Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Southern Reach

I'd long been aware of the writing of Jeff Vandermeer, but had always avoided it, having somehow gained the impression that it was going to be irritatingly wacky in a "Gosh, I'm Just So Crazy" way. That his own publishing company is called Cheeky Frawg didn't help matters.

But I was intrigued by the pre-publication blurbs for his Annihilation, the first book in a trilogy about a weird, possibly alien-infected, zone of danger and peculiarity and the people attempting to get to grips with it: a development of the ideas from the classic Strugatsky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic (filmed as Stalker). That all three books in the trilogy were already written and being released over a period of only nine months helped--no waiting around for years to read the end of the story, with the added worry of the author dropping dead before they finished writing it.

Annihilation was in fact very good indeed, and now I'm reading the newly released second book, Authority (the final volume comes out in September), which may be even better. I seem to have sorely misjudged Vandermeer, and I apologise.

it doesn't hurt that all three books, published by FSG in the US, have beautiful  cover designs by Charlotte Strick, making use of unsettling illustrations by Eric Nyquist. The line art is printed with metallic ink, which is very effective in the flesh. (Click all images for bigger versions.)

Nyquist is also responsible for the end papers to each volume, picturing the lush and weirdly wrong wildlife of Area X.

Nyquist has even animated the three covers for added freakiness.


The books are published in the UK by Fourth Estate, and have the misfortune to have perfectly good cover designs that are kicked completely into the shade by Nyquist and Strick's work.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Needle in Arm, Head Bursting into Flames

In chatting online with talented Swedish designer Magnus Häglund (see his excellent personal designs for H. G. Wells books, done as newspaper front pages, here), I learned of a book I can't believe I didn't already know about: a Swedish modern classic, a dystopian novel about a totalitarian future with the population kept under control through the use of truth drugs and the like. It's Karin Boye's Kallocain, from 1940, and my determination to read it made me thrilled to discover an English translation has been put online by the University of Wisconsin.

There's nothing like a real book, though, and in searching for covers, I found a beauty, from a Norwegian publisher, Lanterne.

The same publisher had some other, wonderfully psychedelic SF covers:

Many of these have a very David Pelham feel.

For more, see this Flickr page.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Space Powers

I've drooled before of the Library of America's boxed sets. They put together really nice-looking collections, and it would be nice to see them rerelease some of their back catalogue in this form (as they have done with their noir/crime collections, for example).

The latest LoA releases are their two volumes of important American science-fiction from the 1950s: this is the really good stuff that transcended its (usual) pulp magazine origins and helped build the genre in its modern form.

The two books and the box are all decorated with art by Richard Powers, whose strange, surrealism-influenced images ended of on the covers of more than 1000 SF books. Despite never being much of an SF fan, his evocatively strange paintings are central to its mid-century development. (see more of his work here, if the link is up.)

And here are the original paintings used:

The books included are:

Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth: The Space Merchants
Theodore Sturgeon: More Than Human
Leigh Brackett: The Long Tomorrow
Richard Matheson: The Shrinking Man
Robert Heinlein: Double Star
Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (pleasingly, published with all of the typographical jiggery-pokery that is often left out of modern reprints)
James Blish: A Case of Conscience
Algis Budrys: Who?
Fritz Leiber: The Big Time

A couple of these were originally published with Powers covers:

Compare these with the rather more straightforward, literal-representation-of-scenes-from-the-book covers the others received.

Cover by Bob Engle

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Slowly Spinning to a Stop

US edition: Random House
Science fiction tends to have as its characters the most important people in the world: they’re the scientists who make the big discovery, the heroes who save the universe, the time travellers who change history, the survivors of apocalypse who build a new world from the ruins. This is reasonable enough: if a good working definition of science fiction is that it changes something about the world or the universe, and then logically pursues the consequences, then it makes sense to have as your heroes and villains the people who are central to that change.

But there’s another kind of science fiction which can be extremely powerful, and it’s something not many writers have explored. It takes a more domestic view, one where the world has been changed, and where the story is that of completely ordinary people living their lives in that world, trying to make a go of it. A particularly powerful example from a couple of years ago is I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh. Another is about to be published: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

“We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath the skin.”
UK edition: Simon & Schuster

Miracles’s central conceit is an unlikely one—the Earth’s rotation suddenly starts to slow, dramatically increasing the length of day and night. (Walker was inspired by the fact that the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake slowed the Earth’s rotation by a fraction of a second.) Days lengthen by minutes, then hours, then double and triple in length.

“By the end of November, our days had stretched to forty hours.”

Society begins to mutate and fail, ecosystems begin to crash, and the cyclic patterns the human brain is used to, and relies on, are disrupted further and further. This would make for an elegant disaster novel on its own. But Walker has something else in mind. The Age of Miracles is in many ways a classic coming-of-age novel, about a teenaged girl trying not to lose her friends, to deal with crushes, to cope with her parents and her changing body. It’s just that she has to do all of this in a world that is slowly, inexorably changing and falling apart.

Teenagers are famously bad at clearly imagining their futures, and frequently take the sort of risks only people who feel immortal would take. Even in the face of global cataclysm, how much would that change? If you have trouble thinking of what to do when you grow up, how much does it matter if you’re not sure if you—or anyone else—will actually make it to a few more birthdays? Elegaic and bleak, Walker’s novel (her first) is finely written and very compelling.

A heartening quantity of excellent science fiction has been written recently by writers who are not normally seen as SF writers, such as Colson Whitehead, Ben Marcus, Julie Myerson and Cormac McCarthy. That almost all of these works have been apocalyptic in nature is both intriguing and, to a troubled devourer of end-of-the-world stories like myself (see here  and, indeed, all of these posts). Even if most of the readers of these books refuse to see them as science fiction, not wanting to find themselves in that particular literary ghetto, it’s heartening to see writers like Walker crossing genre boundaries with such aplomb, and expanding the world for their readers—even if they take them into some very dark places.

This also leads to cover designs that try their damnedest not to look like covers for SF books: see the two examples here. I have no problem with that--many SF covers are awful, after all--but it would be nice to think that the motive was aesthetic rather than literary gtenre snobbery.

[For more information on the physics of what might happen if the Earth were to stop rotating, see here.]

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Illustrated Man Illustrated

Sorry about the week-long gap--I've been busy with real-world stuff, as well as being disappointed with Prometheus. Today I see that Ray Bradbury has died. Now I'm (whispers) not the biggest Bradbury fan, though he seems to have been a lovely chap. His writing has lots of good ideas, but its sentimental folksiness grates a bit on me. However, this seems as good a time as ever to post these covers I discovered a couple of weeks ago: three designs by Adam Johnson for the Harper Perennial Modern Classics editions of three of his best books. Click for bigger versions.

We've seen Johnson's work round these parts before: see his beautiful paper stand-ups photos for a number of classic short story selections.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mockery, WITH Covers (and, be warned, breasts)

There's a certain appeal for many readers in the Mars/Barsoom tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs was no great writer, but he was prolific and, perhaps more importantly, his Martian princess heroine Dejah Thoris spent her entire time naked (Google Image search her name for some of the excitible art this has prompted.). Burroughs also has the advantage of being out of copyright, so anyone who wants to can cash in with reprints of his books. I came across a series of these from Deodand Publishing (I should note here that unlike many publishers of the out-of-copyright, Deodand do not charge ludicrously high prices for their books). The art reminds me of that drawn by heavy metal fans in early high school--more enthusiastic than talented...

There are more effective ways to cash in, of course. Comics company Dynamite is busy adapting the books for comics, and doing their best to squeeze money from idiots by offering various hard-to-find and thus ridiculously expensive "variant covers" (a common way comics companies have to rip off those most eager to be ripped off)--see six of the eight available versions of the first issue...

..and you will notice what Dynamite is pinning their fiscal hopes on, the subtle and sophisticated "risque nude variants", like so...

There's a truly odd cynicism behind this sales ploy, in that even though the books feature the heroine constantly nude, thus actually justifying this sort of objectification (in terms of source fidelity if not in any other way), the actual comics themselves do not feature nudity on the inside pages. Since this is hardly likely to be due to taste or restraint, I can only imagine it's an attempt to be able to sell the non-nude-covered versions of the comics to kids, without creating the sort of moral panic that occasionally occurs when American parents find nipples in their kids' comic books.

Changing the subject entirely, and going back to book covers for a moment, I was surprised by this cover from Dodo Press. Can anyone suggest why Thorne Smith's second supernatural-comedy about Topper and his two friendly ghost friends should end up with Fyodor Dostoevsky on the cover?

At least it's not a risque nude variant.