For my birthday, my wife gave me two books: a sci-fi novel, and Kraken, by Wendy Williams. (Not Wendy O Williams, but rock singers don’t always produce great works of literature.) Kraken is a 200 page primer on the wonders of cephalopods.

I learned a lot. Until I read it, I didn’t know that squid have eight arms and two tentacles (apart from some squid that just have eight arms) whereas octopuses all have eight legs (unless one gets bitten off). I discovered the stereotype that squid are violent but octopuses are smart isn’t so true. I learned some terrifically revolting things about the sex lives of squid, (I thought angler fish were pretty weird, but this goes a lot further) involving detachable penises, burrowing spermataphores and violent mating activity. And about the sad and lonely sacrifices a female octopus makes for her offspring.

There’s also a nice explanation of the workings of neurons, so even if you don’t like cephalopods but do have an interest in brains, there’s something there for you. Although there’s quite a bit of technical detail, it’s readily digestible.

It is a little bit repetitive; no finding is too interesting not to be repeated in a later chapter, giving it the feel that it’s been cobbled together from several shorter pieces. Pictures of squid and octopuses are few and far between. When there is a picture, it’s invariably black and white and low resolution, which is a shame given the amazing way chromatophores work. But then again, there are innumerable squid and octopus videos on Youtube, that you’d probably never think to look for if you weren’t a marine biologist.

There’s also no mention of the phrase "you blur like sotong", the only squid-related Singlish (Squidlish?) I know. But you can’t have everything.

Each chapter is quite short, so you’re not overloaded with facts about the giant squid. Or the giant Pacific octopus. Or the colossal squid. And there are strange things to be gleaned, like the tradition of octopus wrestling that persisted in Seattle until the 1960s. I could read a whole book about that. Or about bioluminescent sea creatures, or the ancient squid that Ruled The Seas in prehistory. If you know a lot about cephalopods already, perhaps this is all old hat, but for the rest of us it’s a decent place to start finding out about what you may have thought were just some slimy things with too many limbs.

2 responses to “Kraken”

  1. Readily digestible – not my mum’s squid. You are supposed to cook squid hardly at all otherwise it becomes the toughest chewiest thing you can imagine.

    Wow, eight arms and two tentacles. Obviously everyone just thinks it’s ten arms. I still prefer pink fluffy cephs that are bigger than a baby though.

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