Thursday, November 20, 2014

Terra Tempo, Volume 3: The Academy of Planetary Evolution

Imagine you were a student in a selective class where you could study natural history by actually traveling through time. Where you could hear lectures about whales from Herman Melville, from Andrew Carnegie about the evolution of the horse in North America, from Annie Montague Alexander on paleontology, and from Alfred Russel Wallace on mammalian evolution. That is the premise of this book, The Academy of Planetary Evolution, the third entry in a series of Terra Tempo titles. I must admit I have not read the earlier titles in the series, but if they are anything like I've seen in this book, they are also very worthwhile reading that can enliven any science class or be of interest to a science-minded reader.

The focal point of this book, and the series are three children from Oregon, Ari, Jenna, and Caleb. Ari seems to be the ringleader, and he possesses a map of geologic time he found on one of his earlier journeys. Joining their clique in this book are Annie, who is from Berkley, California where her mom works as a professor, and Mara, a girl from West Virginia who has more economic interests than the others and who is quite interested in the potential windfalls of fracking. Of course, this is a contemporary issue where there is continual debate on whether it is harmful for the environment or not (disclaimer: I do not know if it is much of a debate in terms of the science. Most of what I have read is about how dangerous it is).
The inclusion of Mara in this group introduces some tension, because she and Ari are constantly trying to demonstrate just how much smarter each is over the other. Also, there is a move toward a more nuanced debate over issues of how much development humans should undertake with nature. Mara is not entirely unsympathetic, but in the end I think the debate presented here is pretty one-sided. Most of the scientists and naturalists the group encounters are interested in peer-reviewed, open access work, but there is a mustachioed, villainous figure, Seth Wilson who you can see in that crystal ball scene above. He tries to take the map from Ari, and he has been chasing these kids for a while now. Here, we learn that he is trying to recruit talent from the Academy for the seemingly innocuous company Resource and Energy Development, Inc. Thus, potentially anti-environmental business interests become associated with this nefarious character, and it's hard to find a reason to stand with his reasoning.

This is not to say that I think this book is entirely a leftist piece of propaganda. Andrew Carnegie was one of the wealthiest businessmen in the world and here he is portrayed rather positively. I think the overall message, which is particularly hammered home in the ending, is for there to be open and honest debate based on scientific facts and foresight, not simply based on economic interests.
One area I feel that this book really shined was in its artwork. It is somewhat sketchy and cartoonish at times, bringing energy to the proceedings. The coloring is done to great effect, and in particular the naturalistic scenes where the characters travel back in time, such as the one above, are fantastic. Those scenes are so lush and detailed that I really bought that these characters were transported to other epochs and eras. There were a few sequences where I felt the exposition took over a little too much from the artwork, but for the most part this book succeeds in storytelling with its action and naturalistic sequences.

This book is a collaboration between writer David R. Shapiro and artist Christopher Herndon. Shapiro is a business developer, author, and the founder and driving force behind Craigmore Creations. I am unaware of any other comics work Herndon has published, but he has illustrated a number of children's books. Also, he has awesome facial hair and shares a lot of fun pictures on his blog.

There were not many reviews of this book I could find online, but the ones I did read were positive. Kirkus Reviews called it "edifying and entertaining" and stated that it is "recommended for serious dinosaur aficionados looking for scholarly, in-depth information." Katie Cardwell wrote that the series "takes concepts which could be considered dull when read in a textbook and brings them to life in a full color graphic novel that will keep audience’s attention without question." In addition these reviews also remark on the usefulness of the academic features, which include a set of maps, bios, and a glossary.

The Academy of Planetary Evolution was published by Craigmore Creations. They have a preview and much more information about the book here

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Thank you, whoever chose to send it to me!