Infinite Worlds
by Ray Villard and Lynette R. Cook, illustrator
(University of California Press, 272 pages, $39.95, April 2005)


The Grand Tour: A Travelers Guide to the Solar System
by Ron Miller and William K. Hartmann
(Workman, 304 pages, $19.95 paperback, $29.95 hardback, 3rd edition, 2005)

David A. Hardy

A Science Shelf Guest Review by David A. Hardy,
published with permission of the author, shown here in a self portrait as a biker on Mars

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The Grand Tour first appeared in 1981. In 1993 a second, updated edition was published. Another dozen years have passed, and now we have an entirely new edition, which makes full use of the wealth of data from space probes. It is, of course, primarily an art book, but it contains a wealth of information too, and there are also photographs.

Rather than starting with the Sun and working their way out, the authors dodge around the Solar System, starting with "The Major Worlds," which they visit in diminishing order of size, starting (obviously) with Jupiter. After Mars they move on to Ganymede, Titan, then Mercury, and so on. In Part 2 they visit "Selected Smaller Worlds," and again the order seems somewhat random, ending with asteroids and comets. A final section leaves our system altogether, and looks at extrasolar worlds. I did feel that some landscapes, such as Mars, Venus, Titan and Io are too vividly red and would have benefited from more subtle tones.

Both authors are prolific writers and also artists, but it is interesting that while Hartmann (also an astronomer) has stayed with traditional media, Miller has moved into digital realms, using programs like Photoshop, with landscape-generator Terragen. One small irritation, for me, is that in the earlier editions the artist's credit for each illustration appears alongside it; in this new book one has to sift through one of the back pages. But overall, this is a superb overview of our neighbor worlds, and highly recommended.

Infinite Worlds, subtitled An Illustrated Voyage to Planets Beyond our Sun is an ideal companion volume. In 250 pages of landscape format, it is a very thorough guide to stars, nebulae, galaxies, and the exotic planets that may be found "out there." The author admits that Lynette's art was in fact the inspiration for this book. After all, although well over a hundred other planetary systems have now been discovered, and we are beginning the image them, as with other forms of space art the artist's vision and skill is needed to provide any real idea of what these strange and unfamiliar worlds may look like. Obviously the ultimate hope is to discover Earthlike worlds, on which there could be life in some ways similar to our own, and several paintings do indeed show lifeforms.

The authors are not afraid to let their imaginations roam. From the planets of closer stars they move on to "intelligent light beings" and a "conscious computer" (both beautifully and sensitively rendered), and a "Milky Way Galactic Internet." There are also many photographs, valuable in themselves, as is the text, but it is the paintings that really make this book unique.

A few words must be said about the art itself. Lynette uses mainly traditional techniques, which include acrylics, gouache, airbrush and colored pencils. But she also uses digital techniques including Bryce to produce color "roughs" first, and sometimes takes a scan of the painting into Photoshop for further work. Given the format of this book I feel that an opportunity was lost to include at least a couple of panoramas, extending across two pages! Highly recommended.

Readers who enjoy space art will also appreciate David A. Hardy's Astro Art web site and the Science Shelf review of his most recent book Futures: 50 Years in Space, the Challenge of the Stars.

Reviewer Hardy and artists Miller, Hartmann, and Cook are all members of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA) --