I judge books by their covers

When I first started making electronic music, but before I actually started releasing CDs, one of my favorite things was to imagine what my CD covers would look like. Now that I’m writing fiction, I also find myself daydreaming about what kind of design or artwork I’d like on my “someday” book covers.

I’ve always loved the art of science fiction and fantasy, but I think we’re in a period where some especially beautiful, sophisticated book design is being done. I’ve mentioned the Iain M. Banks “Culture” series here on this blog before, and the covers of those are really beautiful in both the US and UK versions, which are slightly different.

A publisher I’ve just discovered in the last couple of years (and rapidly purchased dozens of their books), a “small press” In San Francisco called Night Shade Books, has done some of the most beautiful book design I’ve seen recently. Their new, upcoming “best short fiction” collection by Kim Stanley Robinson has such a great cover, it makes me want this even though I’m only familiar with the author by reputation.

Speaking of Night Shade, they’re on a roll lately, with great books by Paolo Bacigalupi’s Wind-Up Girl (how great has it got to be for a small press to win a Nebula for one of their novels?), Laird Barron’s two short story collections, a whole bunch of fantastic short story anthologies (both themed and unthemed) by Jonathan Strahan, and probably a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting.

Back to the question of book covers, though… I love the golden age science fiction imagery with weird aliens, phallic space ships, swoopy princesses in skin-tight costumes, and kick-ass heroes with streamlined metal helmets and bitchin’ rayguns. I enjoy looking at that stuff and it gives me an adolescent tingle when I see it, but I think it’s a good thing for the science fiction field that book cover artwork has become more mature, often more abstract. I don’t own this book by Banks (and I think this is the UK cover and I probably would have to buy a different version anyway) but wow!

Of course the trend is really toward character-focused book covers, where you see a good-looking, slightly dangerous hero or heroine in some kind of peril. It’s just an updated version of the pulp or golden age thing, and while I understand it, and don’t doubt that it gets people to buy books, I love the more austere and sort of suggestive, atmospheric covers. I won’t post any examples of the character-oriented artwork, because you just need to go down to your local mass-market bookstore and look at the science fiction and fantasy sections (particularly fantasy) and you’ll see any number of leather-clad heroines with purple hair, carrying a Stormbringer-ripoff sword, and displaying their particularly meaningful tattoo design along with most of the rest of their skin.

I really have to get that novel going so I can justify all this time spent thinking about book covers!

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