What if religion were hard-wired into our physical being? To the point where sin or disobedience brought us the physical sensation of pain.
Reader know I enjoy speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy both) because of the potential for sparking the imagination, and asking questions about what-would-I-do? This book accomplishes that. It also has an interesting feature about religion–I’ll get to that in a moment.
Playwright Laline Paull’s first novel sits on the fantasy side of the speculative. The protagonist is a bee, Flora 717. The reader accompanies her life Quest through various jobs within a beekeeper’s hive: cleaning crew, pollen gatherer, civil defense, and even a short spell as an attendant to the queen. She has a Destiny. The plot moves along well enough through various stages. In a way, this is a documentary of entomology: ninety-plus percent bees with the occasional wasp, fly, and spider to provide an element of danger. What the reader knows that the bees don’t: they are “kept” by a human who conducts an occasional “visitation” to harvest their precious honey. That’s part of the eschatology of the bee religion. What the bees know that the human reader doesn’t: a heck of a lot about bee biology and hive sociology.
The religion element was interesting. The bees worship their queen as a god. They pray variations on prayer we would recognize as Christian–that’s a nice literary touch, if even a bit creepy. Their well-being is hard-wired into conformity and if someone is brave or foolish enough to step out of line, they get sick or feel pain. There is a police force as well as a caste of priests prepared to impose order as needed. Death can be ordered for what human beings would consider the most fickle of reasons. And, of course, for reasons dangerous to the smooth operations of the powers-that-be. Flora dodges the dangers of intrigue as often as she escapes from danger from an invading mouse, wasp, and crafty spiders.
I thought the ending was somewhat predictable, but the journey to get there was fascinating. So I didn’t mind that it wasn’t a surprise. I recommend this novel. It was the first one I ever read on my new phone. In this time of pandemic with libraries closed and one of my favorite day off activities curtailed, I had to browse through hundreds of titles before finding one that looked good. I carry three other library books in my pocket these days. I think I still prefer the heft of paper and binding in my hand, but you read what you can read.