Speaking of Covers – I really don’t like these ones

uglybookOK, This cover isn’t real – just my half-baked attempt to do a cover in the same style as a new boxed set of SF Classics from Penguin.

When Jim Henley on Twitter is pointing out they are not very nice  https://twitter.com/UOJim/status/785886385710305280 and Larry Correia on Facebook is doing the same https://www.facebook.com/larry.correia/posts/1385075248170067?pnref=story , it is reasonable to assume there is a consensus that there is something not good with them.

The source is here http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/PGX/penguin-galaxy

Basically a slick looking box set of SFF classics packaged together, with a joint introduction from Neil Gaiman in hardback (the books that is – not Neil Gaiman about whose back I am not fit to comment on its relative hardness).

The context matters here – the covers aren’t intended to play exactly the same role as your standard book cover. These covers are not supposed to be the standard marketing wrapper for a book that might entice somebody to try a new author or an unfamiliar story. Rather it is meant to be a set of collectables that will look good on your bookshelf.

Maybe they will appeal to somebody but even judging them as a distinct collection I really don’t think they work.

The best is this one:

The cathode-ray-tube green and the glitchy type is a neat way of capturing a 1980’s cyberpunk aesthetic using only type elements and colour. It’s not very readable but maybe that is less of an issue when you already know what the book title is. So in the context of a set of collectable hardbacks, I think this works.

The cover for T.H.White’s Once and Future King is less interesting:

Thematically the connection is a type heavy cover using lettering with lines. In this case, the typographic choice is ‘vaguely old-fashioned’. It’s fine I guess. There are interesting geometric themes from the book a design could play with – in particular circularity (in the prophetic title, the allusion to the round-table, the rebirth themes of Arthurian romance). Still different style of book and so a different style of cover…but in that case…

…how come this one is so very like the first one…

In fact, The Once and Future King cover is quite different from the rest. Not just in using very different type but even in the colour contrast (dark lines on a lighter background).

The Heinlien cover is OK though. The way ‘IN A’ intrudes into ‘STRANGE LAND’ works as a visual pun and looks vaguely like a person. Half a thumb up

The covers for Dune and 2001: A Space Oddyssey though don’t do very much at all but repeat the lettering-made-of-lots-of-lines trick but with less readability.

The colour choices for both seem uncommitted. Rather than black-and-white for 2001, it uses muted grays and rather than yellows for Dune it uses a sort of shitty brown. Yes, black for space and yellow for sand would be a bit obvious and cliched but the colours chosen don’t avoid those cliches. Instead, we are presented with the cliche but in a sort of faded way.

However, the one I like least is this one:

The letters are repeated vertically and then the repetition is broken by a diagonal shift like a fault-line. I’m guessing that it is an attempt to capture the layers of thematic duality in the book. However, by using LOTS of repetitions you don’t get a notion of lots of dualities but rather busy-busy-busy. The book explores duality but duality is a single theme expressed in multiple ways. Importantly, the theme of duality expressed both in the book and in the title is one of contrasts that compliment each other. The visual sense here is more like a shattered mirror – which could work for many books but doesn’t really fit this one. Indeed the whole visual metaphor seems at odds with the book.

Indeed the whole visual metaphor seems at odds with the book. LeGuin is addressing the balance and unity between things that seem to contrast (light/dark, male/female), whereas the cover aims for unbalanced conflict between things that are overtly identical.

Or, if you prefer, the cover is hard to read not very nice to look at.

I should note, these really are interesting designs. There is more to them than a hard to read choice of font. The effort and skill in the design process is clear. However, skill+effort+talent does not always equal success.



  1. lastcallistanbul

    I kind of like them, but as potential interestingly designed objects for my bookshelf, not so much as persuasive book covers.

    My wife is a graphic designer and they look like her sort of thing.

    Hellish expensive though.


  2. Cora

    Typographic covers can work, but these don’t. I also note that except for the vaguely Art Noveau blackletter type font for The Once and Future King, every other cover uses a font that looks like a 1970s disco era idea of futuristic lettering, mixed with a bit of 1960s op art. Now there are good examples of both disco era futuristic fonts and late 1960s op art fonts such as the ones used for the logos, etc… of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. However, this font simply isn’t a very good example of that look nor is it very readable. I’m also not sure why they went with this look, even if many of the works in question date from the 1960s and 1970s.


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