Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Human Machine (George B. Bridgman)

The Human Machine
George B. Bridgman
Nonfiction, Art
**** (Good)

The Human Machine
DESCRIPTION: The art of drawing the human figure is often taught as a series of bones and muscles to be memorized and replicated, without consideration of the dynamic kinetics that make a body truly live. Bridgman presents human anatomy in terms of its remarkable mechanical structure.

REVIEW: Yet another part of my ongoing efforts to improve my dubious artistic skills... With many illustrations, Bridgman demonstrates the hidden mechanics of joints, muscles, and bones. The text makes for occasionally interesting reading, as well. It is similar to the previous Bridgman book I've read (Constructive Anatomy, reviewed previously on this blog here), but with a different angle of presentation to avoid being a complete retread. I'd like to believe I learned something from its pages, though this kind of book takes more than one pass-through to fully appreciate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Ring of Solomon (Jonathan Stroud)

The Ring of Solomon
(A Bartimaeus novel)
Jonathan Stroud
Disney Hyperion
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon
DESCRIPTION: As the glory of Egypt's pharaohs wane, a new power rises near the shores of the Great Sea. From his mighty capital in Jerusalem, the influence of the famed King Solomon spreads across the ancient world, fueled by his legendary wisdom, his political savvy... and a powerful ring, with which he can summon ten thousand demons in the blink of an eye, should the wisdom and savvy fail. With it, he has brought peace and prosperity to his nation and many others, and attracted the greatest magicians in the known world to his service.  No fewer than seventeen powerful mages labor under King Solomon's command - each and every one of them with a covetous eye on the ring. All attempts to steal the ring, by rivals or magicians or angered spirits, have ended terribly... thus far.
Asmira serves the glorious Queen of Sheba, a prosperous Arabian nation, with her body, mind, and soul. Like her mother before her, she has risen far in the hereditary guard of Queen Balkis, her silver blades ever ready to defend her liege against attacks mundane and magical. When messengers from Solomon demand tribute, lest the Ring's demonic armies lay waste to the realm, the queen sends Asmira to kill the Israeli king and steal his ring - for a lone assassin might slip close enough to succeed where others have failed, especially one with a beautiful, young face like Asmira's.
Bartimaeus of Uruk has suffered many indignities in the two thousand years since he was first named and summoned to Earth from beyond, but his slavery in Solomon's Jerusalem is by far his worst incarnation ever. Tortured and humiliated daily by the sadistic mage Khaba, the djinni has long since lost hope of being dismissed from service before his overtaxed essence dwindles out of existence. He cannot even vent his frustration with his usual pithy remarks and petty disobedience, with the threat of the Ring of Solomon hovering over the head of every man, woman, and spirit in Jerusalem's walls.
On a long and dusty desert road, in the aftermath of a devastating bandit raid, Asmira and Bartimaeus meet. Each has a vested interest in the destruction of the Ring of Solomon... but can either afford to trust the other?

REVIEW: Technically a prequel of sorts, taking place some three thousand years before Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy (reviewed previously on this blog), one needn't be familiar with Bartimaeus's previously published adventures to enjoy this book, though a few passing remarks here and there foreshadow events in the trilogy. As in the previous books, the sparkling wit enhances a truly interesting story, rather than distracting from it. Also as before, the characters all have important lessons to learn, and apply them in ways I didn't always anticipate. It lost half a star for the intrusion of modern terminology into the ancient world setting, but otherwise it fully lived up to the standards set by Stroud's previous stories. I'd happily read more stories of Bartimaeus if this level of quality endures.
(I admit I'm still concerned about the Disney Hyperion publisher switch, and the implied attempts at a Bartimaeus movie franchise...)

Friday, July 1, 2011

ABC of Lettering (Carl Holmes)

ABC of Lettering
Carl Holmes
Walter Foster Books
Nonfiction, Art
*** (Okay)
abc of Lettering By Carl Holmes #34
DESCRIPTION: Since the development of written language, the creation of letters has been as much about art as about clear communication. In modern times, the demand for unique, artistic, yet readable fonts is as high as ever. This book describes how to create various versions of the English alphabet to convey various emotions and ideas, for the hobbyist or jobbing artist.

I've long had a peculiar fascination with fonts, as my bulging Windows Font folder attests, and though I've never had the time or guts to attempt designing any myself, I still enjoy browsing them. This book, which was free to me, seemed to fit in with that interest. To a certain degree, I found it interesting. Holmes touches on the four basic font families and their origins, then goes on to discuss some basic tools and design considerations. Unfortunately, that's about it so far as instructions go. Only a couple fonts had anything resembling a how-to when it came to layouts and inking/brushing. Though the pages are packed with examples of various fonts - literally, beyond the point of crowding out the text - only a handful are actually labeled, which seemed like a bit of an oversight. While the information - what there is of it - still seems valid, despite the publication date (I couldn't find a specific year, though it was before household computers were anything but a science fiction prop), I felt like there were reams of useful information that were cut to make room for the overwhelming clutter of advertising typeface examples. Less visual clutter and more clear instructions would've been nice. Considering the price, and the overall age of the book, I don't feel inclined to judge it too harshly... and, though most of the examples were visually distracting, I admit I kinda liked seeing the many different moods fonts could express.