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Book Cover Smackdown! ‘Stand on Zanzibar’ vs. ‘Ready Player One’ vs. ‘Low Town’

Greetings, armchair art critics! It’s time once again for another Book Cover Smackdown! This week, we focus on covers prominently featuring typography.

Here are today’s contenders…

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

Books shown here:

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.

13 Comments on Book Cover Smackdown! ‘Stand on Zanzibar’ vs. ‘Ready Player One’ vs. ‘Low Town’

  1. I don’t like any of them, especially Ready Player One. It’s just ugly. Assuming I knew nothing about the authors or about the books ahead of time, all the crammed together text on Stand on Zanzibar would make me want to see what it all says, and that’d probably be enough to get me to take a look at the book, so I’ll give it the win. Ready Player One would get my attention just because I’d want to take it outside and bury it. Low Town I wouldn’t even notice except that it’s sitting beside Ready Player One and the contrast calls attention to it.



  2. If trends to design to a thumbnail are what we can continue to expect from publishers, this will be the continued result — artless design and boring book covers. The image restrictions places by sites like Amazon do no favors, but once we abandon art, we are left with the text of file names.

    Brave new artless world.

  3. I am with these guys. Boring, unattractive covers, I hate to say. I’d probably pick Zanzibar because of the Hugo notice, if I were picking. But I am interviewing Polansky and will read his ARC because of that. I like pictures on my covers personally. I don’t need the cover to tell me there are words inside. Show me what I don’t know.

  4. Sorry, but typography IS art.

    You can have very interesting and appealing compositions with just typography. Wich is not the case of Ready Player One, selection of typography and colors make it look too noisy. Low Town is the other way around, doesn’t catch my attention, it’s just plain.

    Stand on Zanzibar has a better overall design. Colors, typography and composition are well balanced between them.

  5. I don’t like two of them, but I have to completely disagree with everyone above regarding lack of design or boring and unattractive covers, etc.  If you want old-fashioned, hyper-realistic covers with spaceships, robots, and people, that’s ok, nothing wrong with that. But, at least with Stand on Zanzibar (the only novel of the three that I read), it would far so off the mark it would deceive the reader. Stand on Zanzibar is exactly what the cover is about: a crowded world – crowded with people, crowded with information. A world that very upsetting to the mind. And, if the cover upsets your eyes or your mind, voilá: then it worked handsomely. (Again, if you didn’t like it for personal reasons, that’s ok – but it is not, by *any* standards, a bad or ill-designed cover.

  6. Hey, Fabio. I’m merely commenting on my ascetic taste. None of them particularly appeals to me on cover alone but covers rarely are the main reasons I buy books.

  7. The cover for Stand On Zanzibar is kind of brilliant. It not only works from a typography stance, but it captures the central premise of the book in a way that reinforces the (frankly prophetic) warning.

    I’ve seen some of the other suggestions for Ready Player One and feel the 8-bit version matched the vibe of the work better.

  8. Mike Ancell // August 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm //

    I like Stand On Zanzibar. Its more understate, I know there is writing in the background, but on my screen it just looks like noise in the background, so the cover is less in your face than the other two.

  9. I’m for “Stand on Zanzibar”.  “Ready Player One” is trying too hard in all the wrong directions, and “Low Town” looks like a cover someone would design for a slashfic ebook on Smashwords.  Zanzibar actually uses the typography to communicate something other than the title, and is holds interest for the viewer…kind of like a “Where’s Waldo” of type.


  10. Purely based on visual aesthetic, I’d have to agree that the only cover which does anything for me is the “Stand on Zanzibar,” and for exactly the reasons mentioned — the typography actually is used to communicate something about the book.   However, I have to heartily agree with the early comments, that overall these covers are boring.  They lack any connection to the SF field as a whole, and are warping the expectations of the audience into a very typical design school kind of artifice.   If this is the trend, and it does (disturbingly!) seem to be, then we simply abandoning any connection to the history of illustrations that have adorned SF covers for 75 years?   More importantly, if nobody complains when Donato, Bob Eggleton, Omar Rayyam, Rick Berry, Greg Manchess, etc are are sent packing to be replaced by a bunch of art school grad students with Adobe suite and some fonts, then we really DESERVE nothing but a couple of vectorized colors as a book cover!

  11. I think that Stand on Zanzibar looks the best of these.  Makes me want to read the subtle text and then find out more.

    The cover for Ready Player One is disappointing.  I have read this one in ARC and loved it.  The British cover ( is way better and better reflects the book, imo.  And the Norwegian one is even better! (

    Low Town looks similar/reminiscent of many other covers – and that’s not a positive thing, in this case.

  12. I like “Stand on Zanzibar”.  “Ready Player One” just doesn’t work, not colour-wise, not balance-wise, and not genre-wise.  It should, at the very least, use a font which people would readily associate with old computer games.  “Low Town” doesn’t exactly sell itself.

    And none of them make me think “science fiction”.

  13. I agree with Aldo. Words are art. They make a statement, and saying that they are somehow laziness on the publisher’s part is an insult to the artist. That said, my favorite of the three is Stand on Zanzibar. The title stands out and the words behind it make me curious and give me ideas about what I’ll find inside. Low Town is my second favorite because of the implication of the wall and the ink. I can’t read a lot into the cover of Ready Player One in terms of suggestive meaning. It simply looks bright to me.

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