Wonders and Visions: A Visual History of Science Fiction
By Adam Roberts and Graham Sleight
A sumptuous history of science fiction told through its iconic covers.
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Our book tells the story of science fiction through its most iconic, beautiful, interesting and (sometimes) crass cover art: from the earliest days of publishing in the 19th-century, through the glory days of Pulp magazine covers and the Golden Age, into the endless visual experimentation of the New Wave and so to the post-Star Wars era, when a 'visual logic' comes to dominate not just science fiction but culture as a whole.
With over 350 full-colour images and more than 50,000 words of text this is more than simply an anthology of famous science fiction covers--it is an ambitious attempt to tell the whole history of the genre in a new way, and to make the case that science fiction art, from the sober future-visions of Chesley Bonestell, to the garish splendours of Hannes Bok, from the Magritte-like surrealism of Richard Powers, Frank Freas, Judith Clute, and Ed Emshwiller to the amazingly talented designers and artists of the 21st-century, exists as a vital and neglected mode of modern art as such.
Through much of the twentieth-century it flowed like a subterranean river, influencing artistic Modernism, surrealism, abstraction, op-art and postmodernism, creating a heritage that directly informs the global visual texts of today in cinema, TV, graphic novels and video games. There has never been a book quite like this one.
Printed on 120 gsm art paper, sewn hardbound, we want this book to be a visually beautiful artifact, although as far as that is concerned we have a head start since so much of the art we want to reproduce is so gorgeous. The intense, inky detail of Virgil Finlay’s illustrations to the extraordinary visions of Paul Lehr, from the cool wondrousness of Moebius to the gorgeous grotesqueness of H R Giger and the amazing cityscapes of Kirsten Zirngibl.
There will be three main types of entry. Firstly, there will be several hundred key covers: one or sometimes two images + plus 150-200 words of text, of the ten (or more) most iconic and recognisable covers from each decade of our history: from Wells and Verne to H Rider Haggard's Barsoom and E E 'Doc' Smith's Lensman, from Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End and Asimov's Foundation to Leigh Brackett and Joanna Russ's Female Man, from Cyberpunk masterpieces by William Gibson and Pat Cadigan to dystopias by Octavia Butler and Cormac McCarthy, to twenty-first century SF.
Second there will be more extended visual comparative studies, one or two page spreads that compare multiple covers for the same book, to see the way different artists and publishers have approached the task of visualising some of the most famous novels in the history of the genre: The Day of the Triffids; Dune; Left Hand of Darkness and more, as well as surveys of the work of famous illustrators, or publishing houses.
Third there will be milestone entries: examples of groundbreaking or unusual covers, usually the first example of (among other things) a fine late 19th-century illustrated binding for a SF title; a garishly coloured SF magazine cover; a Golden Age fix-up paperback, a psychedelic 1960s New Wave title, a movie-tie-in; a graphic novel adaptation of a classic: Shelley's Frankenstein as first SF novel; Auf Zwei Planeten as first Martian invasion; Time Machine as first time travel; Orphans of the Sky as the first Generation Starship novel; Leo and Diane Dillon's illustrations for Ellison's Dangerous Visions; early computer-generated SF art; and Metal Hurlant revolutionising the potential of SF comics.
Every visual entry will be accompanied by text, and the whole will threaded together to tell a new story about this important and beautiful mode of art.
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Hi! Can you let us know when this book would be shipping?
We can't give you a hard date: it'll depend on when (indeed, if) it gets enough pledges. But assuming the funding comes through sooner, Graham and I would be planning to complete the finished volume by mid-2018.
Will there be any covers from the work of Cordwainer Smith?
I love Smith as a writer, and Graham and I are both open to suggestions. Do you have particular covers in mind?
Hi, have you got any information on the quality of the images and how you're sourcing the images of, for example, the book covers. Are these new scans or photos of the books themselves?
We'll be scanning as many of the covers as we can get originals for (the actual scanning will be done by professionals rather than Graham and myself!). For modern covers we will try to get digital files from publishers. If there are occasions where we're using artwork rather than reproducing covers we'd try to get digital files for those as well.
I quite enjoyed the intro video describing the book and showing some interaction between the two critics over a couple of books. As a backer, I'd quite like to see a video with both Adam and Graham, reviewing some notable books that they feel have some interesting story attached (such as how it came to be, or ripple effects of the book being published), or perhaps books that profoundly affected Adam/Graham (whether positively or negatively). Plus, simply highlighting some exquisite or quite horrid art designs would be another great addition :) I'd be happy to pay for an upgrade to my backer level if it could help fund such a video. Alternatively, if the guys happen to have a Youtube series or similar, that they regularly produce videos from, that would be quite excellent to know as well. Cheers!
I'll have a word with Graham. We don't have a YouTube Channel, or anything like that, I'm afraid; and every time I've suggested to Graham he and I dress up as spangly aliens and put ourselves forward as the UK's next Eurovision act he just rolls his eyes. But we'll see what Unbound say!
I can't seem to respond to your question, however, concerning Cordwainer Smith covers, I am partial to: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Galaxy_196210.jpg The cover for "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" https://www.jwkbooks.com/pictures/medium/16326.jpg And a cover for "Scanners live in Vain"
Thanks, Andy! Two excellent images (and "Scanners Live" is a very important SF text ...)
Are you planning anything specific on typography, alongside the artwork and general graphic design? I'd imagine some of the more archetypically 'futuristic' typefaces have their early applications in scifi, gaining popularity as a result.
I agree it's an important part of the 'look' of SF: and we won't be neglecting it.
H. rider Haggard's Barsoom?
There's some gorgeous artwork associated with those books!
When will the book be available to ship after having pledged? Also, if the crowdfunding goal isnt met, will the book still be sent out to those who have pledged?
Jonathan: if the crowdfunding goal isn't met your money is refunded and the book doesn't happen, I'm afraid.