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29 January 2023

The Mountain in the Sea, by Ray Nayler

This is a fun new novel. Like Ted Chiang’s Arrival or Carl Sagan’s Contact, it’s a “first contact” story, except the alien intelligence is homegrown: a newly-evolved species of octopus living in waters of the Con Dao archipelago in near-future Vietnam. How do they think, given their radically different bodies, environments, and umwelt? Many of the things I’ve been reading over the past few years (Ed Yong’s An Immense World, …


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3 April 2019

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf

Here’s a cool little book about the paleobiology, ecology, and behavior of cephalopods: Squid Empire. The author, Danna Staaf, has a PhD in marine biology and –more importantly– a lifelong fascination with squid, octopuses, cuttlefish, and nautiloids. This work is a history of the cephalopod clade – going back into deep time, before the Cambrian Explosion, dwelling on ancestral forms and luxuriating in the ammonites (now sadly extinct — or …


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15 February 2018

Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith

The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness is the subtitle of this fascinating, extremely approachable book. Paraphrasing Thomas Nagle, it asks “What is it like to be an octopus?” The author is a philosopher by training, but he does a fantastic job as a science writer, too. Anecdotes about encounters with cephalopods while diving are mixed with careful, deliberate, dejargonized descriptions of the scientific studies that have …


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