Skip to main content

Moonstruck - Ernest Naylor ***

There is something uniquely beguiling about the moon. The sun might be the serious luminary power source of the solar system, but it is simply too bright to be aware of any detail without specialist equipment. But everyone can admire the full moon in all its glory. In writing Moonstruck, subtitled 'how lunar cycles affect life', Ernest Naylor keeps us very aware of this human awareness of the moon, constantly throwing in moon myths and beliefs alongside detailed information on the way that the moon, and more often its indirect influence through the tides, influences mostly aquatic behaviour.

While Naylor is sticking to sealife he is on home territory and authoritative, though for the general reader there is perhaps rather too much cataloguing of how various species behave or mate or whatever in subtly different ways dependent on the phase of the moon and the state of the tides.

Where things get a lot more slippery is when Naylor moves onto land animals, and particularly humans, where the general feeling seems to be that most studies show no evidence of an influence. When there is an apparent correlation, there is usually a conflicting study that doesn't agree. This topic seems to have the same problem that ghost hunters have with taking a scientific approach. In the scientific method, the null hypothesis is interesting in its own right. If, for instance, physicists discovered that there were no gravitational waves, it would have a major impact on general relativity and would be fascinating (and possibly Nobel Prize winning). But if ghost hunters consistently discover no ghosts, they just get dispirited. (Sorry.) So there is a higher than usual temptation in such circumstances to cherry pick data to support the researcher's desired outcome. Unfortunately the whole business of finding ways that the moon might influence sleep patterns or libido or whatever seemed exactly the same. A field where enthusiasts are in search of supporting evidence.

It didn't help that Naylor repeatedly told us that 'sceptics think this' and 'sceptics would point out there is no evidence yet' which began to grate after a while. Throw in a decidedly dubious timing of the Big Bang at 9.5 billion years ago, plus a surprisingly short book for an £18.99 hardback, and we have something of an oddity that read less like a commercial popular science book and more like a personal project.
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

Lost Solace (SF) - Karl Drinkwater ****

There was a time when you would be hard pushed to find a science fiction novel with a female main character. As I noted when re-reading Asimov's Foundation, in 189 pages, women appear on just five pages - and they're very much supporting cast. But the majority of new SF novels I've read this year have had female main characters, including The Real Town Murders, Austral and Andy Weir's upcoming Artemis.

That's certainly the case in Karl Drinkwater's engaging Lost Solace. It's really a two hander between military renegade Opal and her ship's AI, Clarissa. There are a few male characters, but they are either non-speaking troops she battles or a major with whom she has a couple of short video conversations. That summary gives an unfair military flavour to the whole thing - in practice, the majority of the action, which is practically non-stop throughout the book, involves Opal trying to survive as she explores a mysterious, apparently abandoned liner in a de…