Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Douglas Thompson

We'd be in trouble without bees: something like a third of human food production relies on bees for crop pollination. In Apoidea Douglas Thompson has envisioned a future where real bees have died out, and mankind is forced to rely on robotic substitutes. Gert Villers, the inventor of the robot bee, is a very rich man indeed. His empire dwarfs that of rival software giants Lemon and Winterra, led by the obviously-named Steve Dobs and Bill Yates respectively. In his vast and luxurious mansion it looks like Gert is king of the world.

However the army are interested in adapting the apoidroids for military uses, whilst Dobs and Yates want to develop intelligent drones for a variety of different consumer and civilian roles. Gert has misgivings. He can see the potential horrors that could be created, but with the apoidroids already in use worldwide what can he do to halt their development? His vague fears are about to crystallise when Del Freemont, a disgruntled former employee of his company who is now living in exile, unleashes a virus. Del has written software that will bring the bees, and therefore a huge proportion of the food production of entire countries, under his control.

Gert falls from a position of power to become a virtual prisoner and a suspect, cut off from his family and isolated from the news. It's a dizzying reversal of fortune. The story moves into thriller territory as the capabilities of these apoidroids are revealed, and Gert discovers he can't trust those he thought he could. He has a choice: side with the US government and the military. or trust his own creations, who seem to have developed an intelligence of their own. The bees offer him a safe haven and an escape, but how far can he trust these mechanical rogues?

Although it's fast-paced and exciting, this novel is more highbrow than your average near-future science fiction thriller. Gert takes a historical perspective on his situation, and he often compares himself to historical figures: the Romanovs, Caesar, Heisenberg, and so on. It's not mere vanity: he worries about the fate of smart men, and the precedents aren't good.

The story takes us through the territory of Mexican drug gangs and hideouts as characters have to evade all-seeing satellites and the long reach of FBI spooks. Some of the technological ideas hint at an apocalypse of malevolent, self-aware bots small enough to get in through tiny vents and with the means to reach almost anyone. That threat is ever-present. However Douglas Thompson resists going the full Skynet, and instead gives us something much more interesting. Gert's journey becomes a search for redemption and freedom, and on the way he considers the parallels between his life and history, as well as looking at myths, gods, and seasonal rebirth. The human race is likened to a great hive, although whether it's a healthy one or one in need of purging is left to readers to decide. Apoidea is full of fresh viewpoints encompassing politics, literature, high technology and ancient cultures. This is fascinating until Gert has a conversation with the rogue apoidroids, when the dialogue briefly crosses the line into too much exposition. The story loses something here, because the characters' conclusions are pinned down too precisely so we're not left with the chance to make up our own minds about what's being discussed.

However this is a novel that never goes far off track without delivering some unexpected shocks that heighten the tension again. Although Gert has a fairly unsentimental approach to his relationships with women he's an inventor with a conscience who I felt I could believe in as well as like. I was expecting the story to end with a bang, but it finishes with more poignancy and thoughtfulness than that. This book is a little more mainstream and accessible than Sylvow, with more action and less utter strangeness, but at heart it's more philosophical than visceral. I didn't agree with Gert's assessment of his situation in the book's last line; but I found Apoidea thought-provoking in the way only the best science fiction can be.

20th December 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
  Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
More about Douglas Thompson