8 > 2

8 > 2

When it comes to legs, the protagonists of most novels settle for two.  This is a case of chronic underachievement.  More is better.  In E. B. White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web,” even four legs aren’t enough for Wilbur the pig to avoid an impending dinner date.  It takes eight-legged Charlotte the barn spider to find a solution.  Though smart, Charlotte is truly a spider.  She catches, kills, and relishes meals of flies, she has more than four hundred children, and she has only a short life to share with Wilbur and friends.

If you have fond memories of Charlotte, you’ll enjoy Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel “Remarkably Bright Creatures” in which the two-legged characters need the help of an octopus to get themselves on the right track.  Both Tova, a widow who cleans the local aquarium, and Cam, a young vagabond with few prospects and little motivation, are still suffering the effects of a decades-old tragedy.  It’s only Marcellus, the aquarium’s giant Pacific octopus, who suspects that the troubles of the two humans might be connected.  His problem is finding a way to let them know, for what’s clear to him is not so simple for humans to grasp.  Worse, he’s working against the clock; octopi, too, are short-lived creatures, however intelligent.

 Some fun, recent science fiction also features meetings between humans and eight-legged creatures.  In the far future of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Children of Time” humanity has terraformed an entire planet as an incubator for a science project designed to create new intelligent life.  When this intelligence takes root in a species of jumping spider, the society that evolves is terrifically alien, with structures, technologies and philosophies that make sense only from an eight-legged point of view.  The author intersperses the chronicle of developing spider society with the story of a band of human survivors seeking a new planet to call home after a calamitous war on Earth. 

In the much nearer future of Ray Nayler’s “The Mountain in the Sea” marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen studies an archipelago plagued by myths of sea monsters and discovers instead an unusual group of octopuses.  In both books, there is tension at the line where two-legged and eight-legged societies meet and it’s going to take more ingenuity than us two-leggers usually proffer to defuse the situations. 

Come on down to the Ames Public Library to grab these great books just as fast as your contemptibly few legs can carry you.