This volume surveys such creatures as the microscopic water bear, which can withstand 1000 times as much radiation as a human; the male hooded seal, wThis volume surveys such creatures as the microscopic water bear, which can withstand 1000 times as much radiation as a human; the male hooded seal, which doubles the size of its head by inflating the lining of its nostril; and the Jesus Christ lizard, which runs on water. My fellow danger fans will be happy to know that it also includes some old friends of ours, like the candiru, which swims up the human urethra and "sticks out a spike so it can't come out, even if you ask it really, really nicely, and offer it all sorts of cash incentives." On the tendency of vampire bats to share their meals with each other, Sir P. remarks, "All very well, if indeed the idea of vampires vomiting blood into each other's mouths is all very well."
Pilkington-Smythe is hilarious, but he's also well informed, and if you're not careful, you'll learn a lot from this book. The star-nosed mole gives him occasion to mention the ten (not five) human senses, and the mating habits of the right whale lead to a discussion of sperm competition.
I wish I had the vocabulary to tell you how beautifully designed this book is. It's the most gorgeous volume on nature I've seen since Eyelids of Morning. Highly recommended. ...more
Ornaments in Jade This volume has ten short prose pieces, midway between story and poem. For the most part, they aren’t successful; they feel like insuOrnaments in Jade This volume has ten short prose pieces, midway between story and poem. For the most part, they aren’t successful; they feel like insufficiently developed stories, and Machen did better with the ideas in other (longer) pieces. All of the pieces contain some gorgeous writing. Maybe Machen wanted to show off his strengths as a stylist. Or maybe these are scraps and leftovers. The title is accurate if its means the pieces are pretty but not substantial. I like the gimmick of the collection a lot, even though I didn’t find it successful. And I still love Machen; his failures are more interesting to me than most writers' successes.
Notable pieces in this collection: The Rose Garden. This just about works on the level of a prose poem. Of all these, it feels most like Poe’s experiments (for example "Silence" and "Shadow"), both in its attempt to delve the psychology of romantic love and in its mythic narrative. It captures subtle emotions in its cadences. It’s a bit too gauzy, though; where Poe’s prose pieces sometimes linger to disturb, this one evaporates. The Turanians. This is sort of a miniature of his stories of women having intercourse (sexual and otherwise) with some subhuman, faerie-like race. Witchcraft. A young woman learns something of witchcraft from an older one. The story is so oblique I hardly feel much for it. The ending is nice, in its oblique way—like a lyric poem. The Ceremony. A fine and dreamy horror story. Nature. This is only a story by artifice. I think it would be stronger framed as an essay. It’s sort of interesting as a piece of nature writing; of all the writers in the world who wax rhapsodic about nature, Machen may have the best chops.