Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Chess/Checkers (with people + planets)

(Ed Valigursky’s cover for the 1962 edition of Cosmic Checkmate (1962), Charles V. DeVet and Katherine MacLean)

Queue Ed Valigursky’s cover for the Cosmic Checkmate (1962): a chessboard arrayed against a background of stars, men stand on different colored squares, as much pawns of some distant player as the pieces nearby.  Spaceships flash across the vast expanse of space — remember, the game has galactic ramifications — with our characters arrayed, the game opens, and the battle (of wits and secret weapons) begins.  Although I have not (yet) read Charles V. DeVet and Katherine MacLean (whose later novel Missing Man (1975) I highly recommend) is explicitly about Chess, or more precisely, a similar alien game, and the ramifications are indeed, galactic in scope.  Other covers are more metaphoric in nature considering the contents of the book.  For example, Dean Ellis’ striking cover — checkers on the galactic scale — for Norman Spinrad’s forgettable Agent of Chaos (1967).

Of course this is hardly a theme restricted to science fiction.  There numerous movies and fantasy books which use similar imagery — Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) for example.  The majority of the images below are from three books: John Brunner’s The Squares of the City (1967), Roger Zelazny’s Univorn Variations (1983), and Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Chessmen of Mars (magazine publication 1922).  But intermixed are various other novel/magazine covers depicting similar themes.  Valigursky’s cover (above) is by far the best.

If you know of any I’ve missed please let me know!

Enjoy.

(Gerry Daly’s cover for the 1983 edition of Unicorn Variations (1983), Roger Zelazny)

(Carlos Ochagavia’s cover for the 1978 edition of Forbidden World (1978), David Bishoff and Ted White)

(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1978 edition of Agent of Chaos (1967), Norman Spinrad)

(William Timmin’s cover for the January 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)

(Bill Schmidt’s cover for the 1980 edition of Players at the Game of People (1980), John Brunner)

(Uncredited cover for a 1950s German edition of Chessboard Planet (variant title: The Fairy Chessman), Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore)

(Uncredited cover for the 1983 edition of Chessboard Planet and Other Stories (1983), Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore)

(James Warhola’s cover for the 1987 edition of Unicorn Variations (1983), Roger Zelazny)

(Peter Goodfellow’s cover for the 1985 edition of Unicorn Variations (1983), Roger Zelazny)

(Roy Carnon’s cover for the 1964 edition of The Chessmen of Mars (magazine publication 1922), Edgar Rice Burroughs)

(Roy Krenkel, Jr.’s cover for the 1962 edition of The Chessmen of Mars (magazine publication 1922), Edgar Rice Burroughs)

(J. E. McConnell’s cover for the 1954 edition of The Chessmen of Mars (magazine publication 1922), Edgar Rice Burroughs)

(Ronald Walotsky’s cover for the 1974 edition of The Tactics of Conquest (1974), Barry N. Malzberg)

(Robert Foster’s cover for the 1965 edition of The Squares of the City (1965), John Brunner)

(Peter Goodfellow’s cover for the 1977 edition of The Squares of the City (1965), John Brunner)

(Steele Savage’s cover for the 1970 edition of The Squares of the City (18965). John Brunner)

(Charles Moll’s cover for the 1973 edition of The Squares of the City (1965), John Brunner)

(Ulf Herholz’s cover for the 1980 edition of The Squares of the City (1965), John Brunner)

(Wotjek Siudmak’s cover for the 1985 edition of The Squares of the City (1965), John Brunner)

(Murray Tinkelman’s cover for the 1978 edition of The Squares of the City (1965), John Brunner)

For similar posts consult the INDEX

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21 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Chess/Checkers (with people + planets)”

  1. I really enjoy these wonderful covers – I reblogged your last offering… Then it occurred to me that MAYBE I should have asked your permission, first! I did try to provide a link back to your site – but I haven’t got the hang of that one. So, I’ll just content myself with LIKING these and assure you that I wasn’t trying to hijack your blog and pass it off as my own. Apologies if it came across that way…

    1. Haha — I don’t really have an opinion on reblogging as long as it is credited (and linked) to the original site. But I’m glad you enjoy these posts — although, I should slow down a bit, I have 7 sci-fi novels to review and I consider my blog more of a review site.

  2. CHESS WITH A DRAGON by David Gerrold has a chess cover, the paperback version at least. And the novel itself is a decent read.

    1. Thanks.

      Because it’s a 1980s work I haven’t looked through cover art catalogues from that late….

      Perhaps if I get enough I’ll make a Part II. I do prefer the older covers though 😉

  3. For me, the clear winners from the above selection are Foster’s cover of Brunner’s novel (it has a strong figure/field relationship with the white of the page) and Moll’s cover for another edition of the same book. But, of course the classic image on Classic Checkmate (does it not harken back to the 50s?!) is remarkable for combining all the expected images. I believe that the reason that the chess motif works is because of the universality of the game of chess itself. There are few games that come close to conveying the TYPE itself. In other words, THE GAME is chess: two opponents, 6 different types of pieces, one universal board (read: theater of conflict (or battleground), a limited number of moves, near infinite variations, emerging patterns of play… it has it all!
    Enjoyable post, grazie mille.

      1. His illustrations for children’s books, and other genre’s too, are more well known than his Sci-Fi covers. But I do think he was one of the defining, though unknown, illustrators of the 60’s.

        I especially like his cover for The Sheep Look Up.

    1. That’s a great cover — yes, I’ve definitely seen it before but I can’t remember them all, can I? haha…

      I have three or four others I’ve since found — with a few more I’ll have a post.

      Thanks!

      1. I know that feeling, I have a few … thousand? book and magazine cover images on my hard drive. Have no idea how I’d ever organize them, so I usually don’t.

        I look forward to Chess/Checkers SF Covers The Second 😉

      2. Haha, I don’t organize them — I put the ones I’ve used for posts in a separate folder and that’s it. I come up with a theme and then quickly color label them as I zip through so they can be easily found again and uploaded.

  4. [Cosmic Checkmate] is explicitly about Chess, or more precisely, a similar alien game, and the ramifications are indeed, galactic in scope.

    This sounded like an expanded version of De Vet’s “Second Game”. Checking the Google reveals that they are indeed the same.

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