Empire Of The Ants ($23.95; Feb. 9; 256 pp.; 0-553-09613-3): First published in France in 1991, this ingenious anthropomorphic fantasy draws disturbing parallels between the rigidly structured ``empire'' in which ants work, multiply, make war, and survive and the less ordered lives of their most dangerous predators: human beings. Weber expertly weaves together weirdly beautiful near-documentary descriptions of ant culture with the story of the Wells family, Americans resettled in Paris, who ignore the orders of their late Uncle Edmond (an entomological researcher, and author of an idiosyncratic ``encyclopedia''from which we're given snippets) to ``Never go down into the cellar!'' The mystery of their subsequent disappearances, and of the fated encounter between human and insect societies, is hidden within a mathematical puzzle whose solution precipitates a thoroughly satisfying denouement. A tour de force.