Review: The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

The Where, The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science
The Where, The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science

If you liked Fantagraphics ornate-yet-hip bestiary Beasts! and you find yourself pondering such unknowables as “why do we have an appendix?” or “what existed before the Big Bang?” then hie thee to the library—pronto—to check out The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science.

Although the foreword by David “The Way Things Work” Macaulay might seem to imply the sort of exploded diagrams and exhaustively detailed explanations that made his books so popular in the 90s, the execution of The Where, the Why, and the How is much more Beasts-like. That is to say, you won’t walk away with any clearer sense of what’s behind some of science’s greatest mysteries (for instance how stars are born, or why do whales beach themselves) but you will be introduced to each concept by a specialist in that field and a graphic artist’s exquisite interpretation of said mystery.

Some illustrations are charmingly direct—for instance “Do Squirrels Remember Where They Bury Their Nuts” is accompanied by a picture of a squirrel studying a road map—and others are as evocative as they are clever—an elephant using a feather to fly in “Why Do Placebos Work?”. In the end, despite the cross section on the cover, The Where, the Why, and the How is no good at dissecting anything with great certainty, but it excels in showing that there is great beauty and possibility in all the things we do not yet know.

Review: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

I wish there was a better word than “nostalgia” to describe how I feel about Hope Larson’s graphic novel treatment of A Wrinkle in Time. That sort of old-timey word doesn’t really do justice to what’s elicited by the book – for me, it’s a mix of readerly affection, spooky wonder, and an inexplicable homesickness for places I’ve never been.

The details are impeccable – Larson did her homework before tackling the 1962 original, which broke ground as one of the first sci-fi novels published for children. In a piece for the Huffington Post, she describes poring over old Sears catalogs from the 1950s and 60s to get the look of the clothes just right. The exterior of Meg’s house is patterned after Madeleine L’Engle’s own rambling farmhouse in Connecticut. And her depictions of all the book’s science-y stuff are so engaging I’d kind of like Larson to do a book on physics next.

But while the visual accuracy is spot on, Larson really shines in recreating the novel’s powerful evocations of space, and of human imperfection vs. cold and rational evil. She uses the same palette of white, light blue and black that Craig Thompson utilized to such great effect in Blankets, and here the color scheme is perfect for depicting such things as the darkness of the night sky, the whorls and stars that accompany time travel, and the lenses in Meg’s thick, unfashionable glasses. The effect is both dreamlike and specific.

Most of the dialogue is lifted directly from L’Engle’s text – making the book immediately familiar to fans of the original. She is also true to the characters – Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit are at once old-school wacky and otherworldly wise, while Charles Wallace is every bit the child savant you’d expect. As for Meg, Larson subtly captures her awkwardness and discomfort being in her own skin.  Prone to big emotions and unsure of how to handle herself, Meg’s biggest flaws – her inability to contain her fear and love – are in fact what save the day. Larson’s depiction of this, the novel’s pivotal moment, is lovely and affecting.

It’s a feat that this book is both a faithful rendition and yet utterly contemporary. Larson gets  L’Engle’s belief in family and home and a universe that works, while using the conventions of graphic novel-making to bring forth the novel’s sense of wonder, mystery and possibility. It’s a great experience on its own and well-worth a visit if it’s been a while since you’ve read the original.

Review: Marceline and the Scream Queens #1

I have always wanted to rock.

Circumstances, of course, conspired against me — I grew up in the beatless backwater of the Spokane Valley, I was just a few years too old to latch on to the whole Riot Grrrl thing, and the few boyfriends I had were sorely lacking in guitars or drum kits.

But now there is Marceline. With her pale blue skin, cute (but sharp!) vampire teeth and an ever-swirling cloud of inky black hair, Marceline (of Adventure Time fame and star of her own new comic series) gets to live out every guitar-thrashing fantasy I’ve ever had. Playing to a sold out crowd? Check. Kicking over mic stands amid sweet, pyrotechnic excess? Check. Having a frenemy come crawling back to say “your music is pure passion and energy and love?” Check, check, check.

Everything about this comic is endearing and feisty and girly-in-the-best-kind-of-way. I love the interaction between grumpy, excitable Marceline and straight arrow, goody-two-shoes Princess Bubblegum. It’s refreshing to read girl-centered comics, and it’s great fun to see a supporting character from one series step into the limelight in another. More, please!

John Scalzi on becoming a “self-made man”

I’ve been a big John Scalzi fan ever since reading his collection of essays on writing, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to the Coffee Shop. As a librarian, I’m an even bigger fan after reading his essay “A Self-Made Man Looks at How He Made It.”

Scalzi, who is the author of eight novels (including the Hugo Award nominee Old Man’s War), writes about how his success is in direct relation to all the help he received along the way, from the food stamps, free lunches and public schooling of his youth to the scholarships and grants that helped get him through college. Not surprisingly, he includes the public library in his list of societal goods:

“Not having to wonder how I was going to eat meant my attention could be given to other things, like reading wonderful books. As a child, many of the books I read and loved came from the local libraries where I lived. I can still remember going into a library for the first time and being amazed — utterly amazed — that I could read any book I wanted and that I could even take some of them home, as long as I promised to give each of them back in time. I learned my love of science and story in libraries. I know now that each of those libraries were paid for by the people who lived in the cities the libraries were in, and sometimes by the states they were in as well. I owe the taxpayers of each for the love of books and words.”

The entire piece is here — it’s really an eloquent and grateful meditation on generosity, whether it’s in the form of paying taxes to continue social programs or extending oneself to help a complete stranger, and how those actions have far-reaching consequences. Wonderful, thought-provoking stuff.

Review: Railsea


Call him Sham ap Soorap.

Go ahead. The references to Moby Dick in China Miéville’s cheerfully high-literary YA novel Railsea are as obvious as they are intentional. There’s the inexperienced young protagonist. There’s the vessel that’s seen better days. There’s the captain who can’t let go of the chase (even if it means losing a limb), and finally there’s the quarry — a great albino beast who seems to be leading the vessel and crew farther from shore and deeper into danger.

What there isn’t, however, is an ocean. It’s a remarkable act of world-building brio to attempt reworking Moby Dick within a largely waterless world but somehow Miéville pulls it off, and he does so by overlaying the vast, dry, ocean beds with thousands of miles of branching, intertwining, and even looping railroad track. In this bleak dystopian world whaling boats and cetaceans have long since given way to moletrains and rodentia. Continue reading Review: Railsea