Monday, 14 July 2014

Lost In Space

Having recently wallowed in Classic Space nostalgia with my review of Set 918 One Man Space Ship and in the process touched on the Neo Classic Space movement, I figured it'd be the perfect time to run the rule over what could conceivably be described as the Neo Classic Space handbook, A.K.A. LEGO Space - Building the Future. This book has been out for a while now, but as there were a glut of reviews upon its initial release I decided to hold fire and let the dust settle before diving in and sharing my thoughts on it. The timing's actually perfect right now, given the recent reveal of Set 21109 Exo-Suit, but more of that later.... Before I get started, I need to declare an interest - I know the guys responsible for putting this book together, so bias is possible.... That having been said, as you'll hopefully have seen from previous reviews on Gimme LEGO, good or bad I'll call it as I see it, so let's begin.

First impressions are extremely positive. My hardback copy of the book is a surprisingly weighty tome and looks gorgeous. The 24 cm x 28 cm front cover (above) has a predominantly matt finish, but the image of the spaceship is glossy and therefore 'pops' impressively, giving the impression that the ship is literally flying out of the cover. The back cover (below) uses a similar trick to highlight six panels which provide a sneak peak of a selection of images that you'll find within. Opening the book reveals 218 thick, glossy pages, and overall the book feels like it's been expertly put together and with laudable attention to detail, all of which bodes well for the actual content.

Authors Peter "Legoloverman" Reid and Tim "Rogue Bantha" Goddard are stalwarts of the Neo Classic Space scene and accomplished and renowned LEGO builders to boot, so levels of anticipation were high when news of this book started to leak out. I've frequently featured their creations on the pages of Gimme LEGO over the past few years, for instance here and here, and I was one of those eagerly awaiting the book's release. I was particularly intrigued to discover what form the book would take; my best guess was that it'd contain pictures of Pete and Tim's Neo Classic Space MOCs together with the original LEGO sets that inspired them, plus maybe the Neo Classic Space 'building rules'. I was partly right, but as it turned out the book goes well beyond what I'd imagined.

Rather than just being a showcase for Pete and Tim's superb space-related MOCs, the book tells a story. This begins with a brief history of space exploration to date before venturing into one possible future taken straight from the fertile imaginations of the authors. The journey is illustrated by way of a large number of exquisite photographs provided by Ian Greig and Chris Salt, the latter perhaps better known for his excellent stop motion LEGO animation. What particularly stands out for me about the photographs are the glorious backdrops; as you'll see from some of the sample images I've included here, such as the picture of Voyager 2 above, it's easy at times to forget that you're looking at LEGO such is the quality of the builds, and the superb backdrops really help to reinforce the illusion.

As previously stated, the first few pages of LEGO Space set the scene for what's to come by providing a factual if highly selective potted history of space exploration to date. The launch of Sputnik (above) in October 1957 is the starting point, followed by the Apollo landings, then Voyager 1 and Voyager 2's tours of the solar system and beyond in the late 1970's, and most recently the exploration, mapping and analysis of the surface of Mars by Opportunity and Curiosity (below).

With the scene appropriately set, we quickly move from reality into fantasy, whereupon the authors can really let their creative juices flow.... A possible Neo Classic Space vision of mankind's future is laid out for us, starting with the birth of the Federation in the middle of the 21st century and the establishment of a permanent lunar colony in the Sea of Tranquility. Profits arising from robotic lunar mining then help to finance the establishment of a permanent base in the Cydonia region of Mars. Construction of a frontier space station in orbit around Jupiter follows soon after with a view to outer-system expansion and exploration, and it's from here that the Federation's Inhospitable Climate Engineering (ICE) teams set out to explore Jupiter's moons and unwittingly set in motion a train of events that will threaten humanity's very existence....

While the Sci-fi story within the pages of LEGO Space is admittedly somewhat basic, what it does do is provide the book with a unique and welcome personality, something sorely lacking from many other LEGO-related titles. It would have been all too easy for LEGO Space to have ended up as a slick, sterile volume of photographs of cool MOCs and nothing else, but the inclusion of the backstory lifts it to another level, providing welcome context to the featured models and drawing the reader in. A nice touch is the naming of certain characters in the story after longstanding members of the AFOL community; they must be pleased as punch to get an affectionate name check !

Whole chapters of the book focus on spaceships, such as those above, and other vehicles germane to the story. This of course provides the perfect opportunity to showcase some of Pete and Tim's superb Neo Classic Space designs including a couple of my all-time favourites - LL-497 Explorer and LL-605 Marauder - not to mention Peter Reid's celebrated Exo Suit (below). This model, as many of you will know, provides the basis for the imminently available LEGO Ideas Set 21109 Exo-Suit having secured 10,000 votes on the LEGO Ideas platform and subsequently been given the green light by LEGO to go into production.

At various points within LEGO Space there are brief interludes in the form of building instructions for micro-build models with relevance to the story, such as Sputnik. There are some great-looking little builds included, although some readers may struggle to find the necessary elements in their collections to build the models as there are some fairly specialised parts used. Even so, it's a nice touch which adds further value to the book.

Overall, I really can't recommend this book enough, and trust me when I say that I'd be raving about it regardless of whether or not I knew the authors. It's beautifully presented, it's packed with inspiring MOCs and fabulous photographs, and everything is held together and given welcome context by an interesting Sci-fi backstory. Regardless of whether you're a child of the 1960's or 1970's and fondly remember LEGO's Classic Space sets from when you were a youngster, or whether you're a younger LEGO fan with an interest in space, you'll love this book.

At time of writing, UK-based readers can purchase LEGO Space here for the bargain price of £12.24 (an absolute steal I reckon) including shipping while folks in the US can get it here for $15.78. Although I didn't have to pay for my copy - thank-you to LEGO Space publisher No Starch Press for sending me a review copy - this is one book that I'd have had no hesitation in shelling out for myself. Epic !

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