Friday, November 29, 2013

Book review: Assassination!

Assassination! by Brendan Powell Smith, 2013, Skyhorse Publishing

Please note that I'm posting this same review across all my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each one.

For many years now I've beein reviewing Brendan Powell Smith's work, and up till now it has all been about his LEGO take on biblical material. When I heard his newest book was on a different topic altogether, I have to admit I was disappointed. For some time now I've been hoping he would do a version of the Psalms and the Prophets - I think those texts would provide a great opportunity for imaginitive LEGO interpretations. I have to say, though, that I was very pleasantly surprised. Assassination! is, in a word, terrific. This 272 page hardcover book is filled with over 400 LEGO illustrations, detailing the history of US president assassinations and assassination attempts.

The illustrations are top-notch. Back in the early days of Brendan's Brick Testament project his landscapes were often flat and the photos fairly sparse, but a decade of LEGO illustration has changed all of that. The images are all 100% LEGO from edge to edge, and they are richly detailed. He has taken full advantage of the wide range of LEGO elements that have come out in recent years, as well as custom accessories by third party AFOL dealers (SaberScorpion's custom decals of the presidents' faces are particularly good). Brendan's building has steadily progressed over the years, and he has a keen eye for composing scenes.

But, unlike some LEGO books, this isn't just about the pictures. The text is also really good. Brendan covers the four presidential assassinations and a great number of the attempts that have happened over the past two hundred years of US history. He takes great delight into going into some of the quirky facts around these cases, often delving into the odd backstories of the perpetrators. I felt that I knew a fair amount about some of these - Licoln, due to his importance to US history, Kennedy, because you can hardly turn on the History channel without some new documentary on him, and the attempt on Reagan's life, because I remember it quite well - but I still learned quite a lot on these, not to mention some of the less prominent attempts that I didn't know anything about. I was fascinated, and sat and read it cover to cover in about three hours, pausing to pore over the pictures.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. I still have several LEGO books to read through from this recent set of offerings, but I am fairly certain that the combination of great images and compelling text will make this my favorite LEGO book of 2013. Certainly all US AFOLs should get this, but I think that even non-Americans with an interest in history would find this quite enjoyable.

Blog-specific content - There is none.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Stefan Schindler built this version of the Rosetta, a European Space Agency probe currently on its way to a rendesvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

LEGO Adventure Book, Volume 2

LEGO Adventure Book, Volume 2 by Megan Rothrock, 2013, No Starch Press

Please note that I'm posting this same review across my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each review.

'Tis the season for new LEGO books. I've got a stack of new LEGO books to review, so over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting these reviews every couple of days. Last year, Megan Rothrock's LEGO Adventure book was among those that received my highest praise, and I'm so happy that she has continued her series with a second volume (and the book ends with "The adventure continues...", so we're promised at least a third volume, presumably this time next year). This book is very much in the same style as last year's volume. Meg's sig-fig travels around, meeting AFOLs from around the world, and along the way we get to see their great builds and get instructions and tips as to how to build our own versions.

Once again, Meg has assembled a great line-up of builders - three repeats from last year, and seven newcomers. Specifically she includes builds by herself, Mark Stafford, Are Heiseldal, Arjan Oude Kotte, Barney Main, Birgitte Jonsgard, Tommy Williamson, Tyler Clites, Marco den Besten, Yvonne Doyle, and retired LEGO designer (and the guy who designed the Yellow Castle!) Daniel August Krentz. Building styles include space, pirate, town, Friends, micro, post-apoc, among others.

I did see some differences between volume 1 and volume 2. It seems that the building directions are more detailed in this volume, which is nice. All of the builds have lists of what bricks you will need, which were missing from some of the directions in volume 1. There are fewer builders for the same number of pages, and I think this can be explained by the greater number of pages devoted to detailed building instructions, and also more additional models for those builders who were included. Also, this book has more of a story than volume 1. In the previous book Meg was simply visiting other builders. Here she is chasing the "Destructor" through these different LEGO lands. Whereever he goes, the Destructor destroys MOCs. This, then, gives Meg's sig fig the opportunity to help rebuild them. It's a nice device that then gives the excuse to include building instructions as part of the narrative. One suggestion would be to have shown the original MOCs before the Destructor came along, and then show the rebuilding. Since in a couple of places they note that the rebuild was not exactly the same as the original, this might be a good way to show that you can use LEGO to build in different ways. I liked that there was some inclusion of microscale, though the one model was still in a fig-scale world as a movie prop.

As I noted in my review of volume 1, this series is a celebration of the AFOL community. There are some nice inclusions that you pick up on if you know the community references or the people involved. For instance, Meg and Mark come across as partners in the book, reflecting their real-life relationship. Meg also includes a MOC of their dog, Bandit, who passed away this year (probably after the book went to print, now that I think of it). Tommy's MOCs are based around a movie set, reflecting his real-life profession. We get a reference to the Guilds of Historica project on Eurobricks. I was wondering if the reference to the CCC, the Council of Creative Constructionists, was a veiled reference to the Colossal Castle Contest or just a coincidence of acronyms. Other nods include the inclusion of post-apoc as a fan theme, a reference to online contests, and a micro rendition of the fan-favorite Galaxy Explorer. The community reference that most warmed my heart, though, was the inclusion of Vic Vipers. I know that Mark has previously worked a reference to the late Nnenn into an official set, and it was great to see these included, particularly in a book that came out during Novvember. I love these little peeks into the AFOL community, which are still subtle enough that people from outside the community can equally enjoy the book without feeling somehow out of the loop.

As with volume 1, I would give my highest recommendation for LEGO Adventure Book, Volume 2. The audience could range from a kid on up to a long-time AFOL; model difficulties range from intermediate to challenging; the variety of themes will have something for everyone. I'm very much looking forward to volume 3. One suggestion, if Meg happens to read this, is that in future volumes we should see Western and Ancient, two building areas that haven't been covered yet, and also some more exploration of scale, such as additional micro building and also things like miniland scale. I'd also love to see some licensed themes (Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Tolkien), but I completely understand how that might run into additional IP headaches when producing a book like this.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Hubble Telescope

A couple of days ago was the anniversary of Edwin Hubble's birth. Hubble was an extremely important astronomer in the first half of the last century, discovering distant galaxies and showing that the universe is expanding. Most people today know his name because of the orbiting Hubble Telescope (here built by GRusso) named in his honor.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Periodic table of the elements

The periodic table (here by Pedro Nogueira Photography) is one of the most enduring images of chemistry, adorning textbooks, classroom walls, and laboratories alike. Mendeleev first noticed that if you wrote a list of the elements in increasing size (he used mass, today we use atomic number), there is a repetition of properties. So based on this he wrote these into a two dimensional chart, where reading left to right you get increasingly large elements, and elements in a column has the same properties. It turns out this repetition in properties is based on a repeating pattern of how electrons are arranged in subsequent energy levels. Here different regions of the chart are color coded, with, for instance, the noble gases in orange and the transition metals in blue.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunrise Launch

Dave Shaddix helped put together this 5-foot-square mosaic of Sunrise Launch by Robert McCall with the help of visitors to the Challenger Space Center.