Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes

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Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes

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Category: Animals and Wildlife
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: Life around us is weirder than we could possibly imagine...
Buy? no Borrow? no
Pages: 480 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Short Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781780722436

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I don't want to alarm anyone, but I think it fair to warn you that there are aliens all around us; weird and wonderful ones at that. Take symbions for example. They attach themselves to a host by means of a sucker and propagate by budding. They then move on to the next life stage and become either male or female. The male sheds its mouth and anus and goes of to search for a female. Once the female is impregnated, her digestive system morphs into a larva which breaks free from her when she dies. This may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the truth is that we share our planet with millions of strange life forms; each perfectly suited to survive and thrive in its own environment.

Some aliens take this survival business to a whole new level. The water bear, for instance, can survive being boiled, frozen, exposed to radiation and even being sent into space. They can completely dehydrate if things get really tough, entering a phase called cryptobiosis. Exposure to a single droplet of water is enough to revive them and turn them back into living creatures again.

Ten Million Aliens gives us a glimpse into the weird microcosms that our fellow earthlings inhabit and the amazing adaptations that make survival and reproduction possible. Author Simon Barnes lets everyone have an equal share in the spotlight, alternating the short chapters of the book between vertebrates and invertebrates. Thus a chapter about lions may be followed by a chapter about the humble worm and everyone gets to showcase their special talents.

The variety of life in the animal kingdom is truly breathtaking and it seems that there is a creature adapted for every different type of environment. Some life-forms are so good at what they do that they can be incredibly long lived. Scientists estimate that a glass-sponge called the Venus flower basket can live for 23,000 years...give or take a couple of thousand years either way.

Despite the interesting subject matter, I did have issues with the book and this was mainly down to the writing style. I think that maybe Goulson's incredibly entertaining A Sting in the Tale spoiled me, as it set the bar incredibly high and many natural history books that I have read since have seemed quite dull in comparison. This is the problem that I had with Ten Million Aliens. The subject matter was fascinating but the writing felt dull and flat. I didn't feel involved or engaged. It was a bit like reading a dictionary; I could appreciate the hard work and research that had gone into creating the final product but it didn't really move me in any way.

Another problem was that I expected the main focus of the book to be on the animals, or aliens. The title of the book seemed to indicate that they were the stars of this particular show. However, the author seemed to inject a lot of personal opinion into the text, to the point that his 'message' came across as intrusive and preachy. Barnes tries to force-feed his readers into a particular mindset concerning the natural world rather than letting them just read the facts and form their own opinions. It also felt like some of the animals had been included for the sole purpose of including a When I was in Africa... anecdote, where again, the animals in question seemed to play second fiddle to the author himself. I found it odd that the text is accompanied by rudimentary illustrations that look like they had been drawn by a young child and added nothing to the content.

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about this book. The concept had great potential but it was ultimately let down by the delivery.

If you want to see how this type of material has the potential to really shine, Bookbag recommends the lively and engaging A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson and the captivating The Magic and Mystery of Birds by Noah Strycker.

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Buy Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes at Amazon.com.


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