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Review: Deep Space


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Deep Space: Beyond the Solar System to the End of the Universe and the Beginning of Time
by Govert Schilling
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2014
hardcover, 224 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-57912-978-1
US$29.95

In a recent article here, Dwayne Day argued that print books were alive and well, despite the growth of their electronic counterparts and other media (see “Dead trees live!”, The Space Review, December 22, 2014). One reason why that’s the case, he noted, is that print books can still offer a better way of displaying images than e-readers (particularly those that use e-ink, which offers crisp text but fail to do justice to illustrations, especially color ones.) A printed book—particularly a large-format one—can offer a bigger display than any e-reader, and in sharper, more vibrant color as well.

Another book that falls into that family of books that still work better in print is Deep Space. It’s written by veteran Dutch science journalist Govert Schilling—or, perhaps, it’s better to say it’s authored by Schilling. The book is less about the words he’s written than the images he’s assembled here to tell the story of the universe, from our solar system outwards.

With that relatively small amount of text, it may be tempting to dismiss this as a picture book, all images and no information. However, for the right audience, that combination of images and text is the right balance.

As the book’s subtitle (“Beyond the Solar System”) suggests, Schilling doesn’t spend much time on our solar system, beyond a few pages of images and descriptions of the Sun and other solar system bodies at the beginning of the book. From that beginning he works on gradually larger scales: stars, the Milky Way galaxy, clusters of galaxies, and the universe, including the possibility of multiverses beyond our own universe. Interspersed among those sections are brief chapters about the history of and techniques used by astronomy, including ground- and space-based telescopes.

All the chapters in Deep Space follow the same format: pages rich in images, with a small amount of text describing the object or broader astronomical phenomenon. A typical page might have just a few paragraphs of text—white on the overall black background of the page—with one or more colorful images and brief captions. Many pages have an information box, dubbed “Passport,” in an upper corner with basic stats about the particular object featured on that page.

With that relatively small amount of text, it may be tempting to dismiss Deep Space as a picture book, all images and no information. However, for the right audience, that combination of images and text is the right balance. It’s more than just a collection of pretty pictures, but also text to explain their scientific significance. That’s a good recipe for those at an introductory level on the topic who want to get some background, although those already familiar with topics like exoplanets and supernovae may find the chapters less enlightening.

Regardless of level of expertise, it’s clear that Deep Space is another example that works well in print but would suffer in translation to an ebook (not surprising, there’s no ebook version of the book currently available.) Will that change in the future, as e-reader technology advances? Perhaps. They certainly offer many advantages, from ease of distribution to lower costs to the ability to update them. One can imagine a future ebook that had not just high-resolution images, but the ability to zoom in and out—something like the high-resolution image of the Andromeda Galaxy, based on Hubble Space Telescope observations, released earlier this month. That’s possible today, although it’s more in the realm of tablet apps versus true electronic books supported by Kindle or iBooks. Until those future ebooks arrive, there seems to still be a solid niche for books like Deep Space that artfully combine words and images.


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