Skip to main content

Furry Logic - Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher *****

The title of Furry Logic doesn't give much away. With nothing more to go on, I would have guessed that this play on the IT/OR concept of 'fuzzy logic' was a book about animal psychology. But the subtitle reveals it's something quite different: the physics of animal life.


This is a clever move. It's always difficult to find a new way of looking at a perennial topic like biology, but to do so by exploring the way that animals exploit physics, from cats to dragons, gives genuine insights into an otherwise well-trodden subject.
By bringing in all kinds of physics, from simple mechanics, through electromagnetism and light, to quantum theory, we see the ways that animals make use of the possibilities that physics offers to survive and thrive. Sometimes the details are pleasingly small and domestic. I found, for instance, the comparison of the way cats and dogs drink water (neither is able to suck it up as we can) delightful, particularly in the sophisticated approach of the cat. (And speaking of cats, we discover that the fearsome komodo dragon only has a bite as strong as a pet cat's.)

From turtles' ability to navigate the oceans through to the way that shared body heat can be actively manipulated by snakes and the varied non-audio communication methods of insects (not to mention why elephants stand with one foot off the ground), we see the animal kingdom at its most fascinating. At the end of the book, the authors make a fairly obvious but worthwhile point that making use of physics in this way doesn't imply an understanding of physics, but rather a trial and error discovery of what helps survival - but it doesn't make the stories any less interesting.
The only problem with an approach like this, covering different aspects of physics in different chapters is that the contents can seem to be more of a list than a meaningful narrative - but generally that isn't an issue here. If I'm honest, I got more than little bored with the mantis shrimp - the entry was far too long - but that apart, there was plenty cropping up to provide new wonders and interest.
One other small moan is over humour. Editors nearly always extract the majority of the attempts at humour from the books I write, and now I can see why. It's not as easy as it looks, and there's a distinct tendency to wince-making material, particular when scientists venture into the field. So, for instance, we read about the activity of some snakes that it involves 'lots of sex and a soup├žon of gender-swapping. Not among Shine and his colleagues the scientists studying them], we must stress, but the snakes themselves.' It's groan-worthy, but tolerable.
Overall this was a fresh and enjoyable take on an aspect of the workings of animals that is rarely covered - a worth addition to the popular science hall of fame.
Hardback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland…