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.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Book about Book-Burning Burnished with 36 Books, and an Oft-Banned Book

A novel due out in February, set in Franco's Spain, about book-burning, boxing and friendship, with a cover made up of 36 books:

And from the same publisher, Harvill Secker, and due out two months later, yet another Orwell face-lift, this time for a hardcover edition of Animal Farm.

Designers both unknown. The designer of the Rivas book is Michael Salu.

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UPDATE: Regarding Pohl's The Age of the Pussyfoot, featured in this post, I find I have this scan of the main illustration from its first magazine appearance. The art is by comics legend Wally Wood. Click for a bigger version.

Thursday 22 October 2009

When You HAVE to Go by the Art Alone

A collection of covers from various (mostly) French-language comic albums (bande dessinée) that remain--as far as I know--untranslated. In almost every case I'm intrigued by the cover art, and want to know more. Comics artists have this in their favour: they almost always get to design the covers for their own books (although sometimes the publishers then do horrible things with logos or typography).


It's only looking at them now, as I write this post, that I realise how almost every one of them makes use of a very limited palette, either various shades of one colour, or else two bold and opposing colours. I have no idea what most of these are about, but if some publisher wants to render any of them into English, I'd be more than happy to give them my money.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Food and Gardening Porn Collide! [A Guest Post]

Note: Vegetarian food writer Lisa Morrison (who is also my wife, and thus the one who has to worry about where all the books I bring into the house are actually going to go) knows her food books. She recently dropped $125 on a cookbook, and I was able to persuade her to write this piece about its very attractive design. For all images, click for much bigger versions.

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Australian cookbook design is out of control: mainly in a good way. Every second one tries to out-beautify the others. This must be what people want, as I know many individuals who wouldn’t even consider a cookbook unless it was awash with sumptuous colour photos of every dish.

As a person for whom my most favourite cookbooks contain no photography (or at least none of the actual dishes) such views shock—that is until I’m in a bookstore embracing a new cookbook so gorgeous I almost cry at the thought of not taking it home. So publishers are definitely onto something by peddling high-class food porn.

Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion is, however, in a different league. The tangelo-hued ‘dustjacket’ made from tea-towel cloth draws the eye and compels one to touch and stroke it. This tactile attraction is useful, as it slightly distracts potential readers from the sheer heaviness of the book when held. (It literally hurts my pubic bone as I rest it there when I read on the couch.) Like her earlier The Cook’s Companion, this is one hefty tome.

The cover design is simple but striking: a stylised print of a tomato half against an orange background and with an irregular, hand-drawn title. The wide spine bears a similar motif but of a rolling pin. Together they sum up the book’s ethos: growing your own produce and then delighting in simple, honest ‘cooking from scratch’ meals. The book was designed and illustrated by John Canty.


The barcode has been stitched onto the dustjacket, and each page that doesn’t contain an appealing full-bleed colour photo by Simon Griffiths or Mark Crew is imbued with a background suggestive of fabric. It is as though the recipes have been printed directly onto a table cloth. I’m getting the sense that Lantern (an imprint of Penguin Books) decided cost was no issue.

Stephanie Alexander is an absolute Australian food legend, growing home produce is reportedly on the rise in Australia, and it’s almost Christmas. People will LOVE this book, including its nifty design. It’s going to sell.

There are so many nice design touches. A single stylised vegetable or fruit adorns each section. As on the cover, it looks as though someone has sliced the produce in half, slopped it in paint and pressed it neatly to the page. This smart, unpretentious artwork complements the authentic, down-to-earth advice offered by Alexander in the book.


Diagrams are used sparingly but appear to be incredibly helpful. While containing hundreds of recipes, this truly is a gardening book too. The diagram and detailed instructions (so like a recipe for cooking but on a grand scale) for ‘no-dig gardening’ finally made me think: “Yes, I could do this”.

Two ribbon bookmarks (one red, the other green) give readers the option to use one for reading in bed and the second to mark the section they’re gardening or cooking from. Very thoughtful!

While it’s a BIG book, the stitching seems robust enough to hold it together long term. The pages open nicely on the kitchen-top, and the whole work has a sense of abundance and goodness. I feel as though I am holding top quality, but nothing so lavish that I should feel guilty about it. While handsome, this is also a workaday book that’s going to spend time outdoors and on my kitchen counter.


Kitchen Garden Companion is going to be a discovery of years, and I can feel it’s made to last and enjoy.

For scale: Alexander's two huge books looming over a delicate Hungarian.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Terry James

Pedro Marques, proprietor of the most excellent bilingual book cover/design blog Montag, recently drew my attention to the work of a mysterious designer I had never heard of. His name is Terry James, and Pedro had found a series of the covers he had done for the now defunct British Science Fiction Book Club in the 1960s.

In attempting to find out more about him, we discovered that he had also done a lot of work for the British Reader's Union reprint book club, at least until 1970. Unfortunately, we don't know where to go next to discover more. It doesn't help that any attempt to track him down online is frustrated by the omnipresence of a Christian end-times fanatic writer of the same name. So, does anyone out there know any more about him?

In the meantime, here are some of his covers for the Science Fiction Book Club: all were monochrome and photographic, but also mysterious and intriguing. Again, thanks for these go to Pedro.


Pedro Marques, by the way, is himself a talented designer: see his work here.

Tuesday 13 October 2009


A recent purchase was the Library of America's two-volume American Fantastic Tales set, a 1500-page collection of short fiction by the United States' best. Everyone is in here, from Edith Wharton and Henry James to John Cheever and Paul Bowles, from Charles Brockden Brown and Edgar Allan Poe to Willa Cather and Vladimir Nabokov. It's a genuinely excellent collection of the creepy, the peculiar and the savage.

What I want to talk about, of course, is the cover design. Both volumes were designed by Chip Kidd, with rather effective photographs. Volume one, which goes from the late 1700s to the 1930s, looks like this:

The second volume, which goes from the 1940s to now, looks like this:

The photographers are Andy and Michelle Kerry (volume one) and Fredrik Broden (volume two). Both images are well chosen. The earlier stories of volume one tend to focus on threats from the outside world, appropriate for a densely forested continent with settlements perched around the edges. The cloaked figure with the lamp is at risk from things in the woods or roaming the roads between villages. In volume two, much of the danger is found in domestic settings: the backyard, the home or the workplace.

The two are available together in a slipcase, which I couldn't resist. I'd have preferred less text on the box, but then I suppose that when the whole thing is shrink-wrapped, the potential buyer can't actually look at the individual books, so you need to let the box do the selling with all of the author names and so forth.

Here's the box...

..and here's what it looks like when possessed.