Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: 'The Grotto of the Formigans' by Daniel da Cruz

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Grotto of the Formigans’ (185 pp.) was released by Del Rey in 1980; the cover illustration is by H. R.  Van Dongen.

It’s the early 80s and anthropologist Maynard Griggs is finishing up a three-year sabbatical spent in a camp located in the darkest, deepest region of Zaire. One night he hears the sounds of a helicopter in distress; heading to the crash site he comes upon the lone survivor, a well-built young woman named Consuela Milan. 

Not only is Milan a major in the Cuban Army, but she’s carrying a substantial sum of money embezzled from her erstwhile employers. When the remains of the copter mysteriously vanish overnight, Griggs and Milan embark on a search of the area around the crash. They find themselves abducted by a small army of strange creatures resembling humanoid termites - the Formigans of the book’s title. 

Borne underground to the tunnel network of the Formigans, Griggs and Milan make the acquaintance of the Queen of this unusual nest. When the seemingly indolent Queen gives them the liberty to explore the nest as they please, Griggs makes a number of exciting discoveries that could provide him with overnight worldwide acclaim as the first scientist to ever explore this strange realm. Visions of Nobel Prizes, sponsored professorships, and television interviews fill Maynard Griggs’s head as he contemplates how best to reveal the grotto of the Formigans to the world at large.

But are the Formigan Queen and her cohorts of workers and soldiers really as defenseless as they seem ? Is the freedom given the two human interlopers genuine, or part of a devious plan made by a creature with the accumulated wisdom of centuries of a hidden existence ? 

Daniel da Cruz wrote a number of SF and action / thriller novels throughout the 70s and 80s, with several of these constituting the ‘Texas’ series of novels dealing with a near-future incarnation of that state. 

‘Formigans’ is a competent SF adventure, if not particularly memorable. The narrative moves along at a good clip, the dialogue is well-written, and the ecology of the humanoid termites is worked out with considerable insight. The overall tenor of the story evokes a kind of wry humor, and the two main characters are a likeable enough pair. By featuring a black man - Maynard Griggs – as a protagonist, ‘Formigans’ is also a bit more unconventional compared to the other SF adventures of its time. 

Readers looking for a quick, enjoyable read with lighter SF content may want to check out ‘Formigans’.

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