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Literature / Beetle in the Anthill

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Beetle in the Anthill (Russian: "Жук в муравейнике") is the ninth and penultimate novel by the Strugatsky Brothers to be set in the Noon Universe.

More or less a direct sequel to Inhabited Island. Maxim, now older and more cynical, is assigned to track down a progressor named Leo Abalkin who may be an instrument of the Wanderers' plot. While his boss views the progressor as a threat, our hero becomes increasingly ambivalent.

Tropes found in the novel:

  • Broken Aesop: According to Word of God, the moral was meant to be somewhat along the lines of "even the best intentioned of Secret Service type agencies will naturally commit horrible acts purely due to the paranoia that is Inherent in the System" (comparable to how risk of crippling injury is inherent to most sports).
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Deconstructed when Abalkin explores a deserted planet, equipped with a suit that is supposed to give him whole-body Chameleon Camouflage. However, it malfunctions and doesn't actually do anything, so Abalkin takes off his helm for better vision. Then, just as he encounters the local Human Aliens, the suit suddenly powers up and presents him as a floating head, scaring the shit out of the locals (to the point where they open fire).
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  • Chickification: Maya Glumova, who was fairly confident, outgoing, assertive and fiercely independent in Little One is basically reduced to Abalkin's love interest in this novel.
  • Crapsack World / Ruins of the Modern Age / Scavenger World : The ironically codenamed planet "Hope", home to a Human Aliens civilization that turned the enviromental pollution of their homeworld up to eleven
  • Creepy Child - Abalkin, though it's not his fault - see Break the Cutie).
  • Deadpan Snarker : Many of the characters, including Kammerer and Abalkin.
  • First-Person Smartass : Maxim Kammerer. A bit justified, since he's the narrator of this installment
  • Foreshadowing - the last entry in Abalkin's journal ends with his cloak system suddenly starting to work, and then "The nerves of the locals snap and they start shooting...". Guess what happens then in the actual story.
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  • Ghost Planet: Hope, in the Story Within a Story about Abalkin's mission to the planet, is a textbook example. See Homeworld Evacuation below.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The scientists suspect (with good reasons) that this is what the Wanderers did to the natives of Hope, although their motivations are entirely unclear. As is par for the course whenever the Wanderers are supposed to be involved in something in the Noon Universe, quite a few of the scientists and virtually all of the COMCON-2 (the agency Maxim is a member of) representatives believe that the truth about the evacuation is much darker - although there is no hard evidence for that. On the other hand, the section describing the mission to Hope is written in a mildly horroresque style: the whole planet seems to be a rather weird place with things that should not have occured like that or even be there. This is possibly due to the Wanderers' involvement.
  • I Did What I Had to Do
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane - the Detonators (they DO have strange properties, but how much is a unclear - and the Morality of story depends on that).
  • Monster Clown : The enigmatic human-looking child snatchers on Hope. They are believed to be agents of the Wanderers, working to catch the children of Hope's small remaining population.
  • Neglectful Precursors : The possible motives of the Wanderers start becoming somewhat clearer in this installment of the series.
  • Noodle Incident: The "Massachusetts Nightmare" they mention. There are some hints on its nature dropped throughout the story though. Namely the creation of a "new, non-human civilization on earth".
    • Also, there's mention of a "Captain Nemo" who seems to use bioreactors for something.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The Tagorans' (insectoid allies of humanity) reaction to the fact that the humans, unlike them, decided to let the embryos in their sarcophagus mature. They evacuate all their personnel from Earth and every planet with humans on it, expel all humans from their homeworld, and break off contact for 25 years.
  • Show Within a Show: Abalkin's old notes about his reconnaissance mission with Shchekn in a hauntingly desolate city on Hope