The Colony by A.J. Colucci is a horror thriller featuring swarming killer ants (available November 13, 2012).
In 1954, during the age of atomic bomb testing, a movie came out that drove home to the world the idea of mutated, violent, aggressive ants: the horror classic Them. That movie preyed on 1950s fears: the consequences of atomic testing, government manipulation, and the fear of being eaten alive by insects.
Author A.J. Colucci has taken the ant-as-enemy storyline and updated it in her new novel The Colony. Today we don’t fear Russian satellites, we fear bio- and eco-terrorism. We fear too much government control and not enough transparency—who is experimenting with what? And where?
And Colucci definitely plays with the never-gets-old fear of being eaten alive by insects.
The story opens with an act of eco-terrorism that seems almost harmless. Dr. Laredo, a scientist heading up a covert experiment that involves two of the most aggressive species of ant on earth, the man-eating Siafu of Africa and the militant fire ant, drops a hybrid ant queen in Central Park:
Laredo dropped a single ant from the canister into the colony. Just one; but he knew it would be enough.
The enormous ant named Cleopatra was brown and slender and about the length of a mouse. She darted skillfully over the anthill, pressing abdomen to earth and depositing a heady scent in calculated patterns along the soil. She stirred up quite a commotion among the others, but as expected, they didn’t attack.
For a while, things are peaceful.
Then there is a series of truly grisly attacks on New York citizens that make people sit up and pay attention. A man and his baby are eaten, their insides liquefied. A woman is attacked at a bus stop. A kid falls down a hole in Central Park. Colucci spares no detail in letting the reader know exactly how bad these ant hybrids are:
Lately there had been a lot of rats, and they seemed to be acting strangely. Not lazily eating the foliage as they normally did, but zipping in frantic circles and rolling in the weeds. This rat seemed to be dancing on its hind legs. Its tiny arms waved as it swayed from side to side. Then it fell to the ground beneath the fence. Jerrol strained his neck to see that part of the animal’s back was gone. In place of fur were patches of bloody flesh, as if it had been skinned.
These ants aren’t fifty feet tall, but they are larger than your average ant and they work together. Imagine ants the size of mice who dogpile on whatever falls down in front of them. Now imagine millions of them.
Dr. Kendra Hart, a fire ant expert working to find a pheromone “insecticide,” winds up in New York when her ex-husband, Pulitzer prize winner Paul O’Keefe, finds himself over his head when dealing with this new ant breed.
They have to save New York, which has gone crazy. Even reporters, those stalwarts who stand in hurricane-force winds to report the news, have to run from the unstoppable insects:
The once dashing and confident reporter stared wide-eyed into the camera, his jacket torn at the shoulder and his silky black hair windswept as he ran backward, shouting over the furor and trying to stay in the shifting spotlight of the cameraman.
“Well, Michelle, it is utter chaos! There are reports of attacks all over the city. We’re hearing the same thing from everyone—this is surreal. The police are telling everyone not to panic, which of course is ludicrous. If you look right down this street—Brett, get a shot of that. If you look right there, you can see bodies. Those are dead bodies and some, well, some still alive—”
While New York is in the center, the problems just get bigger. Threats of nuclear force. Red tape everywhere. Government interference. The ant queens are coming into maturity, ready to lead the workers to far off places, spreading around the world. And Kendra and Paul know ants can spread—fire ant colonies have chains that stretch over Europe, through Asia, and into California—and spread fast.
Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.