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The Swarm/IQ 83

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Pan, London, 1978
(first published by
William Heinemann, 1974)
price: 75p; 224 pages

click to enlarge

Pan, London, 1979
(first published by
William Heinemann, 1978)
price: 95p; 256 pages

The blurbs on the back:

The Swarm:
This was the beginning, barely noticed. Only a few scientists felt the first stirrings of terror. But then the death toll began to mount - and terror erupted into national panic as great swarms of savage bees, deadly killers, blotted out the sun as they spread across America.
Now, with the Empire State Building black with bees, a crack team of scientists race desperately against time to fight an enemy they only partly comprehend.

IQ 83:
'If the sickness spreads, darkness will fall...'
A team of top scientists are working on a DNA experiment, on the brink of a breakthrough that will raise the IQ of a whole range of retarded youngsters.
Suddenly, something goes horribly wrong. A member of the team contracts a mystery virus. His IQ drops swiftly, terrifyingly swiftly. A brilliant brain reduced to a slobbering semi-moron.
The disease spreads. The nation is in the grip of an epidemic that brings a flood of violence and destruction, psychological chaos and sexual anarchy. As the national IQ slumps into the lower eighties, America teeters on the brink of the abyss.
In the most advanced society of the modern world, the imbeciles are taking over...
'Herzog has carved a niche as the leading exponent of the doomsday novel' -
Financial Times

opening lines:

The Swarm:
Several facts concerning the incident near Maryville, New York, need to be underscored.

IQ 83:
On a Sunday evening in early March the Healey family was en route to New York City after a country weekend.

The problem for a writer who gets a TV or movie adaptation of a novel is that the result can overshadow everything else in their bibliography. Jeanette Winterson, for example, will always be known as the author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, and even Fay Weldon, who has a string of big-selling books to her credit, will never escape the image of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. Similarly, Arthur Herzog is, above all else, the man who wrote The Swarm.

Of course Herzog has an even bigger problem. Because while Oranges and She-Devil were about as good as TV drama gets (there he goes, damning with faint praise again), The Swarm is universally regarded as an absolute stinker. In fact, it's gone down in movie history as the epitome of how not to make a big budget horror/sci-fi movie. Even I don't rate it very highly. Director Irwin Allen had just come off the huge success of The Towering Inferno and seemed to think that he could replicate the formula with killer bees replacing badly built high-rise buildings, not realizing that creature features are not the same thing as disaster movies. So we get a whole host of Hollywood names being put in jeopardy, before Michael Caine hams his way toward a solution. Amongst those who embarrass themselves by appearing is Mr Henry Fonda:

Ted Turner's father-in-law
Dr Krim

All of which is a shame, 'cos the book's actually quite decent. Certainly in a different league to the post-Rats novels that deluged the market over the next decade or so. The scale of the book is much larger than the film, the working out of the plot is less formulaic and the narrative is broken by a mass of documentary evidence, diagrams, newspaper reports, judicial minutes and so on, which lends a nice veneer of authenticity (c.f. Carrie). On the other hand, writing about 'disoriented bees' is always going to sound foolish in a novel.

The presentation of these novels may imply a certain formulaic approach, with the 'crack team of scientists' in The Swarm replaced by 'a team of top scientists' in IQ 83. I mean, they're good scientists, but not quite so crack as the other lot, you know. As it happens, IQ 83 is a decent novel, in which the dumbing of America takes on a physiological reality. A stupidity virus spreads through the US population, and it's difficult not to see the tale as a parable of cultural decay.

Interestingly, the scientist who discovers what's going is immediately put in mind of Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease: fifteen years later, the hitherto obscure CJD would be a daily news story in Britain as the story of BSE unravelled. Mind you, Herzog's previous book had been Heat, which was based on the greenhouse effect. I guess that if you're going to do doomsday scenarios, you need to be slightly ahead of the curve.

Anyway, my point was simply: don't judge Herzog simply by the movie of The Swarm - there's some good stuff in there.


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