Boxall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die discussion

The Swarm
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1001 Monthly Group Read > February {2010} Discussion -- THE SWARM by Frank Schätzing

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Charity (charityross) Time to discuss....

Kirsten | 35 comments I just recently joined this group and this is my first post although I have been following along with the discussion and reading list for a few months now.

The Swarm is huge. Not just the length, the actual book is gigantic and I can't even fit it in my handbag to read on the train to work. But luckily I'm on holiday this week, so I shouldn't have a problem finishing it. So far, it's not really my cup of tea. And has anyone else found that the text is poorly edited? It might just be the edition that I have, but it is quite distracting when there are misspellings and odd punctuation! But I will persevere.

message 3: by Charity (last edited Feb 22, 2010 08:45AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Charity (charityross) And has anyone else found that the text is poorly edited? It might just be the edition that I have, but it is quite distracting when there are misspellings and odd punctuation!

YES!!!! I also thought it might just have been my edition, since I have a remaindered copy. The poor editing is quite using the word desert instead of dessert (pg. 114, 2nd paragraph of my copy), many misplaced commas, failure to use quotation marks in some areas, etc. etc. I'm not trying to sound overly pedantic, but some of these errors make for awkward reading.

I'm about halfway through. I hope to make a bigger dent today now that I'm getting snowed in. :)

Rannie There are better books out there than The Swarm.

Cindy (newtomato) | 196 comments Yes, I totally found the very poor editing extremely distracting. Also, I didn't like the translation - quite a mix of British & US English (both words and colloquialisms) for the multi-national characters.

I know that this group assumes we've all read the book before the discussion, but I wanted to warn anyone that there are spoilers below. :)

Did anyone else think that Rubin was infected with the jelly/yrr/amoebas when he had a "migrane" and Johanson saw him on the hangar deck?

Kristi (kristilarson) | 266 comments I'm about a quarter done with The Swarm. I'm not that impressed so far. I mean, I'm a quarter done and we're only just now getting to the action. I find it a little distracting that it keeps switching between a main character in Vancouver and another in Norway. I am a scientist, but I don't find all of the scientific description that interesting.

Eliza (elizac) | 77 comments I'm almost done wtiht this one and am enjoying it. I find it very entertaining if not terribly plausible. I think it could probably be shorter. I also don't think it really needs to be on the list but I'm glad I read it.

message 8: by Jay (last edited Feb 17, 2010 02:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jay (jaycadiramen) | 43 comments I was surprised to find a book of this 'type' on the list, when I first came across it, as it struck me as being pulp fiction - the sort of book that you might literally pick up at the last minute at the airport just before you get on a holiday flight. I am glad the book is on the list, and also that it was picked to be the book for the February discussion, as otherwise I doubt I would ever have come across what is, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read with regards to sheer entertainment.
I found the book incredibly easy to read and finished it in less than a fortnight (while holding down a full time job and also studying nights). The only parts that dragged a bit for me were when Anawak was in his home town as I didn't really see the purpose of all that exposition - it simply did not tie in to the rest of the story in any meaningful way.
The author certainly does jump around in terms of both characters and scenes, but I think that method lends itself perfectly to this type of book and is certainly quite cinematic. In fact, as I read this book I couldn't help thinking that it seemed written for the screen and would be very easy to adapt.
The book is in no way literary, and I am still surprised (having read it, and despite having enjoyed it as much as I did) that it is on the 1001 Books To Read list. Does that mean it's a bad book, or even a badly written book?
I'll address the writing first: I read this book in English, as translated not by the author but by a second party. I didn't notice any of the mistakes or errors referred to by other readers, but that could simply be because I was so swept up by the story and action and gave myself up so freely and so willingly suspended my disbelief. I thought the book was well written/translated and the writing matched the genre and the action and scope of the plot, and the action paced well. The science was explained in easy to understand terms and in a realistic way (as opposed to most books which have two intellectuals discussing a subject they are both fully conversant with in the most basic terms, making it quite obvious that this is simply pandering to the reader's ignorance of the subject) and the arguments reasoned clearly.
Is it a good book? I think so. It is not the sort of book I normally read, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. The characters are interesting (even if slightly two-dimensional... I am thinking particularly of Johanson, although Anawak, Ricia and the other characters were actually pretty well fleshed out) and the disaster takes second place to its impact on humans and the toll it takes on their humanity.
A green book with a moral that isn't hammered home (too hard), I would recommend The Swarm to anyone looking to take a break from some of the heavier reading on the 1001 Books To Read list or simply looking for a piece of sheer escapism.

mara | 220 comments Mod
Oh yes the mistakes were horrible! I have never seen such bad editing. But I really liked the novel. I agree with Jay. It was entertaining for sure, and some of the most interesting parts were the scientific information explained. The way the plot unfolded and the characters were okay; I felt neutral on those. But I enjoyed thinking about the possibility of alien life existing in that form, in that way. In fact, my daughter is creating an alien for her science project at school and has decided that her creature will have "a billion brains with a billlion thoughts" and I kept thinking, it's the Yrr!! lol

But, yeah, I can't say I blame people for not being all that impressed. A lot of it was pretty cheesy as novels go. Still, I kind of like that the list includes some of these good "can't put it down" reads instead of same classics and "darlings" of the lit community we'd all expect

message 10: by Jay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jay (jaycadiramen) | 43 comments Spooky, Mara... You daughter hasn't eaten seafood recently by any chance, has she?!
I have to add that as I was reading the book I was initially thinking 'aliens, ho hum, oh yawn' and really sat up and took notice when the concept of the Yrr was introduced.

message 11: by Charity (last edited Feb 17, 2010 11:57AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Charity (charityross) I admit that the book is very entertaining. Jay, I really loved your comment about how it seems like an airport book. I keep thinking the same thing!

However entertaining it may be, it has quite a bit of misinformation. For instance, how they keep mentioning the foul smell of the methane, despite the fact that methane is odorless. Also, how they refer to orcas as whales, even though orcas are dolphins. I realize this might be a common misconception in the general public, but you would think that characters classified as whale experts in the novel wouldn't make this type of error. Then, I came across this little gem:

He drew his wife a little closer to him, and gazed out across the Atlantic. The sun was preparing to drop into the sea. (pg. 431)

Um, what? The couple was in Long Island, New York. The sun wouldn't be dropping into the Atlantic....wrong coast! The sun would rise in the Atlantic and set in the Pacific.

I am really surprised to see this type of disaster-thriller on the 1001 list. It really is a page-turner and I am very thankful that I'm not reading it on a beach somewhere right now, but I'm failing to see the literary merit. Does anyone have a copy of the updated book? I would be very interested to see what the editors wrote about the inclusion of this book.

P.S. I see that it is being adapted to film. According to, the release date will be in 2011. I can't say I'm altogether surprised. It really does read like a movie.

Katie | 10 comments I really liked this book. Probably one of my favorites that I've read this year. Even though it was long it was a really fast read. (3 days!)

I loved the science discussions. They were really quite varied. Geochemistry, biology, ecology, climatology, molecular biology, math and a bunch of others. I'm not an expert in any of these fields, but I do like to check the facts in books I read so I know which part is fiction, and most of this stuff was really well researched, if only thinly fleshed out. And yes, pure methane is odorless, but the bacteria that live off it give off, wait for it, hydrogen sulfide! Which, you guessed it, smells like rotten eggs.

I think the merit of the book in not in its literary nature. I think this book has merit because of the ideas presented. This book brought up more interesting questions, and made me think about the world and humans' place in it, more than most of the others that are on the list. HG Wells books were pop fiction of his time, so are they on there just because they're old?

Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments yep, like the rest of you, i'm wondering what this pulpy novel is doing on the list. someone explained the point of the '1001 books' book was that the compiler was tracking the development of the novel, rather than picking the BEST books ever. things that were new and fresh at the time thusly made the list; choices generally make sense when interpreted in that light.

but this one? i didn't think there was much unique going on in here - a classic disaster story. in fact, i'm calling this one a straight-up michael crichton novel, only without an editor. crichton likewise has the tendency to have characters spout lovingly-researched monologues about the scientific topic under discussion...his just tended to not go on for nearly 900 pages. the chit-chat here could have been reduced by a good 50% (Jay, i was likewise scratching my head over anawak's eskimo dreamscape bit there) while still keeping the necessary info in there.

i was amused by the mixed british and american english going on, but the only real typos in my copy were the frequent use of single quotes (') instead of actual quote marks (") to indicate dialogue.

message 14: by Charity (last edited Feb 22, 2010 08:44AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Charity (charityross) And yes, pure methane is odorless, but the bacteria that live off it give off, wait for it, hydrogen sulfide! Which, you guessed it, smells like rotten eggs.

Agreed, however, my beef is that Schatzing fails to point this detail out. For example, on pages 105-106 (in my 2007 HarperCollins paperback edition), Bohrmann is lecturing to some students at the Geomar Centre and makes no reference to hydrogen sulfide or anaerobic bacteria as the cause for the rotten-egg smell.

If there is a part in the book where he does mention the bacteria and hydrogen sulfide as cause for the smell, I'll be happy to recant my statement.

HG Wells books were pop fiction of his time, so are they on there just because they're old?

No, I'd say that H.G. Wells is probably on the list for helping usher in modern technology-based science fiction. This was cutting edge for his time and his work has been highly influential on many authors since. Your question seems rather disingenuous...much as mine would seem if I said, Is The Swarm on the list because it is really long?

I don't see that Frank Schatzing has really done anything unique. I have to agree with Michelle in post 13; other authors, such as Michael Crichton, have done similar "disaster novels", only in a more effective way....and with a heavy-handed editor. I think it was an entertaining story, but not necessarily one I needed to read before I die.

message 15: by mara (new) - rated it 3 stars

mara | 220 comments Mod
That's interesting about orcas being dolphins Charity. Thanks for pointing that out. Yes, this novel was really sloppy wasn't it? Also, the plot devices - the romance and dramatic scenes, subplots, etc. were boring and cheap. However, I do think there is merit. It raises questions about what intelligence is, what life is, which I thought were interesting and worth discussion. Maybe Boxall thought so too

Eliza (elizac) | 77 comments I finally finished this one and up until the end I was with the author (in the same way I was with Dan Brown's Davinci Code, not really buying it but willing to be entertained) but the ending felt rushed, vague and weird. I was left scratching my head and wishing he'd ended it at least 100 pages earlier.

Charity (charityross) I saw this photo and it made me think of The Swarm. Thought I would share. :)


Kristi (kristilarson) | 266 comments Great picture, Charity!

Trisha I'm glad to see everyone else's comments because I didn't like this all. I couldn't get past the opinions and political muck it felt like the author was constantly slinging. I also didn't like the end.
There were huge 100 page stints I thought could have been left out (and only served to confuse me more and bring things farther off topic?).
I had a tough time figuring out who each person was (and their biological role and title) between the switch-offs of each person's "world". And then, once I felt like I had them figured out (at least a little) they would die, so it seemed pointless to get to know their role either way.
Everyone's opinion on here is helping me see another side to the book. Thank you to those who have shared!

Cindy (newtomato) | 196 comments Wow, this tragic breaking news story from Seaworld made me grimly think of The Swarm:

Eliza (elizac) | 77 comments Cindy wrote: "Wow, this tragic breaking news story from Seaworld made me grimly think of The Swarm:"

I had exactly the same thought.

Deanne | 682 comments Saw some killer whales off the coast of British Columbia, one of the most beautiful sights I've seen. It's sad that the trainer died, but I do hope one day to see the end of places like seaworld.

Kirsten | 35 comments I also am puzzled as to how this book ended up on the 1001 list. I agree with Mara that some of the ideas were interesting and worth discussion, but I kept thinking that they could have been presented much more effectively.

message 24: by mara (new) - rated it 3 stars

mara | 220 comments Mod
I don't know, I didn't have a problem overlooking the bad writing for the ideas.

I do think the way we have such exacting expectations for the nonfiction elements of fiction is amusing. I like whoever brought up H.G. Wells and others whose faults are overlooked because they are classics. It seems standards have really changed. I don't think authors used to feel nearly as much pressure as modern writers do to painstakingly research the basis for their fiction.

But, back to the ideas in Swarm, I think the whole idea of DNA having a kind of intelligence and will is fascinating. I heard recently of a study done on genes that shows that genes themselves have a kind of will; they may or may not decide to manifest themselves in a person. I thought of this book, of course.

In fact, it reminded me of City of God - same themes - that idea that a swarm/group/society has a will, a thought process, desires and that all around us at every level there is life and logos, that we are the parts to some greater whole and that, at the same time, the parts that make us have an intelligence or will

The writing is actually really good at times. I really like the way he interweaves detailed to description with philosophic musings, AND scientific information.

I like this:
White glow is a common bioluminescent color, like blue, red and green. The glow isn't a manifestation of the divine, just a host of stimulated yrr cells. Besdies, what God with any huma affinity woudl choose to reveal itself in tentacular form. . . What overwhelms her is the knowledge that things have changed forever. The debate about whether a single celled organism could develop intelligence. The question as to whether the ability of cells to organize themselves was evidence of conscious life or just an unusually well-developed form of mimicry.

He should have left out most of the characters, cut it down to 500 pages, and it would have been perfect (minus the grammatical errors - but blame the editors)

message 25: by FrankH (last edited Mar 06, 2010 08:49PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

FrankH | 39 comments I liked much of the material in this doomsday thriller. We've got methane substrates on the
continental shelves, the secret life of sea mammals, how a cooling Gulf current can send us
into the next ice age, SETI de-coding algorithms, amoebas changing and exchanging DNA to
assemble in clusters and intelligent deep-sea hives bent on destroying the's
quite a mix. And the premise itself -- the discovery of super intelligent yrr extra-terrestrials from none other than Planet Earth -- is inviting.

But please, in this age of the moribund printed word, can we take up a collection for Verlag and HarperCollins publishers and send it along with the stipulation that these esteemed houses use the money to hire EDITORS for the next Schatzing offering? Some of the group may remember this quaint service from the days of old when publishers weren't so strapped for cash. It's where some underpaid, fiction-market-savvy man or woman actually reads the raw manuscript, cuts and edits, then communicates with the author to get a grip and think 'less is more'. But there's no silent partner here and little evidence in the text to suggest that such a communication ever took place. Strangely, the excesses lie not in the expository science writing but rather in the number and presentation of the action sequences, especially towards the end. I'm thinking principally of the evil Commander Li knocking about the station looking for the toxin-carrying torpedo -- "That damn torpedo had to be somewhere". It may be a translation problem, but let's blue-pencil line and chapter -- along with many others.

I'd be interested in hearing from the group on the Weaver's final mission. She meets the queen in the lowest depths, releases the body of Rubin with the 'aggregating' pheromones..but why exactly does this persuade the yrr to back off? Have to say that at page 845, my attention was flagging.

Either the vacation gets longer or the book gets shorter: The Swarm would have been a great beach read, at half the length.

message 26: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue (sue_re) Frank, I also didn't get the point of releasing Rubin's body with the pheromones.

If this book had been 400 pages shorter and edited well, it would have been a better read. I think the extended passages kind of swamped the suspense. It seems like it was written for the movies.

Does the 1001 Books summary explain why this book is on the list?

Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments Frank & Sue, the way i understood that final mission was that the human body all pumped full of aggregating hormone was to signal to the yrr that "we aggregate with you guys, too. see, we can be part of the same collective whole harmony thing." using their own biology to fake them out by attempting to communicate directly with them in their own language.

and Sue, right there with ya, would love to see the summary in the 1001 books as to why this pulpy disaster movie was in there.

FrankH | 39 comments Michelle wrote: "Frank & Sue, the way i understood that final mission was that the human body all pumped full of aggregating hormone was to signal to the yrr that "we aggregate with you guys, too. see, we can be p..."

Thanks Michele...makes sense from the standpoint of the story, but isn't it kinda lame logically -- the super intelligent yrr halting the attacks on the basis of a single 'communication'? Agree the reading list needs upgrading....

message 29: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark (bikeboy) | 14 comments Since joining the group, this was the first book I didn't really want to read. The combination of its length and genre put me off. I stalled by reading the long put off Great Expectations, while this gigantic 880 page library book sat idle. Thanks to a transcontinental trip this week I finally took the plunge. I have to confess that once I started reading the book, I wound up enjoying the experience. That does not mean I thought it was particularly good. I'd compare it to my reading of the Da Vinci Code - where I could combine enjoyment and curiosity about what would happen next with a bit of elitist scorn.

Schatzing spins a pretty good yarn, and despite many characters and events I never found myself confused or turning back the pages to remind myself of what had transpired earlier. I think that his willingness to take his time over so many pages helps us keep track.

One of the biggest sources of entertainment was the American stereotypes, particularly Judith Li and the CIA guy. It's fascinating to see how we're portrayed abroad. The portrayal of the President (obviously George W. Bush) was pretty on the mark.

The fusing of real science with the imagination was mostly well done, and I had trouble telling where reality stopped and the imagination started (I'm a scientist but with a weak background in biology). My guess is that some of the explanations of how the Yrr functions were a little too detailed, and therefore could easily be ridiculed by a knowledgeable geneticist.

All in all, pretty hokey but entertaining. I agree with those who say the final solution to dealing with the Yrr was a little lame. This novel was clearly written with the film adaptation in mind, but I can't imagine an American studio going forward on this without toning down some of the portrayal of the American military and Intelligence agencies.

Prince Paradox | 1 comments You should read the original ... no misspellings there and no changes in style and so on.
I actually love his style - somewhere between Cussler and Crichton. Quite surprising that even scientists like that book.

Katharine | 24 comments I have finally finished The Swarm, and only 2 months late! I have to say I agree with the general consensus that it was an entertaining read, and I did enjoy the experience, but I am not sure it deserved a place on the list. I don't think it was as trashy and as badly written as a lot of thrillers out there, but some of the characters were terrible. It grates on me that Americans are always portrayed as power hungry intellectual inbeciles when seen from a European point of view (despite being a Brit myself), and General Li's mental breakdown at the was just a typical Hollywood ending! It seemed like there was an 850 age build up and then the author suddenly realised he needed to end it. I would have preferred the Yrr to have won.

message 32: by Hanna (new)

Hanna | 1 comments I am almost done with the book, and I can't help but notice that in the few pages I have left, the author never finished explaining what happened to Bohrmann and the sharks! I'm quite disappointed because that was one of my favorite passages!

Petra Meadley | 62 comments Mod
I read The Swarm some time ago and am backtracking to add my comments.

I really enjoyed it. I wouldn't normally read something like that and enjoyed being taken out of my comfort zone in this case. It was long, and that didn't bother me. It was engaging enough to keep me entertained.

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