Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Bees by Laline Paull

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bees by Laline Paull

In the spirit of George Orwell's Animal Farm, Laline Paull's debut novel, The Bees, wings readers through a life of adventures seen through the lens of Flora 717, a worker bee from the titular colony.  Flora is a bee of singular distinction, unlike her sisters; she is larger, stronger, and independent, with willpower that is unmatched by most other bees in the hive.  In the world of the hive, the Queen and the collective are placed above the individual and every bee lives by the credo “accept, obey and serve”.  While for most bees the Hive Mind reigns, Flora is an outsider, a loner at the centre of this great crowd. And beyond her physical, intellectual and social differences there is something else - she holds secrets. 

We follow her journey through life starting with the moment she emerges from her cell.  She is a sanitation worker, the lowest caste in the hive, born only to serve the colony by cleaning the hive.  But early on we learn that she is unusual.  Whereas other sanitation workers spend their lives shuffling about the hive, eyes downcast, taking instruction from any and all other bees, Flora sets herself apart immediately by doing something that no other sanitation worker dares - she speaks.

We witness her education as she performs a variety of roles in the hive, a privilege not normally afforded other bees.  She spends time in the nursery where the Queen’s eggs develop into the larvae that will soon be new members of their society.  She works as a forager, leaving the hive to hunt for pollen amongst the flowers of the orchard and beyond.  Her travels bring her into contact with other members of the insect world, crossing paths with spiders, flies and wasps among others.  They also give her insight into some of the truths and secrets of her society that aren’t normally shared with the collective.  This knowledge, and her unwillingness to conform lead to challenges for Flora that will test her courage, wisdom and perseverance.  Can one bee stand against tradition and the colony?

Beyond the story of Flora, The Bees is a novel that explores a variety of issues and ideas.  It is a study of a caste-based society and the struggles facing anyone who opposes its rigid, unyielding structure.  It explores the inequities of life for those in the lowest strata as compared to those who exist in the circle of influence and power.  The power in this society is concentrated in the small subset known as Sages, who act as priestesses of the colony and serve the Queen who reigns over all.  And in the world of this hive, this power and control is exerted through blind devotion to the Queen and collective.  The story uses images of religious fervour, invoking the traditional language of Christianity, even going so far as to use a modified version of The Lord's Prayer.  At points in the story, the religious devotion reaches a cult-like fervour, with bees following directives unquestioningly, and sometimes to their death.

Violence is another theme frequently presented throughout The Bees. The hive is often portrayed as a police state, with the word of the Sages enforced by bees serving as police who seem more like assault troops than peacekeepers.  Bees quiver and cower in their presence and punishment by death is prevalent.  Indeed, the law of the hive leaves little room for leniency and many bees meet an early death at the hands of these enforcers. At other times Paull’s use of description become nearly erotic.  The relationship between the bees and the flowers that they search out for pollen is portrayed in tones of yearning and deep need. Flowers beg bees for their caress, wantonly sending out their fragrances in desperate, unabashed desire.  

The book also plays with issues of gender, politics, the fouling of the environment, rebirth, motherhood, loyalty, succession and balance. It is a study of a society and the struggles of one bee that doesn’t fit the mold prescribed for her by that society. It is an interesting tale, providing insight into the world of bees and a variety of topics for the reader to consider. We cheer for Flora, sympathizing with her as she struggles to do her part to serve her sisters and fulfill her role in the hive while still being true to herself. It is a role we can see ourselves in and this little bee exemplifies the courage required to fly in the face of adversity. We should all be lucky to be so endowed.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Photo essay: A bug’s life

Brilliant photo essay from… Click and enjoy.  Photo essay: A bug’s life

Of course you need a subscription for the full effect.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Open Letter to redacted, Operations Manager for redacted

Dear Sir,

I am writing this letter to plead the case for an endangered species that dwells within your purview. The pierrarbre beetle needs your help. Indeed, without your support the continued existence of this rare bug is unlikely to last much beyond the next seventeen centuries. It is in your capacity as Operations Manager for redacted, that I am writing to you. As the Operations Manager for redacted your influence over the decisions that are made concerning the handling of its habitat could be life altering for the pierrarbre beetle.

As a government employee you are able to affect change. Indeed, I expect that with a simple phone call you could likely save this rare bug.  And so, I ask you sir, as one nature lover to another (I too am an outdoorsman and an avid bugotologist with a Bachelor of Ecology in Dirt and Bugotology from Bill and Lorrie A. College), to afford this plea the weight it deserves. The consequences for not doing so would be devastating and I expect you will agree that the trade off for doing so will have very little effect in the “grand scheme of things”.
orphaned pierrabre beetle

What you’ll need to do is raze the forests of the redacted.  The problem for the pierrarbre beetle is twofold.   Firstly, the sharp points of pine needles are a constant hazard for this magnificent creature. Indeed, three, or sometimes even as many as four of these beetles are discovered dead from an infection due to “pine needle poke”, as it is known in the industry, every three decades. As you well know, the pierrarbre beetle lives the bulk of its life underground, in a similar fashion to the cicada, spending upwards of thirty years below the terra, coming above ground for six and a half minutes and then dying.  In fact, the pierrarbre beetle is often mistaken for a cicada. But the differences are actually quite drastic.  Cicadas are annoying and noisy while pierrarbre beetles are elegant, rare bugs. And here I should pause to give credit as due, so as not to be sued, again, for "allegedly" making claims about my part in the discovery of the distinction between these two bugs.  Casteelos Gabrielle, the renowned Chilean bugotologist and cueca dancer is responsible for that breakthrough.  In its entirety.  As I am legally obligated to point out.  Upon threat of reprisal.

victims of pine needle poke

The second, and perhaps more devastating problem for the pierrarbre beetle comes at the hands, or should I say branches, of deciduous trees. While conifers bring the near certainty of death on the ground for 0.0000000000000000865% of all pierrarbre beetles over a three decade span, deciduous trees are decidedly more problematic and the real reason behind the need to clear-cut the forest.  Were it just a problem of “pine needle poke” I would simply insist that you clean up all your pine needles.  A thousand ShopVacs® and a reinstatement of the Ontario Junior Ranger program would solve that.

However, it is the so-called hardwoods that cause the real problem for the pierrarbre beetle. Sir, I am sure you are familiar with the philosophical quandary involving a tree, a forest, the toppling of said tree and an absence of humans to measure the sound of such toppling. I can assure you sir, that there is indeed a sound. It is the peals of agony emanating from the tiny throats of pierrarbre beetles being crushed by such trees. Or, more precisely, the surviving families of such tragedies. You see, in such incidents, the crushing is usually too quick for the pierrarbre beetle beneath the falling tree to get out more than a quick, "Tell my wife I love her", before it is over. But for the survivors who must go on alone, some for as much as their entire six and a half minute supraterranean lives, the devastation has only just begun.

shine a spotlight on the pierrabre beetle's plight
 And this is where the math becomes critical. Pierrarbre beetles are being crushed at an alarming rate. If my calculations are correct (and they are - I used a calculator) then we could see the entire population of pierrarbre beetles wiped out in your great great great grandchildren's great great great grandchildren's great great great grandchildren's great great great grandchildren's time. I think we can both agree that's not great. Think about the children.

Sir, I'm sure, given the evidence, you will see your way clear to addressing this issue immediately. As the pierrarbre beetles are scheduled for their next rise to the top in 2043 there is no time to waste. A burning might be the quickest way to deal with the abundance of trees in your forest or perhaps introducing more beavers to that particular area of landscape; I'll leave that to your expertise.

I'd like to thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. I know that by working together we can be stewards for this great great world of ours.

Yours in ecology,

redacted, B.E.D. Bug.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Toxic Toes

The wall in front of me undulates slowly.  If I didn't know better, I'd think it was alive, which, in a way, it is.  It is covered with lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillars.  These little babies congregate in the parks of Southern Ontario that are home to permanent and semi-permanent transportable domiciles.  A native of the Erie shores, it can also be found near the waters of Lake Ontario, further south in the rec rooms and/or garages of Windsor and the surrounding county, and occasionally as far North as Otter Lake.

Unlike normal caterpillars that undergo a dramatic change in their lives, transforming into either an elegant, colourful and beautiful butterfly or a drab, ratty moth, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar rarely makes it to the chrysalis stage, usually coming to an untimely end long before entering the long, deep sleep.  As you can see from the image, one of the key character traits of this caterpillar is the ability to blend into its surroundings.  The ability of the lysa lysa anthakhultjam to adapt to the circumstances in which it finds itself is uncanny.  This rare bug can transform from blushing wallflower, blending modestly into the vinyl siding, to a proud, confident educator-bug, leading groups of young eggs and caterpillars through their early stages of development.  At other times these fuzzy little creepers flirt with disaster, overindulging in the juice of narcotic plants.  Indeed, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar is the inspiration for the worm at the bottom of the tequila bottle, the worm only being the choice of mainstream manufacturers as consumers were bothered by the hair the caterpillar left in their mouths in blind taste tests.  Well, the testers didn't start out blind, but you can only taste test so much tequila without suffering the consequences.

Nonetheless, thousands of these caterpillars will still find their way to the bottom of the many, many jugs of home-brewed tequila that are bottled in the transportable domiciles of North America.  And that is what makes the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar so extremely rare.  Nowhere else in the kingdom of bugs does such blatant disregard for self occur.  These fuzzy little buggies willingly dive to their liquidy doom, choosing a 100 proof tomb over life on the wing.  Their premature end is not without value however, providing entertainment for countless slack-jawed, mouth-breathers via games of "Who Ate the Cat'?", "Bug in Your Cup" and "Throat Tickler".  Indeed, the caterpillar is said to be the catalyst for the high drunkicity levels caused by these batches of "dishwater tequila", as a toxin released by the bug's suction cup feet boosts the effect of the drink tenfold.  In the tequila U-Brew circles this is known as the "caterpillar effect", whereby the actions of one small bug can have a dramatic effect on on a large number of connoisseurs who choose to imbibe in the authentic spirits.  For the denizens of these tin-walled enclaves, the results are often compounded by the lack of anything of more nutritional value in their diets than saltines, fried bologna and and Cheese Whiz®.
The super rare lysa lysa anthakhultjam in its native environs, blending into vinyl siding

Though often not visible in pictures, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar can also be found with shoes on its feet.  Though there is debate among bugologists as to whether these are in fact shoes, or as is vigorously argued by many, based on the style and composition of the footwear, slippers.  Although the caterpillar is indiscriminate when it comes to the occasions for which it chooses to wear such foot coverings, donning them while both in and out of the house, form seems like the determining factor over function.  This little caterpillar values comfort, forgoing the aesthetic of heels for the soft, fuzzy satisfaction found in a pair of slippers.  Despite the challenges faced by this little pinky-finger sized critter, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar soldiers on, returning every summer to those mystical shores and converted garages where it congregates with other like-minded bugs.  Oftentimes before their sojourn to the bottom of an authentic jug of tin-can tequila, these little buggies can be found relaxing in their easy chairs, feet up, slippers on, newspaper spread wide in front of them, with a snifter of scotch and some Benny Goodman on the radio, just enjoying their last moments.  The lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar is also known for its broad musical knowledge; indeed, in these last cozy moments groups of these caterpillars often enjoy rousing rounds of "Name that Tune" and "Guess the Lyric".

Sadly, the lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar is on the precipice of extinction but there are a number of organizations that are working hard to intervene in their disappearance through fundraising, educating the public, lobbying the government and seeking out corporate partnerships.  Groups like L.L.A.M.A.S.* and SaveOurC.A.T.S.** have made it their mission to halt the decline by any means necessary.  These groups, among others, are doing what bugologists the world over cannot.  They are using their numbers and political will to stop a potential tragedy.  It is actually beautiful when you stop to consider it; I know to most people they are just bugs, but if we look beyond that to how they can cause a group of people to pull together and fight for something they believe in, well, I think these little caterpillars are pretty darn special.

By the way, few people beyond my closest friends know this, but I actually have a lysa lysa anthakhultjam caterpillar that has a place of honour in my collection.  However, due to its status on the verge of extinction, it only comes out on the rarest of occasions.  Otherwise I just stick with the Jose Cuervo.

*L.L.A.M.A.S. - Lysa Lysa Anthakhultjam Make Alcohol Superior
**SaveOurC.A.T.S. - Savour Caterpillars As Tequila Supplement

Monday, December 24, 2012

Still here are we?

OK so I guess the Stag Beetle blew it. But beware, the Stag Beetle isn't the only Rare Bug with designs on the destruction of mankind. Stay tuned. I have uncovered another creepy crawly conspiracy and will soon reveal the details of this latest nefarious scheme.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tournament of Lies

This super rare bug, the Odontolabis cuvera fallaciosus, or so-called Stag "Beetle", is native to Asia but is available on eBay for $2.65 USD plus $14.00 shipping.  As rare bugs go, this one is up there, with only about one thousand different species in the family Lucanidae to which it belongs.  It can be identified by the large mandibles, which this beetle uses for fighting foes, impressing lady beetles, intimidating bison and removing both beer bottle caps and splinters.

This bug is also often referred to as the Apocalypse Bug for its role in the end of the world.  The name, Odontolabis cuvera fallaciosus, given to it by the ancient Mayans is an anagram for foi, o cold evil sun rats, o USA cabal.  The Mayans, long known for their spot on predictions could clearly see the impending doom looming on our horizon and so gamely passed a message to us in the future.  I'm not certain why they didn't just write it down somewhere but I must admit that the bug messenger is indeed quite clever.

The hidden message reveals that these masterful prognosticators not only wanted to pass a warning along, but also that they predicted the prevalence of acronyms as a legitimate method of communication.  The foi is clearly a reference to Freedom of Information, a lack of which clearly has a part to play in our demise.  The cold, evil sun rats is obvious and therefore requires no explanation.  And of course there is the reference to the USA cabal.  The group in question could be anyone plotting to trigger end times: the Republicans, the ultra-rich, the cast of Baywatch (but not Hasselhoff; he's touring and would never (willingly) trigger an Anocalypse).  The dropping of the "h" on the word oh in both instances of use is further proof of the Mayans deep understanding of the future, or, as we call it, the now.  The Mayans understood that the youth of today would reduce cumbersome two letter words to single characters, thus providing their "text" messages back and forth to each other a previously unavailable brevity, depth of meaning and flexibility of interpretation not available via mediums like letter writing and talking.

So then, what does this beetle really tell us?  Well, in combination with the Mayan long count calendar, it tells us much.  We know that the "world" will end December 21, 2012.  This is irrefutable.  Unless it doesn't.  Then it is completely futable.  But the Mayans laid down the gauntlet; now it is time for mankind to step up and make the Mayans proud.  We've been doing our level best to try to make it happen for some time now: there is pollution, overpopulation, starvation.  I have faith that, with a push from the USA cabal we can make this happen.  If it comes to it, the beetle has its marching orders too for instigating our last waltz.

So then, what to do with your last moments on this planet.  May I suggest:
  • skydiving - 'cause what do you have to lose, right?
  • peyote - it was good enough for the Mayans
  • take a nap - if the world ends while you're sleeping you won't have to fret about it and if it doesn't, hey, you squeezed in a nap - awesome!
And what are the signs that the end is nigh?  That's right.  It starts with an earthquake.  And, by the way, if you are reading this post and it is no longer December 21, 2012, congratulations, you survived the Zombie Apocalypse.  I sure hope you didn't do anything rash while you were off work burning your Apocalypse Days.  If so you're going to have to wait until you accrue new ones or you're going to end up working through the next apocalypse, which I think we can all agree, would suck.