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Review: Hive by Jay Werkheiser

Published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January/February 2020, pp. 82-91.

Story Illustration is by Tomislav Tikulin. It is reproduced here with permission.

Why You Might Like This Story

Story Illustration of soldier shooting aliens, by Eldar ZakirovIn Hive, a human expedition studies advanced and complex alien hive-organized beings. One human team member wants to shoot the aliens, a second seeks to study the aliens more, and the third tries to keep the militant crewmate in line. Meanwhile, the hive aliens use complex olfactory techniques to communicate.

Werkheiser presents a plausible and detailed alien social structure with high intelligence and competition with other close-by hives. My sense of wonder comes from the story’s realistic-seeming portrayal of the science behind alien collaboration and communications.

Hive placed fourth in the Short Story Category of the Analog Readers Poll in 2021,

For Writers (Spoilers Follow)

Presenting the Science: In the few places where he glosses over details in the science, Werkheiser uses convincing generalities and terms that may or may not be scientifically accurate. I took these generalities at face value on the first read-through, and even on a second reading, I had to look for possible holes in the science. Generalities and allusions work so well in short stories, and Hive uses these devices with great effect.

Characterization: Almost all the character development in Hive is accomplished through dialogue and action. It is tempting to dismiss the humans in the story as stereotypical. Science fiction does have some history of less-than-literary characters, after all. In this case, stereotyping is part of the characterization.

Science Fiction as Allegory: Werkheiser does not take long to show that the divides between his humans (in one case tinged with misogyny), and the alien-human divide, parallel the divisions in our time and the communication patterns that lead there.

Ultimately, neither the aliens nor the humans figure out how to speak across the divide. The humans are attacked. The aggressive crew member gets his wish and has to be saved by an alien faction. The humans then decide it is time to “get out of Dodge.”

In many respects, Hive is an allegory for factions of our society who see each other but can’t figure out how to communicate. In our bubbles, segregated as we are by ideology, there can be just as much confusion about other groups’ motivations. It is ironic (and all too realistic) that Werkheiser’s hive aliens deduce that it is time to go to space and figure out the humans’ story.

In the bio at the end of the story, Werkheiser says his stories are essentially vehicles for him to talk about science. His scientific expertise shows through clearly, but readers can also interpret Hive as an allegory of today’s polarized societies,

Links

To read this story – Visit your local library or search for back issues of Analog’s Jan-Feb 2020 issue.

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