Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fringe 2.0: The Observer Retells The Show In Fringe: September's Notebook!

The Good: Exceptional construction, Good photographs, Neat concept, Good research
The Bad: Somewhat messy (physically), Virtually no original material
The Basics: The television series Fringe is reconstructed chronologically in Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox which is fun for die-hard fans.

My wife and I have a generally awesome arrangement at this point in our lives. We work side by side and we have an apartment we like in a place that is not bad and on most days, we're pretty happy. At the moment, I'm the sole breadwinner for the family, while she takes care of our apartment, sells her art and does surveys for an online site that pays her for her opinion. But she makes very little money that way, so when she gives me gifts, it is a very deliberate thing; she is very cautious about giving me gifts, usually knowing well in advance that I will like what she is giving me before she ever presents it to me. Last year, for my birthday, the big gift from her was Fringe The Complete Series (reviewed here!) on Blu-Ray. For our winter celebration, she gave me the gift of Fringe: September's Notebook.

Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox was a "risk gift" for her; one that she was not sure I would like. Fortunately, the risk she took paid off quite well. The gift was the perfect one for me as I neared rewatching Fringe and began to feel a little anxious about having the series out of my life again. Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox is a coffee table book about Fringe and instead of something as straightforward as The Star Trek Compendium (reviewed here!), this book takes a different approach to looking back at the television series.

A number of genre television and movie series's come out with books that are encyclopedias or simple episode guides, but for Fringe, writers Tara Bennett and Paul Terry took a different approach. Fringe: September's Notebook completely retells the story of Fringe as a series of dossiers on the characters, plots, timelines and motivations through the eyes of the Observer, September. Fringe: September's Notebook manages to reconstruct the story of Fringe in a surprisingly linear way, which is clever because the story belabored unfolding and unraveling the plots to bring viewer's the joy of discovery. Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox is intended for fans who have seen and enjoyed the television series. As such, the discovery is done, the "wow" factor gone. The real pleasure of Fringe: September's Notebook is that Fringe is reconstructed without the reader having to do the mental acrobatics of watching the series.

In other words, fans of Fringe can rewatch the television show at any point and watch as the story unfolds. When they do that, they have to think "this relates to that, this little fact will become huge two seasons from now and I have to remember to look for the Observer somewhere in the background, etc. etc." Reading Fringe: September's Notebook, the reader gets the substance without the flash; the reader is taken on the journey initiated by Walter Bishop and September (the Observer) and they see how both his intellect and emotion change the course of at least two universes (two, plus the tangent two, plus the darkened future).

Following the story of Walter Bishop, William Bell and the rise of Massive Dynamic and the ZFT, the reader gets an appreciation for how well-conceived and constructed Fringe actually was. In Fringe: September's Notebook, the neutral narrative voice of the Observer points out all the little facts and connections (most of which eventually become explicit in the television series) that made Fringe work. The result is a surprisingly satisfying read.

Almost every page of Fringe: September's Notebook is a series of glossy photographs, mostly from in-universe shots. The book has uncommon collections of prop photographs and visual elements from Fringe that were only flashed on-screen. Some are impressive, others make it obvious that Fringe benefited from utilizing them as quick flashes (some of the composite photographs that appeared in the background are truly horrendous photo manipulations or compilations that clearly are assembled works!).

The only real detraction of Fringe: September's Notebook, other than spoilers for those who have not seen the whole of Fringe before sitting down to read this, it that the book collects "documents" which make reading the coffee table book occasionally messy. The book has envelopes and post-it style notes on several pages and some of these fall out. It's cool to have a book that comes with temporary tattoos of Observer sigils for their human slaves; less so when they keep falling out of the tome.

That said, Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox might well be the best gift for fans of Fringe . . . especially the ones who do not have the time and attention to constantly rewatch the series.

For other books about film and television, please check out my reviews of:
Prometheus: The Art Of The Film
Watchmen: The Film Companion
The Star Trek Encyclopedia


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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