Terry Birdgenaw

An arthropod Animal Farm?

In the late Cretaceous a tiny bit of the Earth’s surface is sucked through a wormhole to another planet—a planet capable of sustaining terrestrial life. Along with the soil and plants and trees pulled through are several species of animals: bees, ants, spiders, flies, termites, beetles, and even earthworms.

And then things get weird.

Terry Birdgenaw’s Antuna’s Story is a chronicle of these insects brought through the wormhole; how they survived, how they thrived, how things changed for them, and how these changes led to human-level intelligence and the construction of an advanced civilization.

All the bugs and creepy-crawlies insects are anthropomorphized, of course. If you find this problematic, don’t read Animal Farm. Or visit Disney’s streaming services. “The Metamorphosis” is right out.

Antuna’s Story, the first in a trilogy, is bracketed within the transcript of a podcast, where a modern insect scholar of this arthropod-adjacent civilization narrates to their human host the early days of the insects who found themselves thrust into this new world.

As all literature should be, Birdgenaw’s book is about people, about us, using the metaphor of our exoskeleton relatives, who end up at the top of the food chain by virtue of that wormhole, and the various fortunes this provides—or misfortunes, as readers must ponder for themselves—which included an increase to both their lifespans and cognitive abilities.

I was never certain, though, if I was reading a book for children or adults. Through most of the story I thought, this would have been an awesome book to read to my son before bed, when he was ready for longer stories that did not conclude in one sitting; but then, characters being burned alive, dissolved with acid, and, well, eaten by other characters, would have made for some uncomfortable discussions just before lights out.

Don’t get me wrong: the story is captivating, the characters relatable, the metaphor for humanity apt. The novel’s voice, though. Is it for adults, or kids? Something to consider.

Still, I got into the story and kept reading because I wanted to know what would happen next. In the end, given so many tastes and so many flavours, to me that’s the best measure anyone can use. In the case of Antuna’s Story, rubbing this aphid’s belly produces something sweet.