Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Review: A Field Guide to Surreal Botany edited by Janet Chui & Jason Erik Lundberg

Part of the Blog-About-Surreal-Botany Day over at Lundblog.

When one runs into a book like A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, I don't quite know how to react. On one hand, it's great that literary fantasy is exploring books like these, the closest comparison in recent years is Jeff Vandermeer's The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. On the other hand, with my tabletop gaming experience, another analogy would be Dungeons & Dragons's Monster Manuals or Tome of Artifacts books minus the game rules and these types of publications have been around for decades. Fiction presented in a nonfiction manner is a particular novelty and that probably sums up what this particular book is like: not necessarily something I'd want to read regularly but good in small doses.

Having said that, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany is a superb book, production-wise if nothing else. Various contributors showcase fictional plants that take on supernatural (even science fictional) aspects, each one as bizarre and ingenious as the entry preceding it. The book has a consistent format but don't let that fool you: the various authors own up to their entries, infusing it with their own sensibilities. For example, both Jay Lake and Steve Berman include easter eggs (referencing SF authors and a certain monthly writing event respectively) in their entries yet each one does it differently. Others fit more with the author's personality or background, such as Vera Nazarian's Russian-based flora. The book however wouldn't be what it is without its impressive art. Each entry is accompanied by an appropriate illustration and as far as I could tell, Chui does a faithful interpretation of the contributor's descriptions.

The book isn't particularly long (less than a hundred pages) but for a work such as this, the length seems just right. If there's anyone who rises to the forefront, it's probably Chui and her artwork. A Field Guide to Surreal Botany is a great mine for ideas or if you simply want something different to read. This is certainly a book that'll stick out and make a fine addition to anyone's library--and perhaps a book you might want to pass along to your friends.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

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