Ants? When I saw that this week’s story was by E.O. Wilson, I figured we were in for something unusual. But ants? Move along, people, nothing here to see.
Actually, this “fiction”—which is really just a dramatization (for want of a better word) of the lifecycle of an ant colony—is an excerpt from Wilson’s forthcoming novel, Anthill. (No, I’m not kidding.) So, this is neither terribly interesting, unless you really like insects and happen to know nothing at all about them, nor is it a story.
It’s almost a story, though, and for the sake of form, let’s discuss it. I like the beginning, which is sort of Dickensian: “The Trailhead Queen was dead.” (“Marley was dead: to begin with” is the opening A Christmas Carol. We then get some background in a flashback about how this ant became queen and struggled to start her own colony, and then we come back to the issue at hand: she’s dead and now all the other ants have to figure out what to do.
So, in addition to Dickens, I also thought of E.M. Forster’s famous discussion of plot in Aspects of the Novel. “Let us define plot. A plot is . . . a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. . . ‘The King died and then the Queen died of grief’ is a plot.” And so, since we have a story that begins with the death of the queen, I was looking for causality. No king in this case, but what was going to happen here as a result of that death? And I guess you could say that what follows—the worker ants fight to save the doomed colony even without a viable queen—is a caused by that death. It’s a plot—it just isn’t very interesting.
If anyone has something good to say about this piece of fiction, I’d be glad to hear it. For example, is this allegory? If it is, I haven't broken the code.
January 25, 2010: “Trailhead” by E.O. Wilson