Really, really, really, really gruesome and Shirleyesque.
Shirley is a philosophe/fantaste of the Grand Guignol school who reinvents hell in work after work, seemingly for a fanbase of the kind of kid who loves slasher movies—films that come nowhere near the grue that Shirley can squeeze from flesh (The View from Hell, 2001, we called “worst novel of the year,” and 2002’s Demons we called “masterful, amusing, and sent from Mars”). Crawlers is the musings of a technocrank, and we open at the government’s three-walls-thick secret nanotechnology lab, where molecular machines have gone berserk and let cells loose that dismember humans and use human arms and legs and heads and torsos to crawl about independently of each other and perform further dismemberments. Three years later, a US satellite module crashes into a lake near Quiebra, California (Quiebra, we are told, means “queer-bait”). Two teenagers, Waylon Kulick and Adair Leverton, observe the crash. Adair’s brother Cal alerts their father, who runs Leverton Salvage, and he goes down to salvage the sunken module. It has a crack, and when Dad sticks his fingers into the crack, there’s an answering touch and tingle. Then the module is hauled aloft as the reader squirms: Don’t open it! Soon, naked crawlers show up in a cemetery—bodies that have metal extensions seemingly to help them crawl out of their graves and join in groupthink mental transference. Pets start dying, killed violently. Squirrels have long metal tongues, blue jays metal feet, and they don’t run or fly, they roll. People start turning into weird machines with huge mouths, turning other people into weird machines. Sure, it’s California—but this could get outta hand. What if it goes online, like a virus, or zaps you from your telephone—or even from the television! Omigod, these long silver strands leap into your mouth and turn you. Horrible!
Robotic nanocells!! Taking over!! Definitely bad news.