Terraform, December 8, 2014

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

Special Double Review

by Joshua Berlow & C. D. Lewis


Terraform, December 8, 2014

Attack of the Giant Ants” by Rudy Rucker

Reviewed by Joshua Berlow

Fracking has provided cheaper gasoline. However critics of fracking have warned of the negative repercussions of pumping chemical-laden water into spent wells to retrieve the last remaining drops of oil. They’ve warned that fracking may contaminate drinking water, release VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) into the air, and cause earthquakes. We can add one more fracking downside to the list—giant “stygian” ants!

In this tongue-in-cheek story there’s exciting action and subtle romance. A pair of detectives investigates a double homicide at a convenience store. No money is stolen, but sugary sweets have been vandalized.

After the first stygian ants at the convenience store wander away to kill more people, they simply disappear. How do they do that? Well, that’s what these stygian ants have over Godzilla and Mothra—they can change size. Not only can the ants grow, they can also shrink back to normal. Shrinking back to regular ant size is a wonderful way for the giant ants to vanish.

One of the pair of detectives becomes enamored by Roopa Banarjee, a young entomologist from UC Berkeley. She’s intent on capturing one of the ants alive, because the “laminar chitins” that make up their shells could be worth billions. Roopa knows how to speak ant and looks fetching in an ant costume. She manages to lure more stygian ants out from underground, with mixed results.

What makes this story impressive is the spare manner in which Rucker conveys maximum action with minimum words. Of the few Terraform stories I’ve reviewed, this is my favorite because it is told in a straightforward style with no extraneous detail, yet is replete with action, humor, and even romance. Who doesn’t love those old movies with giant animals on the rampage? As it turns out, there was this notable black & white giant ant science-fiction movie made in 1954—the redoubtable Them! Now that we’ve seen numerous Godzilla re-makes, could a Them! re-make be far behind? Rudy Rucker is on to something!

*   *   *

Terraform, December 8, 2014

Attack of the Giant Ants” by Rudy Rucker

Reviewed by C.D. Lewis

Now in its second month, Terraform steers its near-future short Science Fiction periscope toward Fifties-era monster flicks. This week’s story weighs in at 2,300 words – lightweight, but still 15% over Terraform’s nominal word count limit. The only color I notice mentioned in the story is red – to describe the mad scientist’s ant-suit. (And what can beat that?) It describes people by size and sound, without facial details or the like, but use of Indian and Hispanic names helps readers better sketch characters otherwise described primarily by age and gender. Despite the economy of description, it offers a rich visual of a Fifties-era giant monster attack, right down to the climactic battle, which leaves just enough unresolved to tickle you with the mad scientist’s next move in the denouement.

Rudy Rucker’s “Attack of the Giant Ants” delivers on its title’s promise: the newly-discovered deep-subterranean Stygian Ant, driven to the surface by frackers, quickly escalates in threat from knocked-over corner stores and bakeries to a direct assault on San Francisco. The amount you can see coming makes this more a triumph of camp than of drama: the cop left alone to secure a murder scene, told to turn on his body cam “[i]n case something happens[,]” is so obviously going to bite it that you read on mostly to see how anticipation of his grisly demise is quenched. The fifties-era-monster-flick sensibilities make for laughs from the first scene – provided you are into this. Rucker’s stack of tropes seems engineered to support a drinking game: the left-by-his-wife lead cop, the mad scientist, the cute young love interest, the monsters’ implausible powers, the mad scientist’s unbelievable skills … let’s face it, you are either into campiness, or this story is not for you. Nobody is going to believe that “laminar chitin” would allow an ant to increase from the size of a roach to the size of a jumbo jet (where would the mass come from?), but this thin veneer of pretend-science explanation fits perfectly with the story’s Fifties-era monster-flick schtick. If you demand rigorous science in your science fiction, this story is not your bag – but if you revel in B-movies (and B-movie backstories), don’t miss Rucker’s “Attack of the Giant Ants.”

C.D. Lewis lives and writes in Faerie.