[REVIEW] – ‘BRICKSY’ ; LEGO meets Banksy street art

51J1G8qbqZLThe folks at Skyhorse Publishing have sent along another pretty great LEGO book – especially if you’re a fan of the anonymous street artist Banksy. ‘Bricksy: Unauthorized Underground Brick Street Art‘ ($14.99 direct) brings you LEGOized versions of some of Banksy’s most famous works of vandalism – err, art.

The book itself is done up quite nicely with a vividly colored dust jacket wrapping around a good solid hardcover mirroring the art on the jacket (missing only the information on the inside jacket sleeves). The pages are laid out very nicely with some of photos spreading across facing pages. What I really liked about the book was the inclusion of the original Banksy artwork with each photo.

For the most part, author and photographer Jeff Friesen did a fabulous job recreating Banksy’s poignant whimsy. But, LEGO can only go so far when imitating life – and sometimes even less when imitating certain works of art. There are several photos where Friesen takes liberties in recreating the original version but usually the changes reflect his canvas – the world of LEGO.

See the original Banksy in the lower left corner.

See the original Banksy in the lower left corner. (Image courtesy of Amazon)

I’d suggest reading the short introduction from Friesen as he briefly dives into the pairing the worlds of street art and LEGO, and how they compliment each other.

Accompanying the pictures, aside from any prophetic words from Banksy himself, are some short quips reminiscent of my own type of LEGO photography – of which I owe my comic hero Gary Larson.

Page 11 Page 20 Page 23

As you can see, Friesen has done a fantastic job building complete worlds for each of Banksy’s ideas to live. Not to mention he’s made us of many of the new LEGO Collector’s Series minifigs which is just fun to see. Each shot is fully expanded to include the original art and built upon it – to possibly show might have been had Banksy used a more traditional canvas, and not the sides of buildings. But some are future imaginings or replies to Banksy’s original piece.

The book is rounded out with a short but insightful FAQ answering most of the questions you’re probably thinking of right now – and an index of all the original Banksy art photos (who took them, where they came from, etc). A nice, more colorful, way to dish out photo credits.

Overall Bricksy is a great little book that will appeal to fans who enjoy both subjects. However I’m not sure someone without an appreciation for Banksy art would get as much out of this – but that seems obvious.

Bricksy: Unauthorized, Underground Brick Street Art: [A]
Skyhorse Publishing
Available now. 

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Just Finished / Now Reading…

Contact_SaganI’ve always said I read strictly for entertainment, never looking beyond the words for meaning, symbolism, or any of other literary mumbo-jumbo your English teachers try to force you to think is happening. I haven’t read ‘the classics’ and don’t plan to because frankly I’d be bored to tears. We can debate the merits of old-timey books in a later posting if you like.

Contact, however, was different. I’m honestly ashamed it took me until now to read it. However, in a way I’m glad because I feel like I was able to understand and appreciate it in a far greater way than if I had read it when I was younger. Sagan published Contact in 1985, but everything about the story holds up incredibly well. The story is set at the turn of the century (1999-2000) which at the time of the book’s release was ostensibly the future. The story is as much about science-fiction as it is about science-fact. Sagan told the story about what millions of us dream about – receiving a signal from extraterrestrials. Since he was an accomplished scientist and astronomer all the science was based in reality or widely accepted theories. However at its core, Contact is about faith. Sagan was a proclaimed agnostic, but he puts the reader in the position to contemplate different aspects of faith; faith in a God, faith in the truth of science, and faith in humanity. On the scale between agnostic and atheism I tend more toward the atheist side but despite my personal beliefs the combination of all of this is why I think I found the book so profound.

It makes you stop and think about the most poignant and awesome questions of existence. Are we alone? Who or what else is outsagan_vla there? How did we get here? The point Sagan is making is that he doesn’t know. The aliens don’t know. We don’t know. It’s the most awe inspiring and infuriating part of the entire story. Here we have a highly advanced race of aliens that send us a signal laced with blueprints to build a machine with one purpose: to transport humans to meet them. But when we get there, we find out that millions of years before we launched our first shuttle into space, there were aliens trolling about the galaxy contemplating existence themselves, and after all that time, they still didn’t know either. In fact, it turns out that transportation network of wormholes and black holes used by the machine was there long before the aliens stumbled across it. What’s worse; it turns out there is a secret message hidden in pi, and even the aliens do not understand its meaning. Because pi isn’t a construct of any human or alien mathematical system, but a universal constant, its implications are unfathomable.

I was happy to learn Sagan also worked on the movie before dying in 1996. Humorously enough, Contact actually started out as a movie treatment written by Sagan, but was stalled in early production, so he decided to make it into a book instead. Then 12 years later, in 1997, the movie based on his novel is released. Interesting cycle of event, huh? Carl Sagan is one of my personal heroes, so I’m happy that Sagan was able to take part in the making of the film, finally, and despite his death occurring before it opened in theaters, I like to think he would have been very proud of the result. Many of the differences between the novel and the film have no real effect on the story. It’s easy to see why they made the changes they did to fit the medium of film.

Contact is a must read for everyone, whatever your beliefs may be. It’s very grounded, so readers who aren’t fans of hardcore sci-fi 41EQ3LzZg-Lneeded worry, this isn’t some lame Star Trek novel. This is a story about science and personal beliefs.

I gave Contact by Carl Sagan 5/5 stars on Goodreads.

Now, back to reading strictly for the fun of it!
I’m currently reading The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s another older book (1971) about a man who has dreams that end up affecting reality. It’s a pretty short book, but it sounded very intriguing so I’m excited to get into it.

Just finished / Now reading…

mr_penumbras_24_hour_bookstoreIf you’re a fan of secret societies, intrigue, and good old fashioned hidden cryptic puzzles, then Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore might be for you. It’s a quick, fun read, and is relatively brainless so you don’t need to worry about getting caught up in an insurmountable jumble of confusion. If you’re like me and you do a lot of reading before bed and you’re apt to forget half the stuff you read the previous night then you’re in luck.

I won’t give plot details away, but suffice to say the journey to solve the puzzle was a lot of fun. Unfortunately the payoff at the end is a little anti-climatic. I was expecting so much more. However like my friend said, it’s about the journey. He’s also the friend who suggested the book to me. Even though I’m a little disappointed with how it turned out, he’s right.

Author Robin Sloan tries to flesh out some of his characters but doesn’t get very far and most stay pretty one-dimensional. The title character, Mr. Penumbra, isn’t truly the main character which is fine but of everyone he is the one I wish Sloan was able to give me more details about. There are plenty of hints throughout the story, including one major chance at the end to delve into arguably the most interesting character, but he never does. If the characters existed in real life they’d be the kind of one-dimensional people you’d end up hating because their so shallow. But in the interest of a fun read, just look past it.

The part of the story I found most annoying was it’s basically a 280-page advertisement for Google. So much of the story’s plot is tied to characters working at the company or using their technology to help solve the story’s main puzzle. In addition the extensive use of current social media platforms and other modern website jargon may keep readers unfamiliar with today’s technology a little on the outside. So the book is definitely intended for those riding the internet waves these days. Lastly, Sloan’s writing is a little childish and he tries to make the first-person narrator funny, but sometimes it’s just awkward.

In the end, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is fun puzzle story with an interesting twist. It didn’t deliver amazing closure for me but it may for you. Despite the gripes posted above I’d still recommend giving it a go. You’ll fly through it so fast it won’t have wasted much of your time if you end up hating it. But you won’t.

I gave Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore 3/5 stars on GoodReads.

Next up is Carl Sagan’s Contact. I’ve never read it and of course love the movie. I’ve always been a little disappointed I was tooContact_Sagan young to truly appreciate Sagan before his death. As a science teacher and a science lover – especially of all things Universe related, he’s kind of been an idol for me. I was able to find a first edition hardcover from 1985, in excellent condition, at our used bookstore in Knoxville – with the dust jacket intact. I paid 25¢ for it. How friggin’ awesome is that. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for the better part of a year but had a few other books in line ahead of it to read. I’m excited.

Just Finished / Now Starting…

Salman Rushdie’s Haroun & the Sea of Stories is probably in my top five favorite books ever. I’ve read it to my 5th graders for the past three years and they too have thoroughly loved it. It’s a story filled with so much imagination you can’t help but smile. It’s also heavy on figurative language, and imagery – perfect for young readers learning how to read and write. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Luka & the Fire of Life at the used book store we frequent – it’s a follow up book to Haroun. I wouldn’t call it a sequel -more of a continuation. My wife and I both loved Haroun so much we were immediately excited to dive into Luka. I was currently reading one of the Game of Thrones tomes so my wife had first crack at it. She said it was not particularly good. Now that I’ve had a chance to read it I’m sad to say I agree. In fact, it was hard for me to finish. I thought it was an embarrassingly inferior follow-up to Haroun & the Sea of Stories.

I’m usually quite easy to please. I read strictly for entertainment. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a complete textbook in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a book I’ve chosen to read on my own. But this book was difficult. I think Salman Rushdie is a fabulous author, and I have three or four more of his books on my to-read shelf, and I’m looking forward to them. But I found Luka & the Fire of Life fails to keep the wonder and joy of Haroun. It takes place almost in the same magical world but this time instead of the world being a delight for the reader to discover it’s instead quite lame. The surprise connections between the real world and the magical world of Stories in Haroun were fabulous to stumble upon. In Luka, however, Rushdie has created many incredibly silly (not silly in the funny way) worlds and characters. So many it’s hard to keep track of. And the worst part? The characters are entirely forgettable, which was not so in the previous novel. To this day I find myself randomly talking about Iff the Water Genie, or Butt the Hoopoe. Finally, the conflict/problem in the story was very weak, and the resolution unfulfilling. It really seems like Rushdie phoned this one in to fulfill some contract because he is a much better writer than this. In the end, I felt like I was reading a combination of an embarrassing imitation of Haroun & the Sea of Stories, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and a Rick Riordan Percy Jackson novel.

Also, minus 1,000,000 points for the use of the Wingdings font in the book. Just inexcusable.

I gave Luka & the Fire of Life 2/5 stars on Goodreads.

If you’ve not read Haroun & the Sea of Storiesread it. Now. It will be the most fun you’ve had reading a book in a long time. And it’ll make you feel good because that’s the kind of book it is.

I’ve already started my next book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It was recommended by a friend who has steered me toward some excellent books in the past. I’m already about 25 pages into it and already very intrigued. Definitely excited to keep going. I’ll report back when I’m done!

LEGO Minifigure Year By Year: A Visual History from DK

9781465414113HThere is perhaps little more recognizable than a LEGO Minifigure. They’re an inch and a half tall, yellow, fully positionable, and have all kinds of hats and accessories that hurt like hell when you step on them barefoot. They’re an essential part of the LEGO ecosystem these days. Interestingly enough the first bunch of LEGO sets in the 1960’s didn’t have any figures – they were strictly geared towards building homes and cars. It wasn’t until 1975 that a minifigure similar to what we have now began to take shape. And then in 1978 the familiar figurine was born and has been the face of the company since. LEGO Minifigure Year By Year: A Visual History is a mega encyclopedic chronicle of the history of those little guys. And as usual, DK has done their due diligence and put together a fantastic book bursting with details, beautiful color, and lots of behind the scenes information for kids and adults alike. Obviously minifigs are a huge part of my photography hobby so this book was doubly awesome.

Like in most DK LEGO books the front cover is expanded in depth to contain some special minifigs available only with purchase. This time there are three iconic ones from the annals of LEGO history: an old-school townsperson, a Stormtrooper, and a newer version of a robber. They aren’t exclusive figures, but hey – free!

The book starts off with a couple quick pages about the evolution of the minifig (where I got some of the info above), and looks at the details of minifigs, as they are anything but standard these days! The “How Is A Minifigure Made?” section was particularly interesting to me. All three of these sections are a two-page spread but should have been more. The first, “Bringing LEGO Play to Life,” would have benefited from more photos from the 60’s and 70’s as the sets were being more developed. I love the small picture of the minifig’s patent, though. Some interviews with the people responsible for the creation would have been nice. I would have liked to see a lot more photos of the manufacturing and design process in the last section.

Now on to the meat of the book: the timeline through the decades.

After a brief four-page timeline from 1974 to the present, readers are shown a very basic evolution of the little characters with some good trivia below. For instance the first top hat was in 1980, the first crown was in 1995, 1999 saw the birth of LEGO Star Wars, and in 2005 was the first Viking helmet. It’s not a ton of info, merely tidbits to get you salivating for the goodies in the forthcoming pages. The rest of the book is laid out year by year, with a short introduction page at the beginning of each decade. LEGO sets go through more transformations that most people realize. Each page brings a ton of fabulous information about the minifigs released that year. There is a bunch of superfluous info as well – such as pointing out the universally known Red Cross symbol for medical uses as “medical symbol.” The good stuff ends up balancing out the useless stuff. As you can see the facing pages layout is easy on the eyes and flows nicely. Every year is on the left with a paragraph of design or development details from that particular year ranging from what were the new hot sets, what was successful the previous year, or what was being discontinued this year. Looking through the years I was surprised how long it took for the minifigs to develop as much as I thought I remembered. It really wasn’t until the mid-late 90’s, when I was in high school and no longer spending a lot of time with LEGO, that many of the new faces and detailed torsos came about. And once LEGO Star Wars hit – all bets were off. The explosion of creativity from the LEGO folks for not only the minifigs but the building sets as well was huge.
The book takes readers through all the years up until 2013.  I will say the closer you get to the present the more colorful and elaborate the page spreads get. Kind of a no brainer since the minifigs have been getting more and more elaborate – but still managing to retain that simplicity of what they were originally.

Sprinkled throughout the book are one-off page spreads with some fun mini-timelines of their own. There’s a “Mad About Hats” (see below), “A Cut Above” (all about hairstyles), “Heads Up Everyone” (how the head has evolved), “On The Move” (minifig’s transports), and a few others as well. They make good breaks in the sections and have a little extra fun information.
Feature_spread (1)

Once again DK has served its fans well with the LEGO Minifigure Year By Year: A Visual History. LEGO continues to prove its products are not just for children and DK continues to offer books both children and adults can enjoy. I admire DK and LEGO partnering to bring excellent reading material to publishing. I can only imagine how long we will need to wait before a Volume 2 comes!

LEGO Minifigure Year By Year: A Visual History: A
Available at DK.com: $40.00 direct

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I just like to throw out a huge thank you to either/or/both Google Chrome, and WordPress because at about 12:04am as I was finishing the last third of this post, the power went off and on – just quick enough to turn off the computer. Obviously I panicked and feared I’d lost a good chunk of everything since I had no idea when WordPress did it’s last auto-save. But much to my surprise and elation when I restored my pages in Chrome, everything was still here in WordPress. I’d lost nothing. Phew. Love you guys!

Just Finished / Now Starting…

Tom Clancy is one of my favorite authors. When he died last month I was bummed – especially after losing another one of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton, a few years ago. As for my other favorites, well, Cormac McCarthy is certainly getting up Red_storm_rising there in years, and somehow I feel Winter will come to George R.R. Martin before he’s able to finish the A Song of Ice & Fire series [Game of Thrones for you less literary folks]. Anyway, Clancy’s death reminded me that although I’ve read a handful of his books there are a great many I haven’t. Hilariously enough I happened to buy pretty much his entire library from our local used book store for about 5¢ each. So they’ve always been here sitting, waiting. What better time to honor the man who was a master of the international military/political thriller than to read his sophomore novel: Red Storm Rising. I struggled with Clancy’s material when I was younger – it’s pretty dense. Full of military technobabble, and adult politics and whathaveyou, but I usually got the gist of it. Red October and Patriot Games were accessible enough for a middle/high schooler. Debt Of Honor really challenged me though. Being much older now, I definitely was able to enjoy this book a lot more.

After the success of The Hunt For Red October, Clancy continued writing incredibly intriguing Naval and Air Force warfare stories. For as fantastic as Red October was [is], Red Storm Rising kicks everything his first book did into high gear. It’s nearly 1/3 longer (725 pages) but flies by at a breakneck pace.

As the title hints, Red Storm Rising, involves those pesky Russians. This time they’re starting a war for oil. Seems like a page right out of current affairs, but the book was originally published in 1986. As the Russians begin spreading their war machine across the northern Atlantic, the submarine and naval warfare kicks into high gear. Not to mention the sorties of bombing raids and fighter planes. Plus the ground war as the Soviets push through Germany. All in all the dance of tactics and action is a lot of fun. Clancy makes the terminology and the tactics easy enough for someone unfamiliar with the military to grasp and follow. The story has many theaters of action but they all blend together well. It’s also worth nothing the military technology Clancy writes about was state-of-the-art back in the 1980’s. It still translates well to the present day as not a whole lot has changed, just improved.

If you’re a Clancy fan, this is a good no-brainer read. I gave it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. Cardinal of the Kremlin will be my next Clancy book…might as well go in order…

I’m not there yet though. I just started Luka & the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie. It’s a sequel to Rushdie’s earlier work Haroun & lnfolthe Sea of Stories – which is one of my all time favorite books. My 5th graders have thoroughly enjoyed it as a read-aloud for the last 3 years. I highly recommend it. It’s more of a kid’s book – full of figurative language and cleverness. Luka is a relatively short book so I’ll let you know how that is soon enough!

 

ENDER’S GAME. [B+]

o-ENDERS-GAME-POSTER-900Last night I went to see Ender’s Game, in IMAX. [Sidenote: I’m super happy it was not IMAX 3D because I’m so sick of 3D crap.]

The novel came out way back in 1985. I’d never heard of it. Of course I was also only four years old. But the science fiction bug bit me around 6th grade, probably when my love of dinosaurs ran headlong into the 1993 movie version of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. All of a sudden I launched myself from reading Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of Nimh to engrossing myself in Crichton’s world of Sci-fi. To this day, Congo, and Sphere remain two of my most favorite books, with Timeline not too far behind. And that’s only one author. [It should be noted all the movies made from these beloved books sucked so hard it hurt.] I read a lot of those books in middle school, along with discovering other fantastic authors like Tom Clancy, and Alistair MacLean. I didn’t read much in high school because of jobs, homework, friends, and a general distaste for existence in general.

Admittedly I didn’t have a lot of time to read in college, but I did find time to read Ender’s Game. I’d still never heard of it, but was made aware of its existence during an interview with a guy who worked for Electronic Arts (EA) building video games. This was around 2003, when I was getting my Masters degree in educational technology. So we were like nerdy tech brothers, talking bits and bytes, graphics, UIs, and sci-fi. He told me I should read Ender’s Game. He’d read it a long time ago when he was much younger. So I did.

The first time through I know I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I really got it. It was much different than other sci-fi books I had read. I kept waiting for the action. I kept waiting for the space fights. I didn’t realize that Ender’s Game was so much more than that. I’ve since re-read it a few times and being older, I’ve come to realize how awesome it really is. It didn’t affect me emotionally as I didn’t have that sort of connection with it. I was really short and small all through my child years – still am, only 5’5″ – but I had good friends and good surroundings and thankfully wasn’t a target for bullies. But I can definitely see how those that were could connect to Ender Wiggin. In the end, the book is remarkably written, and older more experienced readers will realize it’s not about the war with the buggers, it’s about Ender’s war with himself and his peers. And the way he fights those wars in the Battle Room, and finally as the commander of the fleet is really the most exciting and interesting part of the book.

You may have heard some controversy surrounding the author, Orson Scott Card. He has some pretty strong religious and personal views. He’s endervehemently against same-sex marriage, and homosexuality in general. This means I’m vehemently against Orson Scott Card. But, thankfully, his bigotry does not really permeate Ender’s Game. And sometimes we have to remember, as many have said,  the artist does not always define the art. While I’m not willing to look past Card’s views and write him off, I’m willing to realize his books can also stand on their own as works of fiction alone. I hope you can too because the movie is worth it.

So, the movie. [Here’s where some minor spoilers are]
I’m still turning it over in my head from last night, but I think I really loved it. In this instance, I feel the movie really did the book justice. In the book, Ender goes to Battle School when he is only six years old, and about six more years are covered through the story – and Ender aging is an important part of the story. But in movies you can’t do that unless you hire a lot of different aged actors that look alike, and have more time to tell significant story parts. So they crammed six years of development into about an hour with one actor in a single unknown amount of time. And they did all right. Many of the important details where still there: Bean’s rope, Ender’s conquering of the various armies of other students, and most importantly his run-ins with Bonzo.

If I had one complaint, it’s the movie should have been about 30-40 minutes longer, with the majority of that time spent in Battle School, in the Battle Room, watching Ender learn how to think outside the box. Discovering how to use bodies as shields, move fluidly in zero-G, and develop that state of mind of “the enemy’s gate is down.” To watch Ender realize that to fight and succeed – like in real life – your perception of situations needs to change from what everyone else perceives as normal.

For those who have read the book, you’ll be glad to know they left out the parts of Peter and Val’s conquering the world through internet personalities.

Lastly, I was wondering how they were going to incorporate the video game Ender played at Battle School. It was such an integral part of his emotional development I knew they couldn’t leave it out. What was there in the movie was about as good a job as could be done I think. It served enough of a purpose to hint at how Ender’s mind and demeanor were changing, but definitely lacked the depth and emotional results apparent in the book.

The special effects were fantastic. The battle sequences at the end were great, and the zero gravity fights in the Battle Room were excellently coordinated and filmed. The only fake looking floating I saw was in the beginning where Harrison Ford’s character was in the shuttle with the launchies right after take-off.

Oh, and shot out to Mr. Ford – I thought he was an excellent Hyrum Graff. Actually, I’d compliment all the young actors in the movie, they all did a fantastic job with their characters. Bean was great – wish we could have had more of him.

Overall, I give it a B+. A solid adaptation of the book.

Go see it. And read the book, too.