July 16, 2008

Save the Ants!

Nicholas Wade has lunch with Sociobiology author Edward O. Wilson and hears about the 79-year-old's upcoming first novel:

Over lunch he describes his novel in progress, currently titled “Anthill.” Its contents have occasioned certain differences of emphasis between himself and his publisher, even though it was his editor at Norton, Robert Weil, who suggested he write it. Dr. Wilson would like ants to play a large role in the novel, given all the useful lessons that can be drawn from their behavior. The publisher sees a larger role for people and a smaller, at most ant-sized, role for ants. The novel is rotating through draft after draft as this tension is worked out.

Dr. Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes for literature, but that is no shield against a publisher’s quest for perfection. “They said, ‘You can do better than that, Ed,’ ” he recalled. “I wrote another draft. They said, ‘This is great, Ed, but we need more emotion, ambivalence.’ ” In the next draft, he plans to have the human characters stand alone, without the ants if necessary.

C'mon, Norton, there are a million novels about people already. What are the chances that a 79-year-old first time novelist's novel about people is going to be terribly special? In contrast, how many novels are there about ants? And how many have been written by the world's leading authority on ants?

Save the ants!

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

14 comments:

wren said...

I just watched Starship Troopers 3. It's about bugs and people's reaction to them, which makes it interesting.

Also interesting is, AFAIK, the whole thing was made and shot in South Africa.

Anonymous said...

Hail ants!

Bill said...

I've read novels about rabbits, whales, toads, etc. There's a movie about ants. My kids love it.

I wonder whether adults, between say the ages of twenty and sixty, have a problem with the kind of fantasy that enables children to appreciate novels about animals. It certainly seems that children and the old have more in common with each other than with the middle-aged in this regard.

Speaking of sociobiologists, perhaps some scientist can take a look and tell me whether my "Chimera Hypothesis" concerning homosexuality is at all credible.

Kent Brockman said...

Wilson's contributions to "our side" have been amazing, his research and insight brilliant, his treatment by Gould followers a disgrace (though not unexpected). I've long admired him. Then I went to see the genius speak at a university in the south last year. After his rather dull, quasi-liberal speech (we of the first world should be assessed a special tax to keep the overpopulated third from destroying biodiversity), the first question from the audience had to do with poverty in Madagascar. The second had to do with poverty somewhere else. A third followed. Seriously, all right in a row. Wilson, instead of countering emotional arguments with good science, simply pandered, and not in some superior way, but along the lines of "please like me, I'm exactly like you". It was embarrassing.

That said, the book he wrote with the German Holldobler is super. The jabs at Marxism. The subtle praising of the West. Give the condensed version to your kids - it's a good read.

Hail Ants (I won't be the first to say this).

Michael said...

Funny that Norton should commission a novel from E.O. Wilson and then object when ants show up. What did they think it was going to be about?

Off topic but fun: a riproaring conversation about Steve Sailer, his worth or non-worth, is happening here.

halfbreed said...

Tom Wolfe, himself a genius, had the most wonderful (and wonderfully justifiable) name for Wilson: Darwin II.

Anonymous said...

Our new ant overlords...

Steve said...

I for one welcome our new insect overlords ...

Sounds like the clever book from the 90s

http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Ants-Bernard-Werber/dp/0553573527

rob said...

I for one welcome our new...

Oh, I'm sure a dozen people have posted the quote already.

The Monster from Polaris said...

I do remember reading *one* novel about ants. But that one was for kids.

Martin said...

"Steve said...

Sounds like the clever book from the 90s
http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Ants-Bernard-Werber/"

I was going to mention that one too. Werber's book was pretty clever.

And it was one of those rare science-fiction books that is actually science fiction. Most science fiction is just conventional human tales packaged in some kind of futuristic form (i.e. Star Wars or Star Trek). Real science fiction deals with the truly strange and alien.

Anonymous said...

EO Wilson is a stud in bio.

Unfortunately, Wilson is to Bjorn Lomborg as Gould was to Wilson.

David said...

Regarding Wilson's uncomprehending publisher: anything new frightens most people, especially if risk is on tap. That's why all movies must look alike, and all books read alike.

"X succeeded. It's quantifiable. We must be like X if we want to succeed."

Years ago, there was a movie with the ad tagline "This Year's 'Blue Velvet.'"

Yes, the prospect of seeing a lesser version of last year's movie inspires ME to sprint to the multiplex, I tell ya!

The Cargo Cult mentality is not restricted to non-Western cultures.

With cold sweat trickling down their noses, the mandarins of our various kulturs observe anything that sticks out (or sticks out in an unfamiliar manner) with all the longing of a mallet contemplating a peg.

"Spaceships and bugs are weird. It ain't gonna sell. Can't you add more romance?" "Victor, please. A hunchback? NO ONE will be interested in that. Besides, you will offend more people than you please." "Something is simply off, Melville. How many other books about great white whales are on the market? What's this like? Nothing else! I rest my case."

Of course we've heard all that - and chuckled over it and clucked our tongues - a thousand times. But nothing changes.

If Einstein had written a novel about black holes...well, I guess we can stop right there.

Grumpy Old Man said...

Antiquated, so much so as to be antediluvian. So antagonistic that the author should be sent to the Antipodes.