Sunday, July 24, 2011

The George Shall Smile

Wicked BugsWicked Bugs by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel like the wine taster at the wedding in Cana: the best was saved for last. The best, in this case, being zombie bugs, bugs that take over an unwilling host (such as a cockroach, grasshopper, snail, etc) and use it for their own nefarious purposes, such as turning its antennae iridescent colours and waving them around to attract the nearby Nazgul, or perhaps causing grasshoppers, drunk with vino del mar, to fall violently in love with a particular passing fish. Alas, leaping to the water like Jean Valjean does not preserve them from perishing in it like Agamemmnon: they can't swim, and die in a bliss of ardent, wet-gilled fervour, doubtlessly delivering poignant love poems with their last breaths. Of particular warm and fuzzy feelings for me, who have peeled back ceilings and watched them scurry away, opened ovens to the sight of cockroaches two inches deep, and found the scientific way (trial and error) that a roach's head is entirely unnecessary to the survival of the rest of the roach (for a few days, anyway: plenty of time to reproduce) is the delightful insect that stings a roach, then inserts its stinger into the temporarily immobilized roach's brain, and then, steering via the antennae, walks the now docile behemoth back to its own home like it was leading an elephant, where it lays its larvae on the roach's abdomen. They proceed to eat the roach from the inside out, turning it into a disposable incubator, and I applaud them.

Other, more well-adjusted humans will probably loathe this book. But those of us that delight in the misery of others, or at least those who can find admiration for their creative methods of dying--seriously, how many autopsies come back with "caterpillar" filled in under "cause of death?" That's impressive--those humans like me, in other words, will greatly enjoy this book. In fact, we'll probably convince our roommates to bathe in raid and never leave the home (safe save for bedbugs, the lice that killed half of Napoleon's army, the black-widow's kiss of death, and numerous other delights).

As it is a dictionary of types, it's not the smoothest read. But who cares? It's not a novel, it's a catalogue of ants whose bites resemble gunshot wounds, of black flies that kill animals by the tens of thousands, of parasites that through itching inspire suicide, of bugs that shoot acid at the rate of a heavy machine-gun, even of a super-society of Argentine ants stretching from San Diego to Eureka, Ca. And as such it is awesome. Enough to raise up a new generation of entomologists, who can then write more books like this one, inspiring the Jesse to heights of ecstasy as yet uninspired by aught but bugs.

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