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review 2015-04-20 19:05
It's the Bees Knees
The Bees - Laline Paull

#TheBees, by @LalinePaull


In concept, this is an adventurous novel, which makes it a challenge to review.


It's fiction, but it's clear that Paull has done a lot of research into the subject matter, so it's almost a dramatisation of biological science, just as so many early SF novels were a dramatisation of the science of space-flight.


The question is whether it succeeds as fiction in its own right.


This boils down to whether the novel has a story to tell about the human condition.  If we can't see humanity through the lens of the bees - whether it's in the personalities of Flora, or Sir Linden or the Queen - or any of the others - then the book fails.


The book had many resonances for me.  The whole background of a stratified, hierarchical society calls to mind Orwell's 1984, etc., and the works of Solzhenitsyn.  It also recalled the strict hierachies of the mediaeval monastic orders.  It brings out the very human struggling for power, the politicking that opposes ordinary people attempting to better themselves, to fulfil their potential, or just to do the right thing in a tight spot.


Curiously, it also resonates with the stage.  I was reminded of Capek's "The Insect Play", which uses an insect metaphor for its satire.  And because of the dance aspect, I could also imagine that it would translate well into a ballet.  Yes, really.


In term of plot, I don't think it held too many surprises, but that's not a bad thing in this case.  The life of an insect is well mapped-out, after all, and having read about insects from boyhood to the present day, it all rang true, even the "twist".


Every novel should take you on a journey.  Perhaps to somewhere you've never been .  Or perhaps to somewhere familiar, but by a different route.  Maybe faster, maybe slower.


Some novels take you to an amusement park, to Disneyland.  They try to hide the destination and surprise you, like a stage magician.  This novel takes you round the science museum.  The guide doesn't hurry you.  She lets you wander round, peer closely at the exhibits, and look deep inside them, even into their souls.  There's your answer.  You do indeed get to see inside the souls, and see all too clearly those resonances of the human condition.


Rather than repeat myself, I'll direct you to my interim posts:




The ending?  Appropriate, satisfying.

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text 2015-04-04 13:20
The Bees - interim
The Bees - Laline Paull

I've been dipping into this, rather than totally throwing myself into the book.  (That's not the book's fault - it's entirely that disruptive thing called life, intruding into the process of reading.)


So I'm less than a third into the book, and much of that has been scene-setting - life in the hive, hierarchies.  There's been some conflict and tension - an invasion by wasps that allows Flora to shine, and has brought her to the attention of the Queen - but until this current page, nothing bar the cover blurb to indicate that Flora's progress would be anything but upwards.


Finally it's come, and I expect that from here on in the ride will be a lot rougher for Flora.


At this point my warning is that it has taken a lot of pages to get to the conflict point.  Personally I'm not averse to this level of scene-setting, but it's definitely not a book that falls into the "page 1: protag stuck up a tree, page 2: tree catches fire, page 3: arrested by CIA ... page 20: time for a bit of backstory" mould.


Instead I've been kept interested by some good worldbuild-by-showing writing.  I feel involved in this world, ready to root for Flora when the going does get tough.  Having a science background, I'm fascinated by Paull's depiction of a world of complex chemical triggering, being used for everything from deciding caste, through signposting within the hive, to communicating sophisticated stories as VR.  It's a popularisation of science, yet if you allow for a anthropomorphic licence, it's probably true enough.


I'd hope that YA readers would persevere with this, which I'd characterise as a great bridge to adult speculative fiction.

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text 2015-03-22 11:52
Compton Crook Bee-ware ...
The Bees - Laline Paull

I don't know how these things are worked out, but there are seven books on the Compton Crook shortlist.  Four of these are by US authors.  Three are by European authors - all UK by residence.


I've read - and really enjoyed - Emmi Itäranta's Memory of Water, so I decided to pick up Laline Paull's The Bees as being the other UK entrant.


I'm only a few pages in, but the underlying premise is fascinating - viewing the life of bees from the PoV of a lowest-caste worker, Flora 717.  I'm already conscious that there's a subtext of ecological collapse, which is certainly timely.  And lots of scope for exploring the pressures of living in a sharply stratified society.


More anon...

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