Saturday, January 29, 2022

Book Review: The Cryptid Catcher

The Cryptid Catcher

Lija Fisher

Square Fish, 2018, 326 pp. + bonus material

Bigfoot hunter and educator Lija Fisher has written a wonderful adventure for middle-graders, Indeed, older kids and adults with an interest in cryptozoology will snork it up too.  Clivo Wren is the orphaned son of a cryptid-catcher who roamed the world looking for a cryptid with immortality-granting blood, which makes sense in the context of Fisher’s unique take on cryptids in general. Thirteen-year-old Clivo has an inherited contract with a mysterious man named Douglas who is not so much a mentor as a goad.  (Imagine Obi-wan throwing Luke a lightsaber and saying, “Good luck storming the Death Star. And I mean by tomorrow!”) 

Clivo will feel familiar to fans of Jonny Quest (from the original and ONLY series) and has a bit of Harry Potter in him, too. He meets a supportive cryptozoology club through, of course, the International Cryptozoology Museum. Soon, he’s off to Loch Ness and then Alaska, getting around via an unlimited credit card provided by Douglas, the outdoor and self-defense skills taught him by his dad, and innate cleverness.  Clivo has other problems, though, mainly people who are wiling to shoot him to find the cryptid that can help them use immortality to (what else?) take over the world.

This book, the first in a duology, is a funny, well-paced, globe-trotting tale of teenage derring-do. It’s stuffed with cryptozoology references both common and obscure, has a great supporting cast, and brims with originality. On to the sequel!

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Sasquatch: the Matt Bille Challenge

 We all love our buddy Bigfoot, despite his annoying habit of never leaving DNA, dead bodies, bones, fossils, partially eaten kills, or old copies of "The Smart Sasquatch: A Guide to Avoiding Humans." Even skeptics like myself HOPE the Bigfoot hunters finally find something.

So I posted the Matt Bille Challenge on a cryptozoology group.
I don't suppose it means much in the days of million-dollar book advances, but I'll write a personal check for $1,000 USD to the lead author of the paper in Nature, Science, or Journal of Mammalogy describing the creature known as Sasquatch.
I specified those three journals only because this would be earthshaking news: the peer review process would be extremely thorough there. Also, the authors would ONLY submit to the most prestigious journals. That paper is not going to Bubba's Journal of Mammalogy and Cheeseburger Recipes. (Which I would totally read.)
I'll add $1,000 to the person who finds the specimen used as the basis for the paper. Good hunting!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Book Review: Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins


Book reviews

Drunk Flies and Stoned Dolphins: A Trip Through the World of Animal Intoxication

Oné R. Pagán

BenBella Books, 2021. 320pp

Dr. Oné R. Pagán, a biologist, biochemist, and pharmacologist, has written a book that’s as much fun as the title indicates, with fascinating science as a bonus.  He explains the history of our research on naturally occurring pharmaceutically and psychedelically active substances and the many uses other animals, intentionally or unintentionally, put them to.  Did you know what happens to elephants on LSD (nothing good)? Have you ever heard the claim we evolved our brains because psychedelic plants expanded out consciousness? It’s called the Stoned Ape Theory, and an actual scientist was serious about it. This is not to be confused with the Drunken Monkey Hypothesis, which holds our ancestors found the ripest fruit by following their tastes for alcohol.  (One wonders at times what exactly the scientists consumed.)   

Pagán questions some popular stories. Elephants, it turns out, will greedily dive into liquor and can be very dangerous drunks, but the claim that they do this with fermented fruit is dubious. (Some smaller animals do get drunk that way.) The much-reported tale of dolphins passing around a puffer fish to get high is likewise unproven: they may just have been using it as an inflatable toy.  My favorite bit is that sea slugs apparently hallucinate on amphetamines. It’s not exactly useful knowledge, of course.

The author explains the chemistry of the subject in clear words and illustrations. He reviews the theories, adding a few of his own, about why intoxicating substances evolve and the way they have “unintended” effects (e.g., a plant may evolve an insecticide that’s an intoxicant to other animals). 

Pagán’s engagingly conversational style occasionally gets a little cutesy, but it succeeds in making the book a lively read that explains science without getting boring.  I came away knowing a lot more about biochemistry, animal behavior, and how to determine how drunk a fruit fly is. A unique book!


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Thanks to COSine 2022

I had a great time at COSine 2022. Thanks to the organizers, moderators, and panelists. I was on panels for Science Fiction predictions, appropriation, and the latest on dinosaurs. Thanks to Shannon Lawrence for this photo.  The organizers pulled it off despite COVID, the need to reshuffle presenters and work in remote presentations, and the conference hotel (I am not making this up) being sold for apartments two weeks before the conference!

Great photo by Shannon Lawrence.