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from the original screenplay by Mayo Simon
Phase IV

click to enlarge

Pan, London, 1973
price: 25p; 128 pages

dedication: This one is for Bob Gleason

The blurb on the back:

Triumphant from a fifteen thousand year battle in space, a bolt of energy reached the third planet of a Class B star. A new life force spawned seven grey towers in the Arizona desert. Now, from out of their dark mysteries march a new breed of killer ants to herald the dawn of Phase IV…
In their path wait two men, a frightened girl and the resources of modern science. Mankind’s first line of defence and its last…

opening lines:
Something clicked and in the nebula shaped like a spirochete a bolt of energy moved from one side to the other, seventeen light-years, and then vaulted into pure space.

Unlike just about every other creature-feature ever made, Phase IV is a genuine classic, a wonderful movie that displays – and expects - real intelligence. The difference between it and its rivals is evident from the choice of animal with which to threaten humanity: ants aren’t much a predator, but their highly evolved, rigorously defined social system makes them a potent symbol of totalitarianism. And when they acquire intelligence and group consciousness, they become truly scary. As one of the scientists here reflects:

Of all the intelligences on this planet, of course, those of the ants are most foreign to us and for that reason the most menacing… And they are the only survivors from the Cretaceous age – which must tell us something. Dinosaurs, stegosauri, Neanderthals, mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers… all gone for millions of years. Yet the ants survive in almost the exact form that they had then. Should this teach us something? Yes, gentlemen, it should teach us something. (p.14)

The film is great; the book slightly less so, but is still a decent bit of science fiction. Barry N Malzberg is a respected and proper writer, and this is several cuts above your average novelization. Mostly written as a third-person narrative, it dips occasionally into the journal of games theorist, James Lesko, allowing a variation in emotional tone and a level of personal involvement in the struggle against the ants. All very nicely done. In fact, if the movie didn’t exist, the book would still be worth having. And that’s the mark of a decent novelization, in my opinion.

dressed as lamb


from the maker of...
Kung Fu
More killer insects? Yes, please:
oh, what a glorious thing to bee
The Swarm
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