“Tales from the Loop”

Simon Stålenhag

Two coffee-table-book reviews in a row!

This was a fascinating read; I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, and it turned out to be a really lovely work of science fiction. In short, this is a coffee table book from a different timeline, one where WWII research invented some kind of magnetic chicanery that lets battleships fly. It’s all centered around a small town in Sweden, something of a company town for the largest particle accelerator ever built.

And I really love that concept. It’s not a science fiction novel, it’s not particularly interested in telling the big story. It’s a coffee table book, an art series by someone who grew up in a place, telling their own story and explaining their paintings. It just happens that the place they grew up was at the center of a lot of weird stuff.

Stålenenhag’s art style works really well for this; something about it feels like concept art that comes out of film and video game studios. That air of mystery, of cinematic effect, and the fact that it’s not a fully fleshed-out story about every last aspect of these things makes it so much more interesting. There’s a lot more room for you to come up with your own explanations.

I almost wish the cover was subtler; it’d be fun to make a version of this that’d blend in, and watch people flip through it and slowly realize “hang on…”

This is a fun read, full of beautiful paintings. Check it out.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

“The Art of the National Parks”

Fifty-Nine Parks

This is my first coffee table book, and I’m quite happy with it as a representative of the genre. I’ve been a fan of the Fifty-Nine Parks series for a while—I believe, in my apartment, there’s now one of every product in their line-up.1 It’s just a really beautiful art series, inspired by one of the most incredible things the United States has ever done.2 There’s also a definite influence from the old Works Progress Administration posters, at least spiritually so, and that’s another style that I absolutely love.3

Beyond just being a beautiful objet d’art, the book is also a great way to get an overview of what all those national parks are. I may well wind up using this thing as a reference tome, especially as I contemplate visiting some of these parks.

I really highly recommend the whole 59 Parks project. As I’m writing this, their print shop is closed for a few months yet, but their partners for various non-poster items are still selling various things.4

  1. Well, every product family, I don’t have every single poster. I’ve got posters, notebooks, and this book, and gave my roommate their board game at one point.
  2. Citation: search r/AskReddit for any of the monthly “non-Americans: what’s one thing America does right?” threads. The national parks are always mentioned.
  3. Citation: 9 out of the 11 posters in my apartment are in that “inspired by the WPA” style.
  4. And, I can add, restocking—some of the Field Notes sets were sold out for a while, but they’ve since reappeared. I’m glad that Field Notes isn’t being strict with their definition of “Limited Edition”, or I’d’ve been very sad that I missed my chance to get the whole collection.