Book Reviews The swarm

Published on July 10th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley

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The Swarm – Arthur Herzog

When you pick up a book called “The Swarm” and it looks like this, despite that awful phrase, ‘Never judge a book by its cover”, you’re going to make a few judgements about its content and when you start reading it, it will be with certain expectations in mind.

Rather, you’re not exactly expecting Crime and Punishment levels of realism and seriousness when you pick up The Swarm. Clearly you want a cheesy but fun, horror inspired monster book based on swarms of killer bees. Preferably GIANT KILLER BEES.

What you wouldn’t want then is to be given a rational and plausible scientific diatribe about “slightly larger than normal” bees with a “somewhat aggressive” streak in, with very little integration of such heavy facts in the novel, would you?

Why then are we fed a boringly acceptable version of a beaureaucrats killer bee story, complete with mild interruptions of daily life and reduction in honey stock at the supermarket?

So as you might have guessed this book is about “Killer Bees” supposedly. Written in 1974 by Arthur Herzog, the story follows an entomologist damage analyst something-or-rather who discovers that there is soon an African bee epidemic about to sweep America.

The Swarm Herzog

As with every monster-movie style story, the protagonist has an occupational affiliation with the particular problem at hand and also a personal issue in that he has a phobia (a pretty mild one to be fair) of the “monster” in question.
Why do these stories feel the need to involve a professional? To give some semblance of reality I can understand, but they make it feel like you have to be some kind of insect enthusiast just to merely be in possession of any knowledge of how bees work.
For once I would like a normal office worker to be the hero in one of these stories, we shouldn’t be leaving it to zombies, the pop-culture black hole of speculative fiction to be making average people dealing with problems.

The inevitable and unlikeable female sex interest is anomalously more vapid than usual, she ONLY appears in order to relieve the main character at critical moments by using sex whenever he feels remotely stressed. Not only is this incredibly sexist on many levels, but it’s also a terrible diversion that the author uses in order to avoid making his character, well, actually have CHARACTER by dealing with problems. Even just seeing him under a little bit of pressure without his favourite sex toy might have been vaguely entertaining. As the situation with the bees worsens he seems unusually calm and relaxed despite not having a clue on how to defeat his ridiculous adversary.

The majority of the book is detailing the lives of bees, explaining in news-fashion incidents involving the bees and the main group of scientists who are trying to beat the bees using SCIENCE in a large warehouse laboratory. Now the least we’d expect is some brilliant character dialogue and rapport here, because as we have established; the story is rubbish, the characters are rubbish and even the main stars, the bees, are rubbish, but no, we have yet another load of old toot when we’re faced with possibly the worst dialogue in the history of ever.

What do you say to some children whose parents were just violently killed before their very eyes in broad daylight by a swarm of bees, the same swarm that also chased them for miles stinging them before reaching safety? Let’s see what main character John said.

“I know how you feel,” John said to the boys. He explained how bees had chased him and stung him when he was ten. “But you mustn’t be scared of bees for the rest of your life, or-” He started to say, but didn’t, ‘You’ll have bad dreams’.

The African Bee from which the books bees are based are known colloquially as 'Killer Bees'.

The African Bee from which the books bees are based are known colloquially as ‘Killer Bees’.

Really John? Is that what happens? Bad dreams? Not years worth of mental strife which spirals into a deep chronic depression that perhaps means a lifetime of alcohol, domestic or violent abuse, not to mention suicide? No? Just some bad dreams because you had one or two boo-boos. What a wimp.

The book is peppered with such bad writing, with even the scientists made nearly completely forgettable by having such non-descript personalities, there’s not even the “minimum” requirement of character development given to these people to make the reader care when they inevitably get killed off.

Any times when there was the potential for a showdown or horror segment with the bees the book just “opts out” and I actually mean they don’t even show some of the interesting bits. For example, what remains of the scientists in the warehouse place is attacked by a swarm of bees, but we’re only told when these scientists have already arrived at their next destination.

“The Swarm is the over-realistic monster book that nobody ever wanted.”

Now, I hate this technique, even when used mildly effectively for horror purposes; relating past events about a scary situation, because the knowledge of the outcome will always dampen the effect of the scares. Stephen King is notable for using this technique in the best fashion it can in books like IT. But in this novel, the “relocation” of the people is told literally in passing with no sense of drama. Another odd lack for this paltry horror is false alarms, you know, usually cats and stuff screeching after a curtain is slowly peeled back. Not a single one of those. I can think of some really good ones too.

Overall, I couldn’t recommend this to any horror or monster fans as there simply isn’t enough material that was enjoyable, The Swarm is the over-realistic monster book that nobody ever wanted. The formula was tired and when not being overused, was averted in all the wrong ways, the themes were not incredibly thought-provoking and some of the concepts like the roles of women in science, were dated if not socially incorrect. However, it wasn’t boring and was a far cry from being bad, it merely seemed to lose it’s way a lot. At very least I learnt a few things about bees, like Queens only mate once.

I have included thus a scene which I wrote and think would have greatly benefited the book if it was included or had I been alive at the time the book was written.

As he investigated the small clearing, John thought he could hear a faint buzzing from an overhanging branch in a large Oak which towered above the others in the forest.
With trepidation, he approached the Oak, leaning over to arm himself with a thin, but durable stick lying near the roots.

The trunk of the tree was dry and pieces of bark fell off into John’s hand as he attempted to measure the suitability for climbing, pressing his palms on the surface. Just as he began to retreat for re-assessment he felt a brush against his ear and a thrum of wings buzzed as if inside his very head.

With a yelp, John threw his hand up towards his face, acutely aware of the unexpellable nature of the human ear. He twisted and hopped, throwing his branch hand up wildly, desperately hoping to hit home on the assailant. He turned and his eyes opened, just in time to see a large Bluebottle zip back behind the Oak tree.

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