Wednesday, 17 June 2015


I read Adam Roberts's first few novels with great enjoyment, and then somehow drifted away (the combination of the misfiring The Snow and the feeling he was wasting his essence on endless silly stocking-stuffer parody books like The Soddit, The McAtrix Derided, The Sellamillion, Star Warped, The Va Dinci Cod, The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, etc).

However, a while ago I bought a collection of his SF criticism, Sibilant Fricative, on a whim, and it reminded me just how clever and funny a writer he is. Investigating several of the many, many, many books he has published since The Snow showed me that my loss of interest achieved nothing but the exclusion from my life of some extraordinarily good science fiction, and that I had been an idiot.

So I got his newest, Bête, a splendid story about consciousness, animal rights, prejudice and poor social skills, among other things--the central conceit being the invention of AI chips which, when fed to animals, migrate into their brains and gift them human-style consciousness and the ability to speak.

The cover of Bête is also splendid: the work of Blacksheep (or Black Sheep, I've never been quite sure which), it combines woodcut-style animal silhouettes into a delirious swirl of detail, with little added details like megaphones which play up the themes of the novel. (Click for biggering)

And further hunting around reveals Roberts's forthcoming novel to be entitled The Thing Itself, a brew of John Carpenter and Immanuel Kant that I'm exactly enough of an intellectual show-off to be be able to truthfully state is exactly my cup of tea, and which I want to read right now. The 6-month wait is my punishment for my former foolishness. And it has this great cover, also presumably a Blacksheep design.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Circles & Colours (& Numbers)

One ongoing theory is that you fight the drift to ebooks by making your physical books as lovely as possible. Harvill Secker's imminent edition of Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers, which looks very interesting, takes this idea very seriously indeed. It features the first circular dustjacket I can recall encountering, as well as using different single-colour overprinted illustrations that show up under different colours of light.

Quoting from Harvill's design blog: "The theme of surveillance was the spark of this cover. We had admired the RGB wallpaper work of Carnovsky for a while (a Milan based artist/designer duo comprised of Francesco Rugi and Silvia Quintanilla.) Their RGB work experiments with the interaction between printed light and colours. Images in these colours are overlaid, lines and shapes entwine but when seen under a filter/coloured light one of the three layers is revealed.

"The duo were given a large list of subjects from the novel, highlighting the ones that felt particularly important to be included. We then gave Carnosky an unusual circular grid. The idea was that this circle would fold down to wrap around the book as a jacket but when opened out would for an extraordinary poster of the novel."

The embossed boards underneath are very nice, too.

More Carnovsky wallpapers are at their site (see above). Here are a few samples. Click to embiggen and break out the coloured cellophane.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Small Publisher Specials #2: New Vessel Press

New Vessel Press is a small publisher that started up just three years ago, devoted entirely to literature in translation into English. How they make it work financially I have no idea, but it doesn't hurt that they seem to publish uniformly excellent books (I've read around half of their output so far, and there hasn't been a dud amongst them). A particular highlight has been their republication of two wonderfully grim (but funny) novels by Marek Hlasko, a Polish-born, sometimes-Israeli-settled writer who died at the age of 35 from living the sort of life he wrote about so well.

All of New Vessel's covers so far are the work of talented designer and comics creator Liana Finck, They almost all use very limited colour palettes to great effect, and not one of them has any type that isn't hand-drawn anywhere on them.

I just got and started reading this yesterday: fascinating so far--a weird mix of sun-bleached nostalgia, family politics, sexual frustration and depravity

Finck's own experiences in the comics world can probably be summarised by this cartoon she created (click to make legible)...

..since, far from superheroes, her biggest comics work to date is A Bintel Brief, an anthology of true stories adapted from the 100+-year-old advice columns of New York's old Yiddish-language The Forward newspaper. You can read several extracts from the book at her site, here.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Tyrannosaurus Pathos

In some parallel universe where hip-hop took a decidely more science-fiction/physics/neurobiology-oriented turn than in our sad, grey history, Yann Rousselot's poetry collection Dawn of the Algorithm would be the lyrics booklet to the most exciting new album of the 21st Century.

From witty riffs on Hollywood SF to a genuinely beautiful and touching poem from the point of view of a sentient but gaseous Jovian lifeform, this collection is quite unlike anything else being published. Genre poetry may not be the most remunerative field, but if it was all as good as this it would easily be one of the most exciting.

The poems are also illustrated by a range of artists. Here, for example, is Brian J. Murphy's illustration for 'T-REX IS SAD :('.

Dawn is a crowdfunded book from the previously-unknown-to-me Inkshares, who seem to combine various aspects of Kickstarter, hired editing/design staff and self-publishing without the usual financial risks (books are only published when a certain number of pre-orders have been met). Reading about how it all works made me feel old.

Cover design for poetry books is a very interesting field. The tendency towards thematic or atmospheric imagery gives a freedom for designers that a book with a specific plot or set of characters might not, and the pressure from marketeers must surely be lower (nobody is publishing poetry expecting full-window promotions and huge face-out shelf displays in bookshop. On the other hand, poetry can make use of an image that a designer can literalise in a way that might be too on-the-nose or obvious for a novel (see Four-Legged Girl below, for example).

To show what I mean, here are some of my favourite covers for upcoming poetry books. I have no idea what most of these books will be like, but I'd be more than willing to give them a go based on their looks alone. Also, most poetry titles kick most prose titles into the gutter.