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Book Cover Smackdown! ‘Template’ vs. ‘Metatropolis’ vs. ‘The Skylark’

Here’s a fresh batch of recently-revealed covers going head-to-head-to-head in another Book Cover Smackdown, where you play art critic and pick your favorite cover. Here are the contenders…

Your Mission (should you choose to accept it): Tell us which cover you like best and why.

Books shown here:

NOTE: Bigger, better cover art images are available by clicking the images or title links.

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.

15 Comments on Book Cover Smackdown! ‘Template’ vs. ‘Metatropolis’ vs. ‘The Skylark’

  1. I would have to say that this is probably the weakest lin up of covers I have seen in the cover smackdown. None of the artwork inspires me or grabs my attention.

    Of the 3 cover Metatropolis is probably my ‘favourite’ and thats simply down to having John Scalzi’s name on the cover (and a short story by him inside), everything I have read by him is something that I have highly enjoyed so anything new by him grabs my interest. The artwork itself just leaves me nonplussed, I would rather something with a bit more meat to it.

    Template – Errr…. Not really sure what to say, it looks rather 80s/retro and for some reason has me thinking of The ‘Black Hole’.

    The Skylark – it reminds me too much of a painting belonging to a rather despised great aunt’s when I was growing up.

  2. I, on the other hand, really like the Frida Kahlo feel of The Skylark’s cover.

  3. I like ’em, too. 

    @Andy: I wouldn’t say weak by any means.  Unconventional, for sure… Your mileage may vary

  4. Template reminds me of “Golden Age” covers so too retro and a total no go.

    Metatropolis – yet another cityscape, oh so original

    Skylark – Now that’s original. I would have expected a depiction of a more classical fairy or a SF version of a fairy. The modernist, Kahlo-esque styling is unexpected and totally genre-defying. It’s the winner hands-down.

  5. I like the template cover best, it has a classic SCi-Fi cover feel, like many of the Heinlien books I read in my youth. 



  6. I like Skylark the best, out of all of those, I think. Metatropolis is pretty cool, but Skylark stands out the most. Template: A Novel of the Archonate is just eh. 

  7. I agree this this is a weaker lineup than some of the others you’ve done, but each has it’s points. I prefer the cover to <em><strong>Metatropolis</strong></em>. It gives an idea of the topicality of the anthology, it has mood and subtlety in coloration, it is a nice illustration.

    Neither of the other two do those things. the cover for TEMPLATE may convey the subject matter, but since I’m not familiar with the previous books it ways nothing to me except that it may contain some fencing scenes. The cover for THE SKYLARK is amateurish in style, whether by design or not I can’t guess.

  8. Only the cover for Metatropolis betrays any sense that both the artist and designer had actually read the material.

    • The main problem with Template is the idiocy of the main character not wearing protective gear (his helmet and face shield) while everyone around him is. The actual design is clean, but it’s undermined by the illustration. This is yet another example of the meme that “people want faces” misinterpreted to mean “only the main character may have a face.” This isn’t bloody Hollywood: Nobody has to stroke the ego of the above-the-title lead. Either everyone wears the face shield… or nobody does… or the pose/situation is one that makes the difference a viable one, unlike this one. Further, the “individual weapon prowess” issue makes me immediately wonder if this is an active misrerpresentation of the content, like the awful, awful cover one finds at
    • The cover for Metatropolis is a reasonable attempt to deal with an almost intractable problem: A single image representing the diverse material in an anthology or collection. This particular anthology is a little bit easier than most, because it concerns a single meme… but it would still be a mistake to illustrate from one particular story. The design is clean and clear. My only quibble is placing the bullshit noncredible blurb above the title while relegating the contributor list to the very bottom, where is will be partially blocked by many shelf designs. (Actually, I object to putting a blurb on the cover of any collective work; if blurbs belong anywhere for multiauthor works, it’s the back or on endpapers. See, e.g., the litigation over the Beardstown Ladies paperback edition and the inconsistent results in California and New York. Whether to include this, though, was not the designer’s choice: It was a mandate from S&M.) This is not a great cover, but it’s a clear one that does not misrepresent the contents, and it’s clean and visible enough to pass the ten-foot test.
    • I do like the illustration for Skylark, but I really, really don’t like the design: The title is virtually impossible to read (even at large size), and would be worse in a reflective-lighting situation like a bookstore. Further, the dominance of reds in the illustration draws the eye away from the red title even more than does the difference in type size between the title and the author’s name.


  9. My vote is for Metropolis, especially when you look at the stylized artwork in the blow-up. The carrion birds and other signs of decay provide clues as to what may be found inside and that is important to me. 


    I like the Kahloesque artwork in The Skylark but I’m left scratching my head wondering what it’s about. If I nave no idea what a book is about I’m not likely to pick it up and investigate further.

    The Template cover doesn’t work for me at all. For starters, the huge block letters are just plain ugly. Worse though is the picture of the prancing prig with the epee. I seriously hope he is supposed to be the bad guy. 


  10. Dawn the glass bead maker // April 29, 2010 at 2:05 pm //

    I like the cover for Scalzi’s book the best.

    It might just be a cityscape, but it doesn’t seem to focus on just one character.

    I don’t care about fencing, so I’m unlikely to flip over a book with  fencing characters on the front, and the third one just seems like it’s too esoteric for me.



  11. Hmmm….tossup, this one.  “Template” is definitely out for me, but the other two are a tough call.  I like the 70’s Ballantine feel of “Metatropolis”, but “Skylark” has a more “literary” feel to it.  I’d read the former if I was looking for some meaty sci-fi, but the latter if I was attempting to pass something off as a “real” book (let’s not pretend people are not snotty about that sort of thing).

    I suppose if I had to pick a winner, it would have to be “Metatropolis”, just on principle….”Skylark” does that title/credit across the middle of the art that I dislike so much, it just does it more artistically.



    The reason I didnt like the Skylark cover is that it is a little too Friday like. Doesnt really scream scifi to me. 

    The Template looks very good and actually got me thinking about reading it, but Metatropolis’ cover is just awesomingly classical.

  13.  I like Template.  But i’m an illustrator and that makes me predisposed to humanist subject matters, as I love drawing and painting the human figure.  So I can understand y’all taking my words with a grain of salt.  

    As for him not having a helmet as one poster above mentioned… that is silly for all of them to have helmets and rob the illo of having a central focus.  It isn’t a *real* moment in time, no fencer is going to have his own Temptations-style back up band of fencers behind him in such close formation either… it isn’t supposed to be realistic.


    And I’m a sucker for those old retro covers.  


    Now my question, does it fit the material in the book?

  14. I think this is one of the stronger line ups I’ve seen in a while. Each of these covers would make me stop and pick them up. Mostly because they’re so unusual. The Template cover hints at an interesting world I’m not familiar with (I’ve never read or heard of “the Archonate,” but after seeing this cover I’ll probably do a little googling). The Metropolis cover is a cityscape, but with a very different feel than most city scapes. And I would be so suprised to see the Skylark cover in the spec fic section that I would have no choice but to pick it up.

  15. Whereas I prefer the retro golden age look, so TEMPLATE is the one that does it for me.

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