A tip of the hat to the mighty SF Signal — their Mind Meld post this week asked several artists, experts, and opinion-makers to share their picks for the most memorable sf/f book covers. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do so. We here at Missions Unknown enjoyed it so much that we decided to extend the question to San Antonio sf/f fans — what are YOUR most memorable sf/f book covers? Please share them below in the comments section. Meanwhile, here are Missions Unknown’s picks. Enjoy!
PAUL VAUGHN (see images of Paul’s selections above):
Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard (Art by Frank Frazetta): From early on I was a fan of the art of Frazetta. His covers lured me in to reading Tarzan books, but his covers for Conan were the ones I liked the best. There are several great ones to choose from, making settling on just one difficult. I’m drawn to the cover to Conan the Conqueror because of the dynamism of Conan astride his warhorse, not even holding the reins amidst a horde of a shadowy undead army surrounded by flames and tempest. It certainly didn’t hurt that the illustration also made it to the cover the the 1980 Molly Hatchet album “Beatin’ the Odds”.
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (Art by Michael Whelan): I was seriously into the works of H.P. Lovecraft for a while and those books are often weird enough to give an artist a lot of latitude. I was stunned when many of his stories were reissued in the late 80s/early 90s with incredibly moody black-and-white-and-red covers by Whelan. Maybe they don’t have so much to do with the specific content of the books, but they are eye-catchingly creepy/gorgeous.
The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft (Art by ?????): Lovecraft books seem to have suffered every level and style of art imaginable, perhaps a tribute to the vagaries of his prose. The Colour Out of Space is one of my favorite of his short stories and this illustration lends an abstract surreal creepiness that beckons me to pick it up and read it again. This edition is from 1969, but I cannot give credit to the artist.
Frank Kelly Freas’ As He Sees It (Artbook. Cover by Freas.): I found this Freas cover fascinating when I first saw it. The look on the robot’s face seems a mix of consternation and remorse and the illustration has just enough blood to make the point. This one originally appeared on the cover of Astounding Science Fiction in 1953 and Freas used it again for the cover of his collected works. The rock band Queen also commissioned Freas to modify the image for their album “News of the World”.
1984 by George Orwell (Art by Shepard Fairey): I really dig Fairey’s new covers for the Orwell classics 1984 and Animal Farm. He captures the tone of 1984 brilliantly with a neo-constructivist aesthetic that jumps off the shelf. I feel oppressed just looking at it.
SANFORD ALLEN: The covers I chose were four that made a huge impression on me during my youth. Each, in its own way, reminds me of the sense of wonder that lured me to sf, fantasy and horror books in the first place.
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock (Art by Michael Whelan) – I was enraptured by Michael Moorcock’s Elric books as a pre-teen and remember spending hours looking at Michael Whelan’s cover art, struck by its otherworldly beauty. This cover illustration remains my favorite image of Moorcock’s iconic fantasy antihero. Love the winged helmet and all the crazy details of the armor and ship.
At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (Art by Michael Whelan) – This second image is kind of a cheat on my part, because it’s actually a pair of paintings (check it out) that were parsed out across Del Rey’s ‘80s seven-book H.P. Lovecraft collection. Whelan’s art so effectively evoked Lovecraft’s sense of cosmic dread that I couldn’t narrow it down to just one cover. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking these two are Whelan’s finest work.
The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber (Art by Jeffrey Jones) – This cover was so awe-inspiring that I purchased the book without knowing a thing about it. I don’t even think I read the back cover. If I remember correctly, it set me back all of $1.75 — almost a week’s worth of allowance. Apparently, nothing quite captures a kid’s imagination like a caped spaceman on the back of a sea monster.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (Art by ?????) – Does anyone out there know who illustrated this? I saw this edition in the sf section of our local bookstore as a kid and remember being both frightened and awed by it. I had no idea who Dick was at the time, but the art led me to explore his work a few years later. I eventually understood just how well that surreal and grotesque illustration captured the spirit of Dick’s writing.
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Art by Michael Whelan) – Along with the usual movies (Star Wars) and TV (Star Trek), what turned me into a fan of science-related fantasy was the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was rich and famous for Tarzan, of course, but he also created John Carter of Mars. A Civil War-era soldier transported to Mars, Carter finds romance and swashbuckling adventure in the exotic red world the natives call Barsoom. The first book was A Princess of Mars, and with a cover like this, what red-blooded American boy wouldn’t snatch it into his mitts? And check out the full wraparound art!
Doc Savage: Brand of the Werewolf by Kenneth Robeson (Art by James Bama) – The Doc Savage books were reprinted in the 60s and 70s, probably in conjunction with a pretty lame movie that was released about then. Doc was the science hero to end all science heroes, and every action character from Superman to Indiana Jones owes some debt to him. The covers were painted by western artist James Bama, using actor Steve (“Flash Gordon”) Holland as a model. Every cover is a classic, but this one for “Brand of the Werewolf” stands out, and is more believable than the CGI in the new Twilight movie.
Planet of the Dreamers by John D. MacDonald (Art by ?????) – As I grew older, I lost interest in science fiction and started picking up detective novels instead. But I couldn’t help feeling a certain rush at seeing a spaceship or alien landscape. So imagine my excitement when I found what looked like a space opera by my favorite hardboiled PI writer, John D. MacDonald. Imagine my further excitement at a cigarette in a space helmet. Hell yeah.
Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis (Art/design by ?????) – You have no idea how much I want to pretend that this book lives up to the title (and cover) here. But in truth, it’s much better. It’s not the Erich Von Danikin-style expose of space travelers and lost civilizations. It’s a deadpan comedy about secret fraternal organizations by the most quietly-hilarious American author since Terry Southern. Imagine the secrets of the Illuminati revealed by Jacques Tati, in book form, and you might come close.
JOHN PICACIO: If you’ve seen the original SF Signal post, then you’ve already seen my choices, but here they are again for your convenience.
Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Art by Dave McKean), UK edition – I first saw this cover at Forbidden Planet in London in 1990. It made my head explode. I was on a collegiate trip to Europe as part of my architectural undergrad degree studies. I think this cover officially began the countdown that marked my architectural days as numbered. It made me want to be a professional illustrator. It’s not my all-time favorite McKean, but it is the one that first made my head spin. It’s the one that made me realize that not only can pencils, pens, and paints be your palette, but that indeed the world could be.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (Art by Jim Burns), US edition – How can any artist worth his/her salt not be in heaven illustrating a cover for this story? I think this Burns image is my favorite, especially the full wraparound art, but I also love this one (artist unknown)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (Art by Bruce Jensen), US edition – I recently had a conversation with Bruce Jensen at IlluXCon and told him how much his work influenced me. I think this cover had as much to do with it, as any. It’s one of my favorite examples of cover art that chooses to be evocative rather than literal, which is why I always love his work so much. His work always respects the viewer rather than spoon-feeds them.
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon (Art by Les Edwards), UK edition – This one just hammers me every time. I favor Les’ work that happens when he dons his “Edward Miller” persona, but this image may be my favorite thing that either guy ever did. It needs no words, and makes me want the book all over again every time I see it.