By the books. (computer books)
by Robert Bixby
Each month, we receive dozens of books for review. For some reason, most of them come addressed to me. Since this is a column about publishing, I thought I might take a moment to talk about the books received as a group and to single some out for attention.
Generally, computer books are here-today-gone-tomorrow books, temporally a step above periodicals: a slightly longer pause for paper between the forest and the recycling bin. Not even used-book dealers are interested in old computer books. On the other hand, during their brief lifetimes, computer books are invaluable. They need to be ruggedly made, easy to read, full of reference material, and well indexed. The rigor of rapidly creating good books from scratch that have a 6- to 18-month shelf life has been the ruin of more than one publisher (and has caused more than one author to tear his or her hair out).
Random House, like a lot of major publishers, is a relative newcomer to computer-book publishing. Its books are markedly more attractive than the general run of the mill. If you think you know what a computer book looks like, you should take a look at Random House Electronic Publishing's books. They use ample, but not excessive, color, and the covers are as attractive as those of any trade paperback. Look for Robin Raskin and Carol Ellison's Parents, Kids, & Computers (ISBN 0-679-73910-6, Random House Electronic Publishing, $20) if you want to see what can be done with computer books.
We receive many books on fractals. I've probably seen no fewer than a dozen in recent months. These books generally have the look of a good art book, full of beautiful full-color illustrations. Symmetry in Chaos: A Search for Pattern in Mathematics, Art, and Nature by Michael Field and Martin Golubitsky (ISBN 0-19-853689-5, Oxford University Press, $35) is a little more than the standard fractal book, in that it explains in layman's terms what is meant by symmetry and chaos. It goes into the mathematics behind the fractal designs and even provides a collection of BASIC fractal programs. Having published books containing programs (and macros) myself, I can forgive the fact that there are some typos in the programs. Be forewarned: Use a little common sense when typing in the programs. You'll find some errors. I don't think there is a practical way to eliminate them from program listings published in books.
Computer art books come and go, but some have lasting and universal interest. The Computer Artist's Handbook by Lillian F. Schwartz (with Laurens R. Schwartz; ISBN 0-393-02795-3, W. W. Norton, $55) tells you much more than how to draw a circle in a paint program. Lillian Schwartz is one of the true pioneers of computer art. She started creating art with computers before computers were seen widely as a medium for art, back when the initial stabs at computer graphics were being made in the inner sanctums of IBM and AT & T She talks about how she created many computer masterpieces. Along the way, she drops hints for creating images and illusions with the computer, as well as describing the circumstances of some of her great discoveries. You may recall that a few years ago an artist serendipitously discovered that the Mona Lisa was actually a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. Schwartz was the discoverer of that secret, and the story of her discovery, complete with sketches and computer enhancements of the painting, an x-ray of the Mona Lisa, and the original cartoon for the Mona Lisa are provided. In addition to teaching a great deal about the computer as an artist's tool, Schwartz goes a long way toward showing the kind of innovative thinking an artist must go through in order to create original art. Virtually every page contains full-color computer graphics. ,
Don't forget to write to me to let me know what you're up to in the publishing world. Remember that I want to hear about your projects and your interests--and that I'm soliciting publishing and graphics tips for publication.