A To Z Of Railhead: H Is For Hive Monks

Railhead Phili Reeve

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to reveal one of the special commissioned artworks for Philip Reeves latest novel Rail Head. Ian McQue’s interpretation of a Hive Monk.

Today I’m pleased to be part of the A to Z of Rail Head blog tour for the book; Philip Reeve has stopped by to tell us all a little bit more about the monks, Phillip also has another Hive Monk image to share, this time from Jonathan Edwards.


I never really work out what my books are about until long after I’ve finished writing them (sometimes the penny never does drop). But one of the themes which keeps surfacing in Railhead is people’s relationship to non-human intelligences. The cast includes three different types of machine intelligence – the humanoid Motorik, the trains, and the god-like Guardians. With all that going on, there didn’t seem much room for other intelligent life-forms, so there are no aliens in the story. (OR ARE THERE?)

The nearest thing to aliens are the Hive Monks, which aren’t individuals but mobile insect colonies. When enough Monk Bugs get together they achieve a sort of group intelligence, and start acting almost like a single person.  They are often to be seen riding the K-bahn on endless, mysterious pilgrimages connected with their insect religion. Trains don’t much like having Hive Monks as passengers, because of the trails of dead bugs which they leave behind them, but its easier to let them aboard than to try and stop them – Hive Monks which get agitated sometimes just explode into mindless swarms of insects again.

In order to try to fit into human society, the Monks adopt a human shape, clinging to stick-man armatures which they build for themselves out of rubbish, and covering them in sackcloth robes. They even make faces for themselves, chewing up paper and assembling it into chappati-like masks with crude eye and mouth holes poked in them. Poor Hive Monks – they are just trying to be friendly, but who wants to be friends with a huge pile of insects?

A lot of people want to draw them, though – here are two superb images, by Ian McQue and Jonathan Edwards. I also think the Hive Monks would be good characters to cosplay at conventions – all you need is a robe, a mask, and about thirty thousand insects.

Phillip Reeve

Ian McQue - @IanMcQue
Ian McQue – @IanMcQue
Jonathan Edwards - @jontofski
Jonathan Edwards – @jontofski


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