Codex Seraphinianus

codexCodex Seraphinianus
By Franco Maria Ricci
1981

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I am reviewing the Codex Seraphinianus. No, this is not a prank or a lie, at least not on my part. The book exists. Just, well… it’s more like it’s a prank or a lie on the author’s part.

The Codex is an incredibly beautiful and extremely peculiar biology/sociology text in a foreign language. Yeah. Think on that for a bit.

Also, I recommend it.

Regardless of what languages you may be fluent in, this book is in a language foreign to you. It’s actually an alien language constructed as either a code or simply a very detailed doodle by the author, such that the written text is just as much an illustration as any of the actual color illustrations.

The color illustrations, of which there are many, are beautifully done, likely with oil pastels or some such.

codex03  codex7  codex_09

The subject of the book is the biology and sociology of an alien world… an extremely peculiar alien world, with a very complex biology. In some ways it reminds me of a steam-punk universe with cyborgs/implants/etc., except that such mechanical additions are intrinsic to the biology of the plants and animals rather than intentional additions later. (Sort of like WTF-Evolution’s even crazier, acid-tripping brother.)

In other ways it reminds me of the biology from Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep or Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. Except more so than either Vinge or Card went.

It also reminds me a great deal of the Voynich Manuscript, a document that I have yet to actually see a good copy of, but which is another biology text written in an unknown language. But the Voynich Manuscript has had professional and amateur codebreakers trying to break it for nearly a century at this point and variously manage to “prove” is (a) a complex code that we just don’t have the key to yet, (b) a brand new language that would need to be translated rather than uncoded, or (c) complete gibberish that contains no meaning and can thus be neither uncoded nor translated. Its provenance is also deeply questionable. It has the potential to be (a) a secret alchemical manuscript from the 1200s, (b) a forgery created in the late 1500s and sold to Emperor Rudolf II as a secret alchemical manuscript from the 1200s, or (c) a forgery created in the early 1900s perpetrated either by or on the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich.

But back to the Codex Seraphinianus, it is vibrant and gorgeous and inspiring and confusing.

If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s a lot of fun.

Or, for a more easily accessible book, check out Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and try to figure out what the plots are of those stories.

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