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Hellstrom's Hive

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America is a police state, and it is about to be threatened by the most hellish enemy in the world: insects.

When the Agency discovered that Dr. Hellstrom's Project 40 was a cover for a secret laboratory, a special team of agents was immediately dispatched to discover its true purpose and its weaknesses—it could not be allowed to continue. What they discovered was a nightmare more horrific and hideous than even their paranoid government minds could devise.

First published in Galaxy magazine in 1973 as "Project 40," Frank Herbert's vivid imagination and brilliant view of nature and ecology have never been more evident than in this classic of science fiction.

336 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1973

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About the author

Frank Herbert

405 books12.2k followers
People note Dune (1965) of American science fiction novelist Frank Patrick Herbert for its intricate plot and its broad intellectual scope.

Frank Herbert authored five critically acclaimed and commercially successful sequels to this best-known work. Widely considered among the classics in the field of science fiction, the Dune saga, set in the distant future and taking place over millennia, dealt with themes, such as human survival, human evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics, and power.

He was the father of fellow author Brian Herbert.

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5 stars
729 (21%)
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3 stars
1,150 (33%)
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52 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 168 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,851 reviews16.4k followers
November 19, 2019
As with most works from Frank Herbert, Hellstrom’s Hive is not only very good on the surface, it also works well on many different levels. And like most of his writing, all excellent, it is difficult to assess this work without references to his greatest work, Dune.

First published in 1973, four years after Dune Messiah and three years before Children of Dune, many themes of Herbert’s Dune series can be seen in Hive, particularly a fascination with genetics and a dynamic econo-socialization. A fan of Dune will recall that the Bene Gesserit were particularly adept at arranged breeding patterns and the Bene Tleilaxu have a hive mentality, de-emphasizing individualism.

The contrast between individualism and a group consciousness is a major theme in this work. Herbert has created a world (presumably modern day / current time United States) where a centuries old movement to replicate insect “hive” organizations in a human society have evolved to challenge the “wild” human population for dominance. In Herbert’s present day, though, America has become a police state and government agencies exist atop the country’s power structure. Most interestingly, and representative of his genius for writing, Herbert tells the story from the perspective of the hive and the American police state is the “outside” enemy. In his own words, this created a "peculiar kind of tension".

This may also be seen as an allegory about communism. At the time of the writing, the U.S. and USSR were gripped in the global stalemate of the Cold War. Herbert’s Hive resembles an autocratic society by its genetically manipulated, highly specialized caste worker system. But here is where Herbert’s genius transforms this simple metaphor into something much more interesting as he describes similarities between our police state society and a hive like insect inspired one. Hellstrom’s Hive then can also be seen as a statement that not only could a police state be seen as a insect like drone system, but our reliance on "elite" leadership of such a state may not even be the most successful model.

Taking his inspiration from the Hellstrom Chronicle, a 1971 film describing a Darwinistic struggle for survival between humans and insects that has elements of satire and sci-fi horror; Herbert makes use of his exceptional ability to produce well-crafted characterization to further create a first rate science fiction novel.

Readers who enjoyed Dune will be pleasantly surprised to see that Herbert’s non-Dune writing was also first rate.

Profile Image for Carlex.
484 reviews90 followers
June 12, 2018
Three and half stars.

As I mentioned earlier, in my poor ignorance, I thought that Frank Herbert was a "one success man". That is: Dune and the sequels. Fortunately, I was curious about this novel when I found it in the prestigious SF Masterworks collection. Now I know that this author has other interesting novels that I have added to my list of pending readings.

Hellstrom's Hive is a good classic (1973). An entertaining novel about genetics and social experiments, so the novel is also a bit speculative. It is also a critique of secret agencies: those in which the left hand does not know what the right is doing (and vice versa).

The main characters are the agents of an unknown secret organization, each one with their own peculiar vision of how the problem they face should be dealt with according to their interests. And, of course, there's Mr. Hellstrom, a kind of entrepreneur with ... a hidden agenda.

As I say, a good science fiction novel, which deals with a little-treated subject in the genre. And about this, it reminds me, have you read Stephen Baxter's Coalescent? (another good one)
Profile Image for Ivo Stoyanov.
216 reviews
February 25, 2020
Една класическа фантастична история , признавам , че този стил мн ми липсва , с мн хуманизъм , въобще Хърбърт винаги ще остане в сянката на великата си творба Дюн ,но мисля че ще трябва да прегледам и други негови творби напълно заслужено .
Profile Image for Kirt.
56 reviews10 followers
January 17, 2008
It involves the encounter between normal Americans in the "modern day" and a strange, cultish society that has been secretly living among them since the 19th century, the Hive.

A lot of major Herbert themes are here, in particular science and human genetic potential, as well as encounter with an "alien" that's actually just another human culture.

While the people of the Hive may have settled down in the US since the 1800s, they've existed (in small numbers) as a secret society for at least a hundred years before that. In essence, they're a group trying to model their society on what they see as the most successful type of organisms on earth: Insects. But they want to add human intelligence to the mix.

Which leads to a very scary society. 50,000 people live in secret in the caverns underneath the farm that is secretly their Hive. They're trying to breed a "domesticated" form of humanity, with different strains, like dogs; most notable is the scientist strain, with gigantic heads and useless bodies, who are working on a strange electromagnetic weapon to protect the Hive for when it is inevitably discovered by "wild, Outside humanity". The average worker is controlled with various chemicals, which make them placid and truthful, and they of course have developed chemicals for increased fertility, including various aphrodisiacs, which are especially useful when sending breeder females out into Outside society. In fact, they're so concerned with controlled breeding and maintaining important genetic stocks, they do some pretty scary things...

Herbert makes the storyline more nuanced by being careful to increase your sympathy for the Hive, and by carefully selecting those who encounter the Hive so you're less sympathetic to them than you would otherwise be.

For example, there is room for individual merit in the Hive; exceptional persons are given "leader foods" (their nutrition science is very advanced) and given leadership positions, while remaining loyal to the Hive overall (mostly due to how they were raised); one such leader is the Hellstrom for which the book is named, who only has an individual name (not common in Hive society) because he's part of the front the group maintains to keep themselves secret from the Outside. Also, the Hive members are very loving and concerned about all its members, in their own oddly communist way; plus they don't emulate the insects slavishly. For example, they know that insect appetite is ultimately destructive unless kept in check, and being intelligent, they intend to keep it in check themselves, by being very ecologically sound in their science, and recycling everything for food. (This leads to another of their button-pushing habits: cannibalism. A dead worker is usually sent to the Vats to be recycled as food.)

The Hive is discovered by a particularly nasty secret Agency, an ultrasecret Cold War espionage arm of the executive branch, with all the callous attitude toward human life (contrasted with the Hive desire not to kill unless in self-defense) that one might expect from such an Agency. This tilts your sympathy a bit away from the "normal" humans a touch.

The idea, and I think Herbert pulls it off, is to make both sides equally sympathetic and unsympathetic in their own ways. The narrative flips between the Hive perspective and the Agency's perspective, as each finds out more about what the other is doing, the Agency trying to find out about the weapon the Hive is working on, and the Hive trying to keep Outsiders away and in the dark long enough to reach some accommodation with them.

It's quite tense and interesting, and each loss and gain by either side is thrilling as your sympathies are engaged regardless of who is winning or losing.

The only thing about this book is the ending is kinda weak. It reaches a "stopping point" -- a sort of logical lull in the action -- and then just stops.
Profile Image for Ben De Bono.
453 reviews79 followers
June 28, 2021
This was my first non-Dune Frank Herbert novel and it did not disappoint! Herbert revisits many of the themes of Dune in this book but from a different, darker angle. The Hive is an analog to the Fremen, but where we admire the latter there's something terrifying about the former. The endings also parallel with Paul's threat to destroy the spice comparing to Project 40.

Hellstrom's Hive showed me I've made a mistake in sleeping on the rest of Herbert's work. I intend to rectify that error
Profile Image for M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews.
4,027 reviews325 followers
August 21, 2021
This would be one of my more favorite of Frank Herbert's oneshot novels, though I do wish that he could have expanded a bit more on Hive-life. This book was a fun and thought-provoking read, and a bold foray into various issues. Overall I felt the story was believable, though the story would definitely have benefited from more background on the Hive and just how these Hive-people came to be.

I also found myself a bit cheesed-off by the ending. It had a 'The Lady or the Tiger' feeling to it, and ended rather abruptly, though I suppose Mr. Herbert wanted to leave the ending to us.
Profile Image for Rob.
521 reviews35 followers
November 16, 2013
....Despite an ending that could have been better I enjoyed Hellstrom's Hive a lot the second time around. Seeing where Herbert got his inspiration did significantly change my perception of the novel so I guess it was worth watching the rather poor movie after all. I still think The Dosadi Experiment is his best non Dune novel but this one is not that far behind. It takes the ecological awareness that can be found in many of his novels to a new level and the creepiness Herbert works into it make it stand out. If you can forgive Herbert the ending, I think it is well worth the read.

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Profile Image for Ray.
566 reviews112 followers
December 20, 2013
I wanted to read something by Frank Herbert and I found this going cheap so why not. For me this is a so-so book. I liked the plot idea and some of the execution is excellent, but I got a bit teed off with the titillation passages sprinkled almost randomly throughout - I suspect this book was aimed at the teen boy pulp fiction market
Profile Image for Love of Hopeless Causes.
721 reviews44 followers
March 15, 2017
Audiobook sounds like someone reading Wind in the Willows. Unfortunately, this is a stakeout: lacks tension.
Profile Image for SciFiOne.
2,008 reviews26 followers
April 29, 2017
1980 grade B+
2017 grade A

This is a structurally & thematically unusual novel. Structurally, there are no chapters - but there are a lot of breaks for POV changes that make good stopping points. Thematically, there are no true protagonists and antagonists. It is basically the clash between two governments that starts small and escalates. The two governments are Hellstrom's odd hidden society and a secret US government agency that I would guess is akin to the NSA. The NSA people are the farthest from protagonists in my opinion, but Hellstrom's society becomes off-putting enough in places to make many people consider them evil. I found their procedures very logical at an almost Vulcan level - which I like.

The story starts out grade A- but ends grade A+. It does have some long winded rumination by various characters and some repetition. But there is not much and it is easy to skip over without resorting to pure speed reading - just skip to the next paragraph - you won't miss anything important.

As for the overall story itself, it is incredible, and I had a hard time stopping many times. The conclusion is long and engrossing. I recommend this book.
Profile Image for Thomas.
30 reviews
September 11, 2014
I listened to this book as an audio book.
The concept is good but delivered in an arcane manner that is hopefully buried in the 1950's. The book can be read as a study of that era's mindset but that is all, in my opinion.

The skill of Frank Herbert as a writer is chrystal clear and the narrator does a superb job in speaking it to us.
Unfortunately in this book Frank Herbert used that skill in what I guess is an attempt to gain a larger public, trying to write a regular spy thriller for the 50's with some SciFi blended in.

If you are an experienced SciFi reader/listener I think you'll only be frustrated by this book since it hardly delivers any surprises, unless the concept of a hive society is new to you. As for the character development, you can pick any random ten minutes of listening and then you've got it all.

Compared to "Dune", this is not even worthy of comparison.
Profile Image for K.
379 reviews
November 5, 2020
Sci-fi as quasi-spy-thriller. A decent story idea but way too long in its execution. Several protagonists came and went. The first half of the book could have been omitted. With its alternative human society based on hive mentality and social-insect biology, H.G. Wells would have done a much better job. Can't hold a candle to Herbert's Dune. Audiobook narration was by Scott Brick whose over-dramatic style is not my favorite.
54 reviews
May 11, 2020
So different to anything that I anticipated. A pacy combination of espionage and sci-fi. Redolent of those classic movies from the 70s with its themes of paranoia and conspiracy. The language at times was archaic, but it did not hurt the flow. A very different book to Dune. I might have to seek out more Herbert now.
Profile Image for Brent Winslow.
236 reviews
April 10, 2022
This is the only Frank Herbert book that I've read that is nearly as good as Dune. Hellstrom's Hive follows an investigation of a small farm in Oregon where human's have begun to live like insects. Interesting comparisons of human and insect living conditions, purpose, abilities, and reproduction are explored, along with the results of genetic engineering. This is a fast paced, action packed page turner.
Profile Image for Gilbert Stack.
Author 60 books44 followers
May 31, 2019
Images from this novel have stayed vivid in my memory for more than thirty years. I reread it recently to see how it stood the test of time and was quite pleased.

Hellstrom is the leader of a secret community which has modeled itself after insect populations. The more you learn about this community, the less human the denizens seem. The hive is now threatened with discovery by the outside world as a secret government agency attempts to learn what is happening in the valley which conceals the hive.

This is a powerful story with intriguing characters and a couple of genuine heroes. There are three motive forces to follow (the hive, the agency leadership, and a couple of field agents who are the people I most related to in the book) that are all coming into conflict here. One of the things that makes Frank Herbert's books so exciting is that there is never any certainy that the "heroes" will win (see The Green Brain and The Santaroga Barrier for examples). This adds quite a bit of tension to the novel because you really can't anticipate what the outcome will be.

When I was a teenager, reading this for the first time, I would have given it five stars, but thirty years later it is still worth four.
Profile Image for Eric.
122 reviews12 followers
December 23, 2013
I bought this book on a lark because we have some dear friends named Hellstrom and it's written by Frank Herbert so, how bad could it be, right? Turns out, it is quite good. I don't see the point in hashing over the story in a review. I'll just say that Mr. Herbert creates a believable work of fiction from the rather implausible concept of an insect race developing technology and genetic engineering in parallel to us on earth. He advances the story well using the point of view of multiple characters which slowly brings you into "Hellstrom's Hive".
An interesting footnote is that the book was inspired by the "hoax" documentary "The Hellstroms Chronicle" which is available in a bad transfer on YouTube. Old sci-fi rocks!
Profile Image for Kaila.
149 reviews23 followers
February 14, 2016
Despite managing to finish this book, I never really got into it. While the premise and certain elements of the story were vaguely interesting, there was nothing beyond that "promise" to hook me. And it just wasn't enough. There was not a single character I could relate to, so certain "plot points" lacked the punch they could have done, and the story felt dragged out. There was this underlying dissatisfaction throughout the entire story for me, and my belief was stretched more by the "Outsiders" actions than the hive itself...but this could well be a result of that fact this was written in the '70s.
Profile Image for Paul.
14 reviews
October 28, 2022
This was a really good read; I'd give it a 4.5 if I could. The tension mounts as the story builds and you cross your fingers that it can't be real. The small sub sections that are fit into the main storyline give interesting insight into the Hive's history and are reminiscent Dune.
I watched the related 1971 drama/documentary, "The Hellstrom Chronicle", when I was about halfway through to get a feeling for where Frank Herbert was coming from in regards to Nils Hellstrom, his movie making business and his warnings to the world. While the film was just interesting, how Herbert expanded on it is exceptional.
October 8, 2015
An insidious, well thought out story that is well written, creepy, properly gripping and thought provoking. Explores interesting themes such as human evolution and the concept of a Human Hive and - 'wild humans' (lol). This is one of the most underrated and excellent non-Dune Frank Herbert books and proves yet again why he was (and still is) one of the all-time sci-fi greats -- and that his brilliance was not limited to the Dune series :)
Profile Image for Kimbolimbo.
1,117 reviews14 followers
October 7, 2019
Frank Herbert is part of the old school camp of SciFi writers that offends me regarding their treatment of women and sex in their books. I thought this would be a funny book about insect domination of the world but it get all twisted. And this is his second book that seemed to cast entomologists in a negative light. For once I'd like there to be a book about an entomologist saving the world without twisted perverted orgies.
Profile Image for MXMLLN Montgomery.
358 reviews9 followers
January 20, 2014
Captivating concept, but poorly executed. Still ends up being a good book, but the secret agent characters and event order detract from the insightful evolution the Hive represents.
Finding this book in the library revealed to me that Herbert has a lot more books to read: I was under the mistaken impression that he only wrote the Dune series. Hopefully, the rest are better than this.
Profile Image for Irene.
181 reviews
July 23, 2021
Di Frank Herbert avevo già letto il suo romanzo più conosciuto, ovvero Dune, quindi sapevo già che la lettura a volte poteva risultare molto complessa o a volte prolissa.
Questa storia è sicuramente una delle più originali che abbia letto, per quanto riguarda il genere sci-fi, ma sfortunatamente ho trovato molte cose che durante la lettura non ho apprezzato al meglio: innanzitutto, il finale che è stato molto, ma molto, affrettato e inoltre ha lasciato la storia aperta, come se ci fosse un secondo libro a seguire (cosa che invece non è); e i diversi punti di vista che a volte rendono la lettura più pesante del normale.
Apparte queste due cose che mi hanno fatto storcere il naso, la storia parla di un'Agenzia governativa che cerca di scoprire cosa sia il Progetto 40, di cui hanno trovato dei fogli incustoditi a riguardo, e quindi inizia questa battaglia tra l'umanità e tra gli abitanti dell'Alveare che hanno somiglianze umane ma si comportano come insetti.
Il racconto è pieno di colpi di scena e fino alla fine del libro non potevo immaginare come sarebbe terminata la storia, avrei preferito che fosse dato più spazio alle interazioni con i personaggi e non solo a livello professionale.
Hellstrom è un personaggio molto controverso che però spesso mi ha dato fastidio e infatti, quando la situazione iniziava a farsi molto più critica per l'alveare l'interesse aumentava di più (anche perché un po' di azione dopo tutte quelle pagine statiche e tranquille mi serviva).
Sicuramente la lettura di questo libro mi lascia un po' pensare all'idea di Frank Herbert su questa utopia e mi fa venir voglia di leggere altri sui romanzi
383 reviews5 followers
June 23, 2022
A bit of a potboiler? - perhaps written as relief from the effort of writing and maintaining the Dune series? A novel in which a highly developed insect-imitatimg human society plans to displace ordinary human beings who operate conventionally as individuals with human beings that operate with instinctive collectivity that maximises their chances of survival.

Nils Hellstrom, the Messianic leader of this society, is a documentarist whose work is focused on insects, attracts the attention of an unnamed government agency who are investigating his farm where his film work is based. There are rumours of his developing a super-weapon at the same time as presiding over a cult. The novel slowly uncovers what is actually going on there and ends unsettlingly.

Presumably, Herbert’s intention is satirical, given the American fear of collective, communist-socialist societies, represented by Hellstrom’s capacity not only to control the version of humanity he envisages but also to plant chosen individuals from his ‘hive’ into outside society both to influence it and to protect his own interests and vision.

Although the novel struck me as workaday, it is very readable and carefully creates a human/insect world with its own technologies, organisation, social habits, behaviours and limitations. It also invites a reader to reflect on what it is – or what it might be – to be human. And that’s always worthwhile. And if you like a horror story/thriller, it’s enjoyable as well, with a pacy finish.
Profile Image for Erik.
322 reviews17 followers
September 29, 2018
4 stars, because i really liked it. more 3.5, but rounding up because Frank is the man.

Herbert nerds it up with secret government organizations, and weather underground meets 60s sex cult meets insects meets James Bond villain meets ant colony. Characters are , of course, thinking about thinking about thinking about what the other side is going to be doing. Lots of thinking - lots of narrative perspective shifting, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. Seems like some editing could have been used here.

In some ways this is a spiritual sequel to the green brain . The green brain had insects adopting human like characteristics. HH has humans adopting insect like characteristics.

Lots of interesting ideas on how to self organize, and societies built around genetic manipulation.

However it gets a bit too fantastic sometimes - it gets rather hard to believe that the hive was able to independently develop all this tech without the larger world noticing. The sex "hype" drugs - 18 times.... come on.. Too fantastic to believe , given the semi-realistic nature of the story.

Theres a wide cast of characters, however theres really no development - characters have a specific function they play and thats it. But given the action/thriller type story, i guess its ok.

The third act is a non stop action sequence, which i thought was rather well done.

I rather enjoyed the twist ending, pretty bleak - rather fooled me given the direction of the third act.
Profile Image for Hayley Wells.
Author 3 books5 followers
March 11, 2020
Frank Herbert’s writing is neat and, appropriately for this novel, effortlessly efficient - it has that readable quality that allows you to quickly devour a whole book, regardless of content. So in that sense, I loved the process of reading this, especially as it feels like a while since I last read some good sci-fi.

There’s some interesting mirroring between the ‘hive’ society and the police-state that is investigating them, with both viewing individuals as essential to the whole, yet ultimately disposable. The hive also represents nature/ecology, desperately trying to survive against human annihilation. There is always as sense that the hive will fight back, and as horrific as their society in many ways, I felt myself rooting for it.

There are some really inventive, horrifying ideas in this novel (especially related to breeding) but these often felt like they weren’t fully explored. Personally I would’ve liked to have seen more from the other workers in the hive, and less of the human infiltrators. The ending felt abrupt and not all that satisfying, although it makes sense if you view the hive as an analogy for communism. 3.5 stars overall!
Profile Image for Ben.
522 reviews11 followers
December 13, 2016
I am being a bit generous here with the four stars, but I still think this book deserves more than a simple three stars of 'I liked it'. Some good classic SF from a very accomplished author. There is no doubt that Herbert could write and it is great to read such a well written book which even with the dating nature of it and the not quite so believable nature of the book today, still was gripping and engaging and had real characters and a plot which I did not know for sure where it was going to go. As always when reading things which are a little older it is interesting to see through the lens of the past, I find particularly with SF as the contrast is so much clearer and it so much easier to separate the forward thinking concepts from the morality or views or mores of the day. Somehow these begin to part ways with some time, like some alchemical process and things obvious. Hellstrom's Hive hit that sweet spot between interesting and lacking connection with life today to make it a great combination of both worlds.
Profile Image for chad chrysanthemum.
222 reviews4 followers
June 28, 2020
I'm a massive fan of Herbert's Dune and thought I'd give this book a go. It's decidedly different to Dune; while one focuses on the great expanses of Arakis, the other is characterised by claustrophobia. And the differences don't stop there: while I enjoyed Dune, I really couldn't find it in myself to finish Hellstrom's Hive. I'll put part of that down to an enormous amount of work at the time I was reading it, which left me distracted, but I was just never that invested in the plot, and without any compelling characters (or really any main characters at all), it didn't have a saving grace. It's certainly a clever book, and the idea at the heart of the novel is fascinating and disturbing, a great mix. I enjoyed the aspect of the lack of clear morality in any situations; when it comes down to it there's no obvious antagonist or protagonist, but merely two clashing Government's. Had it been more interestingly written, maybe I would've enjoyed a book based on this premise;
Displaying 1 - 30 of 168 reviews

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