Thursday, 29 October 2009


Next year, Gollancz is relaunching their venerable Science Fiction Masterworks series, a set of 70-odd books which are, with a few odd inclusions and exclusions, the central texts of the genre. Series relaunches are a necessary evil in the book world: every five or ten years, a publisher decides a line is looking tired, and needs an exciting new look. We've seen this recently with Penguin Classics, Penguin Modern Classics, Vintage Classics, Oxford World's Classics, and so on. It's a pain in the arse if you've been collecting books from a series--spines no longer match, or else a book you've already bought suddenly looks a hell of a lot nicer, and you feel a bit gypped. Or, at least, you do if you're an obsessive like myself.

This Gollancz relaunch has taken a slightly odd approach, though. Instead of commissioning new artwork for the books that were already in the series, or just adding the new dress to the same image, they've kept the old artwork but messed with the palettes to produce a range of sickly hues.

Here are some of the first books due to be relaunched, in their old and new forms.


(Cover art for the first four is by Chris Moore, and the rest by (in order) Fred Gambino, Jim Thiesen and Boris Vallejo*)

Although I haven't read Lord of Light (with or without the missing A in the author's surname), I can say that all the rest of the books shown above are genuinely great works of science-fiction, most of which I came to through this series. However, I'm not sure that these revised covers are an improvement.

Gollancz is also reusing this cunning ploy to add Kurt Vonnegut's great apocalyptic novel Cat's Cradle to the series. Their paperback-sized jacketless hardback will look like this... opposed to the current Penguin Modern Classics paperback, which has this cover by noted album cover artist Julian House.


* All right, here's a link to Vallejo's stuff: make sure you have your tolerance for the sort of art that appears on the side of shaggin' wagons turned way up, though. The Gateway cover is unusual for Vallejo in not containing any nude women with unlikely breasts and 1980s big hair.


po6ot said...

I hated the SF Masterworks Series covers before the relaunch, and now I hate them even more. It must be one of the only series of books that, whereupon I find a book I want to read in the series after reading the blurb, I will go to great lengths to avoid buying it. I will go through abebooks looking for second hand 1970s paperbacks before buying one of these turds.

I did like the idea of the shorter run editions they put out however. One where they got quite creative with the covers (going crazy in the textile department), where you could see that somebody had actually given it some thought, no matter how impractical felt-covered book might be.

And another simpler series with rounded off corners, flat colours and simple motif. Shame they were printed on rubbish paper.


As you say it has the annoying consequence of mismatching books. e.g. 80% of my Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin books have one design, 20% the new look. And similar to the SF masterworks the new look's "designers" have been playing around with the hue/saturation tools in Photoshop...

JRSM said...

Those weird covers were great--felt, no words on the cover, glow in the dark bits, laser reflective bits--they just went nuts.

It could be worse--they could ALL have Boris Vallejo covers!

Derek said...

I;m with you on that one. The colorized versions are flatter and less vibrant. New and different does not necessarily equal good!

JRSM said...

It looks like change for the sake of change, doesn't it?

Brian Busby said...

I'm with you concerning the reissues. Mismatched spines only serve as a reminder that the commitment one makes to a series is not always reciprocated.

In this case, the 'rehuing' (and rejigging of text) does not refresh.

Bob Fingerman said...

Those new versions do indeed look sickly. Weird choice (either that or the original films were left under a leaky pipe). And spelling Zelazny's name wrong is astonishing. Still, I love my Gollancz (or should that be Gollncz?) PKD books.

Anonymous said...

Hey... what's wrong with Boris Vallejo? Nobody likes boobies anymore?

JRSM said...

Brian: I'm glad I'm not alone in these obsessive feelings about unmatched spines.

Bob: Are they those groovy bright yellow editions? I love them.

Christy: When I was young and reading a lot of fantasy novels in the 1980s, every woman on the covers tended to be by Boris, and look like a backing singer from a Poison video.

John Self said...

These have "in-house" written all over them. Surely fanboy scifi geeks are a lucrative enough market that they could afford to splash out on a decent designer?

I agree with po6ot, except that I disliked the wordless, felt-etc covers too - and the round-edged ones just looked cheap (even though they were, ironically, probably more expensive to produce). Gollancz never get their sci-fi classics design right. It's so frustrating for those of us who believe that a book should be as pleasurable to look at and hold as it is to read. It means I have to wait for Penguin to issue them, like with Tevis or Harrison or Aldiss. Sigh.

Bob Fingerman said...

No, they're actually two different runs, I think. Some have photo covers, some have illustrations and then there are one that are mostly with with sort of pop-art giant halftone dots that don't really read as a picture unless you hold them at arm's length.

I know the yellow ones you mean, though.

Alan Trotter said...

Oh god. No.

I've never liked the designs for the SF Masterworks series. Some really great books, but made to look like the most appallingly clichéd, juvenile nonsense. They're the sort of thing that makes it easy for people to disdain and avoid science fiction. I would have welcomed a redesign, but then, I wouldn't have thought they'd actually find a way to make them worse.

And some of the stuff they've been doing recently has been so great. My poor raised and then shattered hopes.

70 titles must be an intimidating number to re-jacket but, I gotta say, this is a really disappointing solution.

Ben said...

I too have always hated (well, maybe not *hated*, "been really irritated by" possibly) the SF Masterworks covers.

I was a teenage SF fan when they started the series, and even then I remember thinking that if their idea is to create a recognisible canon of 'classic' works whose literary merit demands a wider audience than sci-fi geeks, then the cover designs are like a airbrushed slap in the face of that idea, reinforcing all the cliches that probably prevented curious non-SF readers from picking up older editions of the books in the first place...

That, and those Chris Moore covers just look so damn *ugly*. I guess he’s pretty good at drawing spaceships and buildings and such, but you’d think even the most unreconstructed sci-fi publisher would draw the line at all those squidgy-faced bastards and women in impractical space-hats he puts all over these things.

You get the feeling that there might have been a conversation at some point along like lines of; “We want to try doing things a bit differently here Chris, we want to let people know these books have a human element – concentrate on the PEOPLE, Chris”, “Ok.. (sigh).. I’ll see what I can do”.

Compare these to some of the far more forward-thinking approaches to sci-fi covers people were taking back in the ‘70s (like those SF Book Club covers you posted a few weeks back, or the myriad of awesome Ballard/Dick/Aldiss/etc covers from the same era), and it’s a sad state of affairs that people are still reading “Flow Me Tears The Policeman Said” and “The Stars My Destination” (I preferred it back when it was called “Tiger Tiger”) for the first time with this sort of nonsense on the front.

That said, I thought the “I Am Legend” cover was pretty damn cool back when I was 18, and I still think it’s pretty damn cool now.

Rob said...

Interesting how the rehuing of the Alfred Bester cover actually seems to change the expression on the guy's face.

Unknown said...

Yeah I looked at a few on my shelf, and don't particularly like most of the covers - although can't argue with the quality of the authors on the list.

I don't own anywhere close to all of them, so not worried about unmatching spines - and it's good they're still in print. Also, they aren't as bad as the 'Fantasy Masterworks', which are really horrible!

Shame they didn't go along the lines of some they reprinted in 2006: Ubik, etc., or those black and white ones posted earlier.


Btw, completely unrelated but I read a post here a while back about the Atlantic Crime Classics, which are very nicely designed - and noticed bookpeople are selling what appears to be the whole set for £9.99 here

JRSM said...

So the general consensus would be that these new covers are HATED BY ALL. Gollancz will be pleased.

Rich: that deal on the Atlantic Crime Classics makes me clench my teeth until my ears bleed that Book People don't deliver outside the UK. Somebody ought to set up an ebay shop selling on cheap sets like that to we neglected Commonwealth citizens.

Anonymous said...

Gollancz was never very lucky with its choices for SF (with the notable exception of that 2007 Future Classics series and those flat colored, round cornered SF Classics books). I mean, you want to read a vintage hardcover edition of, say, Ballard's "Drowned World", and that yellow 1965 cover just freaks you out (although their 1980s hardcovers for Ballard are quite palatable).

This "new" SF Masterworks is just rubbish. Holding covers like that in your hands is like saying "OK, having reached the bottom of my aesthetic self-esteem, you are now allowed to dispose of me in the manner you wish to".

Matthew Adams said...

hmm, I can't wait till they bring out a Boris Vallejo cover with plush boobies and real leopard fur for the undies for us poor geeks longing for a tactile experience. Admittedly I would only read such a book while commuting by train. And hopefully the boobies would wobble in a realistic fashion (and by realistic fashion I mean like in video games that have jiggle motion graphics).

JRSM said...

I'm sure Baen is working on it.

Steerforth said...

Very odd. The overall effect is similar to my printer when it has a defective ink cartridge.

I don't think either of the Cat's Cradle covers realy capture the essence of the novel.

JRSM said...

The 'Cat's Cradle' cover I really like is the Essential Penguin one from around 2000. I should post that.