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Worlds: A Mission of Discovery (英語) ハードカバー – 2008/1
"Worlds" is more than just an absorbing and, ultimately, heart-wrenching work of fiction, it is a visual masterpiece. Not since Wayne Barlowe's "Expedition" has an artist conceived an alien biosphere in such baroque detail, while remaining true to nature's fundamental principles of adaptation, selection, and ecological interdependence. These worlds are intricately conceived, their biomes scientifically plausible, while possessing a sufficient sense of the quirky and outrageous to mirror nature's own outlandish inventiveness. "Worlds" is a visual depiction of humankind's first exploration of life-supporting planets, shown in a dynamic verite photographic style and told in a firstperson narrative. Created by Academy Award-nominated visual effects artist Alec Gillis, "Worlds" leads the reader on a journey to undiscovered landscapes, populated by unknown life forms.
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My problem with "Worlds" is that, while it does have the backing of some obviously talented film and CG artists, it doesn't really give you much bang for your buck. The author took a different track than Barlowe and chose only to show his creations through the camera lens of one man. This personalizes the experience of exploring alien environments and encountering alien creatures, but it also leaves a little too much to the imagination.
Several creatures are so big that they don't fit into the "photographer's" lens, so all you get is a giant mouth or a giant fin. They're weird looking mouths and fins, surely, but that's all you get. I wanted some accompanying sketches (surely the artists did some before modelling these beasts), and maybe some follow-up text on what the scientists on Earth though these things might be. The best bits of text are in an epilogue that I didn't bother reading for months because this was primarily a picture book.
Even though it's all science-fiction, I wanted more data. More photos. More sketches. I wanted these Worlds to be real, and in the end they don't come off any more important or memorable than any of the unnameable planets from the last few Star Wars movies. And like those films, the book here is beautiful but lacks substance.
The story premise is on space exploration. It is told in a photo essay way with captions and quotes. The write up is pretty interesting.
Here's an excerpt:
Toxicity analysis showed that a large portion of the creature's body was incompatible with my digestive system, so I carefully avoided those areas. Even so, after eating I became violently ill, suffering nausea and hallucinations for two days. I discovered the only edible tissue is the facia between the skin and muscle. Even that tastes like a shoe marinated in battery acid.
-- End excerpt
The pictures included in the book are amazing, and big. They look as if taken from a real camera, with details like depth of field. The creatures created are very realistic. I've absolutely no idea how they create those creatures. A quick look at the credits on the back suggest a combination of 3D and sculptures.
This is an interesting book that can be read as fast as a comic book.
(More pictures are available on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)
Imagine that you went to see a multimillion dollar film chronicling man's first exploration of life supporting planets. Imagine that the filmakers of this movie spared no expense and achieved a photo-real, seemless FX that would be spoken of as the visual equal to the best award winning FX movies of the past twenty-five years.
If you take that imaginary film and make a photobook out of it you have an idea of just how fantastic this book is.
My one gripe is that the book gives ABSOLUTLEY NO HINT as to how these wonderful images were made. Note to Design Studio Press - make a book on the MAKING of this Book.
But I've got a few bones to pick with Gillis. For one thing, he is not a zoologist, and it shows: he seldom explains the finer anatomical intricacies of the creatures he has created, their ontogenies, or much about their ecological importance; instead, me mostly concentrates on their appearance, which usually incites some kind of visceral (and often negative) emotion in a human, making plain his Hollywood background. In a similar vein, he is clearly oblivious to taxonomic nomenclature: Gillis capitalizes the species and genus names of his creations (for instance, Infestus Liberi), rather than only the latter, as is proper. Another oversight on his part is the decidedly Earth-like appearance of Proxima Centauri 4 (with its jungles, ice-caps, oceans, etc.) and its biota: the flora has chlorophyll, and thus the atmosphere is conveniently suitable for the marooned hero of the book, while the fauna and ecosystems are not as alien as Gillis could have made them, with much of the construction of both decidedly familiar to Earthlings. Infestus, for instance, are indicated on p. 113 to have "compound eyes." I personally find it highly doubtful that alien life forms would evolve eyes in the first place, much less ones so closely matching the structure of those belonging to our familiar arthropods. As a final criticism, the word "breaching" is replaced with "breeching" on p. 95. This is a bit more irritating (to me, at least) than it might sound.
In conclusion, I would say that Worlds will definitely satisfy most people looking for extraterrestrial thrills, as it reads much like a good science-fiction novel and less like a xenobiology textbook, while its stunning (and even artistic) pictures never disappoint (at least in my case). However, if you're a conjectural zoology geek, you would probably do better to purchase Expedition (which is near-flawless, in my opinion), with its detailed and somehow more realistic profiles of the organisms and ecosystems of Darwin IV.
I found out about this book in this way:
- Watched "Alien Planet", the docufiction Discovery channel version of the book Expedition, on Netflix. Loved it.
- Researched the world of Expedition by Wayne Barlow.
- Stumbled into a mention of "Worlds" in one review of Expedition.
- Read the reviews of "Worlds" and eventually found the Youtube video released in 2013 of the making of the book.
- Found the book cheap on Ebay and bought a copy.
The book is written at a personal level: the traveler is one US citizen named Jefferson Brooks, who was part of a pool of interstellar astronaut candidates from multiple countries, groomed from childhood to be a viable candidate for the trip. The voyage is set around 2070. The two significant scientific jumps made in the backstory are an antimatter based propulsion system which enables near light speed travel for a good part of the trip; and human suspended animation.
As the forward written by James Cameron points out, the first interstellar exploration may well be made with an enormous propulsion system tethered to an extremely mass-limited payload consisting of the bare minimum in life support and supplies.
Brooks appears to be selected as a candidate for the "Worlds" program because he is both introverted and self motivated as well as physically superior to most men his age - an Olympian who is also an intellectual who can amuse himself.
A very brutal synopsis could be: "Worlds" is "Castaway." But without an ocean, without a possibility of quick rescue, without "Wilson," and without a clearly happy ending. (Fun fact about the author, Alec Gillis: He is a special effects expert who actually did work on the film "Castaway." I wonder if that influenced the story here?)
The plot of the story (without giving everything away) is essentially: the voyage to the star system, Proxima Centauri is perfect, by-the-book; reconnaissance of two different environmentally hostile worlds that bear very strange life forms is uneventful (except that some equipment is destroyed on one of those planets); forced landing on a third roughly Earth like planet that resembles the Earth a couple of billion years after planetary formation (IE, massive vulcanism) but also covered in significant green forests. Once on the planet Brooks discovers and relates to some life forms after a fashion; suffers a huge loss of life support equipment; struggles for survival; makes some incredible discoveries, including one that is mind blowing; and... that's it, folks. There is about as much square inchage devoted to story text as there is the photography, which is described in other reviews as cinema verite' style.
I had that giddy feeling of true discovery in reading the story, even though it's fictional. The team that produced this book did a superb job of creating a realistic, plausible story about a dedicated scientist and explorer and loving family man on a dangerous, ultimately fatal journey. I called it a "graphic novel". It's live photography and model based imagery but augmented with Photoshop. It's visually as stunning as is the story.
There is an exciting postscript to the main story in the last several pages, as Brook's daughter makes the same voyage a couple of decades later and makes additional stunning discoveries.
My big beefs: this book is TOO LITTLE, and the story begins and ends with this somewhat disregarded book. There is apparently no fan community, no audio book version, and no fanfic based on the story. I feel that a great major motion picture is possible using this story as its basis. The ending of the book sets things up for a sequel. And there is a possible backstory of galactic proportions (again, another spoiler) that would make a great additional franchise. The neat thing is, this story is set within the lifetime of today's children. That gives the story a lot of immediacy where most interstellar exploration stories are set centuries down the road.
For whatever reason, this book has gotten almost no attention and that's a shame. It's a masterpiece.