The big problem with starlings is that they don’t belong here. They are what‘s called an introduced, alien, or exotic species. If a species is bad enough, like the aggressive starling, we call it “invasive.” In 1992, famed Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson branded “exotic animals” the second-largest cause of extinctions worldwide, behind habitat destruction. He expressed what was then coalescing into the dominant discourse about introduced organisms: They’re bad news. We don’t want them.
This, in part, is why conservationists were alarmed this past summer when odd species of turtles were spotted in Quincy and Western Massachusetts. It’s why park officials in Des Moines are trying to weed out non-native honeysuckles and Florida conservationists are trying to persuade chefs and supermarkets to serve up lionfish. It’s why the United States and the European Union have been fighting a trade dispute about Maine lobsters in Sweden.
So what should we do about starlings — and all these other interlopers?
For a growing minority of biologists, conservationists, ecologists, and environmental writers, the answer is simple. Nothing.
There is a spare beauty to the Illinois prairie, with winds swooshing between its wide sky and paper-flat fields. Central Illinois will often surprise visitors who don’t realize there’s much between St. Louis and Chicago. But the writer David Foster Wallace knew this gusty stretch of the Midwest well. He felt at peace among the prairie lights of its university towns, which nourished his literary genius before his death in 2008, at age 46.
In early spring, before the crops were planted, I drove down from Chicago’s Midway Airport along Route 66, that old-fashioned strip of duct tape affixing America’s great farmland to California and the Mountain West. Wallace had driven that direction many times, I knew, returning from major literary-tour stops around the country to his anonymous home in central Illinois.
Dava Sobel is as adept at spotting promising subject matter as the extraordinary women astronomers she writes about in The Glass Universe were at spotting variable stars. By translating complex information into manageable bites sweetened with human interest stories, Sobel makes hard science palatable for the general audience. Even more than her 1999 book Galileo's Daughter, this new work highlights women's often under-appreciated role in the history of science.
Will this book resolve science fiction’s identity crisis? Does it give us an account of science fiction that we can feel confident about? By shining a light into aspects of science fiction obscured or ignored by conventional histories are we at last getting close to the full story?
No. But it will tell you a part of the story that is well worth knowing. And it will provide an awful lot of pleasure along the way.
By the end, you can feel where all of these rules come from: the idea of being good to each other. What can be frustrating are the rules themselves, or rather, the need to put them into text, condescend to the reader, or let the reader condescend to the non-reader. [...] The point is, it doesn’t matter how we eat, or share, or containerize our buckwheat honey. Each successive entry into our library of etiquette books is the same rule obscured by slightly different and ephemeral layers of mores, tradition, and fashion. It isn’t the Platinum Rule or even the Golden Rule. It’s much simpler — call it the Styrofoam Rule: just be decent.