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Cover Art for Art’s Sake

Prompted by the awesome On This Day function on the indispensable Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – which tells us that today is Vincent Di Fate’s birthday – we thought it might be nice to pay homage to some of the wonderful cover art that has graced science fiction novels down the years.

Of course, SF and Fantasy books have endured more than their fair share of embarrassing, cheap, titillating covers that look like they’ve sped onto the shelves straight from the nocturnal imaginings of a fourteen-year-old boy, with barely enough time to slap the author and title on the front in a hideously garish typeface. But Vincent Di Fate wasn’t responsible for any of those. His metier was (and continues to be) awesome spaceships and space scenes, like this one from his website:

Simply wonderful. And there’s plenty more where that came from; Di Fate’s art has graced the books of many of the field’s most popular authors as well as being utilised by NASA, with whom he worked as one of the conceptual artists for the Apollo/Soyuz programme in 1975, and in 1985 he was commissioned to produce the official painting of the International Space Station.

As can be seen from a quick flick through Di Fate’s wonderful coffee table book Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art, SF’s artists have been in many ways just as important as its writers in determining how we view the future. What would modern SF be without the art of Chesley Bonestell, Jim Burns, Virgil Finlay, Frank Kelly Freas and Michael Whelan, to name but a few?  And how many of us, I wonder, can’t consider Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series without immediately thinking of Chris Foss?

Some of these old covers to SF classics are as much cultural artefacts as the covers to iconic albums such as Dark Side of the Moon or Sergeant Pepper. They’re part of our field’s history, now, and – no matter how important eBooks are becoming as a means of ensuring these books remain available – we should always remember and honour that.