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... a glorious mix of actio and intruige ... a book that will leave you both thinking and talking about it for a long time after you've finished. Nine and a Half out of Ten GRAEME'S FANTASY BOOK REVIEW a pretty unique piece of fiction, powerful and reflective... 5/5 SFBOOK.COM
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Frank Herbert (1920-86) was born in Tacoma, Washington and worked as a reporter and later editor of a number of West Coast newspapers before becoming a full-time writer. His first sf story was published in 1952 but he achieved fame more than ten years later with the publication in Analog of Dune World and The Prophet of Dune that were amalgamated in the novel Dune in 1965.
In this book we see Frank Herbert from his best side. A conflict between two societies - the Outside, which is our society, and the Hive, a human termite hill of gigantic proportions. Herbert lets you see the inside view from both sides in this fundamental battle over human nature, and he presents it so without prejudice that you can truly wonder which society Frank Herbert himself would have preferred. The human characterizations are wonderful: Herbert lets his characters live through all 5 senses in such a way that you will feel immersed in the universe of this book. You will smell fear, sexual excitement and hopeful wafts of fresh air. He also hits it right with his characters observational abilities in this book, and makes the reader wish to keep his own observations equally keen. The plot is rich, and the tension escalates all the way through the book. Who will survive? Who will escape? Who will be caught out? A surprise ending has you feel the book end with a spasm of tension rather than the release you would have expected.
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I love science fiction that proposes "what if..." and takes that "what if" to a logical conclusion. In "Hellstrom's Hive", Herbert asks "what if humans were genetically engineered to be an insect-colony organism?" This book, written long before genetic manipulation and cloning was a reality, is scarier than ever. The insect-humans in this novel are cunning yet totally without the human reactions we would consider "normal." This makes for some very disgusting scenes in "Hellstrom's Hive" and is possibly why this book has not yet been re-released along with the other Herbert novels that were out of print. But if you can get past some of the more chilling aspects of "Hellstrom's Hive" you are in for a real thriller. No one can write about smells, sights, tastes, and all aspects of the senses, combined with exciting action better than Frank Herbert. This book will stay with you. If you like a bit of horror in your sci-fi, this is for you.
This was the second Herbert book I'd ever read - the first being, not surprising, Dune. I was already in love with Herbert's imagination and development as he crafts a story. When I heard about this book - a group of humans with a Hive-insect mentality, I HAD to read it, the mere idea just seemed so cool. As with Dune's "Writings of Princess Irulan", parts of the book are divided by excerpts from characters journals, notes, reports, or what have you. I always thought that was a cool way of doing it. Herbert quite convincingly creates his Hive world, with it's superior technology, emotional stoicism, and hard insect drive for survival, which is neither cruel, nor kind, just based on what it takes to survive. The book is definitely a good read, I love the introduction of "stun wands", although I had read in a previous review of a "surprise twist ending" and man, was I looking forward to it. However, I didn't find the ending to be particularly surprising or even very good really. The whole book was enjoyable, but the ending was a bit of a predictable letdown, I thought.
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The concept of humans living as insects is disturbing in and of itself. The hive seeks to eradicate individuality, as they see it as a form of weakness within the whole. Sex orgies, humans modified to serve a specific purpose, the "stumps" (a horrifying concept for any woman)--and the vats, where all go upon death to feed the future generations of the hive.
The book serves two purposes. First, it is an explanation of what such a society as the hive would look like. Humans living as insects have none of the inhibitions that normal humans have. Such inhibitions are contrary to the functioning of such a society. The result of such a group where all minds are directed toward specific purposes has led to some rather startling new technologies that represent a threat to the world.
Second, it is a parallel of the cold war. The hive, with their lack of individuality and the belief that the whole is far more important than any individual, represents communism. The "good guys" are investigating the loss of their agents within the area, upon which they learn of the hive. I place good guys in quotations as the characters in the story belong to a secret ageny that manipulates the USA from behind the scenes (obviously, Herbert had a low opinion of the US as well). Project 40 clearly symbolizes the concept of mutual assured destruction that was central to the cold war.
The book doesn't have much of an ending. Events seemingly come to a halt for no reason with a number of plot points left unresolved. This is acceptable given the nature of the novel. The point of the book is the exploration of this hive society, which is done with great detail. Worth the read if you are into reading about strange (and disturbing) worlds.
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This first thing to know, if you read this book, is that it is helpful--though not necessary--to first watch the film The Hellstrom Chronicle. This is an Oscar winning documentary film made in 1971 about insects, but it borrows the trappings of a horror movie. The film proposes that eventually insects will replace humans as the dominant form of life on earth. It is narrated by fictional entomologist, Dr. Nils Hellstrom (portrayed by actor Lawrence Pressman.)
After the success of the film, Frank Herbert appropriated the character of Nils Hellstrom and constructed an elaborate back-story that forms the basis of the book. Hellstrom is shown not only to be a documentary film-maker, but also the leader of a secret community of humans that have chosen to pattern their society after social insects. They do this believing their choice will eventually be the salvation of the human race, and that the "wild outsider" human society will eventually self destruct. For centuries the Hive has existed in secret, waiting for they day it will inherit the earth.
The plot revolves around a secret government agency that discovers evidence linking Hellstrom to a powerful weapon. Attempting to learn more, the agency sends spies to Hellstrom's farm, ignorant of the human hive that it conceals. Eventually the two groups come into conflict.
In my opinion, this is Herbert's best work outside his Dune novels. He does several interesting things with the story. The Hive can be viewed as a surrogate for any insular group that rejects conventional society.Read more ›