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It’s time another Book Cover Smackdown! This episode’s covers will be found on bookstore shelves in August 2014.

Your mission (should you choose to accept it): Play armchair art critic!

Tell us:

  • Which of these covers most grabs your attention?
  • What works and what doesn’t work with these covers?
  • Do any of them make you want to learn more about and/or read the book?

Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson
(Kensington | August 26, 2014 | Cover illustration artist: unknown)

Flushing Out Evil

There’s something fishy going on in the Unnatural Quarter. Bodies are floating face-down, the plumbing is backing up, and something smells rotten—even to a zombie detective like Dan Shamble. Diving into the slimy underbelly of a diabolical plot, Dan comes face-to-tentacles with an amphibious villain named Ah’Chulhu (to which the usual response is “Gesundheit!”). With his snap-happy gang of gator-guys—former pets flushed down the toilet—Ah’Chulhu wreaks havoc beneath the streets. While feuding weather wizards kick up storms and a gang of thieving lawn gnomes continues their reign of terror, Dan Shamble is running out of time—before the whole stinking city goes down the drain…

Includes Bonus Story!

Lock In by John Scalzi
(Tor Books | August 26, 2014 | Cover designer: Peter Lutjen)

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the United States, that’s 1.7 million people “locked in”…including the President’s wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse….

John Scalzi’s Lock In is a novel of our near future, from one of the most popular authors in modern science fiction.

The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson
(Tor Books | August 12, 2014 | Cover illustration artist: Victor Mosquera)

In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one—alive or dead, human or alien—is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it’s up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell’ and Brindos’s investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined.

The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helkunn alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister—an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason.

In this novel from Patrick Swenson, Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?

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.

11 Comments on Book Cover Smackdown! SLIMY UNDERBELLY vs. LOCK IN vs. THE ULTRA THIN MAN

  1. Hmmm I think I would say I like The Ultra Thin Man, but I don’t like how each line of the tittle has that slight background color and divide, though it sounds like the book I would most want to read out of the three.

    I think Lock-In is a very clean, well use of the theme, and also of the space, the story doesn’t interest me much, but the cover would make me look twice for sure… but yet…

    I think the winner for me has to be Slimy Underbelly I think showing off the main protagonist, also showing off the tittle well in picture (although snakes aren’t slimy, most people picture them with “slimy underbelly”) and I suppose I am a sucker for that “old PI/detective look he has going on. This is also a book I would more then likely read because of my love for PI/detective stories.

    thanks for this, fun as always!

  2. Another vote for Slimy Underbelly, even though it makes me wince! The use of color along with theme/story is very eye-catching.

    Lock In is stunning and classy and another winner.

    The Ultra Thin Man confuses me a bit. The title makes me think noir, but nothing about the cover seems to point back to any kind of homage or reference to the original, which makes me wonder if the title isn’t actually referring to The Thin Man.

    These reactions are all off the top of my head, initial thoughts, without reading the synopses.

    • Forgot to clarify–Lock In is a winner in that it looks great, but I haven’t a clue about what kind of book and story it is.

      Slimy Underbelly is the winner for me.

      • Tom Mathew // May 24, 2014 at 8:38 am //

        I choose Locked In as well but I disagree with Pooks’ comment that “I haven’t a clue about what kind of book and story it is.” I liked the cover precisely because I knew instantly that the story was about a certain percentage of people within society isolated from the rest in some way. The book cover’s designer hit the nail on the head with this one.

        • True, but ‘stand out’ and ‘lock in’ aren’t connecting for me. However, it’s possibly just me. It’s the most striking of the three. It might not get me to pick it up to figure out what is going on, but that’s possibly because I’m not the target reader.

  3. David Greybeard // May 24, 2014 at 8:13 am //

    THE ULTRA THIN MAN is my choice.

  4. “Lock in” may stand out in the bookshelf, but doesn’t say a lot about the book. “The Ultra Thin Man” has an interesting thing going on, with a nice composition. That being said, “Slimy Underbelly” is my favorite, just because the charming illustration.

  5. Slimy Underbelly wins for sheer absurdity! I’d buy that book just to take it to work to see what people say when they see it sitting on my desk.

    but design wise, I go for the Scalzi. I really go for the minimalist artwork.

  6. Jeff Patterson // May 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm //

    Was hoping a mashup of The Thin Man and Ultraman was afoot. Nick Charles grows to giant size, drinks heavily, and makes snarky remarks at kaiju.

  7. Slimy Underbelly!! OH WOW!! That one catches your attention.. and makes you want to pick it up to at least read the synopsis! 🙂

  8. Lock in for me. I’m a big fan of nice clean covers. The Thin Man is just another cover with someone standing with their back to you looking out over a vista

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