Wednesday, March 14, 2018


A few days ago, I hosted a guest post by my fellow writer Matthew Stienberg about how Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel Starship Troopers would make an excellent television series, which would allow for a greater exploration of the characters and world than a feature film would. I followed it up with a post of my own on how the novel's depiction of a conflict between the Merchant Marine (whose personnel don't earn the franchise for service) and the military (which does) could allow for a nuanced critique of the Federation without descending into Verhoeven-level idiocy and provide for complex storylines.

Well, here's my third post, on how we could explore the civilization of the Pseudo-Arachnids, the "Bugs" that the Federation fights against. In the novel it's never really described, although the warrior and worker bugs are depicted as being non-sentient and under the direction of senior bugs never depicted on-page. The 1997 film gives us the Brain Bug, whose appearance I didn't really like. The role-playing game book The Arachnid Empire apparently has some description of the Bugs' history and culture, such as it is, but it's not in the free-to-read material and I don't like this stuff enough to buy it to find out.

However, if that back-story proves lacking, Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game, which was adapted into a movie I enjoyed, has an interesting explanation for how a "Bug" civilization might function. Here there be spoilers...

Among the Formics or "Buggers" of Ender's Game and its spin-offs, the only truly sentient beings are the queens, with the majority of the species being non-sentient workers and drones. In the vein of Earth's insects, queens would be born in existing colonies and would leave to start a new colony. Each new colony would battle the others until one day a queen managed to persuade a daughter to work with her rather than attacking her (and only leaving to establish a new hive if she failed to topple her mother but survived). The mother-daughter pair spawned new queens that they kept as allies, pattern leading to a Formic civilization consisting of a coalition of sentient queens commanding billions of drones that defeated all single-queen nests and united the species.

The Arachnid caste system in the novel is a bit more complicated, with the Brain Bugs being the overall commanding intelligence of an Arachnid hive, to the point if a Brain Bug is killed, the colony will die with it (novel) or the subordinate Bugs will run mad without them in control (the Roughnecks animated series). However, there are queen bugs whose purpose is breeding that warrior-bugs will kill queens to keep them from being captured, which could imply the queens have some degree of sentience, or at least there's something about them while alive that makes it too risky (for the Bugs) for humans to capture them. Either way, the "ordinarily-singular sentients with masses of non-sentient slaves learn to cooperate" theory could apply, only with Brain Bugs instead of the queens.

In the Starship Troopers universe, human prisoners are discovered when the Federation invades Arachnid-controlled Planet P, which in Matt's chronology would be Season Three. That would be a good time for the viewer to learn about this, since these humans would have the most interaction with the Bugs, possibly including the leadership caste if the Arachnid leadership is interrogating them or studying them. Alternatively, if the viewers are getting impatient, this is something the Federation could learn from the Skinnies, since Matt suggested Season Two would consist of an attempt to forcibly detach the Skinnies from their alliance with the Bugs in which the Federation learns of the Brain Bugs. The Bugs might've been more forthcoming about their history with their allies than with their enemies, or the Skinnies might have found this out on their own. After all, they might be concerned that they could be next if the Arachnids triumph over the Federation.

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