Monday, June 02, 2014

Hellstrom's Hive

Hellstrom's public persona is an insect afficionado that spends most of his time making nature documentaries from his isolated compound in a remote corner of Oregon. The locals pretty much ignore him and let him go about doing what he does. However, the happenings inside this compound are much more complex than first meets the eye. He is part of a community of humans acculturated to an insect-like behavior. Through a number of biochemicals, people are brought into the fold and their behavior is controlled. Breeding is carefully carried out to maximize the most desirable traits. (Breeding with outsiders is also encouraged in order to bring in valuable mutations.) The compound is built primarily underground, with a number of tunnels and elevators leading to different areas, including one area carrying out research in advanced weaponry. Even dead bodies are sent to the vats to become the next meal. Resources are very efficiently used. Anybody that stumbles into the area is often exterminated (and thrown to the vats.)

Into this setting, we have some agents of a super-secret government agency. They managed to uncover portions of the plans for the weapon that were accidentally left on the desk of an MIT library. The first agent was put to the vats, so a new crew was sent out. This crew didn't make it, so another crew came out. A large team ended up descending on the compound, though not many survived. (Hellstrom's compound also had a number of security measures, including radio blockers as well as audio listening and communication equipment.)

The novel ends as Hellstrom's group sets off a major explosion in Asia and the government workers invasion fails. During the story, we find ourselves sympathizing with Hellstrom, in spite of the community that seems to go against the core beliefs of western society.

What could become of this society? Would it eventually encompass all of humanity? We see that the insect-like humans still maintain some of their free-thinking. They occasionally violate hive orders (though is that for the betterment of the hive itself.) They also allow an agent to escape the hive, due to a limited chemical treatment. (He was weaned off the control chemical, but maintained the "member" chemical. Thus, the drones ignored him, even as he retained the ability to act on his own.

The society reminded me a little of the Formics in Orson Scott Card's Ender books. (However, in this case, they are true humans rather than an alien species.)

The book also provides some criticism of the politics of both the left and the right. Being in the early 70s, Hippies and Vietnam would have been on people's minds. The Hive is the hippie commune taken to extreme: everyone is totally free to do what they want - as long as they do it the hive way. The secret government agency is plagued by infighting and internal conflict and ends up seeking its personal goals, rather than what is best for the country.

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