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The story:

Centuries ago, humanity have been incorporated into an alien hive mind, spread by a bacterial-like infection. The "bacteria" infects the blood and brain and allows the infected to join their minds together, there is no alien overlord, just an interplanetary community of spirit. Everyone is happy.

The problem is that our immune system starts to fight back. More and more babies are born with little to no space-bacteria in their brain, and need daily injections to stay "normal".

Even worse, the space-bacteria signal strength is globally diminishing.

We can barely feel the presence of the other infected species outside the solar system, soon we'll only be able to share our thoughs with the people in our immediate vicinity.

Teams of space-travelers are sent to other planetary systems in the hope of finding new strains of the bacteria to re-infect everyone. They are humanity's last hope to be happy again.

My story explores two facets of this terrible, terrible situation:

  • One part is about people who stayed on earth. They are trying to find a cure against our immune system, struggling to maintain social order and trying to cope with the loss of happiness.

  • The other is about a team sent to space: they travel around, meet infected and non-infected civilizations, ask for information on the bacteria in space-taverns, learn the concept of money and hire a few space-mercenaries to help them in their noble quest.

Additional information:

Our bacterial hive-mind is kind of like a single mind controlling numerous bodies at the same time. Each of the bodies have different perceptions, since their senses perceive the world differently and their basic instincts are still there (young ones enjoy playing a lot, most of them enjoy hugging and kissing, some prefer to hide under a blanket during storms, etc.). The collective can feel different emotions and needs at the same time, but it's still one mind. Like most creatures, it tries to live its life in the most agreeable way possible.

On earth, the connection is deteriorating, so as the story progresses some parts of the hive mind degenerate into partially connected individuals.

One part of the story is told from the earth collective mind POV, another from a smaller collective mind POV, formed by the ship crew, and from the POV of other hive minds they'll meet on their journey (I haven't decided yet on how these other collectives will be structured).

I was thinking about writing in a first view perspective, while using "we" and "us". But the first scenes I have written are super-annoying to read.

My Questions:

How can I write a story from a collective mind perspective without being confusing or obnoxious? Should I use a first or third person narrative?

Are there well-written stories told from a hive mind POV?


Thanks everyone for your advice, I'll write a few scenes to try different styles and see what works.

Full disclosure: I write in French and my worst enemy seems to be not the fundamental difference between human and alien-hive-mind perception of reality, but the third person plural past tense, which sounds unnatural and wrong.

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    Like Lauren Ipsum suggested, this might be good to ask about on Worldbuilding SE too. On Worldbuilding you could explore various aspects of the world you are creating; here on Writers, you can hash out how to present it all to your readers and to your publisher. – a CVn Aug 13 '15 at 13:44
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    @MichaelKjörling I've already asked a question on WorldBuilding about a specific aspect of this universe. Here I'm more interested on how to write about it. I'll add more info to clarify my question. – Babika Babaka Aug 13 '15 at 13:58
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    If you are very good, you can suck in the reader with "we" so they feel they are part of the hive mind. – Raphael Aug 14 '15 at 10:20
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    Sheri S. Tepper does something like this in her "Arbai trilogy" (Grass, Raising the Stones and Sideshow). In the last book of the trilogy, Sideshow, a (sentient?) fungus has infested people all over the galaxy, making them happy. – user5645 Aug 14 '15 at 12:48
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    Not sure if it sounds the same way in French, but in English, using "we" in the context of a singular entity can come across as the old-school Royal We, which does have a somewhat obnoxious tone to it. I suspect that a hive mind with a sense of self-identity would refer to itself as 'I', since it believes itself to be a singular entity. After all, I don't go around saying "we are here writing a response" on behalf of the many individual cells and symbiotic microorganisms making up my body. – Dan Bryant Aug 14 '15 at 14:11
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Here's a thought: would the infected members of the population even be aware that there is a hive mind of which they are a part? Sure, they experience extreme empathy and are subconsciously driven to act in ways that benefit the whole, but perhaps there is an individual experience that is largely oblivious to the organizing structure in which it is embedded.

Try an experiment where you write the hive mind as its own distinct character (perhaps using the first person), with its perspective distanced from the people that make it up. I might talk about my heart, lungs, stomach and arms, but mostly I just use them and ignore them, at least until they start malfunctioning. The hive mind probably doesn't even think of the individuals with their names, but rather in terms of their functions.

You can continue to write the individuals as relatable characters, allowing you to space out your transitions to the more foreign hive mindset to more manageable chunks of the story. The character perspectives are of course still impacted by their infection (notably, having markedly less selfish motivation), though I imagine the crisis underlying the story brings about conflict in part by forcing people to deal with their previously suppressed selfish impulses.

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The very first story I ever wrote was written from the perspective of a collective mind. So, as they say on /b/, this question is very relevant to my interests.

I would approach the concept of an intergalactic hive mind from the perspective of sociology, neuropsychology, and biology. A hive of bees can be considered as a single organism: only the queen can reproduce, the drones have the status of ejaculate (of which only one sperm will fertilize the egg and the rest die) and the workers are the limbs of the hive that have no individual goal, only strive to provide for the hive. At the same time an individual bee does in fact provide for itself (it would be useless for the hive, if it didn't eat or rest and died), and clearly shows individual behavior independent of the hive.

The human brain, too, while apparently a unified organ creating a single consciousness, contains a not insignificant number of correlated but independent processes. For example, you can walk and talk at the same time. In fact, you can walk without having to consciously take care of that, so "something" inside you is regulating that behavior while your mind is otherwise occupied. There are distinct parts in your brain that have different functions much like the individual bees in a hive: one part takes care of your inner organs, another processes visual information, one regulates emotions, and so on. This is a simplified view, of course, and in truth many functions are spread out over many parts of the brain (just like many worker bees collect food, and many take care of the eggs), but no function involves the whole brain.

You can find analogies in sociology and other sciences yourself, and I'm sure you're already able to see what I'm getting at:

A hive mind, while interconnected, does not necessitate that all parts are directly connected to all others (that would be dysfunctional), that all parts are always "on", that all parts are the same and have the same functions, or that individual parts have no other functions besides those related to the hive. On the contrary, it would be highly functional if individual hive members could think and take care of themselves if they ever got disconnected from the hive (e.g. due to transmission failure or disease). In fact, if all of the hive but one member died, it would be good if that member had the potential to "turn into a queen" and start a new hive.

It is very unlikely that a hive mind would have unified thinking. If it had, all members all across the universe would have to eat and sleep at the same time and walk in lockstep. Obviously that won't work. Individual members will encounter individual problems that they have to individually take care of, and a myriad of these problems will happen at the same time. Therfore it is highly likely that individuality will remain in existence in the individual members of a hive mind, to a not inconsiderate degree. They will have individual consciousness, individual emotions, and individual goals that will interact with the hive's goals not unlike the inner conflict that normal humans today often experience.

Some people believe that meditation and other spiritual practices connect you to the universe and all living beings inside of it. Yet spiritual masters aren't mindless ants, remote controlled by the universe. They are very much individuals, despite feeling themselves in tune with what the univerae "wants". Of course those masters aren't part of any hive mind and cannot show us what a hive mind would be like, but they show how the concept of "becoming one with the universe" does not contradict individuality for those that have spent a lot of time thinking about those concepts.

From all this follows that you can write a story about a hive mind both from the perspective of an individual member (in first or third person singular), from the perspective of a temporary or permanent functional subcollective (in first or third person plural), or – though that will be difficult to conceive of, because it lies so far outside our experience – from the perspective of the total mind itself. I imagine that latter perspective to be a cacophony of a myriad synchronous thoughts – and unreadable.

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    As social animals, human beings already take part in larger organizing structures, such as communities, corporations and governments, which shape and direct their motivations toward goals not wholly individual in scope. If consciousness arises by virtue of structured perception/behavior, perhaps there are already hive mind entities which we are simply in the wrong scope to directly perceive. Hi Google. – Dan Bryant Aug 14 '15 at 17:55
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A different slant on things, but Ayn Rand's Anthem has a non-supernatural hive mind (collectivism gone mad, I guess) and she shows it by using collective pronouns even for individuals. So instead of "I" she uses "we", even when there's only one character involved. I hate the book, but the pronouns were interesting.

You might also want to check out Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It has a super-powerful AI using human bodies to do its bidding, and they function as a sort of collective. It gets a bit confusing sometimes, but it's pretty well done, I'd say.

Other than the pronouns, I think you'll probably have to decide just how entwined these humans are with each other. If their connection is totally voluntary and can be turned off, it would just sort of be like people having hardwired internet, and you wouldn't need to do much beyond acknowledging it. But if you're going for a deeper connection, one that can't be controlled and that would remove all traces of privacy, you'll have to really think about every aspect of your society and take it from there.

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    Thanks for your advises, both books sound interesting. All humanity share one mind. Half of this story focus on how society function and how "people" live on earth, and the other half focus on a smallest hive-mind, formed by the ship crew, too far away from earth to connect with the rest of humanity. I'm still in the worlbuilding process, but I have a good idea on how the universe will be. – Babika Babaka Aug 13 '15 at 13:53
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    I considered Anthem too, but ultimately the characters are not part of a hive mind. Their individuality has been socially surpressed. Probably worth reading for the grammatical structure, although it's not the same situation as the OP's story. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Aug 13 '15 at 14:40
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    Yeah, definitely not identical. – Kate S. Aug 13 '15 at 14:45
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David Brin's Uplift series has the traeki/Jophur, which are physically connected hive minds of stacked rings. Each ring is nominally a separate entity; the distinction between traeki and Jophur is the presence of a so-called 'master ring', basically an overriding personality which controls the other parts of the hive mind.

As the species is only one of the viewpoints in the books, use of the third person is very effective as a reminder to the reader that a stack of rings is a hive mind, not a single personality. Use of the first person indicates an overriding (single) personality. In your case I believe the distinction between first and third person could even be(come) a central theme, or way of expressing the difference between a thought from a hive mind and a thought from an individual. To me it seems that your choice of narrative should be based on 'where' the source is for a given thought or feeling at any given time.

This is also true for a given point of view - if a single person is walking through a room, the first or second person view is definitely not irrelevant; even though the control and sentience remains with the hive, you have made it clear that basic instincts still contribute to what defines individuals. Separate enjoyment by separate entities is an interesting angle in your introduction; bear in mind that this will also affect things like fashion, status, sex, careers, experience...

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(This might get good answers on WorldBuilding SE also.)

I think you have to decide, from a storytelling viewpoint, how these people communicate. Does each individual have his/her own thoughts but others pop in and out like everyone is always in the same room and thinking out loud? Do you only hear the thoughts of people within X geographical distance? Or is it more like the Borg, where there's the constant white noise of a billion minds in the background?

How has this affected society? Is there an Internet? Are there phones, email, texts, mail? Do people travel as much? Can they link to the point of looking through someone else's eyes, so to speak?

Once you work through these structural details, it should become clearer how to tell the story — if you have individuals who think but are always hearing other individuals, that could be first-person or third-person limited, but if everyone is a Borg drone with free will, then third-person will make more sense.

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    I was thinking about describing a single mind controlling numerous bodies at the same time and using the pronoun "we" and "us" to speak about itself, this in a first person perspective. But the first scenes I have written are super-annoying to read and I may change the rules of the universe to make it more readable. I already posted a question about this story in WorldBuilding, about different aspects of the story. – Babika Babaka Aug 13 '15 at 13:46
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Also check out And Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. It's second-person, and it works. Where you seek an effective hive-mind, Ferris sought an effective Office — the collective murmurings of a bunch of coworkers. The use of second-person enables an omniscient narration — all of the events are well-known gossip, water-cooler talk — while still allowing personal perspectives (it is, in a sense, each character's individual narrative; just all of them together). And Ferris tapers off from a more comprehensive second-person, containing and expressing the thoughts of a whole office, down to a dialogue between just two characters: the narrator, and the reader. If you don't have time to give it a thorough read, honestly, I would recommend reading the first few pages, snippets in medias, and the very end. That should offer Some helpful sense of what he does.

  • If you were to edit this to say something about what Ferris does in that book that makes it work, this would be a fine answer. Otherwise it will probably be deleted (but you now have enough reputation to comment). – Monica Cellio Aug 14 '15 at 21:01
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Just a small suggestion: I appreciated how the Hive Mind was treated in the Ender's Game sequels. The main character is an individual, but he interacts with an Hive Queen, showing efficiently how such a thing would think. My memory is not what it used to be, but I think we mostly read about the Queen in Xenocide, the third book.

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I think what you're looking for is Emergence.

Emergence seems to be a fundamental part of our universe, and it basically means that dumb things can become smarter together.

An individual transistor is very limited, it can only block or let an electric signal through, however, you can build logic gates out of them, and from those, a computer.

The same is true to ants, their hive is way "smarter" than it's constituting parts. Take the hive, and replace ants with humans. and the hive becomes our civilization. We are different types of idiots, who together, can complement each other's weaknesses, most of us anyway.

If you were to connect together humans, I believe it would remove their individual flaws and insecurities, and create a being that is one level higher in the order of life than humans. Though it can also be that I watched too much of Neon Genesis Evangelion.


More info on emergence: https://youtu.be/16W7c0mb-rE

  • This also holds true the other way around. Emergent group behavior may very well be "dumber" than their individuals. Take fish schools or bird flocks for instance, their emergent behavior can be accurately modelled with only three simple rules (grouping, alignment, collision-avoidance). However, an individual bird or fish taken from that group, can produce quite (unpredictable) intelligent behavior. – Yeti Apr 16 '18 at 7:37
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It's apt that you'll be writing in French, since Descartes formulated his "I think, therefore I am" argument in both French and Latin, and critics have argued all that can be inferred is "there is a thought" rather than that someone specific called "I" is having it. Needless to say, that weaker statement can be formulated in such languages. One can then avoid saying who is having a thought. This can, but need not, involve the passive voice when speaking of the thought(s) in question. But since others have already pointed out that not everything needs to be from the hive mind perspective, the technique I've described needs only occasional use or it gets annoying. It's best to use it early to introduce the reader to the premise; then you can bring in the protagonist as you switch away from it.

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