In 1988 I was a junior in high school and if I could lay hands on a Dragon Magazine I was pretty happy about it. In those days, well before the Internet, you had to get all you advertising info from a magazine, and in the gaming industry that primarily meant Dragon. It was there that I first saw the cover of Game Designers Workshop’s Space: 1889.
I remember thinking, OMFG, that is one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. I mean, just the tag line of ‘Science-Fiction Role Playing in a More Civilized Time’ was enough to sell me, but the cover art by artist David Dietrick hammered home how incredible the potential of this game was.
Little did I know at the time that I was witnessing the rise of Steampunk in the RPG world, and that Frank Chadwick had gone out of his way to make something truly inspired in the genre.
Still, without a gaming store in close proximity, and limited funding, Space: 1889 didn’t find its way into my archives until twenty years later, in 2008 when I got a reprint copy from Heliograph Incorporated at GenCon. This reprint, however, gives me some pause in that the credits on the inside don’t align with the art I find between the covers.
Let me explain. My Heliograph copy is all black and white images, but on the interior credits it lists ‘Interior Color Illustrations’ of which there are none. Now I’m at a loss, because although I can review the product, the addition of color interiors in 1988 is something almost unheard of in the industry [as only FASA was doing so with some very early Battletech House books].
Whatever the case, I can’t speak to the merits of the gaming system as I’ve never played the game myself, although I’m telling you now, each time I look at this game I’m compelled to somehow, some way, find the time to navigate the ether and those incredible canals of Mars.
As for the art in this book, there is plenty, and I applaud Frank Chadwick for two reasons, One, that he committed himself to art, and Two, that he did some himself!
But first, let’s take a look at David Dietrick’s cover. A known touchy subject for the artist himself, I still feel it is one of the better non-TSR cover pieces to come out of the 1980s. Although heavily art directed, the piece still comes off as a cohesive unit, and inspires the proper Victorian setting while giving us a dramatic sense of movement from the rocketing ships to the attacking Martians. Even the circular earthen porthole that surrounds the image somehow gives us the palpable feel of Martian soil.
The book itself was art directed by Lauretta Oblinger and she’s done what I would consider a strange, but not inherently bad, job of using what she seems to have been given for the project. What I mean to say is that to me, it looks like the book itself was parceled out, as though a group of pages were given to individual freelance artists [and there are an astounding twenty of them!], each artist taking on perhaps ten pages of text until the book reads in such a way as having artistic ‘chapters’. This fracturing is brought into some cohesion with Chadwick’s person full-page artwork that seemingly tells the story of a man and woman and their adventures on the red planet. These two characters somehow bring the book back into focus, and because of that I give Lauretta a pass.
And of those interior artists, there are some rather famous ones involved including Janet Aulisio, Jeff Dee, Rick Harris, Tim Bradstreet, and you guessed it, Jim Holloway!
In all, Space: 1889 comes off as a science-fiction tour de force, even if a bit scattered.
Artistic Rating: 4 [out of 5]
*NOTE: Remember that I currently have a Kickstarter that revisits the shared world anthology ala Thieves World, and includes incredible art by some of the artists I feature here on this blog. You can find the project here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/563681582/a-knight-in-the-silk-purse-tales-of-the-emerald-se