To complement the surreal selection of 70s SF album covers from earlier this month, I decided to post on SF book covers... with a twist. The titles I’ve chosen are ones where the subject depicted on the front of the book has little, if any, resemblance to the story of the novel. It’s a problem that’s plagued pulp fiction generally but particularly SF; the mass production of cheap books from the 1940s onwards demanded a high turnover of titles, with publishers’ in-house artists usually working to a brief following the established formula of spaceships and aliens. However, the passage of time has given some of these books a certain charm, or at least enough entertainment value to raise a smile.
The three covers featured here are a somewhat piecemeal selection, and the tip of the iceberg in terms of the SF genre but a good starting point that will perhaps spawn a sequel post. Here goes...
1. Dagon and Other Macabre Tales by H.P. Lovecraft. Highly influential in the SF, fantasy and horror genres, the stories of Lovecraft offer plenty of terrifying visual fodder, or so you might think. The cover design for this Mass Market Paperback edition (1985) of his collected short stories shows an odd, brown scaly creature (not, to my memory, resembling anything in the stories) sitting on top of an unconvincing pile of disembodied heads. Maybe the artist assumed the title was a typo, since the creature’s appearance is definitely more dragon than Dagon.
2. The Hospital Ship by Martin Bax. The first (and only?) novel by the writer and consultant paediatrician, Bax’s experience as a doctor informs this tale of post-apocalyptic societal collapse. The hospital ship of the title sails around picking up casualties of recent wars, a futile undertaking that does little to mitigate the impending global disaster. Clearly, it’s a gloomy theme, and one that could use some help exciting a reader’s attention. So it’s the old sex sells cliché that kicks in for the Pan Books edition (Picador imprint, 1977). Even allowing for the tenuous link to the practice of ‘love therapy’ in the novel, the cover (and the covergirl) are pretty wide of the mark. And if you bought the book for the cover alone, you were bound to be disappointed with the contents.
3. The Caltraps of Time by David I. Masson. The writer and former Curator of the Brotherton Collection (University of Leeds) was the subject of a former post, in which you can read more about his life and this, his only published collection of short stories. Suffice to say, these tales of curious features of language and temporality are not well served by the book cover in this New English Library edition (1976). It is, of course, a classic case of ‘safe SF design’ (when in doubt, draw a spaceship). I’m sure it saved many a tortured conversation about how to visually represent time, phonology or linguistics but it doesn’t do justice to the original and inventive themes in the stories.