HOLLYWOOD HYPERSPACE The Five Best Non-Fiction Books of 2013

LA correspondent Joseph McCabe puts the fact into science fiction in the latest Hollywood Hyperspace

L ately there’s been an explosion of new non-fiction media books in stores. So many in fact that I’ve decided to list my top five of last year. Fret not that Christmas is long gone – all of these titles would make excellent gifts for Valentine’s Day (or, if you live in the States and your love life is on the unorthodox side, Groundhog Day).

1. Terminator Vault: The Complete Story Behind the Making of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Voyageur Press)
These days, when every blockbuster wannabe from Tron: Legacy to the Johnny Depp-starring Lone Ranger gets its own deluxe coffee-table art or making-of book, it’s hard to believe those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, with some of the finest genre screen fare ever released, weren’t rewarded with our own bounty of behind-the-scenes texts. But apart from an Art Of Star Wars here or a Ray Harryhausen Film Fantasy Scrapbook there, we were forced to glean most of our info from magazines like Starlog . Happily, definitive books on the Indiana Jones Trilogy and ET have seen release in recent years, as well as Ian Nathan’s Alien Vault and this similarly slipcased follow-up volume by the same author.

Like that geek feast devoted to Ridley Scott’s classic (which Scott himself recommended to me when I interviewed him about Prometheus ), the Terminator Vault distinguishes itself from most other “vault” volumes by focusing on only the best offerings of a franchise – in this case James Cameron’s Terminator films, AKA the two worth seeing. Page after luscious page is filled with diagrams, concept art, photos, and pull-put ephemera that will reignite the love you once had for the T-800, Sarah Connor, and Skynet (that same love you thought McG had extinguished forever). Here’s hoping similar volumes are in the works for Blade Runner , Aliens , Predator , and the original RoboCop . No Tech Noir nightclub should be without them.

2. The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (LucasBooks)
And speaking of Star Wars , JW Rinzler’s third and final oversized making-of book on the original trilogy is cause for rejoicing… For decades, Return Of The Jedi was considered the unwanted stepchild of that galaxy far, far away. Until the prequels came along and, by comparison, made it look like a masterpiece. For despite its undercooked script, the much-hated Ewoks (who I’ll take any damn day of the week over the Gungans, thank you), and Richard Marquand’s pedestrian direction, Jedi has treats aplenty – the opening act is terrific, the speeder bike chase is one of the best action scenes in Lucasfilm history, and Luke’s final duel with Dark Vader still packs an emotional wallop. Jedi ’s main flaw is that, unlike its predecessors, it can’t quite stand on its own. But when used to cap a marathon viewing, it functions just fine as a feature-length finale. This 400-page definitive Making Of boasts an introduction by Force disciple Brad Bird and as much eye candy as its predecessors. Yup, it’s all here – Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art, Lorne Peterson’s vehicle models, Phil Tippett’s Rancor, and, of course, plenty of photos of Leia in her slave girl attire (seriously, how could boys of Generation X have gotten through puberty without her?). Yub nub indeed.

3. Doctor Who: The Vault: Treasures From The First 50 Years (Harper Design)
Another vault, and another good one… Though the title is a tad misleading, since this time there’s no actual pull-out ephemera. Just a visual odyssey through the history of science fiction’s longest-running TV show. It feels somewhat presumptuous to even recommend this 320-page chronicle to Whovians, since most are certainly aware of its existence if they’ve not already purchased it. But for the few who’ve remained hesitant, I can verify that it’s worth every penny. With a chapter devoted to each year of Who ’s run, and plenty of costume, monster, and prop design art, as well as stills, book covers, comic illustrations, and photos of classic Who toys and games. Steven Moffat himself wrote the introduction, and while it would have been nice to see his era-capping 50th Anniversary Special, its omission is understandable given that this volume’s publication coincided with The Day Of The Doctor ’s premiere broadcast. Besides, it’s hard to fault what may be the most satisfying visual guide to Doctor Who ever compiled.

4. Guillermo del Toro -- Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, And Other Obsessions (Harper Design)
Few filmmakers have demonstrated as much affection for their genre as they have intelligence in contributing to it as Guillermo del Toro. But the man is one of a kind. Equally at home crafting intimate arthouse gems like Pan’s Labyrinth and megabudgeted spectacle like Pacific Rim , the Mexican multi-hyphenate has brought a critical cache and a personal touch to fantasy filmmaking at a time when it often feels like the exclusive domain of studio shareholders. For all his success as a helmer, however, Del Toro’s heart is, in many ways, that of an art director, as the revealing special features that adorn his DVDs have long shown. This elegant collection brings together his eye-popping creature concept art and sketches as well as a generous selection of photos from his fabled Bleak House in Los Angeles (revealed, by the evidence here, to be a twenty-first century Ackermansion). In short, it’s everything that makes the Big G tick. It’s worth noting that Cabinet Of Curiosities ’ cover has an attractive faux wood design, which makes it all the nicer to add to your own collection of treasures.

5. Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series (Harry N Abrams)
Last but not least we have this little book reproducing each and every card in Topps’ rare 1976 Star Trek: The Original Series trading card set (which the company would follow-up several years later with the more widely distributed Star Trek: The Motion Picture card set). Itself shaped like a pack of trading cards (and containing several actual bonus cards), it’s a sweetly nostalgic companion piece to Abrams’ 2012 Mars Attacks! book, and a reminder of a time when Star Trek was still a just a cult favourite, with no further live-action iterations in sight. Since most fans (including yours truly) have never actually seen these trading cards, this title is the perfect gift for the book-collecting Trekker in your life who has everything.

Joseph McCabe ( @jMaCabre )