Empire of the Ants

Empire of the Ants

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553573527
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/1999
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 262,625
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Bernard Werber is a scientific journalist who has studied ants for fifteen years as an avocation. He lives in Paris.

Read an Excerpt

On the thirty-fifth floor, the fine covering of twigs produced a stained-glass window effect.  The sun's rays sparkled as they passed through it, then fell like a rain of stars on the ground.  This was the city's solarium, the "factory" producing Belokanian citizens.

It was baking hot there, 38        C, as was only to be expected.  The solarium faced due south to catch the heat of the sun for as long as possible.  Sometimes, under the catalytic effect of the twigs, the temperature rose to as high as 50        C.

Hundreds of legs were busying themselves.  Nurses, the most numerous caste here, were piling up the eggs Mother laid.  Twenty-four piles formed a heap and twelve heaps made a row.  The rows stretched away into the distance.  When a cloud cast a shadow, the nurses moved the piles of eggs.  The youngest had to be kept nice and warm.  "Moist heat for eggs, dry heat for cocoons" was an old ant recipe for healthy babies.

On the left, workers responsible for maintaining the temperature were piling up pieces of black wood to accumulate heat and fermented humus to produce it.  Thanks to these two "radiators," the solarium remained at a constant temperature of between 25        C and 40        C, even when it was only 15        C outside.

Gunners were patrolling the area.  If a woodpecker messed with them, there'd be trouble. . . .

On the right were older eggs, further advanced in the long metamorphosis from egg to adult.  With time and the nurses' licking, the little eggs grew bigger and turned yellow.  After one to seven weeks, they turned into golden-haired larvae.  That, too, depended on the weather.

The nurses were concentrating hard, sparing neither antibiotic saliva nor attention.  Not a speck of dirt must be allowed to sully the larvae.  They were so fragile.  Even conversational pheromones were kept to a strict minimum.

Help me carry them into the corner...Look out, your pile's going to fall over...

A nurse was moving a larva twice her length, a gunner for sure.  She put the "weapon" down in a corner and licked it.

At the center of this vast incubator were heaps of larvae on whose bodies the ten segments were beginning to show.  They were howling to be fed, waving their heads and legs about and stretching their necks until the nurses let them have a little honeydew or insect meat.

After three weeks, when they had "matured" nicely, the larvae stopped eating and moving.  They used this lethargic phase to prepare for the coming effort, gathering their energies to secrete the cocoons that would transform them into nymphs.

The nurses then carted the big bundles off to a nearby room filled with dry sand to absorb the moisture from the air.  "Moist heat for eggs, dry heat for cocoons" could never be repeated often enough.

Inside this incubator, the cocoons turned from bluish-white to yellow to gray to brown, like the philosopher's stone but in reverse, while a miracle took place inside the shells.  Everything changed, the nervous system, respiratory and digestive apparatus, sense organs and shell.

Once inside the incubator, the nymphs swelled within a few days as the eggs cooked and the big moment drew near.  When a nymph was on the point of hatching, it was pulled aside, along with others in the same state.  Nurses carefully pierced the veil of the cocoon, releasing an antenna or leg, until a kind of white ant was freed to tremble and sway.  Its soft, clear chitin turned red after a few days, like that of all the Belokanians.

In the midst of this whirlwind of activity, 327th was unsure whom to address.  He threw out a little scent to a nurse who was helping a newborn ant take its first steps.

Something serious is happening.  The nurse did not even turn her head in his direction.  She gave off a barely perceptible scent sentence:

Hush.  Nothing is more serious than birth.

A gunner jostled him, hitting him gently with the clubs at the end of her antennae.  Tap, tap, tap.

Stop bothering people.  Move on.

His energy level was all wrong, the messages he emitted unconvincing.  If only he had 56th's gift for communication!  He tried again anyway with other nurses, but they ignored him completely. He ended up wondering whether his mission was really as important as he thought.  Perhaps Mother had been right.  Other tasks had priority.  Perpetuating life rather than starting a war, for example.

While he was thinking this strange thought, a jet of formic acid grazed his antennae.  A nurse had dropped the cocoon she was carrying and fired at him.  Fortunately, she had not aimed properly.

He rushed to catch up with the terrorist but she had already darted off into the first nursery, knocking over a pile of eggs to block his way.  The shells broke, letting out a transparent liquid.

She had destroyed some eggs!  What had gotten into her?  There was panic, with nurses running in all directions, anxious to protect the gestating generation.

Realizing he could not catch up with the fugitive, the 327th male tipped his abdomen under his thorax and took aim, but before he could fire she was struck down by a gunner who had seen her knock over the eggs.

A crowd formed around the charred body.  When 327th bent his antennae over it, he was no longer in any doubt.  It smelled of rock.


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This book, to put the matter quite simply, is a masterpiece. . . .Exhilaratingly thought-provoking."
—The Sunday Times (London)

"A marvel of warped imagination and offbeat suspense."
—British Esquire

"Like Watership Down, to which it will inevitably be compared, Werber's astonishing first novel invites readers into a highly imagined animal world."
—Publishers Weekly

Customer Reviews

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Empire of the Ants 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I remember my mom and sister reading the book years ago. I can read anything, but please, no insects. I hate ANTS!!!! So why read a book about them?? But somehow, fate led me to read this book, and I regret that I haven't done it sooner. I'm not a biologist so I don't know, but reading the ants' kingdom part of the book was extremely facsinating and even made me google 'russet ants.' I too had the old idea that ant colonies were strict totalitarian, so the idea that the queen 'thinks' up of projects was truly shocking. But more than ever, the part that stays in my head is an excerpt from the speech against selling ant colonies in supermarkets. The eccentric uncle talks about how each child is given the ability to play god, and the power vested in them can be easily abused. After playing Sim City and Sims and such, and of course watching the movie Matrix, that thought had often come up in my head. But the analogy of Noah's Ark being an 'accidental' pouring of water into an ant farm made me gasp. What if.... what if.... This is so far the best book I ever read.
jmattas on LibraryThing 10 months ago
An exciting, "political" fantasy thriller. I haven't read an adventure starring ants before, so their part of the story was great fun to follow. For a while I even wished that ants were like this in real life. The main theme in this book seems to be comparison between humans and ants. The points to make are obvious (community and castes vs. individuality), and they're overdone a bit. This is not written for kids, is it?I liked the description of battles and warfare, the evolution of weaponry, and how the ant colonies constantly developed by responding to threats.What I didn't like was basically the whole human side of the story. It was badly written throughout, and the ending was a bit childish. On the other hand, Werber's writing wasn't that great in the ant side either. There were a lot of inconsequential encounters and needless details.
Rue_full on LibraryThing 10 months ago
If you missed this, dig up a copy and and hoard it! An incredibly unusual book defying categorization by genre. It is a rousing story, and epic story, eve, about an ant whose name is a number, and whose colony is in peril. SPOILER ALERT *** they, and we, become AWARE. A classic, unfortunately left off many best of lists. A mind broadening experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book. Very captivating and original. All Werber's works are as innovating. I totally recommend this book to everybody that can think a little bit outside the box and want to spend a good time reading. 
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is very good, considering it was written by a fifteen year-old who did not get the novel published until he became a reporter. The reason for the abrupt ending is that there are two sequels (I'm not sure they were published in English). Wording is sometimes strange due to direct translations. A great read (especially in French)!
Guest More than 1 year ago
simply amazing...Empire of the Ants is very hard to put down - I was so into it I read the entire book in one day. this book deserves 20 stars !!! you'll truly regret not reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of my favorite books i've ever read. Really informative and intellectual work of Bernard Werber. I love all the other works of his, unfortunately not available in English. (I read those in Korean) I highly recommend this book to everyone!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hey i am only 13 but i loved this book! I dont normally get a chance to read throughout the day.. but i could not put this book down! it was amazing.. his text placement was incredible, as the conversations went directly from Humans to Ants, without creating new chapters! anywayz.. if you havent read this book.. YOU SHOULD! ~*Olivia*~
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book and I highly recomend it
Guest More than 1 year ago
Werber has a very vivid imagination and uses it to raise questions that you rarely think of. Once the questions are raised, he gives his own answers, dazzling. The ants are a civilization that you ignore because you never see them, but Werber opens your eyes on them. They are there, by billions, working, mating, fighting, breeding, observing the humans... A captivating world that cannot leave you indifferent...
Guest More than 1 year ago
The fictional book Empire of the Ants was written by Bernard Werber and contains two stories: the ants and the humans. Neither is good enough to make this book worth reading. The ant part of this book tells a story from the point of view of ants. It starts out with a male ant, who when gathering food for his colony after hibernating for the winter discovers a 'secret weapon' which kills a handful of ants. The male ant recruits a few other ants in order to help find out more about the 'secret weapon,' who become the main characters in the story. The ants have to deal with colony conspiracies, predators, and enemy ant colonies. The human part of the story is about Jonathan, his wife, and his son, who inherit a house from his uncle Edmond, a scientist who had a very strong interest in ants. Jonathan was warned by his uncle not to go in the basement, but he does anyways. The author of this book gives too much credit to intelligence and creativity of ants, where the credit really belongs to ant evolution. He tries to make the ants too human-like to be believable. I found the plot of the ant story to be boring. The author also has some of his biology wrong. As far as I know, male ants rarely work in order to preserve themselves for mating. In this book, the first ant character presented, a male, acts as a temperature messenger (warms up the colony), and goes out of the nest to retrieve food. In another instance, a bat gets caught in the boy's hair, and sucks some of his blood. Sorry - that doesn't happen. Bats don't get caught in people's hair. Only vampire bats suck blood, but rarely human blood, and only while the victim is sleeping. Bats (including vampire bats) are generally petrified of humans. The author did not do his research. The human characters in this story are not developed enough. I just didn't care about them. They don't act realistically either. The human story is dull. Most of the story is about people going down in the basement and never coming back, and then when we find out why, the reason turns out to be very unbelievable. The concept of Empire of the Ants has potential, but the story is written too poorly. I wouldn't recommend this book.