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Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Trek Lit in Review: 1967-1972

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 7, 2015

Let’s take a quick look at the first six years of Trek lit, shall we? Eleven books were published between 1967 and 1972, comprising two original novels, one nonfiction ‘making of’ book, and eight volumes of adaptations of episodes from the television show. Namely:

  1. Star Trek by James Blish (Amazon)
  2. Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds (Amazon)
  3. Star Trek 2 by James Blish (Amazon)
  4. The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield (Amazon)
  5. Star Trek 3 by James Blish (Amazon)
  6. Spock Must Die! by James Blish (Amazon)
  7. Star Trek 4 by James Blish (Amazon)
  8. Star Trek 5 by James Blish (Amazon)
  9. Star Trek 6 by James Blish (Amazon)
  10. Star Trek 7 by James Blish (Amazon)
  11. Star Trek 8 by James Blish (Amazon)

The two original novels, Mission to Horatius and Spock Must Die!, are both pretty good stories. You can see my reviews, linked above, for details, but in short I’d say they’re worth a read for anyone interested in early Trek lit. They’re on about the level of the average episode of The Original Series, which is, I suppose, what they were aiming for.

The Making of Star Trek is of great historical interest. It features plenty of interesting details about the creation of Trek, including many primary sources. The details about how, generically speaking, TV shows are made is of less interest, but the bulk of the book is specifically about Star Trek. If you want to know something about how the show and its characters developed, take a look at this one.

The bulk of the books during this period were James Blish’s adaptations, beginning with Star Trek in January 1967 and continuing through November 1972 with Star Trek 8, with more to come.

Blish’s adaptations are all of about equal quality, as far as writing is concerned (decent, but uninspired), though the quality of the stories varies quite a bit. Some suggestions:

  • “Balance of Terror” from Star Trek
  • “Mirror, Mirror” and “Amok Time” from Star Trek 3
  • “The Enterprise Incident” from Star Trek 4
  • “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” from Star Trek 8

In general, if you liked the episode, the adaptation should be acceptably entertaining, as well. This doesn’t hold if you liked the episode because of the acting, of course.

If you’re looking to read only a little from this period, then prioritize Spock Must Die!, then Mission to Horatius. Follow up with as many (or as few) of Blish’s books as seem interesting to you, if you’re still hungry for old Trek lit, after those two.

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The Art of 5TH Cell

Posted by Tracy Poff on November 11, 2014

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There are generally two kinds of artbooks: those that are interesting as ‘souvenirs’ of their subject, and those that are interesting on their own merit. The categories aren’t mutually exclusive, of course.

The Art of 5TH Cell falls in the former category, though that’s not an indictment: for fans of the featured games, the book is filled with promotional images, concept art, and more that’s sure to please.

The book is divided into sections for five of 5TH Cell’s games, Scribblenauts, Lock’s Quest, Drawn to Life, Hybrid, and Run Roo Run, plus an “Edison Yan Sketchbook” section. It ends with a listing of 5TH Cell’s games with descriptions, screenshots, and information, and one page devoted to concept art from games that never made it to release.

The sections for each game contain all kinds of different art: magazine covers from Nintendo Power and Game Developer, plus sketches and line art for the same; promotional artwork; concept artwork; box art and preliminary concepts for box art; character art including early concepts; logo concepts; and lots more.

The “Edison Yan Sketchbook” section includes artwork for some of 5TH Cell’s older games from Edison Yan, who has worked with them both as an artist for their early games and Art Director for their later games, including most of those featured in this book. It’s even got preliminary artwork for the cover of this very book, a pleasingly meta addition.

I have only two real complains about The Art of 5TH Cell. The first is that it’s a book–so I can’t use the artwork in it as desktop wallpaper. I’m pretty sure that some of it originally was intended for just that purpose, so it’s a shame. The second is that I’d like to see a little more commentary from the artists. It’s great to devote so much space to the art, but a page or two of prose for each game would be welcome.

If you’d like to see for yourself what kind of art you’ll find, you can have a look at Edison Yan’s website, which includes a few of the illustrations featured in the book, as well as original artwork.

The Art of 5TH Cell was published on October 28, 2014 by UDON Entertainment.

Disclosure: this review is based on an advance copy received free for review.

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Oh, Were They Ever Happy!

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 13, 2014

The three Noonan children, mistakenly left at home without a babysitter, decide to spend their day helping out by painting the house. Oh, won’t their parents be happy!

OhWereTheyEverHappy-cover

Peter Spier’s Oh, Were They Ever Happy! follows the children from beginning (“I do not know who thought of it first, but there was plenty of paint in the garage.”) to end (“Sure looks swell! Won’t they be happy when they come home and see what we’ve done!”). As the children go along, they gradually become messier and the house gradually becomes more colorful, as the children use as many colors of paint as it takes to finish the job.

OhWereTheyEverHappy-1

The children even clean up, when they’re done! Won’t their parents be happy!

This is a very fun book. They story’s amusing as the children go along, happily ‘helping’ by painting their house (windows and all!). With each passing page, it hardly seems that the mess could get any bigger, but turn the page and it’s messier still. The art is simple, colorful (and how!), and perfectly pleasant. Altogether, this book rather reminds me of Wacky Wednesday.

Spier won the Caldecott medal in 1978 for Noah’s Ark, which is (mostly) wordless, but has a similar style of art.

Strangely, Oh, Were They Ever Happy! seems not to be in print, and the prices at Amazon are higher than expected, but if you do come by a copy, it’s surely worth a read.

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Welcome to Equestria

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 17, 2013

Welcome to Equestria coverShining Armor and Princess Cadance, the new rulers of the Crystal Empire, have been invited to visit towns all over Equestria. As they tour the land, they write letters to Twilight Sparkle about their journey, which will end in Ponyville, where Twilight lives.

Welcome to Equestria by Olivia London is a children’s picture book featuring characters from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The story is told in two ways: first, by narrative recounting the events as Shining Armor and Princess Cadance travel; second, by the letters they write to Twilight.

The narrative is simple, as is appropriate for a children’s book, but also, frankly, pretty boring. The letters have much more character. Compare:

“They are delighted to visit Princess Celestia and Princes Luna at Canterlot Castle, and enjoy some time in the city together.”

vs.

“We arrived in Canterlot today after a lovely send-off in the Crystal Empire. It was wonderful to enjoy Canterlot knowing that it is now safe from that evil Queen Chrysalis!”

Both are simple and direct, but the second, from the letter, is a lot more fun to read.

The story isn’t anything special–there’s not any plot to speak of, just a sequence of descriptions of places Shining Armor and Cadance. The only thing tying things together is that the two pick up gifts as they travel, and give them to Twilight and her friends at the end. There’s nothing wrong with the book being very simple, but it could have been better. The show itself manages much more interesting stories with being appreciably more complicated to understand.

Welcome to Equestria sample

Of course, for a picture book, the writing is only half the story. Welcome to Equestria‘s artwork matches the show, so it’s nice enough, but it mostly consists of scenery and the occasional character posing, which isn’t very interesting to look at. Also, the art is very separated from the text, and seems somewhat superfluous. Nice to have, but not important. In a really good picture book, the text and art work together to tell the story, but that doesn’t happen in Welcome to Equestria.

Welcome to Equestria isn’t bad, and kids that like the show will probably like the book, but it’s no classic of children’s literature, either. Pick it up for fans, but otherwise there are probably better choices.

Welcome to Equestria is available in paperback or for the Kindle.

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The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food – Kindle Comparison

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 8, 2011

When I reviewed the first two Berenstain Bears books, The Big Honey Hunt and The Bike Lesson, I mentioned that although they were available for the Kindle, I wasn’t sure how good a colorful children’s picture book would look on the grayscale e-ink screen of the Kindle.

On account of the recently reduced prices for Kindles, I have just purchased a Kindle Keyboard, which I’m enjoying, so far. After I’d played around with it a bit, I remembered my previous concern for how picture books would look, and decided I’d find out. I looked around a little, and ultimately got a sample of The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food.

To begin the comparison, let’s first look at the beginning of the print version.

I’ve not bothered to scan the whole right page, but you can see enough for our purposes. Next, let’s look at the sample on Kindle for PC.

You can see (if you click the image to view it full-sized) that the illustration is quite small. However, it has had the top of the tree drawn in, which I suppose is nice. The next paragraph, which, in the print version, is on the same page, has been moved to a new page in the Kindle version.

What exactly has happened, here? These two pages are both showing parts of the original illustration, but in the second, the tree house has been removed, and the illustration from the right page has been joined up with the remaining illustration from the left page. The illustration is, again, quite small.

I suppose that the book looks okay on Kindle for PC, but it’s not the same as the print version. The illustrations are difficult to see and have been redrawn a bit, but not (as far as I can see from the sample) with much creativity–no fun revelations here.

How about on the actual Kindle, then?


I should note that on the actual Kindle, the contrast is much better–the background is significantly lighter than it appears in this picture.

Of course, it looks substantially similar to the pictures of Kindle for PC, which is natural since it’s the same book sample. However, two things are immediately apparent: first, the tiny, grainy images on the Kindle screen remind me of the web circa 1996; second, without the color, these images just aren’t that nice.

In my opinion, these books aren’t really worth purchasing for the Kindle. The artwork is really what carries these books, and it’s simply not reproduced well on the Kindle–neither the actual Kindle nor the Kindle for PC software. This isn’t entirely the fault of the Kindle itself–the artwork looks bad in the file the Kindle is displaying, so of course it can’t make it look any better. Still, if this book is representative of the quality of the Berenstain Bears books on the Kindle, I’d strongly recommend buying paper versions, instead.

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The Berenstain Bears in the Freaky Funhouse

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 3, 2011


It’s summer, and Brother and Sister Bear, Cousin Fred, and Queenie McBear can’t agree on what to do. Luckily for them, the circus comes to town. In order to raise money for a new hospital wing, Ralph Ripoff has asked his friend, Captain Billy, to bring his circus to town, and share the profits with Dr. Gert Grizzly, for the hospital. But something seems crooked about this circus. Will the cubs uncover the truth about the circus and save the new hospital wing, or will they be sleeping with the fishes?

The Berenstain Bears in the Freaky Funhouse by Stan and Jan Berenstain is a children’s chapter book starring the Berenstain Bears. Unlike the picture books, which feature full-page, full-color illustrations, this book features mostly smaller, black-and-white illustrations, plus a few full-page, black-and-white illustrations.

The art is pretty good, even without any color. The expressions on the bears’ faces are, as usual for a Berenstain Bears book, odd, but this time the strange expressions are evil grins on the bad guys’ faces, so that’s fine. There are plenty of great illustrations of the circus, including the crooked games. Seeing Cousin Fred struggle to lift the weighted bottle is great.

The story is pretty good. The mystery of exactly who is cheating whom, and how the cubs will save the hospital wing, is very nice, for a children’s book, but the bears’ acting as the authors’ voices is, as usual, annoying. It’s inconsistent, too: here, Cousin Fred insists that video games will rot your brain, and he’d rather do anything than play games, but in The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings, we learn that Cousin Fred has a large video game collection, which Brother Bear is jealous of. Of course, in that book, Mama complains about Brother’s desire for video games, so we get an anti-gaming message, either way.

It’s also a bit irritating when Mama insists that she will not tolerate cubs gossiping about grown-ups, and then she and Papa immediately proceed to do exactly that. I’d initially thought that it was going to be a lesson for Papa, that grown-ups, too, shouldn’t talk about others behind their backs, but, no, it was just a lesson that kids should never question adults. Later, when a whole group of the adults are gossiping about Dr. Gert and Ralph, and Sister interjects with a comment, Mama again scolds her for gossiping. It’s just hypocrisy, frankly.

But there are some good lessons in there, too. Always read things before you sign them, for one. Be wary of anyone that claims they’re doing evil for good reasons, for another. Don’t trust carnival games, too.

The Berenstain Bears in the Freaky Funhouse is a fun book. I spent about twenty minutes reading it, so it might provide an hour or two of good entertainment for a child, especially given the interesting illustrations. Definitely a good book for fans of the Berenstain Bears.

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The Girl in the Painting

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 2, 2011


Carla is the new girl at school, and somehow she’s been voted to be in the auction for the Fall Ball. The rumor is that it must be a joke being played on her by Troy Lester and his friends, and Carla agrees. After all, she’s no prize, or so she imagines. But when Troy bids on her–and wins–at the auction, she’s not sure what to do.

Though my last experience with romance novels was somewhat less than satisfactory, I thought I’d give them another shot, though I didn’t want to commit too much time to being so fair-minded. So, I read The Girl in the Painting by Eve Bunting, a “Fastback Romance.” Despite being bound as a single book, it’s really more of a short story–a little more than five thousand words, I guess.

The story was written in 1978, and I don’t know if it’s just me, or that time marches on, but the way the girls were talking about being sold in the auction, and fetching a good price, was distinctly creepy to me. It was also weird that Carla skipped a class to go home and do housework while she tried to decide what to do. Okay, sure, I might clean a room when I’ve got something on my mind, too, but frankly, after all the talk of selling the girls, it just struck me as having unfortunate implications.

These things aside, though, the story isn’t bad. Bunting manages to fit in a little moral ambiguity in the 37 pages of The Girl in the Painting: as it turns out, initially, Troy did have Carla voted into the auction as a joke, but he came to see that she was an interesting person, and ‘bought’ her because he really wanted to go to the ball with her. There’s complication, provided by Lorraine, and the resolution is fairly satisfying.

One further note, regarding the cover. The two people on the cover don’t match Carla and Troy (who I suppose they’re meant to be) at all. Neither is wearing glasses, and, frankly, there’s no way the girl on the cover could be mistaken for being unattractive. I suppose they wanted the cover to be appealing, to sell the book, but it’s a shame, given that the message of the book is that it’s what’s below the surface that counts.

The Girl in the Painting is a decent, quick read, if you can find it, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to get a copy. It reminds me of the short stories that filled the anthologies we used in English classes in middle school–not a bad thing, but nothing worth writing home about, either.

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My Visit to the Dinosaurs

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 1, 2011


What were the dinosaurs like? What did they eat? How do we know about them?

In My Visit to the Dinosaurs by Aliki, a Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science Book, children can learn about the different kinds of dinosaurs, with information both about the dinosaurs themselves, and how we come to know about them, through fossils.

This one is good, but I don’t like it as well as the other two books in this series that I’ve reviewed, Ducks Don’t Get Wet and What Makes Day and Night. The illustrations are nice, but the book is more like a collection of trivia than the other two. Still, it’s quite a good book for kids.

I’d recommend My Visit to the Dinosaurs especially for kids interested in dinosaurs, but anyone might find it interesting. It’s a solid children’s picture book, well worth reading.

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What Makes Day and Night

Posted by Tracy Poff on September 1, 2011


Why is it sometimes night, and other times day? Why does the sun seem to move across the sky? Does the moon have day and night?

These questions (and a few more) are answered in a clear and understandable fashion by the excellent children’s picture book What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn M. Branley, illustrated by Arthur Dorros.

What Makes Day and Night is a Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science Book, which explains that the Earth is round, and rotates once a day, causing the apparent movement of the sun across the sky, and therefore causing day and night. This explanation is accompanied by great illustrations, as well as a beautiful photograph of Earth, taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft, which help make these basic science facts accessible to the young reader.

I’d highly recommend What Makes Day and Night for young children. It encourages curiosity and a rational view of the world, excellent accomplishments for any children’s book.

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