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Galactic Geographic Annual 3003

by Karl Kofoed

(Paper Tiger, 128 pages, large format paperback, $21.95 / £14.99; 24 April 2003.)

Noted illustrator and art director Karl Kofoed has been creating his scientifically ideal vision of the future in an ongoing series for Heavy Metal magazine since 1998. cover scanCreated and introduced in the 1970s under the title Galactic Geographic, it describes, in magazine format, Earth's encounters with other worlds a thousand years in the future, and tackles issues that arise when humans interact with alien lifeforms.

Galactic Geographic Annual 3003 is a collection of reprints of these pieces. It is Kofoed's wonderfully fertile imagination captured between the soft covers of a trade paperback that runs the gamut between interesting and fascinating, although upon first perusal one might be fooled into thinking that this unusually realistic fantasy art book features pictures and descriptions of several bona fide scientific discoveries. By using colourful illustrations, cleverly designed (though occasionally anachronistic) photographs and faux-reportage of the type found in commercial science magazines, the artist/author is able to transport us to his future world with a startlingly realistic immediacy. So realistic, in fact, that we could easily pretend this is a not work of fiction -- that is, until we see a photograph of men and women in contemporary clothing in an extended "advertisement" for a future-world vacationland early in the book.

Kofoed's future is one of discovery, problem and solution -- a scientist's fantasyland. And, though the magazine template he utilized to guide us through it was perhaps not the wisest choice he could have made (for reasons I'll go into later), his commercial science journal expository fits snugly within it. Like certain artists I've come across who attempt writing, he is prone to the occasional awkward sentence or redundancy ("The painting, shown on the opposite page, shows..."). They are not frequent or glaring enough, however, to detract from the entire body of the work, especially the picturesque worlds, oddly believable aliens and logical scientific equipment he has vividly illustrated for us in textbook-like detail.

For instance, we are introduced to a life form (the Tsailerol) that can be both phallic and vulval in appearance. We examine an ecologically created greenhouse on an icy virgin comet. We become familiar with the aquatic, octopus-like Noron race, and are told how a superior species overcomes problems in developing a starship filled with water. The question, "Who are the WO?" is answered for us while we read of other extraterrestrial discoveries. Though they are seemingly separate at first exposure, the reader soon realizes that each article is part of an intricately unified future history to which we are being exposed, one topic at a time.

But, as creative as this concept is, and as well executed as the artwork is and as detailed (but always understandable) as the future science is, I still have some presentational issues with this book that extend far beyond a couple of anachronistic photographs. I think they're best explained by walking you through my confounding first impressions.

I first had to keep assuring myself that this is a trade paperback book, and not a super-slick magazine. The cover is so similar in style to a National Lampoon parody -- in this case, of National Geographic -- that my first thought would have been to relocate it on the periodicals rack of my local bookstore if I had picked it up in the fantasy book section. And its subtitle, Annual 3003, only added to the confusion. Would there be an issue next year, another one thousand years in the future, I wondered? And, if this is a book, why isn't the author's name on the cover or spine? All these questions were answered -- sort of -- when I glanced at the cover price. At $21.95, it's an outrageous price for a magazine though of course perfectly acceptable for a quality trade paperback art book.

Further confusion awaited me on the index page. Author Kofoed was listed for "Annual Creation and Production" and Paul Barnett as "Editor". That's clear enough. But Jan Pagh-Kofoed was credited as being the "Inter-species Editor". What is an "Inter-species Editor" exactly? What did she contribute, if anything, to this book? It appeared that the author was intermingling 2003 and 3003 inexplicably -- or, worse yet, indiscernibly. Credit is also given on the "masthead" to various persons, some of whom I thought I recognized and some I didn't, for serving on Kofoed's planetary magazine bureaux. Was this a clever way of paying inspirational or personal tribute to these folks, or did they actually contribute to the book's contents? Since there was no credit given to any specific writer or artist in the first 61 pages of the book, I assumed it all to be the original work of the author. But then on page 62 a piece is bylined "Story and pictures by Karl Kofoed". Why? And on page 100 "Article by Galactic Geographer Karl Kofoed" appears. Why, again? Of course, I was now forced to wonder who was responsible for the imaginative artwork that accompanied the piece, since it was not credited. I also began to wonder why none of the other articles in the book had bylines.

Until one gets the feel for exactly what's going on here, this can range from confusing to downright annoying. Bottom line: there should have been a clarifying statement inserted at the very beginning of the book to explain its concept and format, prepare us for what was to follow, and give proper credit to Kofoed (and others, if applicable) for its contents. The author could also have used the page for his acknowledgments. For the benefit of dolts like myself, this would have been quite helpful. At the very least, I would have been certain from the get-go that this was a book I was holding in my hands and not a parody magazine.

But, now that I've cleared up this first-impression vagueness for you (no thanks needed there, Mr Kofoed!), you can enjoy this book as the author intended. And please do: there is much within to delight you and cause you to think for yourself about how we might exist a thousand years from now. (That is, if we humans make it that far...) And intrigue you, too -- in a good way, of course.

Review by Randy M Dannenfelser.

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