Tag: Dan Eatherley

Review – Invasive Aliens

Posted July 10, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan EatherleyInvasive Aliens: The Plants and Animals From Over There That Are Over Here, Dan Eatherley

Invasive Aliens discusses invasive organisms that are not native to Britain and how they got here, how they affect their new home, and what that implies for the future. Some of the invasives we’ve embraced as our own (rabbits and buddleia) while others are hated (grey squirrels)… and others, of course, we know very little about.

I actually picked this up partly because one of the reviews on Amazon complained about “snide references” to Brexit and Nazis. For your pleasure, I’ve pulled out those three quotations! From the introduction:

Many Brits pride themselves as stoic defenders of a green and pleasant land, boasting a record of resistance against aggressors dating back centuries, be it weathering the Spanish Armada or defying Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. This patriotic fervour, and its clarion call ‘to control borders’, may in part explain the 2016 Brexit vote. Yet, a cursory examination of the natural world reveals that while many interlopers of the human variety have been kept at bay, our islands have throughout history been colonised by a succession of animals, plants, fungi and other organisms that apparently belong elsewhere. Indeed, it’s often hard to sort out the native from foreign.

Which doesn’t exactly make the book “political cant disguised as a book on nature”, to my mind, given it’s mentioned once in the commentary and almost never again. There’s one other reference to Brexit in the entire book:

The UK has often taken a lead; for instance, in banning the sale of certain aquatic plants in 2013. But the political imperative of maintaining and boosting frictionless international trade – Brexit or no Brexit – risks trumping concerns about the unavoidable corollary of that flow of goods and people, namely, the arrival of unwanted new species.

Oh noes, the politics. Picture me with my hand to my forehead, swooning.

Finally, the book wraps up with some thoughts about how we’re going to treat invasive species in the future, mentioning the contention of some people that invasives actually boost biodiversity, and trying to tease apart what policy could and should be — and I guess this particular paragraph could come off as a bit pointed.

Public awareness of the issue is higher than ever before, with sensational news headlines stoking our fears. Giant hogweed, introduced as a horticultural curiosity from the Caucasus mountains in the 1820s, has been recast as Britain’s ‘most dangerous plant’ with sap that ‘melts’ a child’s skin. ‘Monster goldfish’ are on the prowl. ‘Sex mad Spanish slugs’ are terrorising our gardens. Emotive terminology isn’t just the preserve of tabloids: even serious scientists will talk about ‘demon shrimps’ and ‘killer algae’ with a straight face. Some of the language has a xenophobic flavour: introduced plants and animals are ‘ex-pats’ or ‘immigrants’, which ‘pollute’ our pristine environment and need to be ‘bashed’ and ‘sent home’. Perhaps it’s telling that the Nazis were among the first to take against non-natives, drafting a ‘Reich Landscape Law’ in 1941 banishing exotic plants from pure German landscapes. Some argue that the current fixation with non-indigenous wildlife is bound up with subliminal, and not so subliminal, antipathy to arrivals of the human kind. Concerns about non-natives and immigration to our small, overcrowded island are, they say, all of a piece.

Despite those snippets, I promise the rest of the book is actually focused on exactly what it suggests — those are the sole references to Brexit or Nazis in the entire 326-page volume, and politics in general impinges very little beyond the mention of initiatives here or there to eradicate this or that organism, due to impacts on the environment or native species. And, you know, I do wonder if these remarks put their finger on something.

Overall, despite my overall feeling of entertainment about that review, the book felt a little bogged down. The chapters are roughly themed (e.g. around freshwater invasives), but the examples start to feel like a succession of “and ANOTHER thing” — just as I felt it was wrapping up toward a conclusion, we’d look at another example (and it probably wouldn’t add much). Personally, I’d have refined the chapters down a bit and stuck to 2-3 examples per chapter to illustrate the points and the particular difficulties facing a certain part of the ecosystem, and overall slimmed things down. Even finishing the chapters off with some tables of other relevant invasives would have given all the examples in a way that’s a bit easier to digest…

It’s not unenjoyable, taken in short bursts, but my attention did wander quite a lot. The author’s voice is not super-engaging, even though he explains well and chooses good examples. Maybe I also suffer from knowing this stuff a little too well; reading popular science is sometimes the equivalent of shouting “HE’S BEHIND YOU” for an entire play, for me. Bit of a problem of preaching to the choir, except it’s a very opinionated choir (with some facts backing up its opinions) that is not sure they are wholly against invasive species as a general principle.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 8, 2020 by Nicky in General / 3 Comments

It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!

Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan EatherleyWhat are you currently reading? 

Actively, I think it’s pretty much just Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch — my loan got renewed from the library even though there were people in the queue, which is weird but I’m not arguing, because it lets me take my time and let it sink in a bit more — and Invasive Aliens, by Dan Eatherley, which I will probably sit down and finish as soon as I get done with this post.

Invasive Aliens is okay, but it feels a bit scattered; there are themes to the chapters, but it starts becoming a bit “and ANOTHER thing” after a while.

Cover of Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette De BodardWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Aliette de Bodard’s Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders yesterday in a hot bath, and narrowly resisted the urge to arise dripping and covered in bubbles to read bits to my wife, since Asmodeus is definitely her sort of thing. Instead I took photos of the relevant pages and sent them to her via chat, circling the good bits in red. It was rather nice.

(And yes, she’s convinced and plans to read it.)

Cover of Ninth House by Leigh BardugoWhat will you be reading next?

Book club reads this month are Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and I’ve been meaning to read both more or less since they came out, so that’s probably something I’ll do soon. I’m probably in the mood for a palate-cleansing murder mystery from the British Library Crime Classics series first, and maybe an installment of the Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk as well. I also have a wicked bad urge to reread John Scalzi’s Lock In, and I might just listen to it.

So basically, as usual, it’s anyone’s guess.

What are you currently reading?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 1, 2020 by Nicky in General / 7 Comments

It’s Wednesday again already! Check out Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now… and here’s my answers.

Cover of Brit(ish) by Afua HirschWhat are you currently reading?

Mostly non-fiction; I’m having a hard time settling down to anything. Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch is due back at the library, so I’m trying to finish that on time; I’m not very far into it, and mostly I was struck by realising how strongly my view of people of colour in Britain was informed by growing up where I did, in an area where there are a lot of Muslim and Hindu immigrants. The Ghanaian context Afua Hirsch speaks about is not something I ever really came into contact with growing up. So, yeah, I’m getting the different perspective I hoped for from Brit(ish), even if it is disappointing to see a total blind spot I have.

I’m also still reading Dan Eatherley’s Invasive Aliens, but I don’t think I’ve actually picked it up since last week…

Cover of The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard HortonWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Richard Horton’s The COVID-19 Catastrophe, which is pretty short. Most of it is preaching to the choir, for me, but I hope his clear elucidation of what went wrong helps other people see it. I think he could’ve spent a bit more time on the “how to stop it happening again” part; it feels a bit abbreviated. I think there’s a lot you can say about how to build strong and effective surveillance systems, and on what public health initiatives need to take place.

Still, it’s a pretty good analysis of how we got here and what went wrong in the process.

What will you be reading next?

Nobody knows, least of all me.

What are you currently reading?

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WWW Wednesday

Posted June 24, 2020 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Hey folks! I keep saying I’m going to be better this week and it turns out I’m still burnt out, so I’m not linking up and being super social this month, but I totally welcome a chance to chat about books and will do my best to comment and visit in return. I know I’ve been saying this a lot; turns out it takes time.

Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan EatherleyWhat are you currently reading?

I’m in the middle of Invasive Aliens, by Dan Eatherley, which is all about how non-native plants got to Britain and established themselves. There are some surprises in here — I think I knew at some point about rabbits being non-native, but I’d forgotten it, and I also didn’t know that when they were first imported they were helped a lot by landowners. They didn’t establish themselves well at all, compared to their reputation now!

I have a few other things on the backburner, but nothing else jumps to mind as something I want to talk about.

Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. LoracWhat have you recently finished reading?

I think it was Murder in the Mill-Race, by E.C.R. Lorac. She’s one of my favourite writers whose works are being reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series; there’s something very reliable about her ability to portray characters and particularly the landscape and the way people interact with it, and how it shapes people. Most of her novels feature a pretty strong sense of place, if not outright love of the land (it was less prominent in Murder in the Mill Race than in Fire in the Thatch, for example).

Cover of Brit(ish) by Afua HirschWhat will you be reading next?

I don’t know, but my library just purchased a bunch of books I’d requested, which is exciting. There are a few books I want to focus on finishing first, though, including Daisy Jones & The Six (Taylor Jenkins Reid) and Beneath the World, A Sea (Chris Bennett). We’ll see, though — as usual, I do want to try and listen to my whim, and stop if something isn’t working for me, and read according to what sounds good right now.

There’s a couple of library books I’ve had a bit longer and need to read soon, too, like Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish).

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