In this postapocalyptic science-fiction allegory, diminutive tribal humans share the world, and a deeply intertwined society, with hordes of insects.
Anand, the despised young lower-caste protagonist of Carlton’s innovative novel, knows perfectly well how his life will unfold. He slaves in the filthy middens of his human colony, marked by skin color, scent and even body posture as inferior to the higher classes of humans who run the colony and serve the queen. In this postapocalyptic version of human society, where humans have evolved to the size of insects in response to the planet’s diminshing resources, someone like Anand has no hope of rising above his station or changing his life. His only hope is to grow old working in peace rather than be killed by the myriad insectoid menaces that stalk his world. (The author expertly shifts his narrative pacing for violent scenes that crop up frequently in the novel and are intensely memorable.) But when word comes that his colony is splitting up, sending a queen and a host of workers to found a new colony, fate offers Anand a chance to become more than he’s ever dreamed. “The history of our land is always written in blood,” one character tells him, but in addition to blood there’s doctrine here—Carlton has a surprising amount to say about organized religion and its heresies (the so-called Loose Doctrine of Dranveria plays a major role in the book), and approaches his commentary with drama and intelligence. Anand becomes something of a firebrand, insisting “No idol, book, word, place or relic should ever be held sacred…Only human life is sacred.” The complications he faces in his rise to power make for a gripping read.
The wobbly science of its premise notwithstanding, this is a fascinating, enjoyable sci-fi yarn.