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Literature / The Bees

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Accept, Obey, and Serve.

The Bees is a 2014 novel by Laline Paull.

It follows the story of Flora 717, a disposable sanitary worker, as she works in devoted service to the beloved Queen. However Flora 717 is an unusual adaptation from the rest of her kin - larger, more hardy. In previous years she would have been given The Kindness, but times are hard, and all must do their part to ensure the survival of the hive.

As Flora experiences life in the Hive from different perspectives - Sanitation worker, Nursery worker, forager - she begins to realise that all is not right with the Hive, and that the wasps, spiders and other vermin of the Myriad may not be the only enemy.


Tropes found in The Bees include:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Drones are universally lecherous and hedonistic, with the exception of Sir Linden. Justified, as their sole purpose is to breed.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Though we only really meet a couple of representatives of the species, no wasp was depicted in a positive light. The one that supposedly "befriended" Flora turned out to be simply luring her into a trap to turn her into a snack for her nest.
  • Animal Naming Conventions: A worker bee's name is the plant-themed name of her caste followed by a number. Drones are instead named after trees and addressed as "sir."
  • Animal Talk: The bees all understand each other in a common tongue, although Sanitation workers cannot talk. They also use dancing as a method of communication. Wasps and bees can talk to each other without much difficulty, but communication to other insects, like ants, requires the use of the ancient tongue Hymenopteraese, which very few creatures know fluently leading to very simple communication. Strangely, they can also talk very easily to flies and spiders, even though they are of completely different biological orders, Diptera and Aranaea as opposed to Hymenoptera.
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  • Bee People: Well they're literally bees but with lots of human characteristics.
  • Brainwashed: Part and parcel of living in a Hive Mind, but specifically true of the Queen's Love, a scent which overrides all other thought and emotion and replaces it with love for the Queen and the need to serve the Hive.
  • Deadly Euphemism: The Kindness.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Initially, Sir Linden was harsh and rude to Flora, seeing her simply as a servant, but eventually he came to gradually warm up to her, even regarding her as a friend, complete with saving her and her daughter's life by removing the traces of the corpse of Sister Sage, who attempted to rat them out to the police in hopes to get them killed, only to get murdered by Flora.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Descriptions of gathering pollen and nectar are rather sexual in tone.
  • Eats Babies: Flora is ordered to consume a larva that doesn't meet the level of purity required. When she freezes up, the guards do it for her.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Sanitary workers are looked down on in society as being unclean and dumb.
    A flora may not make wax, for she is unclean; nor propolis, for she is clumsy; nor ever may she forage, for she has no taste; but only may she serve her hive by cleaning, and all may command her labors.
  • Final Solution: All bees that deviate too much from their kin's size and shape, or who have some kind of deformity are given The Kindness. Flora 717 was close to this herself but thankfully Sister Sage saw use in her "adaptation" and gave her a new job.
  • Floral Theme Naming: Bees of a certain kin, or type, all share the same name. The priestesses are all Sage, the landing board guards are all Thistle, etc. The sanitation workers, being the lowest type of kin, don't get a specific flower name, but are all called the generic Flora. Drones are named after trees.
  • A Good Way to Die: In the end, Flora finally passes away from an old age, but in the end, she saw her daughter survive and grow up to become the new queen, her fellow floras now serve as her maids, no longer oppressed by higher castes, and the Hive continues to live on. As such, she has no regrets and happily passes away in peace.
  • Genetic Memory: After a moment of uncertainty all bees know their place in society and the roles they must preform.
  • The Hero Dies: Flora dies shortly after her daughter mates with Sir Linden, becoming the Hive's new Queen.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In the end, Sir Linden volunteers to mate with Flora's princess daughter to allow her to ascend to the Queen status, knowing it would end in his death. It's in drones' nature, after all.
  • Hive Mind: Not all bees can hear it but when the hive is in danger it gives orders on how to deal with the threat. Sanitary workers don't hear the call, but Flora 717 does. During the winter, when the bees cluster together for warmth and semi-hibernate, there is a more consistent hive mind that even the sanitation workers feel.
  • Hive Caste System: We have Sanitary workers, nurse-maids, fanners (those that look after the honey), foragers, guards, police, the Queen's hand-maidens, Priestesses and, of course, the Queen.
  • Hive Queen: Again, they're literally bees!
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: The dreaded Visitation, a disaster bees can scarcely comprehend, is the gathering of honey from the hive.
  • Incest Is Relative: Flora's daughter mates with a bee who is technically her uncle. It's a bit complicated, but the short version is that insect reproduction is bizarre at times, and the circumstances of her birth might mean she's not actually closely related to him at the genetic level.
  • Insect Gender-Bender: Averted. Aside from the level of sentience displayed by the bees, the novel is an accurate portrayal of roles within a hive, including the vast majority being female and the few males treated well but born only to breed.
  • It's All About Me: Their glorious Malenesses, the drones.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Flora's mind is wiped after she fails her second test, reducing her to the level of her kin on the surface. But something of herself lingers under the surface and her mind is restored after hearing the hive mind.
  • Living Aphrodisiac: The Queen gives off an addictive scent that gives off feelings of love and caring.
  • Never Say "Die": Bees that are unfit for service to the hive are given The Kindness.
  • The Needs of the Many: The basis of every decision made by the Sage priestesses.
  • Partially Civilized Animal: Bees are depicted as having accoutrements such as tea sets, chandeliers, and stairways in their hive, and are described as being capable of facial expression, but they think and act very much like bees.
  • Pretty Boy: Sir Linden, by drone standards.
  • Rapid Aging: Flora's daughter goes from an egg to a fully-grown bee in about three days, despite other bees taking that long just to go from larva to pupa. No explanation is given.
    • In a possible case of Writers Cannot Do Math, fully-grown drones are in the hive again only a day after the queen begins laying in the spring. Aside from Sir Linden, they aren't last year's drones either, as they were all killed or driven out into the cold before winter started so that the actual workforce would have enough food to last.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The caste that Flora 717 belongs to are more intelligent than other bees seem to believe, eventually regaining the ability to speak during the winter Cluster. What caused them to become the way they are at the start of the book is never revealed. There are some implications that it was a conspiracy by the Sage caste, but if this is actually the case then the reader never gets to know for certain.
  • Rule of Three: Flora lays three eggs. Only the third reaches metamorphosis.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm:
    • Subverted when a wasp enters the hive. It's faced by a horde of angry bees, but they don't use their stingers. Instead, they encase it and vibrate to raise its temperature and cause heat death.
    • Played straight when Flora 717 flees from wasps who lured her into their nest. To distract them, she flees into the cabin of a truck, which results in the wasps attacking the panicking hapless driver.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: The whole Hive is portrayed this way, though specifically the Sage priestesses. Everything is done for the good of the Hive. Not even the Queen is safe when her sickness starts to threathen the Hive's survival.
  • Undying Loyalty: All bees in the hive have eternal loyalty to their hive and the Queen, because if they don't they won't be around for much longer.
  • Wicked Wasps: All wasps featured in the novel are depicted as aggressive, ruthless and, in one case, even deceitful, tricking Flora into tasting their sugar, while in reality, they wanted to disorient and kill her.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The Sages are willing to trade old and weak bees to the Spiders in exchange for information, and to send Sanitation workers especially to their death to ensure certain secrets are kept. There are several thousand Floras, so the Sages don't care, but Flora 717 feels their sacrifice keenly.
  • Xenofiction: The novel is written entirely from the bees' perspective.

It's a book about bees. Has to have one of these.