Aug 13, 2010

Hellstrom's Hive, by Frank Herbert

Herbert has certainly achieved one of the goals of science fiction in this award-winning book: the reader's profound discomfort. In this book, we are faced with a society whose participants look exactly like us, but act completely differently, and we cannot help but be repelled by such utter differences as we are faced with when reading about the Hive.

Hellstrom is the leader of this society, a descendant of the elders who began it. The Hive is, rather obviously, the attempt of a group of humans to ensure human survival by mimicking insect behavior and chemistry. Hive workers are fed chemicals to increase their productivity and decrease individuality. All protein matter (including dead Hive members and intrusive Outsiders) goes into the vats, to become recycled as the Hive's food source. Yum.

The action in the book results from a government (?) Agency's growing interest in Hellstrom's farm and movie production business, which it feels is a front for something a little more nefarious. Obviously, their worst fears do not even come close to the reality. Part of what makes the reader so uncomfortable about the Hive is its seeming disregard for life. They have no qualms about killing a person, because that person then helps provide the life force for the entire Hive by being put into the vats. In this way, they actually show quite a bit of respect for human life; it is that which keeps them alive. Hence the reader's uncertainty: we can understand their view of life, but cannot comprehend it. They are similar enough to be recognizably human, but too different to feel real affinity with them. This is what good science fiction is made of.

That said, I was not overly fond of the writing style. I haven't yet read Dune (a personal failing, to be sure), so I am unaware of whether this book's style differs at all from Dune's, though I would be quite interested to find out. Dune is an entirely different world, whereas Hellstrom's Hive works within the parameters of our own universe.

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