Hellstrom’s Hive, by Frank Herbert
Posted January 28, 2012on:
Hellstrom’s Hive, by Frank Herbert
Published in 1973
where I got it: purchased used
There will be spoilers in this review, if only because they show up early in the novel, and it would be impossible to tell you anything about the plot without spoiling a few surprises. But don’t worry, there are many more surprises I didn’t tell you about.
If you’ve read Dune, you’ll be familiar with Herbert’s odd style of telling a story in third person, yet showing nearly everyone’s internal monologues and thoughts processes as if it were first person. For people who have never read a Herbert before, it is a strange style, and you’ll get used to it fairly quickly.
Something very strange is going on in a rural valley in the Pacific Northwest. An unnamed government agency has a file on the documentary maker Nils Hellstrom. They know something subversive (probably communism or a religious cult) is happening on his rural farm slash movie studio, but they can’t seem to catch him in the act. And every agent they send in as a lost backpacker or hiker disappears without a trace. When an agent finds a secret Hellstrom document partially outlining some kind of super weapon, the agency knows it’s time to up their game. We get to know a handful of agents, and in only a few pages (sometimes a few sentences), Herbert digs deeps into their personas to flesh them out into full developed characters with hopes and fears. If you ask me, Herbert has always been a master of subtle character development.
And then we get the story from Nils’ point of view. He’s not harboring communists or making dirty movies. He’s desperately trying to save the human race. More a culture than a cult, he has helped created a utopian society, one free of fear, jealousy, hunger, and anger. A society where everyone is peaceful and happy, where everyone works in harmony to help the larger group. This perfect society, the only way to save the human race, is based on another on of Earth’s creatures, albeit on most humans find unsavory.
There are so many layers to this gem of a story, I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long while to come. Through the mind of Nils Hellstrom, we get this strange insiders/outsiders point of view of standard human society. How inefficient we are, how selfish and hurtful we are, and how all our hang ups make our society unstable.
And here are the sort of spoilers. Hellstrom’s farm and movie studio is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath that farmhouse and barn and generator buildings is miles and miles of tunnels, and thousands upon thousands of people. The vast majority of them born into the Hive, they have been genetically bred and modified, injected with hormones and mentally conditioned to within an inch of their life. These Hiveborn live as bees or ants would, believing all humans from the Outside are wild, undomesticated, and dangerous. In Hellstroms Hive, there is no unemployment, no illness or racism or selfishness. The workers know their place and what to do, and they do it, knowing the Hive comes first. Dead and dying workers return to the vats to become foodstuffs and fertilizer.
The more you think about it, and trust me, you won’t be able to not think about it while reading, the more disturbing it becomes. Seriously, this is one of the scariest, creepiest books I have ever read. Hellstrom and his people justify everything they do, and their justifications make sense. He truly is trying to save the human race by forcing us to evolve into a more adaptable animal.
The government agents who attempt to infiltrate Hellstrom’s farm simply have no idea what they are getting themselves into. And yes, there is a weapon, and one of the most mind blowing defences of not using it that I have ever heard: one you create an ultimate weapon, you put the trigger into your enemies hands, for all they have to say is “so use it!”.
If you can find a copy of Hellstrom’s Hive, by all means read it. I’ve read a good handful of Herbert’s non-Dune books over the years (most of them are stand alones), and Hellstrom’s Hive is probably one of the best.