Some books grab a reader from the first premise. Hive Minds Give Good Hugs by "Thundamoo" (AKA Natalie Maher) did that for me. While I cannot say that it held me in thrall for the entire reading experience, this book in explores two different storylines that are both interesting in their own ways. Before I go into those potential spoilers lets look at the summary and some Content Warnings for this book.
The Official Summary
"A modern-day young woman somehow gets trapped on an alien planet, transformed into an amalgam of human and something more. With no way home and all the survival skills of an average upper-middle-class shut-in, how will she possibly survive let alone find a way home? Turns out, she needs to learn how to help herself... figuratively and very, very literally. Evelyn, meet Evelyn. You're going to do great things together."
Content Warning in the book for...
Many insects, spiders, and their kin
human becoming inhuman
body modification & biological transformation
Neurodivergent major character
social stigmatization due to neurodivergency
death and injury of major characters & children
graphic descriptions of illness, infection, injury, and death
a LOT of eating, including some particularly "disgusting" things
descriptions of death by being eaten
religious bigotry, & faith-motivated violence
on-screen same-gender relationship
frank discussions of sexuality and relationships
police, tyranny, & war
off-screen gender-based violence and related injustices
An Inhuman Human Story (Mild Spoilers Ahead)
As I mentioned above, this book really has two different storylines that lace together in an interesting way. However, the summary only described the initial, present-day storyline that I will describe as "Alien Evelyn." Like a lot of cultivation-based stories, Alien Evelyn's storyline follows the initial learning of her powers and capabilities complete with several moments of near-destruction, learning more about the alien world she finds herself on, and eventually finding friends and companions that she seeks to help improve their quality of life.
The second storyline that I will refer to as "Human Evelyn" takes place on 21st century Earth, taking the form of memories that Alien Evelyn is recalling through dreams. In this one, Evelyn is a first year entomology student at university. Exploring one day, she discovers as unusual insect that turns out to be so much more. Human Evelyn becomes the lens through which an alien entity comes to understand our world, both due to a growing relationship with Evelyn and the alien's interactions with the world.
Both of these story-lines explore two main ideas. The first is the power of extreme biological control. Both Alien Evelyn and her alien friend in the Human Evelyn storyline have the ability to control a seemingly unlimited number of bodies as well as the ability to design, create, and modify these bodies on the fly. The only real limits bareeing their imaginations, their energy reserves, and the biological capabilities they have learned about through the beings they have consumed.
The second idea the responsibility of using this great power to minimize suffering among sentient beings. As you can imagine, the combination of this with the seemingly unlimited biological power can lead to significant internal conflict and tension for the characters involved. This is particularly true for Evelyn who grew up in upper-middle class America and therefore has moral qualms about using violence to prevent conflict and the self-imposed suffering that derive from things like artificial scarcity and socio-economic inequities. This moral exploration is a significant departure from the initial focus, but it makes sense to me.
The use of the hive mind concept is particularly interesting in Evelyn in part because of her neurodivergency. Despite her ability to highly regulate her biology in the Alien Evelyn storyline, she often attempts to minimize self-modifications that would make it easier for her to deal with her ADHD, anxiety, and obsessions that we see have heavily influenced her life back on Earth. In both storylines, her neurodivergency at times help her, as does her great capacity for kindness and self-sacrifice.
Pacing throughout much of the story maintained engagement rather well up until the last couple of chapters. At that point, the Human Evelyn storyline is mostly concluded and the Alien Evelyn storyline's pace accelerated considerably to the detriment of the story. This ending acts more like a summary of a story arc left untold. That said, I understand why Thundamoo made such a decision. The Alien Evelyn storyline was reaching the same basic conclusion that the Human Evelyn did, resulting in some repetition. This also would not have been a pleasant experience for Evelyn, so we can imagine that she would have blocked out much of that experience from her mind, operating more in autopilot than actively engaging with the process. However, the very end of the book left interesting implications for a sequel. I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Overall, if I were to give this story a rating, I would give it an 8 out of 10. However, I think it would be an interesting read for many just because of the interesting ways it expresses the idea of the main character being an individualized hive-mind intellect, largely divorced from a stable biological form. I am personally looking forward to the implications of the sequel and how Evelyn could end up transforming a seeming galactic-spanning civilization.