I got a chance to see Ant-Man this past week and I really enjoyed it. Sure, the physics were a bit hard to swallow, but I liked the humor of the movie, and the visual effects were great. While reading Jim MacQuarrie’s “meet the cast” post, I noticed that director Peyton Reed referred to Edward Wilson–and that reminded me about his book about ants from several years ago. So, in honor of Ant-Man, this week’s Stack Overflow is all about ants. And Ant-Man.
E. O. Wilson knows a whole lot about ants; he’s a biology professor at Harvard University, and his special interest is myrmecology, the study of–you guessed it–ants. My college roommate actually got to take some classes from him back in the day, so I had some exposure to secondhand myrmecology and we had some big images of ants like gigantiops destructor taped to the wall.
At any rate, five years ago Wilson published a novel, Anthill, about a young boy named Raff who loves nature and grows up to become a lawyer, fighting to protect the wilderness he loves from being developed. What’s particularly of note is the middle section, The Anthill Chronicles. It’s presented as Raff’s senior thesis, and that section of the book is about the rise and fall of an ant empire, presented without anthropomorphism and including lots of details about how this particular ant society functions.
You can read my original review of the book here. I’ll admit that I haven’t read it since then, but after being reminded of it, I may go back and read the Anthill Chronicles portion again soon.
In my review of Anthill, I mentioned another ant-based book: Empire of the Ants. This one is less science-based than Wilson’s book, but it’s still pretty fascinating. The book jumps between two stories: one is about humans, and the other about ants.
In the human story, a strange uncle has died, leaving behind an apartment with a message never to go down into the cellar. But of course this guy does, coming back a changed man but unwilling (or unable) to tell his wife and son what he’s seen there. And then people start disappearing down into the cellar.
Meanwhile, the ant story is told from the point of view of a few of the ants. This story does anthropomorphize them to some extent, though you’re told that the ants communicate through pheromones, sort of like smelling. There’s something mysterious wiping out ants, and there are some ants trying to cover up the evidence. This part of the story is what really intrigued me when I read it about a decade ago. The human part of the story wasn’t quite as convincing, ironically. But if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi book about ants, add this one to your list.
Here’s one for the kiddos! World of Reading has a Level 1 book (for beginning readers, Pre-K to 1st Grade) about Ant-Man that introduces kids to the basics in simple, easy-to-read terms with lots of pictures. It’s not a movie novelization, so don’t expect the toy train fight scene.
For the slightly older kids, this “Mighty Marvel Chapter Book” is a story-length paperback featuring Ant-Man. It still has plenty of illustrations, but there’s an actual plot line rather than just little short sentences about Ant-Man. Scott Lang discovers something weird in the ants below Central Park, but when he tries to tell the Avengers about it, they blow him off because they’re too busy fighting off real threats. Only Bruce Banner believes him, and stays with Lang to explore the issue. It turns out the ants have a virus that is turning people into zombie-like assailants.
The book’s plot is somewhat silly, but it actually does introduce (and define) some terms like pheromone scents and hemolymph, and of course the story plays up Ant-Man’s strengths so he can save the day. Besides the weird zombie virus, the other challenge Ant-Man has is believing in himself–yep, just like in an after-school special.
Disclosure: I received review copies of the Ant-Man books.