Jay Hosler has a new book out, Optical Allusions(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). If you’re familiar with his other books, Clan Apis(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) and The Sandwalk Adventures(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), you know what to expect: a comic book that takes its science seriously. Hosler has a fabulous knack for building serious content into a light and humorous medium, just the kind of approach we need to get wider distribution of science into the culture.
This one has a strange premise. Wrinkles the Wonder Brain is an animated, naked brain working for the Graeae Sisters, and he loses the one eye they share between them — so he has to go on a quest to recover it. I know, it sounds like a stretch, but it works in a weird sort of way, and once you start rolling with it, you’ll find it works. Using that scenario to frame a series of encounters, Wrinkles meets Charles Darwin and learns how evolution could produce something as complex as an eye; talks about the sub-optimal design of retinal circuitry with a cow superhero; discovers sexual dimorphism with a crew of stalk-eyed pirates; learns about development of the eye from cavefish and a cyclops; chats with Mr Sun about the physics of radiation; there are even zombie G proteins and were-opsins in a lesson about shape changing. This stuff is seriously weird, and kids ought to eat it up.
It isn’t all comic art, either. Each chapter is interleaved with a text section discussing the details — you can read the whole thing through, skipping the text (like I did…), and then go back and get more depth and directions for future reading in the science. This is a truly seditious strategy. Suck ’em in with the entertainment value, and then hand ’em enough substance that they might just start thinking like scientists.
It’s all good stuff, too. A colleague and I have been considering offering an interdisciplinary honors course in physics and biology with the theme of the eye, specifically for non-science majors, and this book has me thinking it might make for a good text. It’ll grab the English and art majors, and provide a gateway for some serious discussions that will satisfy us science geeks. I recommend it for you, too — if you have kids, you should grab all of Hosler’s books. Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll learn a lot.