Some 28 years after first being released Morrigan Press released the first in their updated re-issue of the Terran Trade Authority handbooks. Seeing as I am quite the fan of the original series I was keeping an eye on this to see how it went. With the release of the first book and the RPG it seems that financial pressures caught up with Morrigan and it is now in the process of restructuring and won't be persuing the TTA revival any further. Rights have reverted to the authors and now another company, Battlefield Press, is picking up the pieces and releasing another version of the RPG.
Consequently I'll keep an eye on this and as I can get my hands on the books I'll do a review and entry for them below. First with a straight review and then a more detailed TTA fan perspective. There is also a news section for tidbits of information about further books as they come in to me.
Without further ado, lets get stuck in...
Publisher: Morrigan Press Inc. (2006)
Author: Scott Agnew & Jeff Lilly with Stewart Cowley
Illustrator: Adrian Mann
Set primarily about two hundred years in the future this book offers a timeline and history of man's expansion into space, first contact and first major interstellar war. Presented in a format not entirely dissimilar to Jane's Fighting Ships it is a catalogue of noteable spacecraft and starships of the era (although the recognition silohuettes are missing). Each ship is accompanied with computer graphics artwork depiciting the craft and a shortish blurb expanding on the ships history and function.
Maintaining the fairly light tone and pace of it's source predecessor a good overview of the re-imagined TTA universe is given with a fairly lengthy 26 page background on the prelude to and conduct of the war that defined this century. Borrowing from current political events it presents the Proximan's as a highly religious xenophobic culture and in some ways I think over-explains a little. The biggest danger is that the timeline is a little obviously drawing from current history and I do half wonder how well the book will age in that respect. The original TTA books kept intentionally vague preferring to just describe the end result rather than a detailed causation.
But no mention of the book would be complete without mentioning the artwork. Done exclusively by Adrian Mann it is largely computer re-creations of the artwork of the predecessor book with several new additions. These are generally very well done and the newer images created solely for this book tend to be the better executed ones. That said several of the images stand up pretty well to direct side by side comparisons with the source artwork from which they were derived. Where they suffer is in two respects - first is the problem all computer graphics suffer from, the shiny clean plastic look. One of the charms of the original artwork was the odd bit of rust or grunge that gave the ships a touch of veritas. That is pretty much absent giving the ships a uniformly factory fresh look despite them all being engaged in the middle of a vicious war.
The second is simply an inconsistancy of detail between objects. Highly
detailed starships float over indistinct plantary surfaces creating a
visual incongruity. On top of that there are images where they were
obviously pushed for time to get ready for printing - the Colonial
III serves as a prime example with it's cityscape scene being little more
than coloured boxes. (Note the image provided here actually benefits
greatly from being scaled down in size from the original scan.) This
lack of consistant detail isn't entirely uniform across the book and some
images actually do offer a superior image compared to the original
material. My pick would be the Alphan ACM115 Minnow, here the whole image
is much more detailed than the original artwork and to be honest if the
entire book was to this standard there would be very little to complain
about. Compare and contrast these two images to see what I mean :-
Even scaled down you can see that new image on the left has better detail work over the whole image than the original. It also is a little odd having an artwork book without the option to buy it as a hardback. I know I am not alone in prefering the hardback editions of these space art books so that you can comfortably and easily leave the book open to appreciate the artwork.
Finally, and in some ways most disturbingly, the book is healthily sprinkled with a variety of editing errors. The SSF21D Cultlass listed in it's specifications the armament of the CAM117 Gunship which was on the previous page. The K4 Toad despite being listed in the Proximan Military section is marked as being of Alphan Nationality. Frequently the word 'wait' is substituted for 'was'. In the breakdown of the Proximan War history Alpha is listed as having declared 'was' on Proxima instead of 'war'. Paragraphs get repeated in the history section. It is primarily small stuff but part of the delicate balancing act these type of books run is that they are asking the viewer to accept a great deal of the fantastic and clearly not factual. By presenting them in a factual manner the book's narrative lends the fanatastic a sense of reality. Errors such as the above break that, shifting the tone of the book from being a serious tome of the future to being an obviously rushed effort.
All in all this is an interesting attempt to revive the TTA handbooks. But thanks to an overly aggressive printing schedule a variety of errors contribute to lessening the effect. Hopefully any future books in the series will be given a lot more time to develop so that artwork, story and editing can all be present at top form.
From a fans perspective...
...it all is a mixed blessing. Clearly the writers have a good love of the original books as little nuggets are scattered in the new book referencing wider TTA events than the original did. (like the discovery of the Pathfinder 2 in the Beta Pavonis graveyard, which must be a bit confusing to newcomers to the series.) Yet at the same time the sense of unfolding mystery and grand adventure is deeply reduced by the almost complete removal of the unidentified ships section. Sporting only the City Ships of Alpha as the representative of unknown alien cultures we end up with a more mundane entry in which the only highlight of the century was a decades long war. Couple this with contempary historical references that some could easily find politically offensive and you have a work that is straying close to what I was worrying about when I first heard of the reissue - namely a series that tries to explain too much and loses the spaces where the reader's imagination can interpret matters.
Couple this with the rushed nature of the book and I suspect I am not alone amongst the TTA fandom in wishing the release of the re-issue had been held off a bit longer to give the editors and the artist more time to work. Indeed a suggestion for the future is that more artists will be needed - this isn't a slur on Adrian Mann's talents as he has done some remarkable work here. More that an artist's vision tends to get locked in to one style of design and layout. Part of what made the TTA series work was the cherry picking Stewart did across a wide variety of artists which meant that the alien ship designs nearly always followed a distinctly different design ethos from the Terran ships.
Another oddity is the way some of the ship entries have been reworked. Why was the key feature of the Avery Hornet, namely the offset upper weapon lances, removed in the reissue? Also absent are the detail line drawings that either provided a silohuette or highlighted some technical aspect of the ships. It is these often quirky little asides that provided a sense of reality to the original books by implying certain knowledge on the part of the reader. The loss of them is a large part of why the new book doesn't quite involve me as much.
For me the major point is that this work does highlight just how expertly done the original book was. This is a very credible attempt and hopefully having Stewart more closely involved with any future releases will correct many of these shortcomings. It just isn't quite to the same level as the original books.
Work is also underway with the next pure artbook - called 'Capital
Ships' this one will focus on the often referenced but not yet seen
battleships of the Proxima war.