Page 45 Review by Stephen
Light, bright, concise and precise history of life's rich tapestry here on planet Earth, and the science behind it all right down to the specific single-celled organisms that grew more ambitious, and the bacteria that stayed still or became breakfast instead.
As a Professor of Biology the creator of the much missed CLAN APIS is eminently qualified to talk about DNA, RNA, proteins and amino acids, whilst his natural skill as a communicator turn it into a remarkable fusion of education and entertainment in the form of one long conversation between a monocular, professorial starfish and its alien prince and king. Even Charles Darwin pops up at a gig to explain his own theories...
"Natural Selection is the name of the evolutionary mechanism I proposed. It's the process by which favourable traits are preserved in a group of organisms and harmful traits die out. Some also refer to this as "survival of the fittest"."
...before expounding on the four basic conditions that must be met for the process to occur, how it occurs, and how he observed it occurring in a succession of phenotypes before the genotypes behind them - the unique set of genes in an individual's DNA chromosomes that dictate their individual traits - were unveiled later on.
Each biological and evolutionary mechanism is backed up with such evidence and the history of its discovery which is vital in refuting the head-in-the-sand stupidity of Creationists who maintain that man was created from scratch last Thursday, and woman from his elbow or something.
Moreover what could have been an unwieldy tangle has been streamlined to perfection with room for recaps, and - this is the killer - the fact that this a comic rather than prose means that each step is easy to digest and you can refer back to previous panels for a quick recap because you'll have an associated image for that key information already stored in your head. I used this myself when I needed to remind myself about the cellular differences between those three types of single-celled organisms - bacteria, eukaryote and archaea - , and I knew exactly which image I was looking for. Can you imagine how much easier this would have been to revise for at school? It's like a series of illustrated flashcards linked with a narrative thread!
And it's funny! Just like the CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO ECONOMICS, the cartooning hits just the right note of parenthetical asides (fungal-infected ant: "I think there's a fungus among us") whilst never distracting you from the information they pertain to (the difference between plants, fungi and animals when generating energy).
Over the subsequent chapters life on this planet is explored through fossils (a potential source of legendary creatures like the griffin and cyclops too?) as the notochords of chordates evolve into the backbones of vertebrates; and arthropods, with their supporting structure on the outside, develop eight jointed legs just to terrify Charlie Brooker in the bath. Plants start growing, insects start buzzing and hungry fish like the look of them so flop on the shore while those that see their brothers promptly expire decide it'd be better to wait until they actually breathed air first. Oh yes, and grow legs for non-flopping-about-ness. Amphibians, eh? Some decide to leave home altogether because their parents won't let them smoke weed and then change their name by deed poll to reptiles just to have the last laugh. Just the sort of hubris that invites a mass extinction, which is what happens next.
Hosler entertains, but without the sort of buffoonery above that would make a mockery of his sound knowledge and expertise. There's no disinformation to distract you for one second from the detail of what actual happens, how, why and when. He's meticulous like that, right down to the evolution of insects which, unlike dragonflies, could fold their wings back after flight and so climb into crevices
and how the Permian Extinction, wiping out one-third of all insects, gave them a better fighting chance against the previously dominant species to the extent that 98% on all insect species can now fold their wings back.
I'll leave you to learn of reptiles' return to the seas ("Evolution is not a progressive march. Life has no destination, no ultimate goal. It evolves to take advantage of new ways of getting resources"), the emergence of mammals then birds and how their endothermy later proved a literal life-saver. But there's nothing I have seen here that wouldn't make this a perfect set text for schools - nothing that would be judged inaccurate or inadequate in an exam. As adult entertainment I know we're now spoiled by David Attenborough and his successors on television, but I also like to retain knowledge and can rarely do so without the printed word which makes this the perfect medium, especially with its glossary at the back.