February 27, 2024

NONFICTION

Learn how to Win Mates and Affect Fungi: Collected Quirks of Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math from Nerd Nite

edited by Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski

St. Martin’s Press, 2024 ($30)

As an creator of science-fiction and horror novels, I’m referred to as on to appear like an skilled on the varied subjects I write about—Pandemics! Synthetic intelligence! Ants!—when actually I’m simply making an attempt to make use of true information to droop readers’ disbelief and persuade them that my made-up worlds are rooted in actuality. One of many best instruments in my toolbox, then, is nonfiction that’s each salient and accessible, in order that I could steal its ideas. I’m at all times on the lookout for materials that’s related to the work at hand however isn’t so demonstrative of its experience that it sails over my head like a near-miss asteroid. (Or as one essay about catastrophic cosmic collisions on this ebook calls them: ASSteroids.)

In Learn how to Win Mates and Affect Fungi, I’ve discovered my new holy bible: a scattershot blast of science-y, math-y, tech-y micro essays that span a dizzying array of topics. The ebook serves as an aggregation of a few of the most memorable displays within the 20-year historical past of Nerd Nite, a month-to-month occasion hosted throughout 100 cities worldwide designed to let audiences present up, have a drink and be taught some bizarre, true stuff. Editors Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski—Nerd Nite is their mind child—wished to make it potential for anybody to flip to a web page and partake in a brief burst of fascination; with illustrations by Kristen Orr, the ebook succeeds in making its numerous subject material instantly accessible. The fashion is mild, quirky, humorous and sometimes hilarious. The 71 essays are roughly gathered into chapters, together with “Creature Options,” “Pathogens and Parasites,” “Loss of life and Taxes (However Actually, Simply Loss of life),” and a sex-themed part, “Doing It.”

Need to know why somebody’s consuming noises make you murderous? Jane Gregory, a medical psychologist, will inform you of a situation she herself suffers: misophonia, or “when small repetitive sounds trigger large unfavourable reactions.” Interested in how birds have intercourse? Nerd Nite founder Balakrishnan, who can be a biologist, writes about cloacal kisses and duck penises. Do you know you most likely undergo from veisalgia every now and then, although you don’t know what that’s? It’s a elaborate phrase for hangovers, and neuroscientist Paula Croxson will educate you all you’ll want to find out about it and its many—purely theoretical, largely faux—cures.

That’s solely a shaving of the iceberg of data contained within the assortment’s pages. You’ll additionally discover bits on pansexual primates, defecating in area, maggot remedy, arachnid intercourse catapults, the shocking awesomeness of GMOs, the shocking not so awesomeness of antibacterial cleaning soap, and chindōgu, the Japanese artwork of constructing eccentric, largely “un-useless” innovations.

“Bits” is the important thing phrase right here—most of those essays are two, three, perhaps 4 pages. None of them would qualify as a full meal’s value of data, and generally the essays finish abruptly simply as they get going, thus delivering a way of info-discuss interruptus that leaves you pissed off and eager to know extra, extra, extra. However in the event you strategy this ebook as a grazing desk stuffed with scientific amuse-bouches, every a single chew of fascination, then your curiosity can be piqued as an alternative of absolutely happy, motivating you to extra deeply discover the topics that particularly catch your consideration.

As an individual who sometimes has the humorousness of a 12-year-old, I dig the popular culture references and the considerable puns, and depend me in for all of the lurid, foolish jokes about intercourse stuff and our numerous bodily excretions, puerile as they often are. That stated, it’s not all in regards to the chuckles: You’ll discover sharp, measured takes on incapacity, sexuality, psychological sickness, the open Web, and additional, the ebook does good work in trying to fight misinformation and disinformation within the areas of science and know-how. As an example, in an essay on the general public panic over genetically modified organisms (“They’re Placing Acid in Our Meals!”), Tracy Kurtz, a Nerd Nite organizer in Fargo, N.D., reminds us that we’ve been genetically modifying our meals for 1000’s of years.

If the ebook has one weak spot, it’s that the essays are inequal in high quality. Many are written properly, efficiently connecting readers to the implications of the science and making jokes that earn their chuckles. However a number of really feel too shallow and don’t ship totally on both data or laughs.

These ups and downs are maybe to be anticipated given the sheer breadth of subject material and the truth that every micro essay is penned by a special creator. Finally, the enjoyable right here is within the pleasure of discovery, in coming away effervescent with renewed curiosity for the universe wherein we dwell. —Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig is the New York Instances best-selling creator of Wanderers, The Guide of Accidents, and extra.