Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Future is Your Mind Derailed

Are you in the mood for some cynical, world-weary, mind-blowing science-fiction? Of course you are! The near-simultaneous release of two books along these lines is a cause for some downbeat celebration, as long as you're in the mood to explore just how little control you have over the contents of your mind, the nature of your personality, and the probable non-existence of yourself as a continuous, discrete entity.

The first of these two books is Peter Watts's Echopraxia (that word being the involuntary and meaningless mimicking of someone else's movements), a semi-sequel to his astonishingly good and bleak Blindsight, which is easily one of the best SF novels of the century so far. Sporting cover art by Richard Anderson (who manages to combine the unlikely but convincing mass effects of John Harris with the dynamic figure work of Phil Hale), Echopraxia is not quite the equal of the previous book, but it comes close. This is not due to any lack in the prose, but more because it tends to explore Blindsight's concerns in more depth--the earlier book had the shock of the new to add to its brain-boggling effect.

Echopraxia's many threads explore the difficulties of communicating with alien intelligences, the possibilities of intelligence without sentience, the probably non-existence of free will, how the brain works when high on religion, networking human minds, disturbingly convincing evolutionary-throwback neanderthal vampires, and brain-rigged zombie soldiers.

Somewhat confusingly, in the UK Echopraxia and Blindsight have been bundled togetehr as one volume, Firefall, which uses a spaceship designed and "built" by Watts himsellf for the cover.

If genre prejudices make you shy away from books which feature hair-raising jaunts around the solar system, Darin Bradley's Chimpanzee might be more your sort of thing. Published by one of the small presses that are increasingly the heart of interesting SF (Underland Press in this case), it takes a satirical idea--that in a near-future USA suffering another Great Depression, those who can't afford to pay off their student loans will have their educations repossessed--and develops it with bleak, serious sincerity. The unemployed narrator's Ph.D. is being taken away from him through a cocktail of cognitive therapy and drugs, with the rest of his higher education to follow. But his memories of his life with his wife, who he met at graduate school, are inextricably bound up with his learning. Add to this a developing anarchist movement which makes use of the image of a chimpanzee, and Bradley's book is a fascinating and depressing novel of great originality.

The cover, designed by Jennifer Tough, makes use of the chimpanzee glyph, which she created to be used for both the book design and promotional images. It has also been stamped in blood red onto the book's boards, making a part of the book which is normally staid and boring a dramatic treat for the eye.

I suspect that simple, bold design would have been effective as a cover by itself, especially if you disregard the fingerprint smears that have made their way onto my scan.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bondage Manga Wodehouse & Stolen Cover Art

Yet another case of public-domain PG Wodehouse being debased by random ebook sellers, this time one Sheba Blake Publishing...

..who also sells another Wodehouse short story using artwork stolen from the cover Norton's edition, by Antony Hare. The Norton edition looks like this...

..and the Sheba Blake version like this...

In fact, a quick look at the Sheba Blake website reveals a vast array of stolen covers, many from Vintage UK and Penguin. Cunningly, those stolen from Vintage still retain the 'Vintage' branding...

Penguin Frome and Vintage Mirth

Vintage Rudge and Dombey, and that Hunted Down cover is from Peter Owen

..and I'm sure that all of these other covers could be found to have been stolen too, with a bit more Googling.

Essential Penguins Return

Every now and then Penguin fire out a burst of Essentials, a series that usually consists of books from the Modern Classics line, rebranded as smaller paperbacks with eye-catching covers. The thinking is that these will appeal to the sort of people who would not pick up a classic. Who are these mad people? Can we give them a good pummeling?

After a long period of quiet, a new batch of 10 have just been released, with cover designs by a range of contemporary artists. Click for bigger versions.

Design by Joe Cruz

A typically violent Cleon Peterson design

One of my favourites in this series, by JP King

Design by Camilla Perkins; I'm not sure that this quite hits the spot: see this post for numerous other takes on the Triffid

Design by Mr Foxx

Another favourite, by Australian typographer and illustrator Georgia Hill: she painted the lettering on glass and then took a hammer to it for the final photograph 

The third of my favourites, a creepy work by Karl Kwasny

Design by illustrator and comics artist Jon McNaught

Design by illustrator and children's book artist Carson Ellis

Design by Emily Sutton

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why they Burned Down the Library of Alexandria

Another competitor for the late lamented Tutis: The Library of Alexandria, whose reassuring web presence consists of a Facebook page full of unsolicited legal advice. Unlike Tutis, who stole their wildly inappropriate cover images from anywhere, The Library of Alexandria mostly stick to paintings in the public domain. Fortunately for our purposes, they are choosing the images based on no sane basis.

Here's their unique approach to P. G. Wodehouse...

Mark Twain...

F. Scott Fitzgerald...

The hidden side of Antarctica...

And their strange takes on some other literary classics (the unconventional cropping is their own work)...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cooke vs Parker

(Note: I know it's boring that every (rare) post here begins with an excuse for the long time between posts--my excuse is that once my daughter began walking and getting into everything, it became extremely difficult to find time to fart around on the internet, especially when someone three feet tall is comes along and hammers at the keyboard every time you try!)

Six years ago I admired the first in David Drummond's series covers for the Richard Stark (pseudonym for Donald E Westlake) Parker novels--perhaps the best crime books ever written. Published by University of Chicago Press, they have been responsible for a well-deserved revival in the late Westlake's fortunes.

One of the first outgrowths of this revival were the graphic novel adaptations of some of the Parker books by Darwyn Cooke, whose bold, dynamic retro-inspired illustrations are a perfect fit for the works. Here are the covers of the first four books...

..a collected 'Martini Edition' of the first two...

..and some of the two-colour interior art ...

Cooke has also produced a limited-edition portfolio of art from the series.

All of this meant that when comics publisher IDW bought the rights to reprint the original Parker series in hardcover, Cooke was the natural choice to turn to to produce illustrations to accompany the text. Turning away from the two-colour style of the comics adaptions, Cooke has produced paintings that could easily be the covers to great 1950s/60s pulp novels. Here are four from the just-released first book from the series, The Hunter. (Very much click for much bigger versions.)

It's a shame Cooke isn't illustrating the covers for the books, which, while striking, are text-only and a little bland..

..though, comics publishers being what they are, there is an expensive deluxe edition which is much more attractive...

All of which brings us to an exciting and actually new book: Donald Westlake's The Getaway Car, a collection of his non-fiction writings edited by Levi Stahl, proprietor of the excellent I've Been Reading Lately, to be published in September by the same University of Cicago Press who kicked this whole thing off. The lovely cover is, naturally enough, the work of one Darwyn Cooke. Again, click for bigger...