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Beetle in the Anthill  
Russian cover of the novel
Author Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Original title Жук в муравейнике
Translator Antonina W. Bouis
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Series Noon Universe
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date 1979
Published in
Media type Print (Hardcover)
ISBN 0-02-615120-0
OCLC Number 6421596
Dewey Decimal 891.73/44
LC Classification PG3476.S78835 Z4913
Preceded by The Kid from Hell
Followed by The Time Wanderers

Beetle in the Anthill (Russian: Жук в муравейнике, pronounced [ʐuk v muraˈvʲejnʲikʲe]) is a 1979 sci-fi novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky set in the Noon Universe.

Explanation of the novel's title

Beetle in the Anthill is the title of a theory explaining the Stepchildren phenomenon. Another example of such a title in Strugatskys' books is the Roadside Picnic, describing a possible origin of the "Zones".

Plot summary

The novel is set in 2178 AD and follows the story of Maxim Kammerer, an experienced investigator of COMCON-2 who receives an order to track down a man named Lev Abalkin, who was not supposed to return to Earth but has returned nevertheless. The order was issued by in secret by Rudolf Sikorski (called "Excellency" throughout the book), the chief of COMCON-2.

Studying the materials on Abalkin that Sikorski provided him with, Kammerer discovers that prior to his arrival on Earth, Abalkin was a progressor on Saraksh, working as an undercover agent in the power structures of the Island Empire. Among other materials, he find a sheet of paper with a strange symbol resembling the Cyrillic letter Ж or Japanese character (san juu) which only adds to his confusion.

Kammerer's search leads him to several of Abalkin's friends and associates, including Maya Glumova who is a historian working in the Museum of Extraterrestrial Cultures (MEC) and Shokn the Golovan who worked closely with Abalkin in projects on Saraksh and Hope. Each of these has had recent contact with Abalkin, and report that he had been behaving strangely.

Kammerer also begins to perceive a connection between Abalkin and progressor Kornei Yashmaa. Both men were born on the same day from mysteriously deceased parents.

Late at night, Sikorski orders Kammerer to meet him at the MEC in order to ambush Abalkin. However, the one who comes to the Museum tonight is not Lev Abalkin but rather Issac Bromberg, Sikorski's fiercest opponent in his policy about knowledge and its classification. Kammerer witnesses a long verbal argument, in which many of the detals of the Abalkin case are revealed.

Apparently, Abalkin has called Bromberg via videophone and talked to him about the "detonators", an artifact stored in the closed section of the MEC where Sikorski and Kammerer had laid their trap. Reluctantly, Sikorski agreed to tell Maxim about the "foundlings": Abalkin (as well as Kornei Yashmaa) was a "foundling", one of thirteen humans born from embryos stored in the "sarcophagus" left by the Wanderers and discovered by Earthlings on an unnamed planet. The "detonators" were thirteen small discs each carrying a strange symbol identical to one that each of the "Stepchildren" had on his/her elbow. Abalkin's symbol was the one resembling the Cyrillic letter "Ж".

Upon returning to his COMCON-2 office with Maxim, Sikorski admits that he always believed that all "foundlings" carried a program deep in their subconsciousness that was potentially dangerous for Earth. It was because of this that all of them received an education that implied that they work as far from Earth as possible. Sikorski believes that Abalkin's surprise return to Earth indicates that he has become a dangerous agent of the Wanderers.

Kammerer does not believe that Abalkin poses a threat, but suggests that this is a psychological test engineered by the Wanderers. Kammerer likens the situation to when a human might put a "beetle in an anthill" simply to watch the alarmed reaction of the ants.

Eventually Abalkin comes to Sikorski and Kammerer voluntarily, and finds the truth about his origins. He demands to be left alone, but Sikorski orders Kammerer to follow him. Sikorski himself sets off for the MEC. Kammerer, guessing what is to come, tries to convince Abalkin to leave Earth for his own safety, but to no effect. Abalkin enters the Museum of Extraterrestrial Cultures, and is shot three times by Sikorski and dies on the floor millimeters from his "detonator".

English releases

  1. Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Beetle in the Anthill (Best of Soviet Science Fiction) translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Macmillan Pub Co, October 1, 1980, 217 pp. ISBN 0-02-615120-0. LCCCN: 80017172.


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