(M.J.E. / Writings / Book Reviews / Science Fiction /
Da Cruz: Formigans)
Daniel DA CRUZ: The Grotto of the Formigans (1980)
Review by Michael Edwards
Heading: Eerie account of troglodytes who can do far worse
This truly scarifying science-fiction novel is set in Za´re, and is about a
black man from America, Maynard Griggs, who is doing anthropological research in
some of the native tribes in the jungle. He meets a Cuban woman terrorist named
Consuela who has crashed in her helicopter after going off course from Angola,
and they get lost in the jungle and get overwhelmed by hordes of small vaguely
humanoid creatures who live in tunnels deep in the ground, like ants. They are
the Formigans of the title, but how they originated aeons ago is not entirely
They are very tall and very thin, with tiny, baby-like arms and legs and
great saucer-like eyes, and a human can easily kill one with his bare hands; but
hundreds of them can overwhelm you in the end, after you are exhausted from
struggling. They have pale white skin that cannot stand light or water, and
give off an ant-like smell of formic acid; they are the Formigans of the title,
and are organized like ants with specialized castes and a hive-like social
structure. They are semi-intelligent, and form a kind of group mind. The
feeling seems to be that the Formigans are not very intelligent as individuals,
and in fact seem rather zombie-like, but that their group mind is intelligent.
They are ruled by a bloated, immobile Queen who is telepathic with other
Formigans (and with humans too, provided she can look into your eyes), and her
name is JEH, and whatever other Formigans do or know, she also knows about. The
book is a convincing portrayal of a truly alien species with alien ways of
The two humans are not threatened in any way at first, but wonder uneasily
what the Formigans want of them. Although their lives do not seem to be at
risk, an appalling truth eventually becomes manifest to them. The Formigans are
very interested in seeing that their two hapless captives do not escape back to
ground-level again. Not only do they not want the humans to make their
existence known in the world, but they also have their uses for humans.
The humans are never in any danger of dying at the hands of the Formigans,
however; they are far too valuable to let die. Indeed, they are impregnated
with a special fungus that, amongst other effects, makes them almost immortal;
but that may not be a blessing if you are stood immobile like a pillar in a
fungus farm for hundreds of years. The two humans meet others who suffered this
fate many decades ago, who are still alive and conscious in one of the caves,
although with fading eyesight.
This fate of unlucky humans who are captured by the Formigans is the main
thing that is horrifying about this novel. Indeed, it is one of the most
horrifying novels I've ever read, and is one of that rather small group of
novels that persuade readers that far worse fates than death can be conceived
of. (Run-of-the-mill horror stories, on the other hand, simply work variations
on violent ways of dying - but that death itself would be an escape from the
violence inflicted on the victims.)
The book gives chilling details about some of the ramifications of the
awful fate that the Formigans condemn their human captives to. For instance,
when humans stand immobile in the fungus farm for hundreds of years, it seems
that the facial nerves and muscles begin to atrophy after about 150 years. The
sense of touch is the first to go, probably due to lack of stimulation, and
after that the senses of smell and taste go, followed by sight and hearing. But
you continue to live with your own thoughts for many life-times after that,
until, due to the accumulated gradual death of brain cells, the brain eventually
starts to decay. But it seems that even 450 years later, a small portion of
one's brain continues to function; but after that one becomes a vegetable, and
one's body goes on like a living corpse, serving as a culture medium for the
fungus the Formigans need to survive.
Humans are used to grow two of the most important funguses, the Royal Red,
on which Queen JEH feeds, and Sea Green, which is used to feed the humans
growing Royal Red. Royal Red can be grown only on a white person, much more
difficult to obtain in Africa - and the Formigans now have another white and
another black to add to their collection.
These awful facts about the way the Formigans live drives the greater part
of the plot as humans and Formigans do battle against one another. The humans
struggle desperately for their very lives; but the Formigans are also struggling
for their lives too, as this particular method of living is the only one they
can follow. It's one of the scariest stories I've ever read. I've read a great
many stories, and forgotten many of them; but I've never forgotten this story.
E-mail me about this book.
Click here if you need an
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Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.
Search at AddALL.com for a used copy of The Grotto of the Formigans.
Four links are provided, because there are various ways the author's name, with
its prefix, can be treated alphabetically. All four of the following forms of
the name in the following links yield results, provided used copies of the book
are available at the time the links are followed - but they do not necessarily
the same results as each other, and I don't know which form of the name AddALL
would regard as their standard form.
The story sounds very like a horror novel; but it was marketed as science-
fiction, not horror - just in case you try looking for it in second-hand book-
shops in the horror section. Look in the science-fiction section instead.
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
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Writings by Michael Edwards
Daniel Da Cruz: The Grotto of the Formigans (this page)
This page created on Friday, 21 July, 2000.