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MIND MELD: The Most Memorable SF/F Book Covers

Fiction and fantasy book covers can be as awe-inspiring as the stories they are trying to sell. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Which are the most memorable book covers in science fiction and fantasy? (You can name up to 10.)

Read on to see their favorites …and not-so-favorites…

Dave Seeley
Dave Seeley was an award winning architect before becoming a full time illustrator. Equally at home with traditional painting methods and photo/digital methods, Dave’s SF work is heavily influenced by sci-fi film noir. Dave’s work has been commissioned by Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf and Tor, among many others.

I’m a little out of my league given that I came to SF via art, rather than books… so most of my faves are pretty contemporary. But woe be me to pass up the mike. Here’s a list of representative book jackets , by some artists I love and think are stellar sci fi heads (in no particular order).

  1. The Sky People by Greg Manchess (Full artwork)
  2. Cities of the Moon by Donato Giancola (Full artwork)
  3. The Currents of Space by John Harris (Full artwork)
  4. Mission’s End by John Berkey (Full artwork)
  5. Variable Star and Quantumscapes by Stephan Martiniere (Full artwork)
  6. Species by H R Giger (Full artwork)
  7. Star Trek: Wounds by Rick Berry (Full artwork)
  8. Dark Horse Comics Dirty Pair by Adam Hughes (Full artwork)

Lou Anders
A 2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2008/2006 Chesley Award winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as seven critically-acclaimed anthologies, the latest being Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008) and Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008). He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, DeathRay, free inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. Visit him online at

As the art director, as well as the editorial director, for Pyr, I shouldn’t name my own books. So I’ll stick to those covers from my childhood that really drew me into the field. And for that, there is no better book cover illustration that that which Michael Whelan did for A Princess of Mars. I still have his complete 11 book run on the series, before barcodes were stuck on them messing up his gorgeous wraparounds. The first will always be my favorite, though I admit a special fondness for Thuvia, Maid of Mars when I was a preteen. Likewise, Neal Adams cover for Tarzan of the Apes. Whelan’s cover for Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer ranks up there as well. As does Whelan’s cover for Mike Resnick’s Paradise. (Gee, maybe there is a reason Whelan is so famous?) These are probably some of my all time favorites. But it was the work of Richard Powers – any and all Richard Powers – that really impressed me as a kid that science fiction was something sophisticated, modern, adult, maybe even a little over my head (and thus irresistibly attractive). Powers was at the forefront of art, let alone science fiction art, and his work will always typify the field as it came into its own for me, just as a man holding a naked woman in his arms while being menaced by four armed, green monsters typifies its roots. But since I didn’t feel right about pointing out my own cover commissions, let me take a moment to say that the field of SF&F illustration is in good hands for the future with talents like John Picacio, Stephan Martiniere, Sparth, Dan Dos Santos, Raymond Swanland, Jon Sullivan, Benjamine Carre, Dave Seeley, Chris McGrath, Dave Palumbo, and many, many more.

John Coulthart
John Coulthart is an illustrator and graphic designer. His work as a comic artist includes Savoy Books’ Lord Horror series, Reverbstorm, with David Britton, and a collection of HP Lovecraft adaptations, The Haunter of the Dark and other Grotesque Visions, which was published worldwide in 2006. His latest cover designs include two Jeff VanderMeer titles, Finch for Underland Press and Booklife for Tachyon Publications.
  1. Voyages Extraordinaires by Jules Verne (1863–1905). Multiple illustrators.

    The success of Jules Verne’s novels owed much to the efforts of an enthusiastic publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who collected the serialised tales into lavish collector’s editions published each year at Christmas time. The covers of Hetzel’s books are splendid examples of 19th century design, blocked in gold with elaborate borders and decoration, beautiful lettering, and often with vignettes of the interior illustrations engraved on the boards. If Verne’s stories are the original Steampunk texts, then the covers of the Hetzel editions are the original Steampunk graphics.

  2. The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1919). Cover by J Allen St John.

    This is a rather static pose for J Allen St John but it’s chosen for being the first of the John Carter books illustrated by the artist after Frank E Schoonover had worked on the previous two. St John fascinates me for representing the point at which traditional book and magazine illustration tips over into what we now call fantasy art. He’s celebrated as one of the original Tarzan illustrators but it’s with the John Carter books and his work for Weird Tales that you see the first stirrings of sword and sorcery motifs which were later evolved by other artists such as Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta. Despite their age, these paintings are pretty timeless; they could still be used as covers today, unlike a lot of later sf art which has dated badly. The other point I’d like to note about St. John is his lettering designs, all of which were hand-drawn and perfectly complement his paintings. The same goes for his chapter headings which married lettering with illustration. He deserves almost as much credit as an innovative type stylist as he does for his drawing and painting.

  3. Conan the Adventurer by Robert E Howard and L Sprague de Camp (1966). Cover by Frank Frazetta.

    The covers that launched a thousand imitators. Lancer’s series of Conan books in the 1960s were the first appearance of Howard’s barbarian in paperback and came sporting cover art by Frank Frazetta. A great example of artist and subject being perfectly matched, these are the standard by which all subsequent barbarian art must be judged. Frazetta’s painting of a brooding warrior lord (which he reworked slightly for its poster edition) is for me the definitive portrait of Howard’s hero, battle scarred and proudly malevolent, with a chauvinistic blur of trophy female clinging at his feet. Other artists can do the muscles and monsters but none capture the physical presence and brute animality of Howard’s characters the way Frazetta does.

  4. The Crystal World by JG Ballard (1966). Cover: “The Eye of Silence” by Max Ernst (1943).

    A great example of the use of pre-existing art. Ballard is inextricably linked with the Surrealists, his early fiction makes continual reference to Dalí, Ernst, Tanguy and others, and a number of his short stories seem to have evolved from specific paintings. The figure from Dalí’s “City of Drawers” was used on the cover of The Atrocity Exhibition in 1970 but for me the matching of Ernst’s decalcomania masterpiece “The Eye of Silence” is far more successful. Decalcomania is a technique which creates random patterns by pressing a sheet of glass onto fresh paint. Ernst created a number of works like this during the 1940s and the mutant landscape of “The Eye of Silence” makes a perfect accompaniment to Ballard’s story of an African jungle undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis. I’ve never seen it confirmed but I’ve always guessed that Ballard himself recommended this picture for the cover. It was deemed successful enough to appear on both the UK and US editions, and was also used on a later paperback edition.

  5. Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison (1967). Cover and interior illustrations by Leo & Diane Dillon.

    This cover isn’t among the Dillons’ best (although I like the modish swirling type), I chose this more for its interior illustrations. The Dillons had a long and fruitful relationship with Harlan Ellison, and their very distinctive graphic style set Ellison’s books apart, especially from the UK reprintings which were invariably decorated with shoddy spaceship art. For Ellison’s landmark anthology and its sequel, Again, Dangerous Visions (1972), the Dillons took on the unenviable task of illustrating every story in two challenging collections. They did this using a bold woodcut style which not only threw up some very memorable images but also served to act like a graphic glue, binding together the disparate pieces. I’ve always found it odd that illustrations are a commonplace in sf and fantasy magazines yet are rarely used in anthologies. Ellison and Moorcock understand the value of interior art, and the editor of this particular volume dedicated his book to its illustrators.

  6. Ballantine Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter (1969-1974). Multiple illustrators.

    Yes, this is a cheat, co-opting an entire series, but the Ballantine Adult Fantasy titles stood out not only for the many titles seeing mass printing for the first time, but also for the way they managed to maintain a consistency of mood despite using a range of different artists. Gervasio Gallardo produced most of the work and his delicate, often surreal style set the tone. Among the other contributors there was the cover artist of Love’s Forever Changes, Bob Pepper, some early work by Ian Miller, and the rare appearance on a book cover of a painting by fantastic realist Mati Klarwein. Pepper’s cover for A Voyage to Arcturus was for years one of the few which didn’t try to show Lindsay’s novel as a sub-Conan fantasy.

  7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1972). Cover design by David Pelham.

    David Pelham was the art director at Penguin Books from 1968 but was also an impressive designer in his own right. As well as revitalising the look of Penguin’s science fiction line in the 1970s, he produced a series of his own illustrations for JG Ballard titles which gained praise from the author. The Burgess cover was done for a paperback reissue to coincide with the release of Stanley Kubrick’s film. Kubrick wouldn’t allow Penguin any of the film graphics, and a commissioned illustration turned out to be unusable, so Pelham produced this iconic design literally overnight. The cover worked so well it persisted through many reprintings, something which few cover designs ever manage, and now has a life of its own beyond the cover.

  8. At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft (1974). Illustrated by Ian Miller.

    This was one of the first HP Lovecraft volumes I bought and the cover, one of several by Miller for Panther’s horror titles, made a big impression. Miller depicts what might be one of Lovecraft’s Elder Things battling a Shoggoth but the tiny human figures in the background show these creatures to be hundreds of feet tall. This exaggeration, and the furious blizzard of detail, made sense to me as an illustration of the atmosphere the story created rather than a careful depiction of a particular scene. It also influenced how I came to treat Lovecraft myself a decade later. Miller is an original talent whose spiky and idiosyncratic work has more recently become associated with the equally spiky and idiosyncratic fiction of M John Harrison. The pair produced a memorable adaptation of Harrison’s The Luck in the Head and I’d love to see them work together again.

  9. The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock (1976). Cover by Michael Whelan.

    You never saw DAW paperbacks on sale in the UK unless they were secondhand but this cover thrilled me when I first saw it in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (1978) and continues to do so today. Whelan was pigeonholed as a Frazetta clone when he started out but soon developed his own style. This was one of a number of Elric paintings he produced in the mid-70s–all of which (according to Moorcock) show Elric as being too muscular–but in this one I feel he really captured some of the sorcerous atmosphere Moorcock achieves in the best of the stories. There’s an eldritch quality to Elric’s appearance which few other artists have managed to convey, and as in many of Frazetta’s paintings this one hints at much but reveals little, leaving space for the imagination to work. Someone at Gollancz recognised the power of this when they re-used it as the cover of the Fantasy Masterworks edition of Elric in 2001.

  10. LibreArt2.jpg

  11. Chute Libres series (1974–1978). Multiple illustrators.

    Another book series and one whose existence I was only made aware of very recently. Chute Libres was a series of twenty sf reprints from French publisher Champ Libre with an emphasis on the experimental or sexually explicit speculative fiction of the late 60s and early 70s. In addition to Philip José Farmer’s run of wild porn novels–A Feast Unknown, Image of the Beast, etc–the series included Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition, Moorcock’s Breakfast in the Ruins, Delany’s Equinox and similar titles. The very striking covers were all bordered in black with white titles set in Rockwell, and the illustrations are mostly brightly coloured line drawings with two contributions from comic artist Moebius. The violent tone of many of the drawings, and the blunt sexual content, is of a kind that few major publishers would risk today. Among the less challenging works was Farmer’s The Other Log of Phileas Fogg which conveniently brings us back to Jules Verne. [Editor’s note: click through to see the uncensored version of the Libre covers.]

Gregory Manchess
Gregory Manchess‘ artwork has graced the covers (Time, National Geographic, Atlantic Monthly and the Major League Baseball World Series Program), spreads (Playboy, Omni, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Smithsonian), and countless advertising campaigns and book covers. Manchess is widely awarded within the industry, garnering (among others) gold and silver medals from the Society of Illustrators in bot New York and Los Angeles, a Best in Show Award from the L.A. Society of Illustrators, the Hamilton King Award, the Stephan Dohanos Award, and a Spectrum silver medal. Visit his website at

2001: A Space Odyssey – Bob McCall’s space paintings were loose and joyful and yet portrayed a hard science believability. All the halos and wisps of star stuff only enhanced my desire to go there.

A Princess of Mars – I found this particular cover strange at first because we don’t see who he’s fighting, which peeks our interest. The composition seems so casually designed, it couldn’t possibly grab attention. And yet, it captures a moment of confusion perfectly. I love that big ol’ flintlock pistol butt. Robert Abbett also painted many in the Tarzan series.

The Humanoid Touch – I could make my entire list full of Berkey selections. This one is a study of shape and form and smart color. Compelling.

The Zero Stone – An all white cover grabs the eye and doesn’t let go. And Jeff Jones used it to portray figures floating in all the whiteness. They even face away from the audience. It is entirely sweet and devilishly simple.

The Gods of Mars – This is one of Frazetta’s best because he breaks his own convention of putting everything in the center. Those apes are fantastic, and the color more so.

The Green Hills of Earth – I stared at this image since childhood because it felt so comfortably believable. Stanley Meltzoff painted sf scenes like an old master. I never read the book, but I still study the painting.

Captain Blood – David Grove captured the inimitable Capt. Blood with so much swagger, no action was necessary. But you could open the paperback cover and be treated to a double page illustration with even more pirate madness. Publishers had brass back then.

A Canticle for Leibowitz – Lou Feck was one of my favorites, much like Abbett. Loose, accurate, great color, solid.

The Tuvela – John Schoenherr’s cover for Analog Magazine has held me in a trance since 1968. It’s not earth-shattering, but I know I want a giant otter. It is stiffly painted, as most of John’s work has a beautiful rigidity to it. But it breaks the stiffness through light, color, and imagination.

Saturn – Of the myriad of contemporary sf/f covers, John Harris’s Saturn cover is at the top. Intensely dramatic, with stunningly good color, whenever I come across this painting I must always look. It demands that you project yourself to this moon’s surface and just stare.

Mark Chitty
Mark Chitty lives in Caernarfon, North Wales with his wife, Jane, and hyperactive cocker spaniel, Snoop. He has the exciting job of dealing with students on a day to day basis at Bangor University but escapes the real world whenever possible to read and blog about science fiction at Walker of Worlds.

There are a lot of covers out there that are jaw droppingly stunning, but to be memorable it has to go beyond just looking good on a shelf. To me, a memorable cover usually accompanies a memorable book – it’s the whole package that sticks in my mind.

The first that springs to mind for me is Pandora’s Star by Peter F Hamilton. This was the book that got me back into sci-fi and it was the cover that made me pick it up, and although it’s not my favourite from his work, it’s certainly the most memorable to me. This is the way it goes for most covers I remember: – The Painted Man by Peter V Brett, with the excellent depiction of Arlen; Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost that instantly shows you it’s a book that won’t take itself too seriously; Hyperion by Dan Simmons, a cover that matches the book for sheer greatness (a rare thing); The Dark Tower by Stephen King, a superb cover that sums up the series so well yet leaves much for the reader to wonder about.

Of course, it’s not always like that, I do see covers that stick in my mind for a long time even when I haven’t read the book – and they’re not always memorable in a good way! Considering the popularity of the Wheel of Time series it still ends up on shelves with covers like the latest for The Gathering Storm. A memorable cover all right, but memorable in all the wrong ways!

But to end on a positive note, I can’t give you my thoughts on memorable covers without including the French cover to The Skinner by Neal Asher, possibly one of my most favourite covers ever and done by the most excellent Stephan Martiniere. Wonderful!

Maurizio Manzieri
Maurizio Manzieri is a freelance illustrator based in Turin, Italy, who specialises in surreal worlds of the imagination. His artwork has appeared on the covers of the most prestigious magazines of leading Italian and international publishing companies – Mondadori, Longanesi, TEA, Editrice Nord, Fanucci, Dario Flaccovio Editore, Delos Books and, overseas, Interzone, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Putnam/Berkley, and Subterranean Press. He has signed contracts giving him exclusive partnerships and allowing him to work in close contact with writers like Tad Williams and Clive Cussler. During the course of his career he has received countless honours, including the Europe Award, the Premio Italia (twice) and, in 2003, the Chesley Award. Several of his works have been periodically chosen for annuals, including Spectrum, The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.

It’s hard for an artist to choose the most memorable book covers in science fiction and fantasy… We are talking about our vital lymph, and indeed I’ve seen during my life several hundreds of memorable illustrations. Probably the covers I’ve selected are NOT the best memorable covers to date, yet they are examples of ‘windows’ on other worlds that I keep recalling even after many years, covers that in my opinion ‘describe’ a world beyond the words:

[Editor’s note: Titles link to full images]

Paul from Marooned
An avid reader and information junkie, Paul maintains a blog called Marooned – Science Fiction books on Mars and collects SF&F paperbacks in that niche. He works for a nonprofit in Boston and hopes to squander his life savings on a secondhand bookshop when he retires. Bricks-and-mortar should be back en vogue by then.

[Editor’s note: Titles link to larger images]

  • Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Even though this is my favorite SF book, I think most of the covers that have been created over the years are lame. One of the few I like is the cover for the 1979 Ballantine / Del Rey paperback, with artwork by Barron Storey.
  • Jerry Sohl’s The Mars Monopoly (1956). This is half of one of those old Ace Double novels. The plot is less than stellar and Sohl never won a Hugo Award, but I love the cover. It has most of the characteristics of Golden Age Sci-Fi: an astronaut, a spaceship, a high tech dashboard and a damsel in distress.
  • Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (1951). My dad gave me the 1966 Avon paperback to read when I was in junior high school. It was one of the first SF books I ever read, even though it was way over my head. I still can’t figure out the cover.
  • The Fantastic Art of Boris Vallejo (1978). I first saw this book at a friend’s house when I was in high school. Years later I bought a used copy at a secondhand bookstore. The coolest aspect of the cover is the woman’s ribs. Boris really knows his anatomy.
  • Bill Peet’s How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head (1971). I’m calling this one fantasy, for it was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. My mom and I would check it out of our local library, then she would read it to me. Ah, the good old days.
Joseph Mallozzi
Joseph Mallozzi, along with his partner Paul Mullie, is the executive produce/showrunner for Stargate: Atlantis. He also runs a Book Of The Month discussion at his website.

It’s true. You can’t judge a book by its cover. That said, a great cover goes a long way toward securing that sale. Given the hundreds of titles in my local bookstore’s SF and Fantasy sections, I don’t have time to peruse them all. I know, I know. I really should. But I don’t. Which is why standing out helps. An eye-catching cover is guaranteed to grab my attention and that, in turn, guarantees that I WILL invest those precious few minutes to check out the back cover summary. And, if the premise proves equally intriguing, then mission accomplished. I’m buying your book.

No, you can’t judge a book by its cover. And I, personally, won’t read a book simply on the basis of the cover art. On the other hand – and I hate to say it – I will avoid a book solely based on the cover art. But that’s a Top 10 list for another time. Today, I share my Top 10 SF/Fantasy covers. In no particular order…

  1. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett (Corgi Books/Random House) – Even though I selected Guards! Guards!, I really want to nominate the entire line in this series. Silver, grey, and gold foreground elements offer a subtle contrast to the sleek, black background.
  2. Matter, Iain M. Banks (Orbit) – Another instant in which I cite one title as representative of an entire line, in this case the Banks series published by Orbit. Beautiful covers that convey a sense of true cosmic intrigue and discovery.
  3. Open Your Eyes, Paul Jessup (Apex Book Company) – As I wrote in my blog back in October, the cover art, “The Day Dreamer”, by Daniele Cascone, does such a spot-on job of mirroring the book’s sense of blossoming apprehension and wild, wide-eyed wonder. It doesn’t simply draw your attention. It cold-cocks it.
  4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith – A perfect storm of a great premise, a terrific title, and spot-on cover art. It’s a marriage of the Romantic, the Victorian, and the Romero.
  5. Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge, edited by Lou Anders – I’m a big fan of John Picacio’s work and, while I could easily pick one of another dozen of his covers, I’ll go with this one that beautifully captures the twin SF themes of hope and wonder celebrated in the anthology.
  1. The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker – Back to subtle elegance; back to a single title representing a line of books, in this case R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing trilogy. The cover is beautiful but foreboding, hinting at dark dealings and fathomless mysticism.
  2. Multireal, David Louis Edelman (PYR Books) – Stephan Martiniere’s Chelsey Award is well-deserved. Here he offers up a gorgeously detailed vision of the far future. I’ve selected his cover for Multireal, but could have also gone with his breathtaking covers for Kay Kenyon’s The Entire and the Rose series, or his covers for Ian McDonald’s River of Gods and Cyberabad Days with their Blade Runner-esque echoes.
  3. Before they Are Hanged, Joe Abercrombie – This time, I’m selecting the second book in the series only because it was the one that caught my eye when I was strolling through a bookshop several years ago. It was one of those cases where I fell in love with the cover and, really, picked up the first two books in the series with absolutely no knowledge of their contents. And, I ended up being rewarded with what is now among my top three favorite fantasy series of all time.
  4. In the Cities of coin and Spice, Catherynne M. Valente – Michael Komarck’s cover illustration stirs memories of my childhood imaginings wondrous, whimsical, foreboding and fantastic. The perfect compliment to Valente’s breathtaking work.
  5. The Physiognomy, Jeffrey Ford (Golden Gryphon Press) – You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more audaciously imaginative author than Jeffrey Ford, and for proof look no further than his Well-Built City trilogy. Reprinted by Golden Gryphon Press, the books boast some equally vivid and delightfully daring covers.
Paige Bruce
Paige Bruce spends her days working at a rural radio station, where she writes and produces commercials, and anything else she can get her hands on. In the evenings, she voraciously devours the few new SF/F books she can afford to add to her collection, and works on creating her own speculative masterpiece. Visit and say hello at or on Twitter, @ecurbmp.

I can’t tell you what the most memorable book cover is to you, obviously. It’s probably swimming in your mind right now, brought to the forefront when you read the Question. I’ve noticed that as books enter your life at different times, they can take on very different and specific meanings. I know that I’m going to look at this whole article after it’s posted and say, “OH! I loved that cover too!” when I see what everyone else’s answers were. I can tell you what covers are swimming in my head though, the ones that resound within me. And, if you haven’t thought of them already, maybe it will make you think of a cover you’d like to tell me about.

My first still really stays with me. Should I blush when I mention my first? You know what I mean. My first Fantasy book, the one that really changed me, that brought me over to the “dark side”. It was Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. Now, it wasn’t my very first Fantasy novel, but it was the first one that spoke to me, the first that I chose on my own rather than having it as part of my school’s curriculum. I remember scanning the shelves and picking it up on a whim, then suddenly cradling it gently like it was the most precious thing in the world as I gazed at the cover.

It was the very first edition, with a young Alanna holding her sword Lightning before her, gazing at it with determination. Although she was dressed as a boy, and could have been mistaken as one, there was no fooling my eyes. This was a young woman with purpose. Behind her was a road leading to a dark city, and a dark haired young man on a horse, Jonathan. I freely admit that I had the hugest crush on Jon when I first read that book and I would alternate between gazing at the cover and examining it for every detail my eyes could get out of it – but who can blame a 12 year old girl? Everything that cover said to me was magic, and as I opened the pages that magic turned into a new reality for me, an adventurous tale of a young woman growing up.

I read that book a countless number of times, not only in Grade 7, but at least twice a year all through school, even as I eagerly devoured the rest of Tamora Pierce’s fiction. (I still love reading her YA Tortall books, despite being 23 now!) I’m still looking for a copy of that first edition cover, and if I ever found it, it would stay very precious to me.

Phew! So what can I say following that? Well, I do have some “honorary mentions”, covers that also appealed to me.

Belgarath the Sorcerer by David Eddings was my first adult Fantasy book… and, uh, it was probably only a year or less after reading Alanna: The First Adventure. My father was reading it, and while we were visiting one weekend, I saw it on the ground beside his bed, looking inviting. It was huge to me at the time, a large hardcover, and the artwork was very appealing, like snippets from the scenes inside. Later on, when I learned which character was which (and when I read The Belgariad and The Mallorean), it only created a further fascination, especially once the significance of the wolf became clear.

The Dark Angel by Meredith Ann Pierce is an old favourite, and the picture shown is the copy that I picked up originally. How could anyone resist the question posed when you see a large black-winged angel carrying a girl away? Is he good or evil? Does she want to go? And most importantly, where are they going? Covers that ask questions from you when you look at them are irresistible in my eyes – it is the hook before you read the first line, the dare that prompts to open the book up and discover the answers.

And more recently Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, artwork by Dan Dos Santos. Isn’t it gorgeous? I love touching the vibrant colours that are not only appealing visually, but appeal to your interest as you get into the book itself. Colours are so much a part of this book that it would have been a crime not to have them on the front cover for you to experience.

Lee A. Harris
At night, Lee dons a mask and prowls the streets as the publisher of Hub Magazine – Europe’s most widely-read weekly genre fiction magazine. During the day, however, he’s the mild-mannered Assistant Editor at Angry Robot – though given the choice of a second identity he would have gone for billionaire playboy. In addition to his editorial duties, he also manages the imprint’s marketing activities. He also writes a little (with the emphasis on “little”).

One of my all-time favourite covers is a 1962 Penguin edition of Orwell’s 1984 I picked up in a charity shop about 25 years ago. It shows what appears to be a person looking through a small tunnel or cylinder of some kind. Those familiar with the book will recognise it as a scene from Room 101, of course – the cylinder is part of a larger container, which houses rats, and Winston Smith’s eye is within easy reach…

What’s interesting about this cover is that it’s a creepy image made even creepier by knowledge of what it represents. So often a cover loses its effectiveness once meaning is clear, not so with this one.

I’m going to choose a modern cover for my next choice. Tor got it perfectly right with Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker earlier this year. It has everything – a valid interpretation of the book’s protagonist, enough steampunkery to keep fans of the genre happy, but not so much that it’ll deter the casual browser. The lettering and design works, too – simple and effective, and confident enough to allow the artwork to speak for itself.

I’m going slightly off topic now, as I want to pick a comic book cover (hey, the brief said book, not novel…)

Some of the best covers in recent years have appeared on the front of comics, and some of the best of those have graced the covers of Marvel’s Daredevil. Alex Maleev and David Mack both perform wonders here, and there are a large number of covers I could mention. I’m going to go with Maleev’s cover for Daredevil 31, though (Marvel, 1998). It shows – like few other covers have – exactly why criminals in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen are afraid of this particular costumed vigilante. It’s rough, it’s unsettling, and it’s real. Incidentally, the interior artwork is just as effective.

Simple seems to be the theme emerging here, as my next choice is David Pelham’s design for A Clockwork Orange (Penguin, not sure of the date). It is iconography, writ large. It tells you there’s something different about this book. It implores you to pick it up. The font is a tad dull, but that’s more than compensated by the gorgeous illustration and colours.

My next choice is the original cover(s) for Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Bloomsbury, 2004). Available originally as white on black or black on white (mine was the white on black), it was simple, striking, and stark. In the bookshops it was surrounded by books of all shapes, sizes and colours, and it’s simplicity made it stand out from the herd.

Lastly, I’m steering away from the simple covers, and heading in the opposite direction. Before illustrating Pratchett covers, Josh Kirby had enjoyed considerable success. After drawing the cover for Pratchett’s A Colour of Magic, however (Corgi books, 1985), it became clear that this was a match made in heaven, and Kirby’s future was assured. His work became synonymous with comic fantasy, and he seemingly illustrated every sub-par Pratchett knock-off on the shelves, but we weren’t fooled – oh, no. We waited for the next Pratchett novel and cooed over the intricacy of the detail in the Kirby cover. And you gotta love his Luggage…

Aidan Moher
Aidan Moher is the editor of A Dribble of Ink, a humble little blog that exists in some dusty corner of the web. He hasn’t won any awards, or published any novels. But he’s, uhh… working on that. Stay tuned.

Cover Art is something I’ve ranted and raved about on my blog much more than is healthy. It’s something I’m passionate about, and something that’s as integral to setting the tone for a novel as anything else, pre-read.

Yeah, yeah…you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I know. But, you know what? I do. If I’m looking forward to a novel, it doesn’t much matter what the cover art looks like (though I’ll still bitch about, cause I’m like that), I’ll still read it. At least on a subconscious level. Sure, I wouldn’t pass a novel wholly by just because of cover art, but memorable cover art can often be enough to put a book on my radar, give me cause to dig a bit deeper and find out more about it.

That said, these are a few of the Covers that really caught a hold of me and stuck around:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – Everybody knows this cover. It’s a simple classic that beautifully captures the essence of the novel. And, best of all, it’s illustrated by Tolkien himself.

This may not be my favourite cover of The Hobbit (that goes to the wonderful John Howe artwork, featuring Smaug, sleeping atop his pile of treasure) but it’s certainly the most evocative and iconic.

Brasyl by Ian McDonald – Lou Anders at Pyr Books does some wonderful work, but this cover stands above them all. A Blade Runneresque vision of the future, with a splash of all the colour and verve found in modern day South America. Top it off with great font work and you’ve got an absolute winner.

I haven’t read Brasyl, or any of McDonald’s work, but this novel hit my towering ‘to-read’ pile on the strength of the cover alone.

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington – Just look at that incredible artwork by István Orosz. Lauren Panepinto, at Orbit Books took a huge risk on this one, and it panned out beautifully.

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – The North American cover is nice, but the minimalist, two-toned version released in the UK nails the novel perfectly.

The Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams – I spend a lot of time bitching on my blog about the publishing industry’s insistence on featuring characters on covers. But, well…when you have Michael Whelan doing the painting you can get away with pretty much anything. Still, what really stands out about this cover is the myriad colours represented in the burst of butterflies behind Simon.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Haunting, bold and unique. One look at the cover and you can’t help but wonder what’s within.

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson – Memorable cover art doesn’t always mean good cover art, and this is the perfect example. I don’t think anyone close to the industry will forget when this cover was released to the public. One of the most anticipated novels of the decade, sure to sell a bajillion copies…and we get an insipid, embarrassing piece of art. A cover like this for a new author would be a kiss of death, for Jordan (a veteran of bad covers) it’s just another walk in the park.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – It more or less speaks for itself. Incredibly iconic, this bold yellow image defines one of the world’s great works of Speculative Fiction.

Bob Eggleton
Bob Eggleton‘s drawing and paintings cover a wide range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror topics, depicting space ships, alien worlds and inhabitants, dragons, vampires, and other fantasy creatures. His view on space ships were that they should look organic, and claimed that as a child, he was disappointed with the space shuttles and rockets NASA produced; they were nothing like fantasy artists of the twenties and thirties had promised. His fascination with dragons originated with his childhood interest of dinosaurs, which can be seen in the book Greetings From Earth. His paintings are commissioned and bought at sci-fi conventions, and used as book covers. Eggleton has been honored with the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist eight times, first winning in 1994. He has also won the Chesley Award for Artistic Achievement in 1999 and was the guest of honor at Chicon 2000.

In NO particlular order:

  • Astounding Stories “Black Destroyer” by A.E. Van Vogt (July 1939), art by Graves Gladney
  • Astounding Stories “Martians Go Home” by Fredric Brown (Sept 1954), art by Kelly Freas
  • The White Dragon by Anne McCaffery (1978), art by Michael Whelan
  • Analog “Wings of A Bat” by Paul Ash (May 1966), cover by John Schoenherr
  • Analog “Satan’s World” by Poul Anderson (May 1968), cover by Chesley Bonestell
John Picacio
John Picacio has illustrated covers for books by Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Frederik Pohl, Jeffrey Ford, Charles Stross, Robert Heinlein, Joe R. Lansdale, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and many, many more. A five-time Hugo Award nominee for Best Professional Artist, he has won the Locus Award, two International Horror Guild Awards, the Chesley Award, and the much-coveted World Fantasy Award – all in the Artist category. He recently won a 2009 Chesley Award for Best Paperback Cover Illustration. He’ll be illustrating the 2011 calendar for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (Bantam). He and his wife, Traci, live in San Antonio, Texas. For more info and pictures, please visit

Here are a few of the most memorable sf/fantasy covers for me, and in this case, I’m defining “most memorable” as not only memorable cover art, but images that changed the way I saw the world.

  • Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Art by Dave McKean), Titan Books/Escape, UK edition, 1987 – I first saw this cover at Forbidden Planet in London in 1990. It made my head explode. I was on a collegiate trip to Europe as part of my architectural undergrad degree studies. I think this cover officially began the countdown that marked my architectural days as numbered. It made me want to be a professional illustrator. It’s not my all-time favorite McKean, but it is the one that first made my head spin. It’s the one that made me realize that not only can pencils, pens, and paints be your palette, but that indeed the world could be.

  • The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (Art by Jim Burns) Bantam Spectra, US edition, 1990 – How can any artist worth his/her salt not be in heaven illustrating a cover for this story? I think this Burns image is my favorite, especially the full wraparound art, but I also love this one (artist unknown)

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (Art by Bruce Jensen), Del Rey, US edition, 1995 – I recently had a conversation with Bruce Jensen at IlluXCon and told him how much his work influenced me. I think this cover had as much to do with it, as any. It’s one of my favorite examples of cover art that chooses to be evocative rather than literal, which is why I always love his work so much. His work always respects the viewer rather than spoon-feeds them.

  • Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon (Art by Les Edwards), Gollancz, UK edition, 1999 – This one just hammers me every time. I favor Les’ work that happens when he dons his “Edward Miller” persona, but this image may be my favorite thing that either guy ever did. It needs no words, and makes me want the book all over again every time I see it.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

22 Comments on MIND MELD: The Most Memorable SF/F Book Covers

  1. Gregory Manchess // November 18, 2009 at 1:02 am //

    This is such a great post, John. Inspiring to see everyone’s picks. Made me remember even more. One of which should have been Schoonover’s cover for A PRINCESS OF MARS. Nice to see the St. John included. And absolutely the Barron Storey cover for F450! How’d I miss that one?? This has been especially great to see and share, and also to pick up on many other paintings I haven’t had a chance to see. Love the British aesthetic for SF covers. Spot on!

  2. When I was a kid back in the 1970’s & 1980’s the covers that caught my eye were the Chris Foss, Peter Elson and Eddie Jones covers for Harry Harrison’s Deadworld and Stainless Steel Rat series and the Chris Foss covers for various Asimov novels. If my memory serves me correctly the covers of the Foundation trilogy published by Panther Science Fiction in the early 1970’s when joined together formed a big picture. Chris Foss also did covers for the Perry Rhodan titles published by Orbit. As a totally trivial aside the first time I saw babylon 5 my initial impression of the space ships was the Chris Foss look was being heavily used.

    Back then the majority of SFF titles in Australia were imported in from the UK. The other covers that I pored over for hours were the ones for “Science Fiction Monthly” magazine published by the New England Library in the late 1970’s.

    I only returned to reading SFF just over a year ago after a close to 2 decade break so I really can’t comment on covers from that time frame.

    Finally IMHO book covers can be quite emotive and this is something that will be lost if E-Books come to dominate publishing. I have access to two library systems and over the years I have found some absolute non-fiction gems because of the cover getting my attention.



  3. David Ellis // November 18, 2009 at 7:33 am //

    Great choices.  Does anyone remember that series of cover illustrations to the reissues of several of Arthur C. Clarke’s books?  They all had these hairless muscular figures emerging from a sort of misty haze (somewhat similar to Dr Manhattan without the glow).  I’ve always wondered who did them (they weren’t credited).  The style’s reminiscient of David Grove but I’m not sure it was him.

    In some difficult to define way they perfectly capture the sense of wonder that science fiction evokes.

  4. John Picacio // November 18, 2009 at 7:33 am //

    Glad to be invited to this Mind Meld party. Thanks, John! The best Mind Melds are the provocative ones, but this one’s my favorite because it’s probably the most inspiring I’ve seen to date, as Greg mentioned.

    I’ll be revisiting this one all week to look up some of these images and study them in greater detail. What’s cool is getting a glimpse of not only what people like, but how they see and think. Hat’s off to you and the Signal once again.

  5. Out of the many fantastic covers from modern times, I was surprised no one mentioned “Man on the Ceiling” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem….



    I’m pretty sure Matt Adelsberger did the design, but I don’t know where the art came from.


  6. John Picacio // November 18, 2009 at 7:41 am //

    Cover art for MAN ON THE CEILING is by Christopher Gibbs.

  7. I have always loved the Robert Gould art for Louise Cooper’s Time Master trilogy and for the Indigo series.  They were haunting and otherworldly and perfectly captured the tone of Cooper’s work. 

  8. Thank you again for letting me be a part of this!

    And I *knew* that I’d see so many amazing cover choices when I read this again. This reminds me again that I wish the UK Covers were available in Canada! (Especially for Final Empire!)

  9. I don’t think anything beats the classic Dune cover but hey, that’s just me. I’m more of a sci fi movie watcher than book reader myself though. Here’s a really cook article on some great sci fi films if anyones interested.




  10. Cheers to Lou Anders for the Michael Moorcock cover. And, thanks to John DeNardo for the opportunity to participate.

  11. Mark Stephenson // November 18, 2009 at 9:51 am //

    I have to admit, Stephan Martiniere’s work just blows me the hell away every time I see a book with one of his cover illustrations.  Even if the story was a POS I would buy the book anyway.

    Harris, Burns, Eggleton, Berkey, Schoenherr are all absolutely terrific, and there are far too many other names in the wonderful universe of SF illustration to do justice to them all.  For me, though, growing up on SF in the 1960s and having been hopelessly addicted ever since, the works of Kelly Freas DEFINED science fiction for me.  I breathlessly waited for every Ace Double or Analog edition to be released in the hopes that it would have the latest Freas illustration.  His saturation of color and wonderfully whimsical spaceships were a constant source of wonder.  I have a spare copy of Eric Frank Russell’s 1965 Ace collection “Somewhere a Voice” sitting next to me on my desk with one of the most beautiful Freas covers ever.  And he was an exceedingly nice man to boot.  Friendly, amiable and appreciative whenever you complimented his work at a con.  A great loss to the field.

  12. No props for Jon Foster’s work?


    For shame…


    The cover he did for Liz Williams The Snake Agent was actually an influence for me to be interested in the series.

  13. I completely agree with Mark Chitty’s comments about the Hyperion cover.

    I think its second half, The Fall of Hyperion also had a great cover, but for completely different reasons. Admittedly, the style of the artwork is nowhere near as rich as that of Hyperion’s cover, and, to be fair, the illustration of the Shrike on the FoH cover is pretty clumsy. But what gets me is the sense of menace that just oozes off the page when I look at that picture of the baby being offered up to that spiky thing.

    Other favourites include the cover for Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge with its crumbling towers beneath the galaxy, and the artwork for the anthology Tesseracts 12 portraying a woman carving herself out of a block of stone.


  14. Paul Connelly // November 18, 2009 at 7:14 pm //

    The Leo and Diane Dillon covers for the original Ace science fiction specials were beautiful works of art. The two that come to mind most are the covers for the paperback originals of _The Left Hand of Darkness_ and _Isle of the Dead_. Any number of John Jude Palencar covers also qualify, the one for _The Wall at the Edge of the World_ being a particular favorite of mine. The cover for _Od Magic_ by Kinuko Y. Craft is another outstanding one, as is Thomas Canty’s for _Lavondyss_. And Caniglia’s cover for _A Choir of Ill Children_. The Richard Powers cover for the paperback of _Gather, Darknress_. The John Berkey cover for _Under Presssure_.

  15. The Boneshaker cover is by Jon Foster—I don’t think his name was mentioned.  And yes,  The Snake Agent cover he did was wonderful…

  16. Just a little thing: it’s not “Chut Libres” but “Chute Libre”.

  17. Mike Resnick // November 20, 2009 at 5:38 am //

    I’ll stick to the magazines: Virgil Finlay’s cover painting of THE SNAKE MOTHER (Fantastic Novels); Hubert Rogers cover painting of THE GRAY LENSMAN (Astounding); Kelly Freas’s cover painting of MARTIANS, GO HOME (Astounding), and J. Allen St. John’s cover painting of GOLDEN BLOOD (Weird Tales).

  18. What? No EMSH? For shame.

  19. It took a Google search for me to realize Gabriel was talking about Ed Emshwiller.

  20. The covers for books by Jessica Amanda Salmonsson, some are quite old and I couldn’t find online pictures but here’s an example:


    Not to be missed is her cover for “The Swordswoman” where it shows a woman in a short kimono battling giant insects with her sword.  Loved it!

  21. According to ISFDB:

    The cover for Tomoe Gozen (the first link) was done by Robert Florczak.

    The cover for Ou Lu Khen (the second link) was done by Kinuko Craft

    Here is the cover info for The Swordswoman book:



  22. Being such a fan of genre cover art I am not sure how the heck I missed this one first time around.  I’m so glad you listed it in the Top 25 of the month!  What a fantastic post.  Many of these are covers I too admire and several are ones I had never seen before, making it a joy to read and slober over.  I also added books to my wishlist from this.  Great list of folks to bring in as part of the Mind Meld.

    I’m pleasantly surprised to see a few digs about the cover for Robert Jordan’s latest book.  I remember really liking the cover to Eye of the World when it first came out and then not liking any cover after that.  I purchased this for a friend for Christmas the other day and was mortified by the cover.  While I guess they should be applauded for continuity…I guess…I do think this is quite terrible.


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