Perhaps you remember that line from the cheesy film Clash of the Titans. I promise this won’t be a post about stop animation techniques or Harry Hamlin, though I am ashamed to admit that I thought he was pretty good in the first season of Veronica Mars. This post is about an all together different kind of monster. A creature that science writer Wendy Williams tries to bring into the light in her book Kraken: The Curious, Exciting and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid.
The author uncovers fascinating things about her subject. Squid and their brethren have managed to survive the five major extinctions over the past half billion years. Cuttlefish can change their color almost instantly to blend in with their environment but are essentially color blind. The Giant Pacific Octopus can solve puzzles and develop a fan base at aquariums.
But of all the words in the tantalizing title, the most important for understanding this book is the word science. Williams is dedicated to the concept of scientific inquiry and takes a detached view of all things cephalopod. In fact, the book is more about the scientists who study squid, octopi and cuttlefish and the methods they employ than the creatures themselves.
A brief quote describing a neurosurgery lecture should give you a feel for this tone:
Anderson held on to the squid body. The animal’s one head, eight arms, and two tentacles writhed.
“We’ll start with the gross dissection,” he said.
Then he snipped off the head.
A deep, anguished groan came from the thirty mostly male surgery residents.
“Neurosurgeons are surprisingly squeamish.” Anderson told me later.
“And it’s all for the good of science,” he told me.
Kraken has lots of tantalizing information and is well worth your reading time. If, however, you have a strange sympathy for the creatures discussed, and yes there are a few of us out there, prepare yourself for a bumpy ride.