Non-Fiction: Microbes and Rodents
Dark Life by Michael Ray Taylor. A communications and theater arts professor, avid caver, and science journalist, Taylor originally set out to find “dark life” within the depths of the earth–microbes that flourish in the absence of sunlight. As he increasingly gets involved with scientists in the field, he not only discusses the microbes living in other out of the way places such as hot springs and deep sea vents but also the controversy surrounding the existence of nanobacteria and microfossils on the Martian meteorite ALH 84001. The science isn’t so esoteric that the casual reader can’t pick it up, but the main attraction to the narrative is the emphasis of the personalities involved–such as the quirky scientist trying to prove that travertine is the result of nanobacteria deposition and the undergraduate caught between the warring factions arguing for and against life on the Martian meteorite.
Rats by Robert Sullivan. After finishing this intriguing nature narrative, I was, well, a bit disappointed. Sure, there are the odd facts and the author’s observation of city rat behavior in an alley that was located just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, but the central point revolved around the human’s relationship with the rat and not the rats themselves. We see that author creeping about with night vision goggles and becoming almost paternal about the rats he observes eating out of trash bags and restaurant dumpsters and meeting a homeless man with a strange love-hate relationship with them. There’s quite a bit of history as well–particularly of New York’s exterminators and sanitation service. And at times, it is even scary–such as the rats jumping back to full health even after workers from the CDC pump the rodents with enough tranquilizers to kill a cat. These are definitely not lab rats–but one will have to admire these city pests’ adaptability.