In the early 21st century, in a Paris rapidly turning tropical thanks to global warming, Jonathan Wells tries to get to the bottom (as it turns out, quite literally) of his Uncle Edmond's obsession with ants. Jonathan and his family have been left Edmond's basement apartment; their benefactor's sole request is, "ABOVE ALL, NEVER GO DOWN INTO THE CELLAR." Meanwhile, in the great city of Bel-o-kan, a reproductive ant, the 327th male, is fighting for survival, having had his olfactory Identikit stripped by traitors of his own tribe.
Both males--human and ant--are determined to solve their separate quandaries, and Bernard Werber cleverly juxtaposes their adventures and those of their survivors. Their stories must somehow be linked, but it will be hundreds of imaginative and educational pages before we come upon the solution. Empire of the Ants was first published in France in 1991 and eventually in England in 1996 in Margaret Rocques's spryly formal translation. ("Ants are not especially well-known for their conviviality, especially when advancing in formation, armed to the antennae.") Werber has studied formic civilization for 15 years, and his observations more than pay off. We knew they were industrious little things, but why did no one ever tell us about their powers of invention, accommodation (in both senses of the word!), communication, and above all determination?
In fact, as the narrative makes increasingly clear, ants seem to have a lot more going on than the pale pink things stomping around above them, who seem doltish in comparison. Of course, as far as the creepy crawlies are concerned, humans are "so strange you could neither see nor smell them. They appeared suddenly out of the sky and everyone died." Empire of the Ants is by turns frightening and very funny. As more and more humans disappear down the cellar of 3, rue des Sybarites, we come to identify with the six-legged of the world. Werber, too, must have tired of his Homo sapiens, since the ant sections increase in length as the human ones decrease. No matter. Who would miss the perils of the young queen who tries to found her colony on a strange impervious hill--which turns out to be a tortoise--or the hilarious scene in which a spider swathes the 56th female in inescapable silk, only to be distracted first by a mayfly (they have shorter shelf lives than ants, who can be eaten slowly alive over an entire week) and then by a younger arachnid: "Her way of vibrating was the most erotic thing the male had ever felt. Tap tap taptaptap tap tap taptap. Ah, he could no longer resist her charms and ran to his beloved (a mere slip of a thing only four moults old, whereas he was already twelve). She was three times as big as he, but then he liked his females big." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Don't go into the cellar" is the warning given the Wells family as they move into the dingy Paris flat inherited from Jonathan's Uncle Edmund. But when the family dog disappears down the basement steps, the Wellses follow, one by one, into the mysterious darkness below. Uncle Edmund was an eccentric author and scientist whose particular passion was ants. Thus, it must follow that the mystery of the Wells's basement lies in the parallel universe of an exotic ant kingdom. Struggling to rebuild what was once a vast empire in the face of the terrors of contemporary human society, the ants are compelled to deal with cars, tools, and other technopredators. The sf movies of the 1950s are immediately brought to mind here. The one-dimensional humans definitely take back seat to the anthropomorphized ants as characters in this novel of survival. Werber tells us much more about the intelligent and highly structured world of the ant than we may care to know. Readers captivated by Richard Adam's Watership Down might be attracted by this premise but will quickly tire of the novel's uneven characterization and didactic style. Not recommended.?Susan Gene Clifford, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Cal.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Werber is a great story teller. I read the trilogy in french and all his other books. Too bad they are difficult to get in english when available.Published on April 15 2013 by MP
I think I would've enjoyed this book when I was a kid. However, the truth is, from a mature adult perspective, this book is interesting at times, but at others, its just plain... Read morePublished on May 18 2004 by Dean B. Johnson
This is a wonderful story written in a way that makes it near impossible to put down. It leaves you with many thoughts that will follow you around for days. Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2004 by A. Price
Bernard Werber is a genius. The way he jumps back between the fascinating heirarchial ant world and that of the individualistic off-kilter humans is wonderful to read. Read morePublished on Jan. 14 2004 by Torgny Hylen
Empire of the Ants is a great read. I got bogged down a few times by an over abundance of details, but not enough to make me lower my rating of this book. Read morePublished on Oct. 29 2003 by Avid Reader JKK
It was my favorite book. It just puts images in your head. ne of the most thought provoking books ive read. Read morePublished on Oct. 24 2003 by Brett Badeaux
Simply wonderful. All too often the ever elusive "Sense-of-Wonder" is completely absent from modern SF. Not so with this one. This is a keeper!Published on Sept. 14 2003 by Myles S. Cabot
I like to think I've read many great books. But the BEST of them all, in my mind, is whithout any doubt Bernard Werber's masterpiece. Read morePublished on Feb. 28 2003 by Ouri
Empire of the Ants is absolutely fascinating. I have never read such a good story with such detail from a non-human animal's point of view. I definitely recommend this book. Read morePublished on Jan. 9 2003 by Daniel Crews