Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The LEGO Adventure Book

Name of Book: The LEGO Adventure Book
Created by: Megs(Megan Rothrock)
Available at: Amazon and wherever books are sold. (Disclosure: LMOTD received a review copy)
Details: LEGO idea books turn out to be a surprisingly difficult concept today. Sure, there are many classics, going back to the 60's, but there hasn't been a new one since 1997. After all, since 1995, most LEGO lines have been short-lived play themes - it doesn't make sense for LEGO to publish great ideas for using parts that aren't likely to be easy for kids to find just a year or two later. That 1997 idea book was largely out of date by 1999. The rise of the internet hasn't helped either - usually an adult fan will post photos of great uses for new parts almost as soon as the kits come out.

The LEGO Adventure Book, written by former LEGO designer Megan Rothrock, was pitched to Brickset as something of a sequal to the classic 6000-1 Idea Book. While the Adventure Book does have some things in common with the official idea books, it really doesn't feel much like one. This isn't a small book on magazine-grade paper - it's a solid, 200 page hardcover tome. The brightly colored photos are accompanied by English-language text, which continues an adventure story through the whole book. Of somewhat more interest to LMOTD readers, though, is the 14 sections dedicated to specific builders besides the author. Real names, screen names, professions, nationalities, and URLs are given for each builder before a grouping of their models are showcased. The list of builders featured (they have an index on the last page) should sound pretty familiar: Craig Mandeville, Are J. Heiseldal, Moritz Nolting, Jon Hall, Pete Reid, Peter Morris, Mark Stafford, Aaron Andrews, Mike Psiaki, Katie Walker, Carl Greatrix, Sylvain Amacher, and Daniel August Krentz.

Page 8 introduces us to "Megs", the book's main character, and the next 8 pages show us how to build her "Idea Lab". From there we follow her through a number of "worlds" in her "Transport-o-lux". Megs is a minifigure version of the author, and all of the other builders introduced in the book are also shown as minifigures.

It's hard to say how well the LEGO Adventure Book will stand the test of time - the biggest drawback with idea books. It does make use of parts and colors that may turn out to be short-lived. Right from the beginning, we see parts used that are new for 2012 and unlikely to be readily available to kids in any meaningful quantity. Many of the themes represented will clearly appeal to certain age groups (there are two sections that touch on the Yellow Castle, one classic Space-inspired section, and sections for both Power Miners and Friends). Page 15 shows a great bookshelf technique, but the ends of the shelf are a part that's already been discontinued. In some cases (like the zoo scene), hard-to-find and long-discontinued parts are a major part of a scene that can't easily be worked around. The concept behind idea books has always been to inspire kids to build with parts they already have, and it's likely that this book will have no problem inspiring builders in the future. Some of these models will be out of reach for anyone whose collection doesn't span a few decades, but most of the designs are workable or at least easy to modify to whatever parts are available.

While featuring a variety of fan creations makes it easy to showcase great ideas and tie in with additional material online, it also increases the complexity of the models and the odds that kids won't be able to find the parts (or even be familiar with what sort of parts they're looking at). The various sections highlighting hobbyists and their MOCs are more like the official idea books, in that they largely show completed models that fit a particular theme (along with high-level instructions for a few of the models). While these sections are similar to what many LEGO blogs online already cover (ahem), they look great and serve to canonize a few models in a more concrete way than we can on the internet. However, the URLs are susceptible to the same time-sensitive issues as LEGO part selection - if any of these builders' flickr accounts cease to be accessible in the future, it won't be possible to view their other creations any more (of course, that's also the strongest argument for putting highlights of the hobby community into books like this one in the first place).

I was impressed with the variety of themes represented. The official idea books were always somewhat limited in that they stuck with common themes that LEGO sold sets in, but here, unofficial themes fit in nicely next to the "real" ones. Steampunk and mecha have been staples of LEGO conventions for years, and it was about time someone showed them and explained them in a straight-forward, kid-friendly manner that could be perused away from the convention crowds.

The techniques don't disappoint here either. A number of obscure and seemingly useless parts show up in clever places, all across the book. A "rock dragon" in the Power Miners section is a perfect excuse to show Hero Factory parts in a useful context, and probably my personal pick for the most clever model here. The written advice helps as well - concepts like "mirroring" sections of a model or cutting stickers for details can be explained quickly (as compared with in LEGO instruction books, where complete assemblies are pictures multiple times when they're largely the same).

The LEGO Adventure Book is both a welcome addition to the "idea book" genre and easy to appreciate as a hard-copy document of some of the online LEGO community's best work. The story's ending is a surprising and satisfying twist, although I'm not sure kids will appreciate it as much as seasoned fans (I suppose that's what they generally call "fun for the whole family"). We are (admittedly) biased towards this book due to having covered much of the same ground here, but I was surprised by how strong the book is - after all, idea books are rocky territory.

The LEGO Adventure Book is available starting today from No Starch Press. We've previously featured some of author Megan Rothrock's work. She was kind enough to join us at BrickMagic 2010, while she was still working for The LEGO Group.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I never really thought about the durability or whether the book would stand up to the test of time. I did wonder a bit about the difficulty of the sample models. I was going to have a much much more complicated cheesy model, and then very deliberately cut it to a much smaller model. It gets the idea across without being too overly difficult, I hope.