Monday, May 31, 2010

Ants star in new novel by E. O. Wilson

Last month I was catching up on some old "All Things Considered" podcasts, and caught an April 2nd interview with renowned entomologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard University (yes there are a few "renowned" entomologists).  In case you are not familiar with Dr. Wilson, he is one of those rare brilliant scientists who can do science well and communicate very well to an audience far beyond the narrow world of insect-ologists.

Wilson could have laid down his collecting forceps and put aside his microscope in comfortable retirement years ago, and felt pretty darn good about his accomplishments.  He was one of the first discoverers of the red imported fire ant, and is author of more than 20 books, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Ants.  Instead he has continued with his writings, most of which these days have a conservation theme.

Describing himself Wilson says, "Every kid has a bug phase. I just never grew out of mine."  And I for one am glad he hasn't. I had the chance to meet Dr. Wilson several years ago when he gave a lecture at Texas Tech University.  My one claim to fame (if fame includes having an intimate association with a famous person) is that my early years, and possibly the seeds of my interest in biology, were spent in the same small Alabama town as Wilson. Wilson writes about his early years, including time in Brewton, AL, in his memoir, Naturalist.

Anyway, Wilson has recently published his first work of fiction, called Ant Hill: A Novel. In it, ants play a major character part, with some 70 pages devoted to life inside a fictional ant colony.  When asked why he decided to jump into writing fiction, Wilson noted that "whereas people respect non-fiction, they read novels."

Quoting the Publishers' Weekly review,
Wilson (The Ants) channels Huck Finn in his creative coming-of-age debut novel. Split into three parallel worlds—ants, humans, and the biosphere—the story follows young Raff Cody, who escapes the humid summers in Clayville, Ala., by exploring the remote Nokobee wilderness with his cousin, Junior. In one adventure, sneaking onto the property of a reputed multiple murderer to peek at his rumored 1,000-pound pet alligator, 15-year-old Raff faces down the barrel of a rifle. Raff's aversion to game hunting, ant fascination, Boy Scout achievements, and Harvard education all support his core need to remain a naturalist explorer. A remarkable center section meticulously details the life and death of an ant colony. Nearing 30, Raff's desire to preserve the Nokobee reserve from greedy real estate developers galvanizes an effort to protect the sacred land and a surprise violent ending brings everything full circle. Lush with organic details, Wilson's keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature.
Every PMP with an interest in ants owes it to him- or herself to check out some of Wilson's writings.  I haven't yet had the time to sit down with Wilson's novel, but it is on my summer reading list.  To hear the interview with E.O. Wilson, click here. To see more reviews, check out the publisher's site.



Stinger said...

Looking forward to reading this book, should be excellent. Thanks for the update.

James said...

I will have to check this out. I really enjoyed Wilson's autobiography "Naturalist". He writes in such a way that keeps you hooked.