20 best genre fiction writers from other countries to expand your horizons

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Empire of the Ants cover (Cover image via Bantam)

8. Bernard Werber

Speculative and genre fiction is plenty weird. That’s a given, isn’t it? But that strangeness, that unique sense of perspective, can be used to great effect even when considering some of the smallest inhabitants of our natural world.

French science fiction writer Bernard Werber certainly seems to believe this, especially in his 1991 novel, Les Fourmis (released in English as Empire of the Ants). As you may suspect, this novel — so far, the only one of his to have been translated into English — does include characters who are actual ants. However, that’s only part of the story.

Empire of the Ants follows two plotlines which, though seemingly distant at first, grow closer and closer over the course of the novel. In the human world, Edmond Wells is the recipient of a house and a strange message, courtesy of his recently dead uncle. The mystery of his uncle’s life is too much for Edmond to resist, and so he begins to investigate further.

Don’t go into the cellar

Things take a dark turn when Edmond descends into the cellar of his new house and never returns. When others dare to follow him, they, too, fail to make it back to the world above ground.

Meanwhile, we also follow a male ant. He experiences tragedy when his entire foraging group, apart from himself, is destroyed by a mysterious force. The ant believes that the force may have originated from a hostile ant colony, one that could have just developed a powerful secret weapon. When he tries to reach his queen, however, several other ants seem to want his information to be kept secret.

The way in which the human and ant worlds intertwine becomes increasingly complex over the course of the book and its two sequels. Like Solaris, Empire of the Ants wonders if humans are really capable of communication with another species, or if said communication is even truly possible.