2015 Not-a-Hugo for Best Cover

Following on from my last post. If there had been a Hugo for Best Book Cover what would have won? I’ve no idea of course! I’ve no way to properly survey what covers might have got nominated in that circumstance – particularly if covers of new editions of old books were eligible. And who knows in the era of Nutty Nuggets what covers the Puppies would have nominated.

So I’ll make my task easier. Of the books nominated, which had the best cover? I’ll include the withdrawn books also.

Here are the choices (by number of ‘Best Book’ nominations:

Skin Game


Now I’m judging the COVER not just the cover ART – i.e. it is the whole ensemble not just whether the picture underneath all the text is great. Having said that I think this cover really works. It uses the character-study approach. The image is not necessarily a scene from the book but it shows the hero in context.

It passes the Nutty-Nugget test (i.e. a prospective reader can make some good guesses about the content) which is not necessarily a good thing. The cover has to fit in a lot of text elements but it does so effectively.
Monster Hunter Nemesis


The underlying art looks fun and it would probably look great as a poster but at book cover size and underneath text, it may as well be an abstract swirl of colors. The best bit is the werewolf’s teeth really stand out as they have the best contrast with everything else.

The text elements don’t quite work. Gradients on text can look great but here they help the colors of the text blend in with the background. Perhaps wise to keep the number of text elements small (just title and author) but unclear of where this book fits in with the rest of the set.
Ancillary Sword


I like the painted spaceship style artwork but I don’t know if it really suits the book. I think Brad could claim it fails the Nutty-Nugget test as the book is primarily a planet-bound story of political intrigue rather than one of battling spaceships. The sequel does have battling spaceships but even then not the kind of space-fighters depicted.

This alternate cover takes a character study approach:


But I don’t think that quite captures the feel of the book either. However, stepping away from the Nutty-Nugget principle both covers do have a sense of ‘read and find out more’ which is good.

The way the background is partly visible into the title of the first cover is a nice effect but does make it tend to disappear a bit (particularly at smaller sizes).
Lines of Departure


Spaceships flying on a planet’s surface with missiles and stuff. Nice art, even regarded just as abstract colors, the contrast between the dark skies and rock versus the snow/ice surface is effective.

White text on a white background for the author’s name is an odd choice and isn’t really saved by the drop-shadow/3D effect. At smaller sizes ‘Marko Kloos’ disappears into the snow.

The Dark Between the Stars


Different genre, but the cover art here has the same problem as Monster Hunter Nemesis – it would be a great poster but on the cover and under text it is a bit of a swirly mess.

The text elements are mainly small and indistinct except for the author name which feels like the cover is shouting at me KEVIN J ANDERSON!!! Yet they also choose to  write his name in khaki against a sort of khaki background. Compare with the smaller but much clearer ‘Jim Butcher’ text on the first cover. With my glasses off and my eyes out of focus I can read the key text of the Butcher cover.
The Goblin Emperor


The cleverest cover of the lot. Given the unusual setting of the novel (a elf/goblin society around the time of a growing industrialization and in a sort of Regency tale of court intrigue) this art does a LOT of work with one image. Surprisingly this has to be the Nuttiest-Nuggety cover of the lot. When I see a cover with a young goblin, a palace, an airship and an epic bridge I expect a novel with a palace, a young goblin, an airship and a bridge to be important to the story. 🙂

But…maybe a bit too cute? Does it look more like a comedy or a kids book?
The Three Body Problem


Some of the scope of the art work gets lost behind the text but in this case letting the texture of the underlying image affect the title text works well. Author (and translator) names get a bit lost as they blend in with the whites and blue-grays of the art.

The art aptly demonstrates how the Nutty-Nugget cover principle breaks down. How do you sum up this book in one image? Yes, everything featured is featured in the book and is important but how to convey the aspects of Chinese history that the book covers or the sinister countdown in people’s eyes? Complex books need intriguing cover not descriptive covers and this image provides that.

My preferences!

So I’ll vote Hugo style with numbered preferences:

  1. The Goblin Emperor. A really clever cover.
  2. Skin Game. Effective and gets the job done.
  3. The Three Body Problem. Tells you nothing but intrigues the eye. Promises mystery and wonder.
  4. Lines of departure. Tough call between this and Ancillary Sword. the art is better for Sword but I think the overall balance is better for the Kloos novel.
  5. Ancillary Sword. I want to see teacups in space 🙂
  6. No Award (I get multiple preferences)
  7. Monster Hunter Nemesis. Swirly bunch of stuff but nice teeth.
  8. Dark Between the Stars. Swirly bunch of stuff that is shouting ‘KEVIN J ANDERSON!’ at me.

Next time on judging books by their covers: Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead go for a plain green look on the Principia Mathematica.

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8 responses to “2015 Not-a-Hugo for Best Cover”

  1. I thought that The Goblin Emperor was a YA book when I saw that cover (mind you, the title didn’t really help either…)
    I wonder what possessed them to put Marko Kloos in white on a snow scene?!


    • I think on a full screen the white text probably stands out with the shadow underneath it. Smaller versions are where the issue is but that is particularly important for small thumbnail images online. Having said that the key text is repeated on a webpage in an online shop.


  2. I’m going to post without reading your opinions:

    Skin Game – probably recognisably Dresden on the cover if you follow the series. I get more Wild West than Urban Fantasy from it. Good action feel to it though.

    Monster Hunter Nemesis – can I fairly say that even if I didn’t know it was Baen, I’d know it was Baen? It’s the font. Actually, I wish I could see more of the cover. The guy in the foreground looks like he has Hulk-arms (maybe he really does!) and the monster is pretty good.

    Ancillary – Welp, it says it’s SF, probably space opera, so it does that well. I think I like the covers as a matched set of 3 more than as individuals.

    Lines of Departure – Screams MilSF. Quite an interesting scene – assuming it’s from the book, it intruiges me. Art quality is ok but not outstanding.

    The Dark BTS – I’m guessing Anderson’s name is the important thing here! A bit gloomy, makes me wonder if this is a station in a dust cloud or something (too long since I read, umm, some of it).

    Goblin Emperor – this one tears at me. It’s a bit odd – why is there a building on his head – but intrigues me.

    3BP – This is a pretty classic style of cover, but probably doesn’t say much more than “SF! Weird! Pyramids!” I like the quality of the art, but I reckon the artist was a bit bemused about how to represent the book.

    My stab at ranking them:
    Goblin Emperor
    Skin Game
    Lines of Departure
    Monster Hunter Nemesis
    The Dark BTS


    • Huh, we’re within a couple of places on each one, and agree on the bottom two.
      Looking at your comments, we agree on KEVIN J ANDERSON!!! and that the artist for 3BP had a tough job.


  3. I agree with Mark-kitteh 🙂 that the “Skin Game” cover looks Wild West. If I didn’t know, it wouldn’t say “urban fantasy” to me. But, it’s very clear even at Kindle thumbnail size.

    MHN is just a hot mess. I guess it’s probably okay on trade paper, but it’s a big ol’ blob of swirly stuff with the dreaded Baen font. I don’t even see teeth or a dude.

    KEVIN J. ANDERSON!!!1! says it’s… SF and yelling! Calm down, book cover. Is the boring beige and blue color scheme why you’re yelling for attention? 3BP also says it’s SF, but the colors of both the art and particularly the type are blah.

    Goblin Emperor is fantasy and looks like fun too.


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