Covering Covers


Ok, so on the heels of my post on Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, I got to thinking about covers again.  Seems to be a theme, no?  Anyway, I put a lot of value in covers.  They are part of the paraphenalia through which we read the books themselves.  The old saying to not judge a book by its cover is a saying because we always do.  In fact, it is impossible to follow the saying.  Whether we like it or not, the cover ALWAYS conditions our response to and reading of the book. Of course the cover is not alone.  The paper, the weight, the smell, etc — any aspect of the material book affects our reading of it whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. 

With that said, I wanted to talk briefly about Old Man’s War covers.  The novel originally appeared in 2005 with this cover: 

 I really like this cover — from the elderly spacepeople to the Adonis-like body decanting in the background.  We don’t typically think of our heroes as graying but here they are.  I also particularly like how the background figures are staring out directly at the reader while the larger figure in the foreground — our hero — looks off cover with a raised inquisitive eyebrow.  He’s not concerned with the reader but intent on studying the object of his focus.  Admittedly, I am curious about the woman’s outstretched forearms with palms (one that we can see) opened and up in an almost supplicative gesture.  It is interesting.  It makes me want to know more.  Specifically, what he is looking at and preparing to do.   It is my understanding that  Scalzi commissioned this original art from Donato Giancolo.

 Also in 2005, the trade paperback was released with this cover.  John Harris designed this second cover and has designed the covers for the subsequent books in the series.  So there is certainly a consistency across the series (definitely a good thing).  I also think that this cover is fairly attractive.  But, for me, it doesn’t measure up to the first one.  Perhaps it is the human element — such a large part of the novel for me.  Also, while I find this one attractive, it is also fairly generic.  It would be any number of planets with any number of ships in any number of fictional universes.  This is not a knock on Harris since I find the image itself to be great.  But, from this cover, I would expect something focussed mainly on ship-to-ship combat rather than planetside ground war.

 Scalzi, himself, discussed covered recently on his blog where he notes the importance of consistency and quotes Tor art directory who points out that the function of covers is to convince booksellers to buy the book.  That is an interesting wrinkle in that I think most of us assume that it is the customer who is foremost in the minds of publishers.  Booksellers actually make sense but we cannot discount the importance of the customer as well.  I get that Donato may have been cost-prohibitive for all of the books but it would have been a consistency that I think would have benefited the series.  Scalzi’s writing and Internet presence is strong enough that his books would probably sell quite well with blank covers but when I pull these books off the shelf I would like to see a more visually interesting cover.

As a quick aside, there are a number of alternate covers for the novel on foreign language editions and the limited edition published by Subterranean Press. I don’t want to clutter up with all the images, but go look for them, some of them are quite attractive. 

I don’t buy books based on covers but if I did, I would certainly go with the first cover before the second.  What do you think?

 (And this is still to say nothing of the font….)


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2 Responses to “Covering Covers”

  1. scalzi Says:

    “It is my understanding that Scalzi commissioned this original art from Donato Giancolo.”

    Not precisely correct. Tor (my publisher) commissioned it; I bought the original artwork from Donato once it was completed. It’s hanging on the wall in my office.

  2. Southpaw Says:

    Ah, my mistake. Thanks for the clarification. Probably very nice to have the original. It’s a great piece. So, was the switch away from Donato for the trade/pb related to cost?

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