Norman Brosterman,
Out of Time: Designs
for the Twentieth Century Future

(Harry N. Abrams, 2000)

Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth Century Future is a glossy trade paperback which gathers together numerous, rather fascinating and fun images of what has now become standard, even cliched concepts of the future: flying domed cities, bubble-topped cars, humanoid robots, monorails, rocket ships, etc. -- the output of talented American designers, artists and illustrators who, in the period covering the 1890s to the mid-1960s, focused their imaginations on rendering "things to come." Out of Time, utterly enjoyable as a book in its own right, also serves as the catalogue of a Smithsonian Institute sponsored three-year traveling exhibition also curated by author Norman Brosterman, a New York-based writer, architect, artist and collector of modern cultural artifacts whose own possessions comprised a considerable proportion of the contents celebrated herein. Interest in this volume is vastly increased due to the fact that few of the original watercolors, oil paintings and pen-and-ink drawings which took Brosterman years to track down have ever been displayed for the public before.

Essentially, Out of Time is a wonderful nostalgia trip for those who grew up relishing the old pulp magazines, popular technology periodicals and promotions for the 1939 New York World's Fair. It will be a revelation for later generations who are curious about the work of the "inveterate technodreamers" who imagined an alternative 20th century with visions that had an impact and influence on the real world -- in industrial and automotive design, fashion, warfare, the exploration of space, and the arts -- that was widespread albeit hardly recognized at the time.

Out of Time is not only filled with illustrations (many in full color), but offers substantial text giving the historical context for the visual archeology of industrial, architectural and fanciful design for the world to come. Sections of the book are devoted to the future as history, as visualized in illustrations for science fiction stories, and the future as style as depicted in architectural designs, renderings of transportation of all types (especially flying machines and space vehicles) and conceptions of robots. An appendix is also included of brief biographical sketches of the artists whose work can be found in the book -- most notably Frank R. Paul, Alex Schomburg, Alexander Leydenfrost, Cheslay Bonestell, Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok. There is also a bibliography.

Thus we have a book -- text and images -- that has a cumulative effect of gee-whiz, gosh-wow exuberance. Out of Time is a treasure trove that documents the optimistic imaginations of the writers, designers, architects and engineers who envisioned the future as if it were already there -- making it the perfect gift for science-fiction afficionados, especially those that love illustrations of yesterday's tomorrows, visions that can be -- corny, extravagant, misguided, wild, impractical, awesome, quaint or even dead-on accurate. Out of Time should not be out of place on many bookshelves.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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