EMPIRE OF THE ANTS
by Bernard Werber
(translated by Margaret Rocques)
Bantam, ISBN 0-553-09613-3, 1998 (1991), 256pp, US$23.95
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1998 Evelyn C. Leeper
Almost everyone who describes this says it's like WATERSHIP DOWN, except with ants instead of rabbits. Yes, it starts out that way (though with far more central and developed human characters as well), but it goes somewhere that WATERSHIP DOWN doesn't.
In the near future, Jonathan Edwards inherits his uncle's apartment, with the instruction, "Above all, never go down into the cellar." It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or even an entomologist) to figure out that going down into the basement is precisely what the human characters will do.
The book's strength is in its depiction of an alien lifeform: ants. One can argue that Werber's ants have more consciousness and intelligence that is possible given their brain mass, but then the same could be said of the rabbits in WATERSHIP DOWN. If one is willing to suspend disbelief, the mental processes and motivations of the various ants--and there are several different varieties--are fascinating. Werber apparently spent years researching ants, and it has paid off in his description of ant life. He has the external appearance (actions, etc.) of the ant colonies down pat. His extrapolation of the motivations is, as I have said, unlikely, but as a theory they have the advantage of fitting and explaining all the facts.
The human characters are not as interesting or believable. Like the characters in so many horror movies, they are all attracted by the forbidden cellar, and head down there, with very few precautions or even (apparently) concerns.
This was a best-seller in Europe, and while it almost definitely won't achieve that status here, it is worth reading if you are interested in reading works from an alien point of view.
%T Empire of the Ants [Les Fourmis] %A Bernard Werber %C New York %D 1991 %I Bantam %O hardback, US$23.95  %G ISBN 0-553-09613-3 %P 256pp
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