Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Hellstrom’s Hive by Frank Herbert

Review of Hellstrom’s Hive by Frank Herbert

The last Frank Herbert book I read was The Green Brain and it wasn’t very good. I saw the subject of this review in the Chapters bookstore in Ottawa and, as I didn’t have it – and didn’t even recognise the title – decided to buy it. Both The Green Brain and Hellstrom’s Hive have insect themes. While in the former insects themselves are being directed by a disembodied brain to fight against human ‘deinsectation’, in the latter a secret colony of humans, led by the eponymous Hellstrom, has been modelled on insect society.

A small city of 50,000 individuals is hidden under a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Many of these people are ‘workers’ – they have been chemically altered and have no spoken language (although they use a kind of sign language – as people do in many of Herbert’s books) and very simple motivations. The ‘specialists’ have been bred to be effective at their tasks. The origins of the Hive are unclear, but they’ve been around for a few hundred years and are intent on eventually converting all of humanity to their way.

When one of the specialist workers leaves a document lying around in the ‘Outside’, it is borrowed and copied by the Agency (not the CIA, but some secret government body along the same lines). Fearing that whoever owns this document is trying to create some kind of doomsday weapon, the Agency begins to investigate. As their agents goes missing, the situation escalates and the futures of the Hive and the human race could be in jeopardy.

Ultimately, this contest between Hive and isn’t entirely resolved – but I don’t think that’s really the point. Herbert creates a potential alternate society, that is neither good nor evil (although definitely chilling in some of its methods), but could be an effective answer to the problems posed by nature and human development.

The novel is also interesting because of its symmetricality. Hive and Agency mirror each other in many ways – both are hierarchical, directed, secret, yet effective at what they do. The writing and characterisation are efficient and competent. All of which makes the book a decent novel and good sf.

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