One Book Four Covers: Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard
How about those covers, eh?
I dig the ones at either end, although the left one fits the book better. That one on the right, though? Gosh. I totally want to read that book.
For folks who don’t want to Google, Vermilion Sands is a fictitious resort at some undetermined time in the near future populated by the bored, artistic, insane, and/or wealthy. Ballard said his inspiration was Palm Springs, but I always imagine a Mediterranean locale. It’s also one of those books you’re either going to love or hate. If you’re a Ballard fan you won’t really mind that every story is more or less the same featuring nearly identical characters and plots. If you’re not a Ballard fan then I’m sure that will bother you — but only if you try to tackle the book head-on. If you were to approach each story on its own, you’d probably have better luck.
One Book Five Covers: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Russell Hoban’s novel Riddley Walker is a bit like Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz mixed with Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Set in a post-apocalyptic England that resembles the Iron Age, Riddley’s written in this odd, “degraded” style of English that is difficult to parse at first but after a bit takes on a poetic power.
“Where ben that new life coming in to? Widders Dump. You know what they ben doing there. It ain’t jus only forming they ben doing there with stock and growings they ben digging they croaking iron. They ben digging up that old time Bad Time black time. Now weare at the las weve come to No. 1 and Brooder Walker. Widders Dump and thats where Aunty come for him. Stoan boans and iron tits and teef be twean her legs. Brooder Walker dug her up and she come down on top of him o yes.”
Another conceit of the book is that puppet shows like Punch & Judy mixed with Medieval morality plays are used by the government to communicate official announcements. Riddley digs up an old Punch puppet and this sets him over the fence and wandering the outside world. Hence the appearance of Punch on two of the covers.
Those two covers at least give you some idea what to expect in the book. The second cover, full of quotes calling the book brilliant and what not, looks more like a back cover, and the third and fourth covers look like in-the-know covers, by which I mean that unless you’re in the know already those covers aren’t going to tell you anything about the book.
Regardless of the cover you find, it’s a great book and worth checking out.
(There’s also this whole theory about how the book inspired parts of Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.)
One Book Three Covers: Missing Man by Katherine MacLean
This is one of those books I read about on a blog somewhere discussing “forgotten classics” of SF. The premise sounded neat: a pair of heroes (more psychic EMTs than cops) roams the weird streets of a future New York City that’s fragmented into communes.
The novel began its life as a series of novellas in Analog before going the fix-up route, so it’s no wonder that the Analog cover with its Apocalypse Chair is the most apt, sort of. The second picture is the first paperback novel printing and it’s your standard 1970s SF moodscape, like for real man, without any indication of setting or character. All it needs is a sketchy disembodied head screaming and you could call it Operation: Mindcrime. The next with the black cover is the
Prime Books Wildside Press edition that’s in print now and it’s the copy I read, and, well, that’s the dullest of the bunch. It’s a road sign.
All of which is a shame because Missing Man is a fun book. It’s dated for sure, and a bit eyebrow-raising whenever the conflict centers on rescuing someone from a “crazy” ethnic or racial minority, but it’s also weirdly prescient in the way its fragmented NYC resembles the Internet: a world where people have segregated themselves from each other along the lines of their interests and via their computers so they never need to encounter someone who disagrees with them.
Missing Man may be wrong in the particulars and technology of this fragmentation, but I suspect it’s right in depicting some of the results.
One Book Four Covers: The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk
A young Italian scholar captured by pirates finds himself the slave of a Turkish scholar. The two share more than a passing resemblance to each other, and this makes their relationship complex as each adapts and alters their own and the other’s identity. A short Borgesian novel ripe with potential allegory, which is great by me, my only wish is that for once someone would write a pomo novel with a reliable narrator.
Now on to the covers…
I love that they’re all so different. I read number one on the left. It looks like one of those Edward Gorey book covers from the 1950s. Number two mixes in some weird steampunky gears. That’s cool. The third is reappropriated Renaissance artwork. It’s there, it doesn’t suggest anything except the period. Number four is mysterious, if a bit dull, but it does hint at the issue of duality in the same way number two suggests identity. Just who is that behind the gears?
One Book Four Covers
It’s time for another edition of one book, four covers. This time Lolly Willowes.
Once again I read the NYRB edition. That’s the one all the way over on the left. I think it’s a bit lousy–misleading and unappealing. It calls to mind folk artwork and certainly doesn’t tell you what the book’s likely to be about. The second one… umm.. yeah… First I guess it was published during the 60s/70s Gothic boom where a cover required an old house, a young woman, and some stuffy disapproving mysterious dudes. I’m surprised she’s not wearing a nightgown. Second, the ad-copy:
A charming woman–a midnight meeting–the scent of witchcraft “remarkable… pungent and satisfying”.
From now on I am going to say “remarkable… pungent and satisfying” whenever I smell anything.
The third cover is great. It screams THIS BOOK IS ABOUT WITCHES DEAL WITH IT! while also suggesting a playful irreverence. The fourth cover is a bit too much. Again it’s misleading and takes itself too seriously. It’s much too dark and brooding. As with the second cover it plays up the Old House aspect of the story, which is really a negligible part of the whole story.
One Book Four Covers
Here’s an assortment of covers from the book I recently finished. I get a kick out of seeing how each would have shaped my expectations.
I read the second one from the left. It’s not a bad cover. Somewhat classy. The first one brings to mind a 1950s young adult novel — not a bad thing and I like the artwork. The third one looks like an off-market, but probably decent D&D supplement (maybe a Harn module). And the last one is kind of all over the place like the artist proposed three covers and the publisher decided to go with all of them. None of them make you really want to read the book, nor do they make the characters look appealing. Well, maybe the fourth one does or at least it comes the closest. The rest, eh, not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s a pretty damn good book if you like your vikings mixed in with Dumas-style adventurous swashbuckling.