So maybe you’ve already heard about that creeptacular painting of the Danish Royal family. The one by Thomas Kluge pictured above. If not you can read about it here. Isn’t it something? It’s like every VC Andrews book cover I remember from when I was a kid.
When I posted this to Facebook and made the Andrews comparison I asked what was the appeal of her books, and what people told me was that she was basically “like Lovecraft for girls”. Here’s a blog post by the writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia on the subject. Which makes sense, as did my wife’s comment that when you’re 12, you seek out the trashiest stuff you can just because reading those books is like a badge of honor. Other folks talked about how those books addressed the fascination/revulsion teens had about sex or offered some catharsis for teens whose home lives were fucked up, but not that fucked up. So maybe there is a value to trash, especially when painted up as Gothic literature. Or maybe the shit was just fun to read. I never read them, as my trash interests were elsewhere.
But as far as royal portraits go, I think Kluge should do more of them.
The Strugatsky Brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic is one of those books I read when I can’t find anything else to read. I can pick it up, read a bit, at least any of the Red Schuhart sections, then put it down for months on end. I was doing this last week while waiting for some other books to arrive.
For folks who haven’t read it, Roadside Picnic is an SF novel that takes place in a city after an alien visitation. These aliens are gone, but they or their technologically advanced artifacts have altered a section of the city. This area’s now called the Zone, and it’s heavily guarded and contained, but deserted. The area around the Zone is thick with operatives from various multinational companies and world governments. A thriving black market in alien artifacts exists fed by adventurers, such as Red Schuhart and others, who risk their lives exploring the Zone.
It was the basis of a Tarkovsky flick and a video game and you can make world parallels to Chernobyl, the Korean DMZ, and the Varosha area in Famagusta.
Anyway on to the covers–we’ll start with the non-anglophone ones since the book was first published in Russia. I don’t know if these copies are Russian or Polish. I snagged them from Goodreads.
They look like your standard post-apocalyptic SF, and the one on the bottom seems to advertise it’s link to the video game/movie (both are called Stalker), while the top cover makes me a bit nostalgic for the crappy bookcovers of 1980s SF. But only a bit.
Now for four anglophone covers, which are kind of interesting because they show the way the book’s packaged differently for different audiences.
Three of these say SF novel. The top left screams it in all its ugliness. Stalkers are badass lowlives risking life and limb to sneak into a ruined factory in search of treasure. You can’t really be a badass while wearing a silver egghead suit. Top right is the version I own and has a decent understated 70s SF bleakness about it. Bottom left I like-but what it shows, a “full” empty, is boring, especially when you’re book’s about low-life, bad-asses yaddayaddayaddaing.
The fourth cover, bottom right, this one is the least SFnal of them all. Sure, Ursula LeGuin’s name is on the cover, and there’s mention of the movie and video game. But the image comes from the Tarkovsky movie, and there’s that “a new translation”, which I can’t help but read in a hushed, reverent tone. All that makes me think it’s being sold to readers of translated international fiction and Tarkovsky fans over SF fans. I’ve no problem with that, but it’s interesting to see how the book’s pitched for another audience.
Anyway, what do you all think?
One of the books I read last month. When I was finished with it I checked out the different covers and decided to do a Four Covers posts.
Here’s what the book’s about: It’s the 17th century. A Jewish scholar is captured and sold into slavery after his town is massacred. He is devout, and does his best to maintain his faith among the rustic peasants he must now live among. His position among them is tenuous and he fears for his life. The one bright spot is the kindness shown to him by his owner’s widowed daughter. The two fall in love and plan to escape the village. They succeed, but only to now have to confront a new series of threats.
It’s a sad book, and much of the conflict is internal as the characters wrestle with their desires. From some of these covers you’d hardly know that. They’re selling some kind of Doctor Zhivago romance.
Cover one is bland. Cover two is Doctor Zhivago. Cover three is Ben Shahn inspired with Singer’s name larger than the title and selling the author. (This style is used for other Singer books by the same publisher.) Cover four is more Doctor Zhivago, putting me in mind of an adventure novel with its bright covers. Cover five is the version I read. It’s dull, and you can see how it’s taken from cover six. Cover six might be my favorite, in that it matches the book by suggesting emotional distress and suffering. Though you might think the woman is the slave, and for some reason it makes me think of a Thomas Hardy novel.
I bought the book because a) I like Singer, b) I found it for a buck in a used book store. If anything the cover with its blandness was more of a turn off than anything else, but still I enjoy seeing the different way books are packaged and sold. Especially ones like this, historical fiction by an author with literary status. You’re not simply reading a book, you’re reading a book by a Nobel Laureate. Someone deemed important.