Monday, January 23, 2006

alexander's the $64 tomato

William Alexander had always dreamed of having his own garden, where he can grow his own organic, healthy fruit and vegetables. When his family moves to the Hudson Valley, he gets his dream – there’s more than enough land for his vegetable garden, his apple orchard, his wife’s flower garden, and a swimming pool for the family. Alexander’s done his research; he knows what crops to plant and when, what type of fencing he’ll need, and how to defend his garden against predators. What he hasn’t counted on were the problems that would crop up – that planting sod around the swimming pool would kill his corn, or that planting rosebushes would kill the sod. On top of the organic problems, there’s also landscaping contractors who are always behind schedule, a gardener who is a dead ringer for Christopher Walken, a groundhog that’s figured out how to get through a 10,000 electric volt fence, and the deer that think his garden is a feast for them. After years of fighting pests, Alexander realizes that there is no such thing as an organic garden in the Northeast and that, for each tomato he’s taken from his garden, he’s spent $64; ultimately, what was once his hobby has become a second full-time job. Throughout it all, Alexander manages to maintain a sense of humor, riffing on everything from the ugliness of garden ornaments to the politics of giving away vegetables to friends. The hilarious horticultural memoir manages to impart an existential lesson on the interconnectedness of nature and the fine line between nurturing and killing.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

knoll's creating the worlds of star wars: 365 days

Star Wars Visual effects supervisor-in-charge, John Knoll, serves as a tour guide on a behind-the-scenes journey into the worlds of Star Wars. This addition to the 365 Days series is the only Star Wars book that covers all six films in the series. The book is a comprehensive visual effects resource that includes breathtaking 360-degree panoramic shots of sets and models, as well as concept art, props, film stills, and memorabilia. Knoll includes first hand descriptions of both the shots and techniques that made the movies a success. In addition to never before seen images, the book contains enough trivia to make any fan happy. The format is easy to read; each day includes one full-page photo on a facing page and a half a page narrative that explains the techniques in a way that even non-techies can understand. The size of the book lends itself to easy readability – it’s not a large book (6.5 by 9.5 inches and is 2.25 inches thick), which makes it easy to hold. Included with the book is a CD-ROM that contains over 100 QuickTime VR 360-degree panoramas. An extensive index allows for quick access to any photo.

meltzer's identity crisis

After the tragic death of Sue Debny, the wife of the Elongated Man, the members of the Justice League of America and most of the DC superheroes are brought together to investigate. Sue’s murder is unsettling for a couple of reasons: she was a friend and whoever committed the murder knew enough personal information to be able to sneak past JLA security. Even more troubling are the letters that the family members of other heroes receive, indicating that they are the next targets. The superheroes split into teams to follow the leads that they are most suited (pun not intended) to solve. While the script contains strong elements, it is writer Brad Meltzer’s ability to manipulate the reader with the heroes and villains’ characterization that makes him capture our imagination. Meltzer’s novel asks: how far do you go to protect your loved ones? What if everything you stand for goes against your need to protect your family? The story moves quickly and the full-color artwork is splendid. Illustrator Rags Morales captures human emotion in such a way that he breathes life and authenticity to the characters. Alex Sinclair did a superb job with the coloring; the dark somber tones perfectly set the mood of the story. Some of the action occurs off-screen – the flashback to Sue’s rape – which makes what happens even more dramatic and powerful. Featuring a good mystery, great fight scenes, and good writing, Identity Crisis is a good read for most fans of the DC universe.