I have to admire an author who tackles something truly alien. Sci-fi writers have to really take an alien species and make them different. Some do this well, some don’t. I would argue it’s even harder to take something real and make it familiar while also keeping it’s truthfully alien nature consistent. I give kudos to Laline Paull for attempting this in The Bees.
The overarching plot is about a beehive where an unusual worker bee is born. Initially supposed to be in sanitation, she has the honor of working a variety of jobs through her hive; nursery, foraging, even tending the queen and the males in their aristocratic arrogance.
So the good and the bad are laced together in this book: Paull tackled a monumental task of trying to anthropomorphize a creature which is incredibly alien to human behaviors. Honestly, I have to give a lot of leeway just on the courage to even attempt it! It isn’t perfect, there are some fudges with what their society is like, why some bees seem to have some individual personality while others don’t. But really, trying to mesh human emotions onto a hive mind – well I think as far as Herculean tasks go Paull did about as well as I think anyone could! It wasn’t perfect, but damn there were some really good parts.
Honestly, my favorite parts were probably when Flora 717 was acting the most like a bee: foraging for nectar. Some of this is in the description of navigating the world. The threats and relationships between ants, bees, wasps, and spiders – the entire thing could have just been about this and I might have enjoyed it! The dancing to describe location and the sense of storytelling in the dancing… first off it made me remember my childhood experiences on field trips where we got to see the inside of a hive and watch the dancing.
I think the description of the hive itself was the weakest element. It was too human. There were halls and canteens and quarters… and I think I know what Paull was going for, but there sometimes was a break from the immersion as a bee because Flora 717 talked about a “gleaming hall” or something of the sort.
The reviews on Goodreads seemed like they were all either 5’s or 2’s and I can see why. This was an ambitious task and Paull tried really hard to walk the line between creating an anthropomorphized adventure and giving insight into how bees might live if they were just a little more human. Personally, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it to anyone nerdy enough to tackle knowing about bees. But go in with an open mind. Don’t expect humanity and don’t expect them to be like real-life bees either. Paull hit somewhere in the middle.