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Plot/Story Details

The protagonist on this one has landed on an alien world. I can't remember if it is to make repairs, or if he is exploring, etc. It sticks in my mind he may have been a survivor from a doomed space liner that was carrying passengers (though that may be another story - I can't remember for certain here.) What I do remember is that the ship he is in is seized and carried off by very large flying insects, that are described as being very bee-like in nature.

The protagonist is powerless to stop them, but is able to follow them back to their hive. His hope is to recover his ship and get off the planet (or at least signal for help). When he gets there, he soon discovers there are artifacts and items from many cultures and races scattered about the hive. Many of these items are rendered and useless, which the protagonist sees as the work of unintelligent beings. He also discovers his ship has been badly damaged by the "Bees", who have rent parts of it with their pincers.

The protagonist then embarks on the task of trying to find enough usable technology and material in the giant hive to somehow repair his own vessel. As this is a task that will take a great deal of time, supplies to stay alive become crucial. He finds a water source, and for sustenance he begins to eat a sort of honey that the bees store in large cells. He encounters a number of alien creatures in this process. Presumably they are there for the same reason(s) that he is - captured, or searching for a way out. One of the aliens becomes violent with him, and the protagonist is forced to shoot it.

As the story continues, the protagonist begins experiencing strange effects from the honey he has eaten. He begins to have dreams about experiences that could not possibly have been his own. Slowly, the man realizes the alien bees are intelligent, after a pattern. Not in the sense of human intelligence, or necessarily even a conscious hive mind, but intelligent all the same. And these creatures task themselves with collecting experiences, information, and understanding, all of which is stored somehow in the honey.

The story closes with the man acknowledging he will never see home again. He has experienced thousands of memories and images by this point, not knowing whether they are real or dreams. He talks about being a super-hero named "Spider Guy" one day, and something else the next. He will spend the rest of his days in the hive, surviving on the honey and living an nearly infinite number of experiences in the process.

Publication Timeframe

2000's or later. I'm positive that it wasn't any earlier than that. I read it in a sci-fi mag like Analog or Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but I can't remember which one.

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The story is "The Bees of Knowledge" and appears in the short story collection "The Knights of the Limits" by Barrington Bayley. The story itself was first published in 1975 and my edition of the collection in 1980 so it is older than you thought.

The first person narrator is aboard a space liner which blows up. He was able to escape because at the time of the explosion he was praying at the shrine of a saint (the narrator is evidently a Roman Catholic) which happened to be next to a lifeboat / escape pod.

You've slightly misremembered the sequence of events. He lands on the nearest planet, called Handrea, and leaves his lifeboat. Then giant bee-like creatures swoop down and carry him off to their hive. The atmosphere of the planet is very thick, enabling them to fly despite their size. Once inside the hive he is examined as if he were an inanimate object and then tossed aside onto a vast pile of junk which contains artificial objects as well as rubbish. There are other creatures wandering about who seem to have been collected in the same way. He has to defend himself against some of them but most ignore him. Later on he finds his lifeboat has also been thrown on the junk pile, but it has been gutted and is obviously beyond repair.

The narrator initially has a plan to ride one of the bees outside the hive and make contact with the other intelligent species that must live on the planet, given the technological devices that the bees constantly bring in. He never carries out this plan, partly because he has become addicted to the honeycomb-like substance the hive is made of and partly because his hopes are twice raised that he has found intelligent creatures within the hive. The first time is when one of the bees themselves dismantles then rebuilds some sort of teaching device featuring a screen with animated geometrical diagrams. The second time is when a creature like a giant fly that he had thought to be an animal becomes enraptured by a clock-like device the narrator had made to demonstrate his own intelligence. Eventually he concludes that for all their mathematical abilities and voracious curiosity neither the bees nor the fly have true intelligence.

He does have dreams in which he seems to be a member of a much more human-like species native to the planet Handrea.

Exploring the hive, he finds a store of actual honey rather than the honeycomb he had eaten before. This seems to confer telepathy in a way linked to magnetic fields, which explains the dreams. As you remembered, he experiences many visions that must have come from the hive-mind of the bees, from other species, and from his own increasingly distorted memories. He finds physical objects that seem to have been created out of his memories, such as a newspaper containing a comic strip about the "Amazing Human Spider", but by this time he does not know if any of his experiences are real or hallucinations.

As you remembered, it ends with him accepting that he will never leave but saying that "even here, amid the unseeing Bees of Handrea, far from the temples and comforts of my religion, God is present."

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    I was definitely way off on the time line, and a number of the details. Your very thorough answer cleared things up for me. – Helbent IV Jan 27 '17 at 8:52
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    Glad to be of help! Regarding the date of the collection "The Knights of the Limits", my paperback Fontana edition is dated 1980 but the copyright page mentions that it was first published in 1978 by Allison and Busby. – Lostinfrance Jan 27 '17 at 8:57
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It's The Bees of Knowledge, by the English Sci-Fi writer Barrington J. Bayley. I found it while researching another old sci-fi story tonight. It was first published in 1975, not the 2000's. I was way off on that point. It also appears in Bayley's 1980 collection The Knight of the Limits. The story can be found in audio book form in four parts on Youtube.

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