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Galactic Geographic Annual 3003
Karl Kofoed
Paper Tiger artbook £14.99 / $21.95

review by Steven Hampton

Although reminiscent of Robert Holdstock and Malcolm Edwards' pseudo-nonfiction Tour Of The Universe: The Journey Of A Lifetime (1980), the publishing origins of writer and artist Karl Kofoed's journalistic styled SF book predates the Holdstock and Edwards title by a couple of years. Galactic Geographic first appeared in Heavy Metal back in 1978 (perhaps inspired by the worldwide success of space operas like Star Wars during the late-1970s' general SF boom), and this volume (edited by Paul Barnett) collects illustrated articles from the magazine series. What's particularly striking is that, like Tour Of The Universe, this annual is far superior genre entertainment to all those Star Wars and Star Trek guidebooks, encyclopaedias, and technical manuals that have clogged the SF bookshop shelves over the last 20 years, and Paper Tiger should be applauded for bringing this intriguing material to a whole new readership.
   As with its principal inspiration and real world namesake National Geographic, but unlike the comedic approach of Douglas Adams' successful Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy radio series (which also debuted in 1978), the Galactic Geographic series tackles its subject matter with a fairly serious-minded manner: openly embracing notions of the frequently surprising wonders of nature, discovery of the unusual and extraordinary (in this case, alien life and spacefaring civilisations), scientific investigation of flora and fauna, and - this being SF - nonhuman societies, their natural habitats, and cultural traditions.
   Starting with the Myhr Zoological Gardens on Earth, a domed amusement park offering a unique learning experience in various closed environments of an adventure paradise, the book introduces its main alien races and samples of hard-won knowledge returned home by human colonial and preservationist efforts. All very elementary stuff for long-time fans of space opera, but a clever teaser for following chapters such as "Worlds of Wonder" - including instances of bizarre "Life on a Virgin Comet", and "Mission: To Save a Planet" - rescuing wildlife from a doomed world.
   There are profiles of intelligent alien species (blue tripods of the pragmatic Tsailerol, squid shaped aquatic Noron) that have joined the human-backed non-military Federation, a photo feature about diving into methane depths of the cryogenic ocean of a planet in the Rigel system, an explanation of various species' astro-mining techniques - which turn asteroid resources into starships, a listing of several weird items (some apparently alive) found in space, and an introduction to alien forms of music.
   Kofoed (who casts himself in role of chief cartographer aboard starship Houston in this book) does not ignore the political dimension of human exploration and expansionism, addressing issues surrounding the colonial imperative of non-interference in the weirdly threatening biospheres of alien worlds, and radical policies designed to combat probable space pests and weeds, deal with potential hazards to interstellar trade, and take official control of numerous dangerously addictive drugs found on other worlds.
   Perhaps the centrepiece of this book, and certainly I think, the most enjoyable slice of SF here upholding the Clarke tradition, is "A Meeting of Civilisations," which sees humans joining Tsailerol and Noron explorers on a Federation expedition to contact the highly advanced WO, whose home star is surrounded by a grid-like Dyson sphere, protecting their planet's decidedly peculiar caste society of drone workers, keepers, builders, and tooling shapeshifters.
   The winning combination of cut 'n' paste photos, original paintings, tech diagrams and explanatory sketches, with some pages of powerful collage layouts, makes this Galactic Geographic annual a superbly presented example of imaginative genre writing and art (albeit ostensibly from 1,000 years in the future). It would make a fine gift for any keen SF fan, of any age group.
Galactic Geographic

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