Tag Archive | one book four covers

One Book Four Covers: The Monk by Matthew Lewis


I figured Matthew Lewis’s The Monk warranted some one book, four covers treatment on account of my recent read through.

First cover is your standard fine art crop job where you take some old painting that fits the work and hone in on a detail, which in this case suits the book perfectly. The scene shown could be that moment when Ambrosio realizes Satan is’t actually going to save jim.

I like the second over even if it is a bit silly and calls to mind those old Italian movies where Mickey Rooney would dress up as a devil and cavort about. So if I were reading that I’d expect some comedy along with the weirdness. That tongue would be firmly in cheek, which isn’t the case really at all. Lewis may have willfully indulged in melodrama, but he seemed pretty sincere.

The third cover reminds me of Andres Serrano’s Piss-Christ. Is that good? Is that bad? I don’t know. But the eyes above the cross… meh. They gotta go.

The fourth cover is the one I rad, and it’s pretty hohum and dull, but I do love the skull and blood drops on that whole Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural. The cover doesn’t stand out on its own, but stands out as being part of a particular series. But looking at the robed figure beside the rest of these, I like it. The whole of it fits well together.

One Book, Four Covers: Star Rider by Doris Piserchia

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I’d never heard of Doris Piserchia until two months ago when someone on a webforum mentioned how great her books were, so I downloaded the Gateway reprints to my kindle.

And let me just say right now that you should too.

Piserchia’s style is hard to pin down – someone said she’s a bit like Philip K. Dick, but it’s the PKD of Clans of the Alphane Moons rather than, say, A Scanner Darkly. The writers she reminds me more of are the later Alice (post-Tiptree) Shelton and Clifford Simak (whose also a bit like PKD). Pischeria shares the same weird exuberance that just dives into a story, no matter how outwardly crazy, and runs with it. Case in point, Star Rider.

In the future mankind has spread throughout the galaxy by means of genetic modification that allows us to leap between worlds as long as we’re telepathically bonded to mounts which are like these space-dog-horses. Those that travel are known as Jaks, those that settle are called Dreens, and off on the sidelines are Vthe arks, which are a bit like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland – if the cat were made from pneumatic tubing. Everyone’s searching for the planet Doubleluck, and later this becomes a search for a method to hop across the galaxies, an act no ones been able to pull off without going mad. Into this situation comes Jade, a young Jak, who might or might not have the ability to make the leap, and it’s that mystery that makes the plot-shenanigans ensue.

The thing I like about the covers are how they all treat the mounts differently while still oscillating between the poles of dog and horse. The annoying thing is how most of them dress Jade in varying shades of chainmail bikini. The exception is the non-English book, which is my favorite of the four. It would certainly have been the version I’d have read if I was a German hippy in 1974.

Anyway, buy the reprints and start here or with A Billion Days of Earth, because that one has intelligent rats with metal hands that think they’re humans.

One Book Four Covers: Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

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Another one of those books I can just pick up and read when I have nothing else to read is Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon.

I’ve mentioned him here before, but the book deserves some singular attention. It’s a novel without characters except the general human race that reads as the history of the next several million years documenting the rise and fall of civilizations on Earth, then Venus, and later Neptune. There’s a war against Martians, Venusians, and others. Glimpses into religious ideals of the various civilizations and like a thousand ideas for your role-playing game. Every page holds its brilliant little kernel of ideas:

For some thousands of years the race remained in a most precarious condition, now almost dying out, now rapidly attaining an extravagant kind of culture in some region where physical nature happened to be peculiarly favourable. One of these precarious flashes of spirit occurred in the Yang-tze valley as a sudden and brief effulgence of city states peopled by neurotics, geniuses and imbeciles. The lasting upshot of this civilization was a brilliant literature of despair, dominated by a sense of the difference between the actual and the potential in man and the universe. Later, when the race had attained its noontide glory, it was wont to brood upon this tragic voice from the past in order to remind itself of the underlying horror of existence.

Shit. What was their breakfast cereal like?

Anyway the covers are secondary to the book itself. The first cover makes you expect an Armageddon disaster novel, the second’s cool in its way, the third bland but colorful, and the fourth gets points for getting in your face with the Ernst Haeckel. The covers don’t matter. This is one of those books people foist on you, mad-eyed like, “YOU GOTTA READ THIS!”.

So let me be one of them: for folks that want some big idea SF that they can read in desultory fashion, this book is the answer.

One Book, A Bunch of Covers: The Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic

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.

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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.

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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 Book, Six Covers: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Slave

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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.

One Book, Four Covers: Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth

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Jack Vance died two weeks back at the age of 96.

I loved the Dying Earth stuff from the word go, preferring Rhialto to Cugel, because WIZARDS, and I’d say his Demon Princes series is one of the best satires of SF written.

There’s been a lot written about him since his death, at least in the nerdosphere I inhabit, so it’s only apt to give him the One Book, Four Covers treatment.

Number one, by Ed Emscwiller, is my favorite. Sparse and slightly weird with its tentacled beasty. Then there’s number 3, which I think is really nice in capturing the book’s juxtaposition of the otherworldly and high society. Makes me dream odd dreams of Ms. Marple pitting her skills against Iucounu the Laughing Magician. The fourth cover is a bit too cheery. And then there’s the second cover with its John Berkey (I think) cover. It’s a fine picture but it’s stock like the art director pulled it out of a drawer to spare the expense of commissioning new artwork. It’s meh, which is a shame.

Also let me say how much I really hate Omnibus editions. As someone who did much of his reading on public transportation for years, it was a true pain in the ass to read a thick book on the bus or train. Paperbacks you can fit in your pocket – that’s what I’m all about.

One Book, Four Covers: Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris


This book is pretty terrible, but it’s Fantomas terrible (if you read it fast enough, it’ll give you a contact high) so there’s something to be said for that.

Long considered the werewolf novel, Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris reads like a mash-up of Les Miserables with the works of the Marquis De Sade. The novel centers on the plight of one Bertrand, afflicted from birth with lycanthropy. His step-uncle knows what Bertrand is and tries to curb B’s worse tendencies. But to no avail. Bertrand escapes and makes for Paris where he gets embroiled in the Commune.

Reading this was a bit like the weekend I spent at my grandmother’s house alternating my reading of the Monster Manual with her back issue stack of National Enquirers. It’s lid-off-the-id stuff, but the id of your grandparent’s generation, which makes it a bit sleazier, weirder, and unexpected. Murder, rape, torture, incest, and S&M abound, but the book succeeds in being both sleazy and prudish, tut-tutting at its own excesses. Read it for you want a piece of Gothic fiction ramped up to 11 and don’t mind how clunky the prose is.

One Book, Four Covers: Dino Buzzati’s The Tartar Steppe

This is the YA novel for the cynical teen in your life, that teen that has a burgeoning sense of the absurd and the blackly comic. Beyond this book lies Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, and Italo Calvino. Buzzati’s never had a large English language following, and I wonder if there’s something in this book that the American mindset rejects as too cynical on the surface. Granted having taken part in Mussolini’s navy probably doesn’t help.

Above are the covers, half of them Italian. Most of the English versions feature the landscape and a fortress, while the Italian editions all reference the soldier in some wry fashion. The English language copy I read is the rightmost one. It looks like someone applied different photoshop filters to Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

I’ll say flat out I love The Tartar Steppe.  It is a great book, though I expect it’s one people either love or hate. I’m not going to talk much about the plot. You can speculate upon that from the covers. I do wish more of Buzzati’s work was available in English, especially his short fantasy fiction, (yes, I’ve seen The Bears March on Sicily book), but that’s my wish with a lot of authors. Only with Buzzati there’s something more to my fascination, since he’s an Italian from the same generation as my grandfather, and they appeared to have shared an affinity for the absurd.

One Book, Four Covers: Jan Morris’s Last Letters From Hav

This is the book that made me start this series.

I find it interesting when a book has had a few covers and each edition or subsequent publisher has put their own stamp on it. What’s also interesting is how certain iconic images become tied to certain books. Like Moby Dick — you pretty much have either a whaling boat or a whale on the cover. Dracula covers are predominantly black and red. Conan covers feature sweaty manflesh, etc. Other books may lack iconic imagery, but get sold on their iconic style. If you’ve ever seen Black Lizard’s Jim Thompson reprints then you know what I’m talking about. They’re dark books, film noir dark. Random House’s Philip K. Dick reprints from the 80s and 90s would be another example. They’re garish and weird with computer generated graphics for the garish and weird computer enthusiastic guy. (British PKD reprints went in a totally other direction — more classically SF.)

And then there are books without iconic content or where the iconic content has yet to bubble to the surface and you get character pin-ups, scene illustrations, bland photographs, or weird abstract expressionism like you did with SF/F from a certain era.

All of which brings me back to Hav. (I know I’ve used Hav and Last Letters From Hav almost interchangeably.) Hav is Jan Morris’s fictional travelogue to a country somewhere between Greece and Turkey. Morris made her name as a travel writer (best vacations a book can buy) and Hav largely reads as a straight travelogue until you remember she’s making the whole place up and using the country as … something … a metaphor or vehicle to write a memoir or critique of history or travel writing. It’s not really any one thing.

So how exactly do you convey that? The maze with the train in it is pretty cool. As is that fantasy cityscape with the Chinese tower right in the foreground. That may look too fantastic but I love that cover. The later printings like the NYRB one (and others I haven’t included because they’re too similar) also feature the Chinese Tower but show it on fire. If you have no clue what the book is about and see that cover, you might develop expectations regarding the book, ones it is not at all likely to fulfill. Sort of the same way if a friend recommended A Scanner Darkly to you by saying “it’s about an undercover cop in the future who’s trying to take down a drug ring”, you’d likely be disappointed. Maybe the cover with the De Chirico-esque city scape and typewriter does the best in capturing the book’s mood.

What’s most weird about these burning tower covers is that they attempts to make an icon from one event out of many potential ones. Is the maze race any less iconic, or the maze itself, or the sense of travel, or Mamoun’s trumpet, or the troglodytes and their snowberries? To picture that one event, the burning of the tower, to the exclusion of all others — well, I don’t know. Is that what the book is about? It’s not really what I think about when I think about the book.

But what exactly are covers for then? To attract buyers? To signify that the book is X instead of Y? To signify that we are X-type person instead of Y-type? To keep the inner pages from falling out? And then when books get multiple covers over decades how are they packaged for new readers?

Looking at an old cover for Hav after seeing the new NYRB one made me wonder all these things, and that’s how One Book, Four covers got started.

And now you know, etc.

One Book, Four Covers: Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

How about that crow cover? That’s pretty nice.

I found a used copy of this at What the Book in Seoul. It was published in the 1980s but the most recent story in it is an Aickman from the 1960s. The majority are from the 1920s, but all are from the 20th century.

In his introduction Dahl talks about the ghost story as a world tradition and the sheer wealth of source material available. This didn’t prevent him from putting together a mostly British table of contents. In fact my biggest complaint against this book is that it’s irritatingly British. Everyone is prim and proper and ducking into corner shops in search of bric-a-brac. Dahl also talks about how bad most authors’ ghost stories are. Even the big name folks’ stories are atrocious. He feels the same when it comes to children’s books too. People think they can write one easily, when the results are quite different.

There is a logic to Dahl’s selections and if you’ve ever read one of his stories you’ll see a kinship between them and his selections here. Most of them have zinger endings of the morbid sort.

Another little chestnut from the introduction is that Dahl records his surprise at how well women write ghost stories. After making a few wince-worthy generalizations, he applauds women as horror writers. They were so good he feared that the whole book would be nothing but women authors. But in the end the men roused themselves and prevailed, thirteen testicle-endowed individuals to eleven uterus-bearers.

Imagine if it had been otherwise. The horror!