Classic Covers of Penguin Science Fiction Books
May 7, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

The Art of Penguin Science Fiction is a historical guide to the design of book jackets in the Penguin SF line by James Pardey. But before reading the essay I recommend looking at some of the wonderful cover designs, for example We, Deathworld, Rork!, The Drowned World, Star Maker, The Evolution Man, Fifth Planet and Alternating Currents. They certainly don't make SF book jackets like they used to. All hundred plus covers can also be browsed alphabetically by author. [via The Guardian Books Blog]
posted by Kattullus (25 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Some of the first science fiction books I read were old Penguin paperbacks my dad had own. A few of these designs are imprinted on my memory.
posted by Kattullus at 7:24 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cool post. However, this is my favourite Deathworld cover. Hothouse, by Brian Aldiss, was one of my favourite SF books.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:01 PM on May 7, 2009

Those Penguin JG Ballard covers really take me back, though...
posted by KokuRyu at 8:01 PM on May 7, 2009

Few sci-fi stories are original. You'll find that Trek, Nation, and Lexx originated here, among others.
posted by Mblue at 8:02 PM on May 7, 2009

Love those two from the 70s (Drowned World and Star Maker). Something special was going on in 70s art & graphic design, I think.
posted by scrowdid at 8:02 PM on May 7, 2009

I remember seeing some of those covers in the library when I was a kid and I read all of the dusty old science fiction books our small-town library had.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:08 PM on May 7, 2009

The cover for Mandrake sure has me curious.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:23 PM on May 7, 2009

It sounds kinda interesting from this description I found online in a snippet of an encyclopedia entry about Mandrake's author, Susan Cooper:
The adult thriller Mandrake is set in the then-future of 1980. It depicts a Britain which, under the influence of the mysterious and charismatic Minister of Planning, Arthur Mandrake, has become tribal and fiercely territorial. The walls of ancient cities have been rebuilt, foreign immigration has been banned, and even people who have moved from their birthplace within the country are being forcibly returned to their town or city of origin. Cooper is a woman with a strong attachment to place, but she is aware of the intolerance often implicit in the rhetoric of place-loyalty, and Mandrake pursues the implications of that intolerance in a particularly unblinking way. Against the madness that has overtaken Britain Cooper sets Mandrake’s protagonist, the rootless David Queston. Born into an army family that was moved from posting to posting, he feels no particular link with any one place and has spent most of his adult life travelling the world as an anthropologist. Both a quester and a questioner, Queston is a man whose lack of commitment gives him immunity from the place-psychosis afflicting the country; although his own life, solitary and emotionally stunted, does not seem a particularly desirable alternative.
Cooper is best known for her The Dark is Rising series.
posted by Kattullus at 8:31 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's are some flickr sets if you'd like them a bit bigger.
posted by tellurian at 8:51 PM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

i am totally loving this one too bad it's not in that flickr set above. i'd love to see the detail.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 9:21 PM on May 7, 2009

Look at this fuzzypantalones. Rip off or what?
posted by tellurian at 9:44 PM on May 7, 2009

Rumples previous post is also very nice, even better with the autopager.
posted by hortense at 9:53 PM on May 7, 2009

Reading the phrase "Penguin science fiction" led me to visualized flightless birds in astronaut helmets. Or better yet, green penguins.

I wish I could draw.
posted by SaharaRose at 10:44 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Posts like this are the reason I've joined this site. Thank you for this one.
posted by Hickeystudio at 2:51 AM on May 8, 2009

Great stuff. The later pages on David Pelham's work have some of the best 1970s SF covers ever (and shades of the Biology Today post the other day). Amazing to read that he come up with the iconic A Clockwork Orange cover "virtually overnight" when another designer let him down at the last minute.
posted by rory at 3:36 AM on May 8, 2009

(Came up with. D'oh.)
posted by rory at 3:37 AM on May 8, 2009

Thanks, Katallus and tellurian, those links are wonderful. I'm probably alone in this, but I really like some of the Franco Grignani covers.
posted by mediareport at 5:09 AM on May 8, 2009

They certainly don't make SF book jackets like they used to.

Maybe not but Penguin still make interesting ones.
posted by ninebelow at 5:15 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good point (and examples), ninebelow. I was a little sorry that Purdey's survey stopped in the 1970s, even when it was with Pelham's fine work. The 1980s did see a bit of a dip, but lately there have been some great Penguin cover designs, the kind that make you want to own the books for the covers alone.
posted by rory at 5:50 AM on May 8, 2009

From a comment Purdey left on my blog:
My remark on the website about ‘later covers’ was not meant to be a reference to all covers after 1977, but following David Pelham’s departure I do think they took a downturn. However, Peter Lord’s covers for 10 John Wyndham reprints in 1979-80 are attractive, and I may add a page on these in due course. I’d also like to have a page on Penguin sf titles currently in print, like the three you’ve shown, but I’ve not yet requested permission for that.
posted by ninebelow at 6:00 AM on May 8, 2009

Suddenly, and rather worringly, I understand furries.
posted by permafrost at 6:42 AM on May 8, 2009

Terrific post! I must say, though, I'm shocked by what a narrow window I look through when I remember Penguin SF with such misty-eyed fondness. It's specifically the ones from the mid-'60s, designed by Facetti, that I love (and looking at those images, I own or remember almost all of them). But looking over the entire run, I find the earlier ones pleasant in a musty way and the later ones hideously gaudy. I presume anyone who grew up with stuff like this has the same fondness for it that I have for the Facettis, but I won't have it in my house!
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on May 8, 2009

Deathworld -- I like the Corben cover best... wish I could find a bigger image of it.

This is good stuff, no question, but I still like Paul Lehr and John Berkey (who died in 2008) and (the sadly underrated) Jack Gaughn.

Oh, and let's put John Schoenherr in there, too, shall we?

And don't get me started on Paul, Sternbach, Freas...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:47 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love John Berkey's stuff. It just feels like the 80s to me.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:40 AM on May 8, 2009

These are fantastic - I think I'm in a similar position to Kattullus as every so often one of these sets off a little zing! of childhood memory. Some of them are pretty nice too, and all of them are classy. I'll stop before I go into my standard rant on the current horribleness of US science fiction book covers.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on May 8, 2009

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