t know what to do with him. There are prophecies about the Earthen (which is what they call people from the surface world), but they don’t know if Hunter will help them or hurt them. He gets them to train him to become a Spider Rider, and he has to seek out and tame a ten-foot battle spider named Shadow.
This kind of story, and even this kind of writing, was better regulated to the pulp days of the 1930s and 1940s. Edgar Rice Burroughs made serious bank on stories that weren’t that much different than the story laid out here. In fact, if you take the John Carter of Mars series, Carson Napier of Venus, or David Innes of Pellucidar and match them up plot point for plot point, you’d probably be surprised at how close they are.
Hunter quickly becomes the best and most powerful Spider Rider that’s ever gone into battle. Unfortunately, the Oracle – a statue that becomes animated at key, read: convenient, times – has lost eight pieces of its crown. The first thing the Turandot have to do is get them back. Hunter quickly becomes part of that effort.
The book is chockfull of action, but that gets to be a distraction as well. Obviously the authors were trying to make sure the audience (primarily film people) got the concept of zipping into battle on armored spiders with cool martial arts weapons. However, Hunter has arachnophobia, one of the big things about his character, that gets largely ignored when it’s no longer convenient.
The book is a fast read and the younger audience should enjoy it.
In Spider Riders: Quest of the Earthen, Hunter is celebrating his victory. Three of the shards have been returned to the Oracle, but five of them remain in enemy hands.
The focus shifts to Mantid’s buddies in this one. Mantid is the leader of the Insectors. Fungus Brain has immense mental powers and Aqune has invented huge Mecha-Spiders that can potentially destroy the real battle spiders of the Turandot.
After several skirmishes and a few victories, Hunter knows that everything is on the line and that he needs to stop the production of the Mecha-Spiders. In order to do that, he has to penetrate the Insectors’ city. Death Star, anyone? And that particular plot convention was old even before George Lucas dusted it off to present one more time. Most of the old pulp heroes had to walk into the enemy’s lair at one time or another to save the day. Even today’s audience isn’t going to be surprised when Hunter and Shadow manage to succeed even against outrageous odds.
Spider Riders: Reign of the Soul Eater introduces the menace of Sklar, a fifty-foot tall skeleton with mind control powers. Okay, I admit that skeletons are kind of creepy looking to begin with, but part of me wants to know how they move without ligaments and muscles. But I digress.
Overall, the series is an easy and fun read for juveniles and teens who want a touch of SF balled up in their anime adventures. Unfortunately, there’s not more here than that. Readers who want deep character development or world-building miss out to a degree. The book series did spawn the television show, and it produced 52 episodes that were aired in the United States and Japan, but it failed to catch on as well as everyone had hoped. Still, there are fans out there waiting for the DVD set.