Racing Squid
    By Danna Staaf | October 21st 2010 05:45 PM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Danna

    Cephalopods have been rocking my world since I was in grade school. I pursued them through a BA in marine biology at the University of California...

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    So, one time for my middle school gym class I was required to write an essay about a sport. Any sport. Unfortunately, I hated all sports. Fortunately, I was blessed with a creative spirit, so I invented a new sport to write about. This is the opening paragraph of my essay:
    Squid racing is exhausting, often frightening, disorienting, and dangerous to participate in. It is also exhilerating, fascinating, and it cultivates a deep friendship between man and mollusk. This informational paper will cover the care and training of squid, race course descriptions, and advice to squid racers.
    Again fortunately, my gym teacher had a sense of humor, and was sufficently amused by my fictional "sport" to grant me full credit on the assignment.

    Ever since, I've been toying with the idea of expanding my seventh-grade essay into a full-blown novel. This is the year I'm finally going to do it. In November, actually. NaNoWriMo, here I come!

    Of course, I've already been scooped by Japan. Sigh.
    The point is to shoo your squid around the oval with the help of a plastic "riding crop." The elderly guy on my right is a natural-born squid jockey, whisking the water a few inches behind his charge exactly the way the emcee demonstrated a few minutes ago. And the ten year old on track three has a winner on his hands: his squid rocketed out of the gate in an apparent bid for escape without any prodding at all. Meanwhile, I've got a mean bastard. His (?) chromatophores pulsate through a cycle of angry purples and reds as he furiously attacks the crop, balling his little tentacles around it like a tiny alien fist, drawing it into his angry little beak. I concentrate on shaking him off and that's when it hits me: I'm paying money to whack a squid with a stick. Good lord, what have I gotten myself into? Not for the first time in my travels through Japan, I'm struck by the thought that this is either the single greatest moment of my life or the single silliest, and I'm not sure I'll ever figure out which.



    I concentrate on shaking him off and that's when it hits me: I'm paying money to whack a squid with a stick.

    Most existential sentence I think I've ever seen.

    Danna, did your fictional version of 'squid racing' include riding crops and squid torture? I'm curious to see how someone who actually likes squid would figure out how to race them.

    "So, I says to him, 'what do you mean my wife is sleeping with a protoplasm!?'"
    Danna Staaf
    An excellent question! The ethics of keeping and training squid is something I've been trying to comment on throughout the novel, without becoming heavy-handed about it. In basic terms, the squid jockeys attempt to communicate with the squid as much as possible, in some cases forming quite an affectionate bond between man and mollusc. This suits my personal ethics as well as being the most practical way of handling squid--their skin is very delicate, and even minor abrasions tend to lead to infection and death in captivity, so they must be handled very carefully if you want them to have a reasonably long racing career.
    While I was searching for a particular image from A D&D supplement called "The Sea People", you'd be surprised what a google image search for "squid chariot" turns up! ;)

    Of course a practical application might involve a maze of transparent pipes and an octopus or two, to see which completes the maze before the other, but where's the fun in that? How about the other extreme; remote-controlled squid in the manner of "Sharktopus"? - and we all know how well THAT one turned out.

    How about a compromise:

    Danna Staaf
    Hah! I'll take your word for it on the squid chariots.
    I love everything about that movie, by the way, anatomical inaccuracies notwithstanding. =)