Lance Balchin, Mechanica: a beginners field guide, Five Mile Press, Sept 2016, 32pp., $24.95 (hbk), ISBN: 9781760401085
It is the end of the 23rd century. Humans have failed to heed the warnings about pollution, and vast areas of the world are uninhabitable. Wildlife is extinct and humans have retreated into fortified zones, locked in a battle with mechanical creatures they themselves created.
Mechanica: a beginner’s field guide is a field guide from this fictional future, documenting a range of mechanical animals that were created by humans to replace species that were rapidly dying off. One of these, for example, is a mechanical bee that was used for agricultural purposes. Other animals found in the book include replicas of snakes, butterflies and birds.
Mechanica is a wonderfully creative and engaging book. The brilliant steampunk-inspired illustrations are fascinating to look at and the description of each species is interesting and imaginative. The vocabulary is quite advanced, and younger children may need some help from adults to read and understand the information. I suspect some children would be happy to study the illustrations, and be less interested in the text.
The book is relevant for children today, growing up in an era in which global warming is topical. It is a glimpse of a possible future and a warning of sorts. I love the idea of humans creating mechanical creatures that begin to develop and reproduce on their own, eventually becoming dangerous.
I would recommend Mechanica for primary school-aged children. It could also be used in a multitude of ways by teachers to inspire creative writing, and spark discussions relating to history, science and the environment.
Reviewed by Bec Blakeney