Hi Honey, I'm Home [Review: The Bees]

Flora 717 is born to a life of drudgery as a sanitation worker, the lowest caste in a walled, fascist Queendom where only a lucky few foragers and drones get to see the outside world. She's an outsider due to her abilities - she can literally talk, unlike the rest of her caste, she is intelligent and questioning, and she has ideas above her station - and if the guards or the Fertility Police don't stop her, she just might be the cause of a revolution one day. Yes, this is every YA dystopian novel scenario ever, rolled into one book - but Flora 717 is a bee, and just for once the scenario actually makes sense.

Laline Paull's novel follows in a great tradition of anthropomorphization - Animal Farm, Watership Down. There are one or two flights of fancy - the chambers of the beehive have doors and scent-coded floor panels, the police have visors and gauntlets, and the bees have a jet engine in their abdomen. This last might be a reference to the old idea of scientists being convinced that bees could not fly - but as we all know, the 2005 Altshuler study (abstract here) put that one to rest. I mean, it's always seemed obvious to me that unsteady forces during stroke reversal would make a large contribution to net upward force during hovering, but then what do I know? I'm just a drone...

This book can be enjoyed twice - first by reading it and then by fact-checking it. With the exception of the doors and the jet engines, it was a lot of fun discovering that almost every concept in the plot is factually accurate with very little embroidery. Take the wide range of worker castes and activities - or the scent produced by a Queen which keeps the entire hive loyal - or the lazy drone lifestyle - or the winter cluster - or the not-so-royal behaviour of newly hatched Princesses - or even Flora 717's secret, it's all there in the real-life complexity of honey bee society.

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