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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:

  • Awful Truth: The "personality secret", a secret which even the person it relates to can never know. Coming to know it sets Lew on his path and Maxim says that he would have been much happier had Sikorsky never told him the truth: Lew Albakins parents did not die in a tragic accident. They never existed. He is one of several people that have grown from human embryos found in an incubator on a distant planet, dated to be tens of thousands of years old. No one knows for sure the purpose or intent of these incubated embryos.
  • 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).
  • 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 : The ironically codenamed planet "Hope", home to a civilization of Human Aliens that turned the enviromental pollution of their homeworld up to eleven.
  • Creepy Child: Abalkin was a strange, violent child, which might be due to him growing up as an orphan, or something else.
  • Da Chief: Rudolf Sikorsky, AKA Wanderer, head of the Commision of Control ComCon-2. He's worked as Progressor for years, and has had his share of hair-raising adventures and strange cases. He knows a lot about the case of Lew Abalkin, but even as he orders Maxim on to the case, he explicitly tries to shield him from the truth at the heart of it.
  • 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.
  • Ghost Planet: Hope, in the Story Within a Story about Abalkin's mission to the planet, is a textbook example. See Homeworld Evacuation below.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: An in-universe example. Maxim and the reader get to hear a lot about Sikorsky's thoughts on the matter, and know how conflicted and distraught he feels about the case of Lew Abalkin. We also know of his work on Saraksch and his tireless attempts to salvage a dystopian world. But his actions as progressor are not publicized, and as a result of the events in the books finale, by the time the The Time Wanderers takes place, his name only lives on as the epitome of dangerous, hysteric paranoia over alien interference, the "Sikorsky Syndrome".
  • Government Agency of Fiction: ComCon-2 acts like this. It has two missions: handling Progressors, which are the agents of a near-utopian Earth trying to uplift alien civilizations with often less than utopian means. And ensuring the security of Earth by preventing dangerous and unpredictable technology to profiliate, if necessary by confiscating and wiping out any information on it. On a happy, peaceful Earth, their forceful actions and habitual secrecy make them rather unpopular with the general population.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: The scientist Isaac Bromberg to Rudolf Sikorsky. For years they've been running into each other on cases/projects regarding novel scientific research, with neither one being able to permanently shut the other up. Their conflict stems from Sikorsky trying to contain or shut down a dangerous or unpredictable project, while Bromberg continuously argues for the free flow of all information. Bromberg does so in such a persistent and obnoxious manner that the usually cool and collected Sikorsky nearly comes to blows with him during their latest debate.
  • Snarky Non-Human Sidekick : Shchekn Itrch, the Golovan co-worker of Abalkin. He seems to get an indecent amount of pleasure from mocking and baffling the scientists of the Hope mission.
  • The Unreveal: Beetle in an Anthill is full of Unreveals. The biggest one is Abalkin's true nature.
  • Tyke Bomb: Leo Abalkin is feared to be this. Due to his strange origin (see the Awful Truth entry above) he is theorized to be an agent of the Wanderers, to either act as a Progressor for Earth, a Secret Test of Character for humanity as a whole, or just a big experiment testing human behaviour and reactions, as if some cosmic child had put a beetle in an anthill to see the ants scurrying around in confusion.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Schekn's renouncement of Abalkin, from Kammerer's perspective.
  • Worthy Opponent: Despite their enmity, Sikorsky and Bromberg bear a grudging respect for each other. After they've gotten the pent-up anger out of their system during their latest meeting by having a loud heated argument, they are able to have a more reasonable discussion about the case of the incubator/sarcophagus.