Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: My Top 15 Science Fiction Covers

1. Harold Bruder’s cover for the 1967 edition of Pyschogeist (1966), L. P. Davies.

Because everyone loves lists…

…I’ve selected from my collection of cover art, placed in no particular order, my fifteen favorite science fiction covers of all time.  Of course, lists being lists, and the fact that I’ve only seen a portion of all the covers ever made, it is incomplete and maleable.  Although many of the most famous sci-fi artists (Powers, Lehr, and pulp masters such as Wesso) feature, some of my favorites are by lesser known artists whose visual contributions to the field should not be forgotten (Bruder, Podwil, Foster, Schongut, etc).

A few points to consider: 1) The artist rarely had control over the font.  If the graphic designer responsible for putting together the final cover wasn’t up to snuff, the text often doesn’t mesh well with the artist’s canvas. 2) All my favorite covers are from before the mid-70s (computer generated images, the 80s visual aesthetics, etc tend not to appeal to my artistic sensibilities). 3) In the making of this list I considered ONLY the image, not the contents of the work or how the artist adequately or inadequately conveyed the feel/meaning/themes of the author’s work.

Collages!

50s Surrealism!

Bizarre cityscapes!

Nefarious machines!

Crashed spaceships!

Mysterious spheres!

Evil robots!

Enjoy!

(as always, your lists are welcome — I look forward to reading them)

2. Jerome Podwil’s cover for the 1966 edition of The Players of Null-A (1966), A. E. van Vogt

 3. Robert Foster’s cover for the 1969 edition of Turn Left at Thursday (1961), Frederik Pohl

4. Richard Powers’ cover for the 1961 edition of Turn Left at Thursday (1961), Frederik Pohl

5. Jerome Podwil’s cover for the 1970 edition of Recall Not Earth (1970), C. C. MacApp

6. Frank R. Paul’s cover for the October 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories

7. Gaylord Welker’s cover for the December 1952 issue of Astounding Science Fiction

8. Walter Popp’s cover for the August 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures

9. Emanuel Schongut’s cover for the 1966 edition of Watchers of the Dark (1966), Lloyd Biggle, Jr

10. Karel Thole’s cover for the 1973 edition (?) of The Mind Thing (1960), Frederik Brown

11. Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition of Conquerors from the Darkness (1965), Robert Silverberg

12. Mitchell Hooks’ cover for the 1958 edition of The Big Eye (1949), Max Ehrlich

13. Ken Freeman’s cover for the 1965 edition of Far Boundaries (1951), ed. August Derleth)

14. Richard Powers’ cover for the 1954 edition of Costigan’s Needle (1953), Jerry Sohl

15. H. W. Wesso’s cover for the 1938 issue of Astounding Science Fiction

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24 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: My Top 15 Science Fiction Covers”

      1. I love computers too – actual illustrated/ painted by hand artwork is not as common as it used to be. It has a charm all it’s own and I miss that it isn’t in abundance in the media. (Thats what I meant but I didn’t feel like writing : ) )

  1. I’m a fan of both traditional on canvas art and digital work. Having seen so much digital work and talked to several artists it takes every bit as much talent to create the art (Stephen Martiniere is a good example), it is simply using a different medium. While I much prefer the idea that an image exists as a one-of-a-kind physical object (some of which were WONDERFUL to see at the recent SFAL event), There are some really impressive digital masterpieces out there.

    These are some really great choices here. I’ve purchased many a pre-70’s book over the years not knowing anything about the book or the author simply because I had to have that book in my collection. The cover was something I wanted to be a part of my home.

    I love the moon outside the doorway on the Robert Foster cover. Something about that part of the image just sucks me right in. The rest of the image is nice too and reminds me of some of the photo-collage “found art” work that I see current artists doing that I enjoy, but that part of the image gives it that “wow” factor for me.

    I am also impressed with Walter Popp’s illustration for Fantastic Adventures. The 50’s SF aesthetic, represented so well by this piece, is a HUGE favorite of mine. I’m thinking you might have featured this image before. At any rate I know I’ve seen it and would love to add a copy of that to my collection some day.

    1. Yup yup, it does require an equal amount of talent — without doubt. What are your favorite “digital masterpieces”?

      Yeah, I’m often seduced by the gorgeous covers — and am sorely disappointed by the contents.

      The image I have for the Foster cover isn’t the best. The colors are far better than that scan — but yes, the moon does add a great deal to the image. It’s a trope of his — this for example is similar but not nearly as visually stunning.

  2. I’d pick the December ’52 cover of Astounding for my list too! I’d never heard of Psychogeist, that’s an awesome cover.

    Do you have a list of top covers that you don’t have? I’d include the Hannes Bok cover for the Nov ’62 F&SF – illustrating ‘Rose for Ecclesiastes’.

  3. I would include Virgil Finlay’s cover for Herbert Gold’s ‘Galaxy Magazine’ featuring Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination.” Finlay’s interior illustrations were detailed pen-and-ink drawings accomplished with stippling, cross-hatching, and scratchboard techniques, very labor-intensive and time-consuming old-school style work. His covers, however, were mostly done in Oil. The photo-realism he used to paint Gully Foyle, the pre-cyberpunk anti-hero of Bester’s pyrotechic novel, defines the protaganist in my mind to this day.

    1. Hope this works:

      [URL=http://www.bild.me/bild.php?file=9793379Virgil_Finlay.png] [IMG]http://s1.bild.me/bilder/030315/thumb_9793379Virgil_Finlay.png[/IMG][/URL]

  4. This is the second Printing of “The Stars My Destination” in Signet Paperback. I’ve read this novel over 9 times, and once owned this edition. Alfred Bester was an erudite writer in a world of hacks. This book is often credited as the first CyberPunk novel. Signet #S1389: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, 1957. Cover art by Richard Powers.

    1. Yes, I have read the novel — although, I would rather read the wealth of other great novels from that era than reread it 😉

      As for the cyberpunk claims, I find them absolutely bogus. How can you have cyberpunk without the technological environment to spawn it? Yes, perhaps in some stylistic fashion it proved influential but you can’t have a (sub) genre without the historical environment that is able to give rise to it… You can’t have a Cold War paranoia novel without the Cold War…

  5. Loved #8. Popp, who would later be known for his romance covers, gives us a very feminist cover. The women show the range from panic to serious concentration as they study an upcoming apocalypse. I’m sure the story couldn’t live up to the promise of this piece of artwork.

    Also, the clothing isn’t the garish “futuristic” dress that many artists used to indulge in. Simple and practical, I can see women wearing this type of dress now.

    I also liked #5, Podwell’s cover reminded me of John Berkley’s art. Berkley was always a favorite of mine. Although not similar, check out this man/machine cover: http://www.isfdb.org/wiki/images/2/25/THCVSFSTLJ0000.jpg

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