a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Empire of the Ants (1991)
Bernard Werber

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

This is a fascinating first novel. Published in France under the title "Les Fourmis" in 1991 and translated into English as "Empire of the Ants" (not to be confused with the H G Wells story or movie based on the Wells story) in 1996. Half of the story is told from the ants' point of view. Something is seriously wrong in the anthill, and the ants who are aware of the great danger and try to warn the others discover several problems.

First, their fellow ants are mostly unthinking slaves of the queen. Second, the usual predators and competitors are as relentless as ever. And third, there seem to be special assassins among the ants who do not want the message spread, successfully coming off as formicine versions of James Bond heavies.

The other half of the story is told from an unusual family's point of view. An eccentric naturalist has died in the wild, leaving his spacious apartment to his nephew. The basement has one broken door sealed off with extreme "Do Not Enter" warning signs. Of course, one by one, the nephew and his family and then their rescuers disappear through the doorway. Most do not come back. Those who do are unable or unwilling to say anything.

Obviously, the two narratives must converge. Seemingly impossible, the individual storylines have an extra tension as they must somehow be aimed towards each other. One wonders, could this convergence be science fiction, horror (and does horror mean horror for humans, horror for ants or both?) or just something merely strange? In the end, there is an unusual and perhaps frightening resolution, which boils down to a simple question: is there room for two dominant species on Earth?

The main problem with the novel is its stiff writing. This may be because Werber is a science journalist and this is his first novel, or it may reflect a lack of verve by the translator.

Mathematics has a small role in the novel. There is one recurring geometric puzzle that turns out to be important at one point. The person who solves it does so while recollecting her delight at the thinking outside the box moment she had experienced in school when she first learned about negative numbers.

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Works Similar to Empire of the Ants
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
  2. The Heroic Adventures of Hercules Amsterdam by Melissa Glenn Haber
  3. The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
  4. Diamond Dogs by Alastair Reynolds
  5. Storm: The Chronicles of Pandarve by Martin Lodewijk (writer) / Don Lawrence (artist)
  6. From the Earth to the Moon [De la Terre à la Lune, trajet direct en 97 heures 20 minutes] by Jules Verne
  7. The Cubist and the Madman by Robert Metzger
  8. Catch the Lightning [Lightning Strikes Vols. I-II] by Catherine Asaro
  9. Eversion by Alastair Reynolds
  10. Exordia by Seth Dickson
Ratings for Empire of the Ants:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifMath Education,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)