I’m going to try something a bit different here. I’m very taken with books as objects. Books are decorations, furniture, art objects in and of themselves. I do judge a book by its cover, at least at first. Good covers have helped me discover good books, and bad covers have kept me away from bad books and, on occasion, warded me away from a book I later enjoyed. Of course, just as there is a lot of bad art out there there are also a lot of bad book covers, particularly in speculative fiction. The genre hit its stride in the pulp magazine fiction era and during the paperback boom, which led to a lot of pulp schlock. This extends to a great deal of the artwork too. Magazine editors like John W. Campbell would often commission a story based on some cover art they bought; conversely editors would also slap artwork onto a cover if it was eye-catching and/or if they simply owned the rights to it, regardless of whether or not it went with the story.
I’m going to try a series of posts focusing on good and the very, very bad in SF cover art, with each post focusing on a specific author, genre, or theme. Of course, the best site showcasing bad SF cover art is, hands down, the blog Good Show Sir.
For this post I decided to focus on one author, one book. Here is some of the best and worst from Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Dune was serialized in Analog as two shorter works, the second half of which is The Prophet of Dune featured in the cover above. I like this one a lot. The best of the Dune covers I have seen emphasize the scale of not only them big ole sandworms but the scale and desolation of Arakkis as well.
This cover was from the first paperback printing of the novel. An 11” x 15” watercolor of the art from this’n sold in 2011 for 26k! While there are no sandworms (at least I don’t think that big thing on the left side is a sandworm), it does emphasize the scale and beautiful desolation of Arakkis.
This one looks a strange. Everything’s a little off. The color scheme reminds me of bit too much of those abstract paintings from the 80s and early 90s you occasionally see in fast food restauraunts, that thopter in the background looks the wrong type of insectoid, and…well the people look like they are wearing black and turquoise klan hoods. What weirds me out the most about this cover is that I own a copy of Phillip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich that has this same cover art (and the image has nothing to do with the story). Recycle and reuse; this is a prime example of getting the most out of artwork you own the rights to.
This one reminds me a little bit of some Lord of the Rings art I’ve seen, in particular some Mordor scenes. Again, I like it because it emphasizes the scale and desolation of Arakkis. It’s thankfully not too gaudy, unlike the previous image.
This is not a book cover…but it’s topical and lol-worthy, so here it is.
This one reminds me of the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt phenomena on Amazon, only perhaps One Worm Moon (if you click on the link to Amazon, the action is down in the comments section). While I’m not against the use of negative space here…if you didn’t know what you are looking at you might not figure it out. It could be construed as some kind of alien…appendage.
I don’t think the perspective works on this one. It looks like this guy has learned how to charm some tiny night-crawler worms.
And we’re back to this bit of cover art. This one you can purchase new, with the same cover art of the 1965 Analog serialization of the book. SF Masterworks usually has very nice covers.
If I were to use one word to describe Herbert’s Dune saga, it would be epic. Not only is it epic in scale, it also draws a great deal on traditions of epic literature. Consequently, the cover art should reflect this. The sandworms and the desert are the two most iconic symbols of the series, and the best covers represent those as huge and intimidating. The worst make them look too, well, cartoonish.
But speaking of cartoonish…
This image was part of an entertaining College Humor gallery featuring cover art of five fake children books based on popular science fiction series, including Dune, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. The one below is a take off of the children’s book Goodnight Moon, about a child saying goodnight to everything around. Julia Yu, after seeing this image, wrote and illustrated an entertaining version of Goodnight Dune, which you can see by clicking this link. The images are cartoons reminiscent of the Dune movie directed by David Lynch.