Saturday, March 19, 2011

Virals, by Kathy Reichs

One of the genres I like least on television is the myriad clones of CSI and NCIS.  I'm not overly fond of cop shows and police procedurals anyway, and the CSI-type shows are at the bottom of my list.  Superficially, since I'm a science geek with a great interest in things technological, it seems like these shows might appeal to me, but they don't.  For a lot of reasons that aren't really relevant here.  I'm really bringing all this up as a way of saying that there is one exception to this rule of mine, and it’s a big one. 

I love Bones.

Okay, so part of my fondness for the shows is, I'll admit, Emily Deschanel.    I'm more than a little bit infatuated with her Temperance Brennan character.  (And knowing that Ms. D is, in her personal life, a devoted vegan and supporter of PETA doesn't dampen my affection.)  But beyond the main character's appeal, Bones is just one of the smartest, funniest and most engaging crime shows I've ever watched.  It has a great ensemble cast, good writing, smart use of science and interesting stories.  My few quibbles with the show only highlight how much I like it. 

Bones, of course, is based on the work (and life, according to the credits) of forensic anthropologist and mystery writer Kathy Reichs.   (In one of the TV show's funnier twists, Temperance Brennan is also a mystery writer, who writes books about a character named Kathy Reichs.)  Reichs has been writing the Temperance Brennan novels which inspired the show since the late '90's -- the most recent, Spider Bones (Scribner 2010) -- is the 13th.  The series still seems to be strong, both creatively and in its appeal to readers.

Now, however, Kathy Reichs has done something different.   Virals (RazorBill 2010) is a science fiction action thriller aimed at young adults.  Set in Charleston, S.C. and the islands off the Carolina coast, this book has a tone and style quite distinct from the Temperance Brennan novels.  But Reichs hasn't broken with her familiar world altogether.  The heroine of this novels is fifteen year old Tory Brennan -- yes, Brennan -- the great niece of Temperance Brennnan and a girl very much in the family mold.  Smart, a self-styled science geek, Tory has recently come to the Carolinas to live with a father she barely knows following the death of her mother in an auto accident.  Her father is a marine biologist working for a research facility on one of the islands.  Tory has good friends -- three young men as bright and geeky, in their own ways, as Tory.   And she faces the usual challenges of adolescence -- negotiating the ranks of popularity at an exclusive prep school (which she attends only by virtue of their father's academic position), dealing with the "mean girls", and the confusions of young love (or at least infatuation).  She also has the less common problem of working out a relationship with a caring but sometimes distant father who didn't know she existed until after her mother died.  And she has her scientific interests, including a fascination with the small pack of wolf-dogs that roam free on a nearby island. Plenty of things to keep a smart young woman busy.

But Tory's life is about to get much more complicated.  When she and her friends break into the research facility to use some equipment without authorization, they stumble onto a secret lab where  one of the centers' scientists is conducting unauthorized medical experiments on a wolf-dog puppy captured from the island.  Outraged, Tory convinces her friends to help her liberate the puppy -- who seems to be infected with a form of canine parvovirus-- so they can take him (named Cooper) back to their secret club house and try to nurse him back to health.

And this is where the story takes a hard left into science fiction.  The virus infects Tory and her friends, and alters them genetically, fusing their DNA with Cooper's canine DNA and changing them forever.  It gives  them new abilities -- heightened senses, speed and strength -- that flair unexpectedly.    In addition, it links them all, including Cooper, telepathically. They become a pack -- Virals, as they name themselves -- and their attempts to find out more about what has happened embroil them in a mystery involving a decades old murder, illegal experiments, environmental cover-ups, one of Charleston's most respected and prominent families, and more. 

I was a little put off by the slow beginning of this novel -- there's an information dump in the first pages that I felt could have been doled out more judiciously as the story went on -- but once I got past that I was captured by the story and by the main character.  Virals is the sort of book that I would have loved reading when I was a kid -- very much the descendent of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style of mystery, brought up to date with science and much more modern attitudes.  The kids are smart and funny, and they make a good team.  Tory is a natural leader, as determined and perceptive as her Aunt Temperance (in one scene, where the kids unearth a skeleton and Tory is examining the bones, the resemblance is most striking).  The plot is engaging, the action entertaining, the animal rights and environmental subtext clear but never heavy-handed, and even though I figured a few of the secrets out well ahead of time, Reichs still managed to deal a surprise or two along the way. 

What I really loved about this book though, what it's clearly, unmistakably science fiction. Though the DNA transformation is a little far out (and the "canine" enhanced senses not completely consistent), it is handled well, with some interesting information about parvoviruses thrown in for color.   In a market saturated with wizards and vampires and shape shifters, this is a book about science and about tackling problems with reason, intelligence and knowledge.  That's a very refreshing change. The almost total eclipse of science fiction by fantasy is one of my pet peeves, and  I have often wished  for a really good science fiction series that could capture the imagination of young people the way Harry Potter has.  Something that could really turn kids back toward the excitement of science and the possibilities of the future.    Virals (with sequels obviously in store) is not that book.  But it is a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing Tory and her friends again.  (And a guest appearance by Aunt Tempe?  Oh boy.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pukka: The Pup After Merle

Pukka: The Pup After Merle 

Merle's Door, published in 2007 is one of the books (along with Marley and Me and a few others) which helped create the "dog memoir" trend).  But even a quick look at other entries in the field will show that Ted Kerasote's book about his friendship with Merle is something unique.  Merle, an independent "free thinking" dog who Kerasote picks up on a canoe trip, is one of the most fully drawn, three dimensional canine characters in literature.  He is not a pet, not a even a companion -- he is an equal partner in a friendship between two adults, and the story of his relationship with Kerasote is both life affirming and inevitably heartbreaking.  In addition, Kerasote seasons the book with information about canine history, genealogy, and evolution, leading to fascinating reflections on the special relationship between humans and dogs.  More than one reviewer has said that Merle's Door may be the best book ever written about dogs, and I think it would be very hard to argue the point.

Ted Kerasote's new book, Pukka: The Pup After Merle, is a very different breed.  Where Merle's Door is a book about a friendship, with its inevitable goodbyes, Pukka is a book about beginnings.  And where Merle was the remembrance of a dear friend, Pukka is a collaboration.  The book consists of Kerasote's photographs of his young puppy (as well as the glorious Western landscape) and of Pukka's funny, surprisingly wise commentary.  It is the story of a new relationship told from the point of view of a puppy.  Is it as good as Merle's Door?  Well, anyone who has ever lost a dear canine friend, and begun a partnership with a new puppy, will know that question is impossible to answer.  No matter what you expect, the newcomer always exerts his own personality against all expectations -- and Pukka's funny, curious, intelligent personality is everywhere in this book.  All the challenges of raising a puppy and all the mystery of exploring the world again with a new friend, seen through the eyes of the puppy himself.    The world comes alive again through Pukka. 

(Full disclosure:  I lost my beloved canine friend Roscoe not long after I read Merle's Door and I adopted my new puppy Zeke not long before I read Pukka.  So the experience of Kerasote and his friends resonates strongly with my own.)

Pukka: The Pup After Merle
Pukka: The Pup After Merle
Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
Merle's Door
Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age
Out There: 
Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt
Blood Ties

Ted Kerasote was kind enough to grant us an interview.

 B&B: To start off, I just want to say that I've been deeply moved by your work.  I read "Merle's Door" before my own dog, Roscoe, was diagnosed with cancer, which is fortunate because I'm not sure I could have read it afterwards.  Its very clear from the book that Merle was an amazing dog.  Do you want to talk a little about him (I'm sure you get this question all the time) and your relationship?  What it meant to you, and how writing to the book fits into that?

TK:  Someone one asked Robert Frost what a poem he had just read meant.  He read the poem through again.  Merle's book says everything I wanted to say about how much I loved him and what he meant to me.  The book was my way of cheating death and getting three more years, every day, of being with Merle, as I recreated him in every detail.

B&B: You book says a lot about the lessons you learned from Merle.  Have there been more lessons to be learned form writing about him, and from the response of people to the book?

TK:  One of the reactions I've gotten from people has been very surprising.  Hundreds of people have written, saying that they loved the book, it made them realize that life was short and that they were in . . . here they say one of the three things:  that they were in the wrong relationship, the wrong job, or the wrong place, and that they needed to change that.  I thought I had written a book about my dog.  I hadn't realized that Merle's lessons had such far-reaching implications.

B&B: I would imagine that animals have always been important in your life.  What kinds of relationships did you have with animals when you were young?  What do you think you learned from them?

TK:  I had two earlier dogs, Jingles, a German Shepherd-Collie-Husky cross, and Tippy, a Beagle-Terrier cross.  Jingles taught me how I wasn't ready to have a dog (I was five); Tippy taught me how much fun dogs have when they run free (she went to college with me and ran free on the rural campus with the other dogs while I was in class).

B&B: Our site is also about books.  Have you always been a reader?  What authors and books have been most influential on you?  What are you reading now?

TK:  I've always been a reader since my very earliest childhood.  Tolstoy, John Fowles, Hemingway, Farley Mowat, Herman Melville, T.S. Eliot, George Orwell all had an influence on me as I was developing as a writer.  Who am I reading now:  Patrick O'Brian, Alexander McCall Smith, Alan Furst, Jodi Picoult, Alexander Dumas, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gilbert, Simon Winchester.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Nose for Justice

A Nose for Justice: A Novel 

One of the recurring themes here at Books and Beasts is an examination of Point of View in fiction -- especially as that relates to the representation of non-human characters and consciousness.  Rita Mae Brown's new mystery, A Nose For Justice, highlights that question in a very interesting way.

Rita Mae Brown is an author who has gone through a number of phases in her writing career.  She first became famous in the early 1970's when her debut novel Rubyfruit Jungle became a cult classic.  It was a coming of age novel featuring Lesbian themes -- one of the first Lesbian novels to cross over into mainstream culture.  She went on to write a series of novels that can loosely be described as "Southern comic" (although never light) featuring strong women protagonists and powerful female relationships, even when the explicit Lesbian themes were absent.  These novels include  Southern Discomfort, Six of One, Bingo, and the civil war adventure story High Hearts.  

But in 1990 Brown began a new phase in her career, when she began co-authoring books with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown. (With 18 novels in the last 20 years, Sneaky Pie has to be one of the most prolific non-human authors around.)  The "Mrs. Murphy" series, as it is known, includes human, feline and canine characters in an often busy mix.

(I've always wondered about the prominence of felines in mysteries.    I'm a dog person, and while I've known many individual cats that I liked, I must admit that I don't "get" cats.  Having a cat around the house seems  like a never ending first date.  I have no idea what they want and I have the sinking feeling that I'm constantly disappointing them.  Dogs seem to be more natural sleuths and more prone to pay close attention to what humans are doing.  I'm not convinced that cats would expend much energy on the fate of a strange human.)

A Nose for Justice, begins a new series -- starring 34 year old ex-Wall Street broker Mags Rogers and her octogenarian great Aunt Jeeps -- and this time, dogs are on center stage.  When Mags arrives at her Aunt's Nevada ranch, she brings her wirehaired dachshund Baxter with her.  Baxter is definitely the "city dog", urbane and civilized.   Jeeps shares the ranch with her German Shepherd mix King -- who looks on the "fuzzy sausage" Baxter as a dubious intruder.  The first meeting of the dogs and their jockeying for position will be familiar to anyone who spends much time around canines.  

This novel falls easily into the category of "cozy mystery".  Like Sneaky Pie's books about Postmistress Mary Minor "Harry" Harristeen, the classic cozy has a small town or village setting, an amateur sleuth (usually, but not always,  a woman), and often a low-key love interest for the heroine that may stretch out over dozens of books without generating a whole lot of heat.  They are all (or mostly) descendents of Agatha Christie's Jane Marple books.   Despite their grizzly subject matter, cozies are usually light reading, entertaining and not overly demanding.  The introduction of animals into the cozy setting just seems like a natural extension.

At first glance, A Nose for Justice doesn't seem to stray far from the cozy form.  It does have a situation that is a little more complex than most -- the pipe bombing of a local water station, which could be corporate espionage or eco-terrorism,  a series of local murder which seem to be connected somehow to the bombing, and human remains found on Jeep's ranch, which turn out to be the body of a Russian military officer from the late 1800's.  These are the elements of an interesting puzzle.  Throw in some unresolved family history for the main characters, a hesitant mutual attraction between Mags and a local deputy, and Jeep's ambitious plans for the ranch and the community, and you have the makings of a better than average cozy.  Brown clearly knows what she's doing.  She's mastered the formula and hits all the right notes along the way. She even manages to inject political and social issues into the story without slowing it down much.  

 In the best cozies -- and this is true even of a lot of mysteries that don't fall into this category -- what we ultimately remember is the characters.  Years ago I read all of Earle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels, and for the life of me, I can't remember any of the plots.  What I do remember, vividly, is how much fun it was to hang out with Perry, Della Street and Paul Drake, enjoying their funny banter and watching Perry run circles around the District Attorney.  You always knew it was going to turn out well.  The same thing is true of all of my favorite mystery series.  John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books:  what I remember are the philosophical conversations between Travis and Meyer, and the struggles Travis went through to apply his own peculiar brand of ethics to a changing world.  Virginia Lanier's bloodhound books: I remember Jo Beth Siddon and her friends, sipping sweet tea on the porch, searching for missing people or bodies in the Okefenokee swamp, and most of all the wonderful bloodhounds.  The list could go on and on.  Series mysteries are very much a character driven genre.  If we enjoy the characters and want to hang out with them, we keep coming back to the series.

And because the genre is so main character focused, it gravitates naturally toward the first person -- or its near relative, the third person limited.  (Thinking back on my favorite series it's often hard to remember whether they are in first or third person -- if the main characters is distinctive enough, I tend to remember it in a personal voice.)   Third person limited allows the author to switch viewpoints if she likes, to have different scenes and chapters from the POV of different characters, and thus expand the scope of the story a little.  The strength of this technique is that it can create suspense by showing the reader dangers the main character isn't aware of yet.  The pitfall, in the mystery form, is that the more characters whose POV we enter, the harder it is to keep information from the reader and sustain the mystery.  Brown makes good use of multiple points of view here, and avoids the worst offenses of mystery and thriller writers.  (Such as putting us into the mind of the villain and "cleverly" concealing his guilt at the same time.)  And up to that point, there's nothing unusual about the POV in A Nose for Justice.  But the dogs have other ideas.

King and Baxter are a constant presence through the novel.  Whenever Mags and Jeep are onstage the dogs are usually there too.  And their thoughts are interjected into the story as commentary.  For instance, from early in the books 

Mags opened the front door, which was never locked, and threw in the biggest bag, then set down the other. "Aunt Jeep!"
"In the kitchen," answered a resonant, deep alto voice.
"Who goes there," King growled as he hurtled himself out of the kitchen to draw up short in front of Mags, whom he knew -- although not well -- from her infrequent visits.
But what was this low-to-the-ground lowlife with a trimmed Vandyke?
Faced with the shepherd mix, Baxter stood his ground, saying nothing.
Jeep strode out of the kitchen, her slight limp apparent but in no way impeding her progress.  "King, he's your new best friend."
"That?" The much bigger dog was incredulous.  With a handsome black face with brown points and a regal bearing, he had no patience for what he thought of as inferior breeds.  "I've seen snakes higher off the ground than that."
Baxter curled back his upper lip.  "And I can strike just as fast, you ill-bred lout."

Up until this point, the chapter has been in a pretty standard third person limited, following Mags as she arrives at the ranch, giving us a few hints of back story --  with just a couple of interjected comments from Baxter.  Now however, as King confronts the interlopers, we are in full omniscient mode, not only sharing the thoughts of both dogs, but backing off for a brief description of King (which shows no traces of Mags as a POV) and comments about his opinions that none of the humans would know.

The idea of control of POV, and the dogma of third person limited, has become so ingrained in writing circles in the United States, that the reaction to fiction that breaks those strictures is almost knee-jerk.  If you want to hear fundamentalism at its finest, take any story which strays from those guides -- which includes, say multiple POV's in one scene, to almost any writing group or creative writing class, and watch the pack attack. Several generations of perspective writers have been taught POV as if it were an end into itself, and not simply a technique available to a writer to achieve other ends. This kind of thing is often called "sloppiness" by critique groups and writing teachers (who presumably never read Tolstoy or Melville) . And indeed, in the hands of beginning writers, who don't know what they are doing, or why, it often is just that.  Sloppy and confusing.   I have to admit that I was thrown myself by the early changes in perspective, but a careful reading even of the first page should have alerted me.  The presence of the dogs, and the decision to include their thoughts into the story, destabilizes the third person limited POV and sends it careening toward omniscience.  In fact, the above scene continues from that point with the POV now divided between Mags, Jeeps and the dogs.  It takes some getting used to.

It's also interesting that Brown doesn't make any attempt to make the dogs sound like dogs (whatever that might mean).  Except for a few jokes about bones and such, the dogs pretty much talk as humans would -- and pretty well educated humans at that.  They clearly understand the speech of the people around them and often comment on even the most abstract topics.  For instance, when Mags and Jeep are discussing the problems of water supply and population in Nevada:

"This is a fight worth fighting.  It's a fight not just for the physical space we know as Nevada, it's a fight for the soul of Nevada."
"Do you think people have souls?" Baxter asked King.
"Sure.  Most of them forget it though."
"I think so too," Baxter stiffened his legs ....

And earlier, in one of the few extended scenes that Baxter and King share alone, Baxter explains to King about living in the city, the absence of dirt, having to stay on leash in the parks, not being able to see the stars.  Baxter not only knows that Mags rents a vacation home each summer, but he knows that it's in the Hamptons.  This is canine sensibility translated entirely into the language of people.  These are talking dogs who just don't happen to talk to people.  And still, they are charming, funny, and often poignant.

There are many reason why first person and third person limited viewpoints became so prominent in Western literature in the twentieth century.  The breakdown of belief in an omniscient deity, followed by the challenge to old Newtonian ideas of an ordered, objective universe, called into question the whole idea of some objective, outside POV from which everything could be seen.  Fueled by psychoanalysis, and later by social movements that encouraged the voices of those who had never been able to tell their stories before, the plumbing of the individual psyche and of personal experience became the goal of literature.  (Rubyfruit Jungle, for instance, falls squarely into this trend.) Not only were the ambitions of the great nineteenth century novelist like Tolstoy and Dickens gone, but serious questions were raised about whether it was possible for anyone to legitimately write about any experience but their own -- could men write authentic female characters, could white writers fairly represent people of color, could a straight man write about gays or lesbians?  The political issues behind these questions are legitimate, but the effect on literature is traumatic. Fiction shrinks from the scope of Cervantes or Tolstoy or Dickens to a form that is hard to separate from memoir.   Write what you know, students are told.  To which Gore Vidal replies (with more than a hint of patrician arrogance), "Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all."

Rita Mae brown has always been a political activist, and her feminist and social concerns draw her to questions of community.  This is obvious in her earlier novels, and just as obvious in her mysteries.  In one sense, the cozy form is all about community.  A small town or village, where everyone knows everyone, is disrupted by murder, which puts the whole social fabric in danger.  The murder is solved, and community restored, not through the efforts of professionals, but through one of our own.  It is mainly this sense of community which sets the cozy apart from other mystery forms, like the loner private eye or the police procedural. 

Fans of the cozy mystery -- and of Rita Mae Brown's cozies in particular -- will be very happy with A Nose for Justice (and most of them probably won't notice or care about the POV questions).  It's an entertaining mystery with the added spice of Baxter and King's Greek chorus, and charming black and white illustrations by Laura Hartman Maestro.

But for those of us interested in the form of fiction, it's also a book worth thinking about.  Because it raises interesting questions about POV, and what it means to introduce non-human characters into fiction.  Even in this lighthearted form, the inclusion of the animal voices stretches the framework of the narrative in unexpected way.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ravens in Winter

Ravens in Winter 
In 1984 field biologist Bernd Heinrich posed an interesting puzzle:  Why was it that the Ravens around his retreat in Maine seemed to be sharing food, even the harshest periods of winter, with unrelated birds?  Ravens (Corvus Corax) are  more solitary creatures than their urban cousins the Crows.  Their uncharacteristically communal behavior struck Heinrich as "left-wing", and with a scientists' obsessive curiosity he set out to discover why.  Over the course of four years, spending his winter vacations in the frigid Maine woods (while his colleagues "tend to spend their sabbatical years in distant, exotic lands"), hauling carcasses up the mountain to use as bait, spending weeks in a small shack in sub-zero conditions, where he can nothing but observe all day long, and where any other movement or activity jeopardizes the experiment, he gradually gathered the observations that would help him solve his problem.  Along the way, he became interested in the remarkable birds of the corvid family -- how intelligent, truly, are crows and ravens?  Do they play?  How complex are the social relationships, despite the Raven's solitary reputation?

Ravens in Winter attempts to answer these questions, or at least to look objectively at the information available.  Chapters detailing Heinrich's dogged perusal of ravens alternate with chapters that more broadly review the literature of what is known about raven's and their cousins.  

Heinrich comes to the question of Raven intelligence with an admirably scientific skepticism:

...[D]espite the overwhelming force of consensus, there is surprisingly little objective evidence that can be used to compare the ravens' intelligence vs. that of other corvid birds.  Indeed, a review of the literature convinces me that no proof of the raven's singular intelligence has yet been published.  Instead, many of the anecdotes purporting to show this are significant only if is taken for granted at the outset.

This circular nature of the definition of "intelligence" is a problem of critical importance to ethnology -- and to other disciplines as well .  In sociology debates over intelligence tests have raged for decades -- how do we measure intelligence, and is there any way to do that independent of our own cultural biases?  In computer science, it arises when systems seem to exhibit behavior which, in humans, we would consider intelligent -- a chess playing program, for instance.  Is this really intelligence, or simply a mechanical imitation of intelligence?  And if it's not "real" intelligence, what is the missing element that makes it incomplete?  

Since Descartes, who considered animals, to be mere automations, devoid of the spark of soul or consciousness he believed was the  mark human intelligence, there are many who make the same claim about animals -- that the things they do are not real thought or intelligence.

Alan Turing, in a paper way back in 1950 (Computer Machinery and Intelligence) offered a methodological test for his field, to cut through all the philosophical debate:  he proposed a game in which a subject converses, via keyboard, with an several unseen partners.    If the subject cannot reliably tell humans from machines -- then the machines can be said to have passed.  In other words, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck .... If you can't tell a difference between the behavior of a machine and the behavior we consider intelligent in humans, then for all practical purposes there is no difference.  

As powerful as the Turing test is, as a thought experiment, it seems to rest on a number of assumptions that have never really been tested.   Since our definition of intelligence is based on ourselves, it is natural to assume that something else that is intelligent will behave in similar ways.  But that isn't necessarily true.  The science fiction editor John W. Campbell used to tell his writers, "Write me a creature that things as well as a man, but not like a man."  Would a computer, the product of an very different process of development than that which created us, embodied in different mediums and related to the world in very different ways, manifest intelligence in a very different form.  In other words, could it thinks as well as us, but not like us?
And could Ravens and Crows -- the product of an entirely different evolutionary line than us (we don't share a common ancestor since well before the Age of Dinosaurs), with a different brain structure and a orientation on the world (they fly -- their natural element is three dimensional, and their sensory apparatus is very different  than our own), manifest intelligence in a way we might not immediately recognize?

Sociologists love to argue about IQ tests, and whether they can really be fair when the cultural backgrounds of the test designers and the subjects are very far apart.  With animals, the gulf is even wider.  For instance, we tend to put a lot of stock in the idea of the "mirror test" -- certain animals can recognize themselves in a mirror, which implies they have a sense of self, a subjective identity.  However, the mirror test is deeply rooted in our visual means of apprehending the world.  A number of birds -- who are also visually oriented creatures -- including Macaws, parrots and corvids  have been reported to pass the mirror test, as can many primates.  But dogs cannot.  And yet dogs can clearly recognize many individuals, humans and canine, by scent.  If the mirror reflected scent, instead of light, I suspect that all dogs would be able to recognize themselves and almost no primates would.

Ravens in Winter is a fascinating portrayal of the world of ravens, their relationships and their behavior.  But it is also a wonderful portrait of how science really works in the field.  Heinrich takes us from his initial observations, which sparked curiosity, framing a hypothesis, designing experiments (which often involved hauling large carcasses up into the mountains to attract the ravens), gathering observations and evidence, discarding hypotheses, creating new ones, more observations -- and so on until finally the data began to make sense and a valid theory emerged.  It is one of the best descriptions I have read of the scientific method in action.  

Ravens in Winter is a must read book for students of animal behavior -- and or corvids in particular.  But it is also a book for all lovers of science and nature.

Related Post at Birdland West
Dog Days, Raven Nights