The Best Sci Fi and Fantasy Books Start with A Great Cover

Or Not …*

*As a general rule at least. I concede to there being exceptions. Many in fact.

ALERT! Much of my own tastes and opinions follow. Feel free to agree or not. Just don’t hang the messenger.

If you’ve read my earlier pontifications, you know I really enjoy anything written by Steven Erikson and Frank Herbert and … well, there’s a list somewhere. Erikson seems to use Steven Stone exclusively (at least now). And for all the right reasons. Looking back at the Malazan Fallen series, wherever he hasn’t (or TOR publishers haven’t) the book, while bought and read, disappears from my bookcase the instant a new edition with Stone’s art appears. And I must be onto something ’cause eventually all the “other” cover art editions have been replaced. But dig up Gardens of the Moon, with his first book’s original cover and you’ll see what I’m talking about. A friend and I were having a discussion on just this topic and that particular book came up. My co-fantasy/sci fi enthusiast put it succinctly. “Fabian dressed in armor on a carrousel horsey. Yup. Romance’s cover dream-boy as warrior. Complete with five o’clock shadow and a good ‘ol boy mullet doo! Joe Dirt rides again. Mayhap the Dukes of Hazard meet Sir Heartthrob? I shiver at the image still.

How I ever came to pull that particular book off the library shelf, and actually read a few pages, I’ll never know. Just because I’m in prison, and good reads can be difficult to find offers no clue to this mystery. But the gods were kind that day and obviously, I partially blind.

And as I’ve read his epic fantasy series of the Malazan Fallen, I’ve watched as someone – either on TOR’s staff or by Erikson’s own good taste – turn exclusively to Steven Stone’s artwork for the series’ covers. And, go back and fix the few previous covers where the artwork just didn’t measure up to the book’s interior standards. So, I feel vindicated and not alone in my judgment of Fabian as joke warrior … and a bad joke at that.

So, you ask, what does make for a great fantasy or sci fi cover?

I touch this at a safe distance and lightly as we’re now in the realm of opinion. And like belly buttons, we all gots ’em and this is mine. I’m sure many would justifiably argue another point of view. So …

When a novel’s cover draws me to study it with care: pick out the small details; wonder what the story is that gave birth to this vision; that’s a cover I’d say is good. And mayhap, just possibly, the book’s pages are as good as well. And so, I open it.

Ok, pretty obvious, nothing great and no original thinking there. Let me offer a few examples.

-:- Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge; cover art by Stephen Martiniere (what’s with all the “Steves”?)

-:- The Wind Through the Keyhole by Steven King; cover art by Ray Brown (I must have gone over the cover ten times while reading, trying to find images that matched the story. And mostly I succeeded!)

-:- Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay; Cover art by Larry Rostand (I think. I don’t have this book with me still (in a box awaiting me release) but I was fascinated with the Tang dynasty horse and what it suggested for the book’s pages.)

-:- Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson; cover art by Steven Stone (Arguably one of my two favorite’s by Stone.)

-:- Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson; cover art by Steven Stone (The second of my favorite’s.)

-:- The Crippled God…by yeah … and cover art, yeah again. (I studied the fiery god(?) trying to glean its manifested shape and am still not 100% sure of it. But it grabbed my attention.)

And many, many more.