Codex Seraphinianus

Codex Seraphinianus

by Luigi Serafini

There’s this thing in Star Trek, Star Wars, Guardian’s of the Galaxy, that nobody ever talks about. Talking that is.

IMG_2427Characters in science fiction all speak English. Sometimes they cover it by calling it a different language, like Common, or Universal, or Terran, but they never actually explain why it’s typically 20th or 21st Century English. We know the reason of course. That if the language were actually alien nobody would go see the film (cf. the sad state of subtitled film acceptance in post-Bush America today.)

It’s not just movies. Even the most alien of science fiction books have their characters basically tossing around English, right down to slang and common phrases like “don’t make me hurt you” or “he burned for her” or “they would never get together after all.” The slang is just as much a way to move the reader to understanding and being comfortable with the otherwise alien situation. And books are not as guilty here as movies, at least have the excuse that they’re very hard to subtitle. And again, using English is a short-cut to speaking to the reader, to making contact in a manner that can be understood.


Fantastic Planet (1973)

Some experimental films, like René Laloux’s alien planet masterpiece Fantastic Planet do attempt break the barrier here. By eliminating all language and presenting a truly alien story, where the viewer is meant to interpret some level of “what’s going on” Laloux creates fully realized aliens, alien to us to the film itself. But to consider a similar attitude in a book is a very hard concept. It would take a monumental effort, real discipline and awareness, and it would constitute a real commercial risk, one that might never find an audience.


Of course it would help if an alien wrote it.

In 1981 an Italian artist, architect, and industrial designer named Luigi Serafini worked for three years crafting an alien artifact that pushed the concepts of beauty, alienation, and book craft to new dimensions.

Serafini created a tome, thick and large, embellished with impenetrable glyphs and symbols that by style and repetition of forms can be nothing but a language, but one no human has ever spoken.IMG_2413

It is not in the tradition of Book Judgement to review content, and so we’ll not make any attempt at interpreting this entirely opaque work for its literary value. It may not have any except to be an undeniably professional work whose goal was to be entirely interpretable.IMG_2418

Instead let’s dwell on the construction of this magnificent volume. Starting with the cover we’re presented with a work that is visually and tactility stimulating. Photo-realistic painting of bugs (Birthed from? Escaping? I’ll not interpret.) some kind of fluid splash is combined with gold gilt lettering. It’s reminiscent of the simpler works of MC Escher. These are further enhanced by spot lacquering that is a joy to run your fingers over, giving the colored images additional depth you can feel.

IMG_2419The book’s height is reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts, and to be sure there is a ribbon protruding from the bottom of its pages.  I do so love book ribbons.

It’s impossible not to flip through the book, looking for a keystone, a Rosetta stone, that will give you some form of orientation. It does seem to be organized, biologically, physical sciences, the arts? Who can tell. At one point we’re looking at maps, the next strange machines. The colors are vibrant, the images compelling and strange. IMG_2421They’re often just familiar enough, but then the familiarity fades and strangeness returns.

It reportedly took just under three years for Serafini to complete the work. It’s amazing that it was that quick an effort. The script used on every page in this work is hand drawn. The numbering system for the pages, impenetrable, undeniably charting progress through the pages, but similarly alien. Familiar, like a race memory.

Another pleasure to the senses is the paper used. Heavy stock and textured. A prominent but fine horizontal grain on every page reminds you that this is a work of wonder, to be slowly explored like preciously gained treasure.IMG_2425

And there are slice of life images of the so-like-us-yet-undeniably-alien individuals whose lives, inventions, problems, adornments, and perhaps history (?) are colorfully illustrated without explanation.

IMG_2424Codex Seraphinianus is a luxurious puzzle with no hope of solution.  It is an alien landscape captured in the finest aspects of book construction and design. While you can’t quite yet journey to a truly alien landscape, and our world continues to shrink to the point that we can visit lands where we can’t speak the native tongue and have no clue as to polite custom, it’s reassuring that the power of a luxurious book can still transport us there from the overstuffed chair of our reading nook.IMG_2422


There is a Decodex pamphlet hiding in a pocket in the inside back cover of the volume that purports to be an explanation of the author’s inspiration and composition of the work, in several languages.  This is undoubtedly a fraud, there is no way this work was composed without alien influence, without a mind too strange for ours to fully grasp. I recommend leaving it unread, unexposed, and the rest of the experience unspoiled by this unfortunate comforting fiction.


Ric Bretschneider
September 30, 2014



I backed the Kickstarter for Ben Templesmith’s The Squidder graphic novel in the somewhat reserved position of simply pledging for the hardcover version.  Now they’re letting us upgrade to the slipcover edition if, after having seen much of the work in e-book format, we’re having remorse for not doing so originally.

I felt I was strong enough to resist, but I made the mistake of checking out the video preview of the slipcased edition.

Yeah, this guy knows how to sell me on the upgrade. I think it was when he mentioned the book’s smell.

I’m doomed.

THE SQUIDDER – Update 13 from 44FLOOD on Vimeo.

Ric Bretschneider
September 6, 2014

The Star Wars – Boxed Deluxe Edition Special Unboxing Review

Great book presentations can come from anywhere. Comics for example.

Last year, Dark House press took a somewhat notorious, very early draft of George Lucas’ Star Wars and serialized it in comics.  The comic series is probably the closest that rendition this early Star Wars history will come to in a visual media.  The story is very different from the one we saw in Star Wars: A New Hope, characters, aliens, technology, even the force itself changed in subtle to extreme ways.  It’s an entertaining read for any Star Wars fan.


The Star Wars franchise has a long history in the comic form, the individual movie serializations and additional stories made up for the time between films and were quite successful for Marvel comics.  More recently, Dark Horse comics has taken the Star Wars Expanded Universe into some amazing storylines far beyond the film canon.

And it was really no surprise that Dark Horse put a tremendous amount of effort into a boxed edition of the collected seminal work. This set of three volumes of material is presented in a sturdy and attractive cloth-covered, foil lettered and embossed box, the design repeated for the three volumes enclosed.

I suspected it would be a fun “unboxing” review to record for your enjoyment, so here it is…

The Star Wars: Boxed Limited Edition – Unboxing Review

You can find this edition for sale now, but I’d act on it soon because who knows when it will sell out!

Ric Bretschneider
September 4, 2014

Judge, Judgment, and Judgement

Well, that happened sooner than I thought it would.

Confessions time, not all errors are unintentional.  And one man’s error is another man’s… nuance.

The title of this collection of book reviews is Book Judgement. Judgement. With two e‘s.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a fine title. That is providing you’re not stuck with a group of individuals who believes language is meant to bow to the will of the loudest. You see, there are two spellings of the word that means the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. There is judgment and there is judgement. Yes, there are two recognized spellings of the word. Unless you choose not to recognize the older version.

Some will tell you that the e is removed in American spelling, following a purge of silent e’s especially when a suffix is added to the root word. The British word contains an e, if for no better reason than it was there from the beginning. Still others say that the spelling without the e is more common, and by that more correct. Which makes me shiver with fear given the widespread use of words like thx, the XMas of gratitudinal utterances. 

The OED, or Oxford English Dictionary, which evolves at the speed of a petulant glacier, lists the +e spelling first, listing the -e spelling as an alternate, but using the +e spelling in all examples of the form.


You have to love the OED to put up with reading it by magnifying glass. Oh, look! There’s Judgement!

When I play Scrabble, we use the OED as our judge. It seems appropriate that Book Judgement should follow that inclination, if only as an amusing artifact or to start a bar bet.  And it has the benefit, in my humble opinion, of looking nicer as a word. Really, how do you parse that dgm bit without imagining an e in there to arbitrate the alveolar, glottal, and bilabial nasal sounds without spitting on the listener.

Sorry for that image. Here, have an imaginary towel.

I also think the word looks prettier. Yes, I see beauty in words, in typography, in layout. Are you sure you’re reading the right blog?

In any case, and as I may have gotten too confusing here, people who disagree with my logic (or at least my eccentricity)  can have it their way as well.  Just type into your browser. Isn’t the Internet a magical place?

Everyone happy now?