Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter – Ellen J. Prager
In a world in which what most people know about science could be fitted comfortably into a toothpaste cap, Prager joins the ranks of such “popularizers” and “divulgators” of the arcane and mysterious “ologies” as E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, Stephen Jay Gould, and even, in his way, Farley Mowatt. In other words, with writers like these for colleagues, popular-science writers face a bar that is set fairly high. Prager, however, doesn’t even bother to stretch.
As her title suggests, and as she explains in her introductory chapters, slime turns out to serve a myriad of important functions in marine life: as a defense mechanism, as an aid to reproduction, as an impromptu sleep sack for fish on the open reef. Ocean life, Prager says, is enveloped in slime. Unfortunately, her book is enveloped in it, too, only the slime in Prager’s insufferable writing style takes the form of bogs of imbecilic puns; ropes of anemic, anthropomorphizing similes (which she appears to believe are necessary because you’d be too stupid to understand what she was talking about otherwise); and a steady ooze of peepee/caca humor that Prager deploys with Tourette’s-like doggedness and which reaches its apex every time she gets to talk about sex (and she talks about sex a lot). If she has to describe the mating habits of the sea urchin, well, she can at least find some way to make the whole thing seem scatological, smutty, and slightly icky. Just as though you were in junior high and she were the kid in the lunch room who could take even the most innocent-sounding word and somehow relate it to sex. As you’re reading, you can literally hear Beavis and Butt-Head sniggering in the background: “Heh. Heh-heh. She said ‘sperm cloud.’ Heh-heh-heh.”
If this is what it takes to popularize science these days and teach “average” Americans something about the natural world in which we live, I say the Chinese more than deserve to win every single educational contest they challenge us to. (Personal to University of Chicago Press: Ed Ricketts’ Between Pacific Tides hasn’t been updated and re-issued since 1992; make Ellen Prager return her advance and give us back the “Doc.”)