Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Review: Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide

Next up in my series of book reviews as last minute presents for the AFOL in your life. I'm posting this same book review across most of my blogs, but I'm adding some blog-specific content at the end of each posting.

Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide by Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć, 2013, No Starch Press

On the one hand I might not be the right person to review this book. Even though I have fond memories of my best friend getting what must have been set 956 oh so many years ago, and at one point I got the Technic Jango Fett as part of a large eBay Star Wars LEGO lot, about the only thing I regularly do with Technic elements is put a small gear on a rod to make a mace for my castle minifigs. On the other hand, I'm pretty much the perfect market for this book, which is well situated for the builder who is fairly competent with LEGO building but has no real experience with Technic. That said, even the expert Technic builder would surely find this to be an extremely useful book. The author, Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć, is a well-known Technic builder. He's active in LUGPol and contributes to various Technic or NXT themed sites. You're quite likely to have seen some of his amazing MOCs on the Brothers Brick or other community sites, and you can find them all on his own site, Eric "Blakbird" Albrecht of Blakbird's Technicopedia is listed as a tech reviewer and advisor, and he may have helped with the illustrations, though that is not made clear.

This book is a beautiful intro to Technic building. Almost every page is full of full color illustrations - some photos, but mostly LDRAW - that clearly illustrate the topics under consideration. Without a lot of fluff intro, Paweł jumps straight into a discussion of the basics of Technic building. He starts out with a quick introduction to concepts of physics and mechanics that underlie the complex creations, goes through a comprehensive discussion of different Technic elements and how they work, and by the end of the book works you through intricate mechanisms, such as a ten-speed synchronized transmission, or a heavy-duty pendular portal axle. The complete Table of Contents can be seen here. The writing style is very clear, so you don't have to start out as an expert car mechanic to enjoy this book (believe me - I barely know how to check my oil). Along the way Paweł includes a ton of information. For instance, he goes through every type of gear and shows how they work, or in another chapter he gives a complete description of the advantages and disadvantages of every LEGO motor.

There are a couple of things that are not in this book. There is virtually nothing about Mindstorms or Mindstorms NXT, which are often grouped in with other Technic building. I actually don't think that's a failing, as to try and fit in a lot about programming and robotics would have necessarily led to a watering down of the content that is in this book. Also, No Starch has several other Mindstorms NXT books, which makes me think that this is part of a strategic plan to make a library of great reference works. The other thing that this book is not about is finished models. Yes, Paweł has a ton of photos of beautiful finished trucks, tanks, cranes and other models to inspire you, but he's not out to provide step-by-step instructions to make these. Instead he gives you step-by-step instructions to make the drive train, or steering mechanism, or other mechanics 'under the skin'. You can then build your own skin on top of this solid skeleton. Again, other No Starch offerings, such as these Technic Idea Books might be good to explore as a next step.

I would highly, highly, highly recommend this book (highly even) for anyone above the very introductory level builder. If you've never made a Technic model before but want to try, Paweł clearly teaches you from the ground up. If you're an expert Technic builder, you'll benefit from the comprehensive listings of different parts, and be able to adapt the complex mechanisms Paweł describes. Even if you've never had an interest in Technic, and those funny beams and half pins that occasionally show up in your System sets make their way into your 'useless parts bin' only to show up as an occasional greeble, you'll be inspired by this. Now I want to go dig into my own bin and pull out some gears and axles to play with!

SciBricks-specific content This book goes through the basics of simple mechanics, describing things like different types of levers, gear ratios, pulleys, how speed and torque relate to power, etc.

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