Saturday, April 24, 2021

22. The Ants by Peter Tremayne

This was quite a nice find for a paperback collector and in beautiful condition.  It almost looked like it had never been read.  I am also a big fan of the killer ants concept (who isn't).  My all-time favourite old time radio show (and also a classic) is the William Conrad Escape episode "Leiningen Versus the Ants".  The ants as devouring adversary are a great antagonist in and of themselves, but they also engender creative solutions to fight them.  It's fun to think about.

Unfortunately, though The Ants is a competent even enjoyable book, the creative solutions are lacking. I strongly suspect that Tremayne either read the original short story that Leiningen Versus the Ants was based on or heard the radio play.  The setup (South American plantation) and several of the techniques (particularly the fire ditch) to fight the ants seem to be cribbed right from the story.

There are two protagonists here, Jane the anthropologist who returns to the Mato Grosso province to find her father and the tribe they lived with all completely disappeared and Hugo the bush pilot working for the largest plantation owner in the region.  His plane crashes and Jane rescues him.  Together, the two of them with the one native boy survivor make their way back to the plantation, where Xavier the owner, Lopez his foreman and Consuela his selfish and sexy wife are in their own little domestic conflict.  This group must first solve the mystery of the destruction and then when they learn it, fight the ants as well as their own internal conflicts.

As I said, if it were wholly original, I would say it's a pretty fun ride.  The ants are awesome in scale and the destruction they cause is quite fun and well-described, as is the stress when they start to threaten.  Tremayne does a good job of describing the tactile sensations of a lot of large ants, especially when they get squished.  It gets to you a bit.

There are, as usual, some minor missteps with the gender roles.  Jane lived for several years already in a remote village in Brazil, speaks Portuguese and Xingan and is an excellent and fast shot.  Yet as soon as there is danger, she faints.  Hugo is constantly sending her to the safe places.  It's this weird dance of yes she is a cool girl who can do stuff but oh she is also a woman so better not actually just make her the protagonist lest she stress the sensitive ego of the male reader.

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