“There is more to life than this crazy, sick-headed preoccupation with honey, honey, honey, everything for honey—and death to anybody who can’t make honey!”
Listen: Kurt Vonnegut is probably my favorite author. I don’t like choosing favorites, but if I had to, he’s the one I’d pick. So when I learned this week that a previously unpublished Vonnegut Story was just put online, I was very happy. When I learned it was about a beekeeper… Well, that’s a thrill I will probably never see replicated.
Vonnegut Beekeeper! This is a top-priority review!
Now, as the world’s foremost reviewer of fictional beekeepers, I will remain objective here. This, as always, is a review of the beekeeper, not the work in which the beekeeper appears. The beekeeper will be judged on their beekeeping abilities, any supernatural or fighting abilities they have, and their ability to overcome Beekeeper Rage.
Sheldon Quick is our beekeeper here. Around fifty years old, he spends most of his time in the Millennium Club, a club for wealthy gentlemen. But, as the fortune left to him by his father is dwindling, very soon his club membership will end. But for a year or so he has been experimenting on bees with the intent to start a business that will recoup his wealth, and also save an oppressed group: male honeybees.
Quick plans to get rich by using drones, who would have otherwise been killed by their hives after the mating season is done, to send messages, carrier pigeon-style. He is not deterred by the fact that vastly superior communication systems exist. The sympathy he feels for the poor drones is so strong that he feels that alone is reason enough for the venture, which he describes as the “greatest thing in humanitarianism since the New Testament.” He creates a males-only hive (a “Bee Millenium Club”) where the drones get to live without the threat from the females. Like a pigeon returning home, the drones will always return to their club, so they work as couriers of tiny little messages. I mean, the plan fails of course (the drones happen to see a queen fly by and that’s the end of that), but Quick did succeed in setting up the all-male hive.
Quick has some sexist views, that’s for sure. He hides in the Millennium Club because women aren’t allowed in, and he fixates on occasions in nature where females kill males (in addition to the honeybee drones, he mentions praying mantises and tarantulas, as examples). It’s probable that he went through some bad experiences and came through with a lot of hatred. But he is, at least, trying to focus his Rage on a mission that is nice. As he says to the reporters who witness his failure “Report me as a fool, if you must … But report me as a fool with one of the kinder, grander dreams of our time.”
Enough summary. Time for review. Is he a good beekeeper? Well, he manages to run ten hives successfully enough to build up his stock of drones. He has no apparent preternatural connection to most of the bees (they sting him, but he has nothing but contempt for the females anyway), but he gets along with the drones. His experimentation is the sort of thing I like to see fictional beekeepers try (there should always be an element of a mad scientist to a beekeeper). He doesn’t seem like much of a fighter (though he is described as “very tall” so he has a physicality that might allow for physical strength), and though he comes from wealth it is not a lineage of ancient beekeepers or anything great like that. Apart from the experimentation, the most impressive thing about Quick is that he is trying to focus his Rage somewhere constructive.
Three Honeycombs out of Five. He’s a broken man, and his dumb idea fails, but he is a decent beekeeper and he wants to do what he thinks is right. And I feel bad for him.