As those of you who can read my bio on the right will know, I run a specialty tumblr for science fiction art from the 1970s. I do it for a simple reason: ’70s sci-fi art is the best. The hand-painted, experimental, lively, vibrant, optimistic examinations of alien worlds, retro-futuristic cities, and impractical space stations are just dripping with a playfulness that I personally can’t see in most modern, minimalist, digitally created covers, as cool (and less embarrassing to read on the train) as they may be.
But! Some modern covers still have that epic feel, and there are still plenty of cover artists (both veteran and new to the game) doing yeoman’s work to support the cause of outlandish, splashy cover art. Here are a few science fiction covers from recent years that spark the sense of ’70s-style wonder I love.
The Architect of Aeons, by John C. Wright
John Harris is a legendary, shockingly prolific cover artist: just take a look at the hundreds of covers and interior works he’s published over the last three-and-a-half decades (he even has his own art book). His technique—oil painting on canvas—adds a gravitas and sweeping sense of scale to the often abstracted spaceships and alien planet landscapes he creates. He’s been working since the 1970s, and his style is still in high demand.
Wright’s Architect of Aeons came out in April 2015 from Tor, and is a great example of Harris’ work in his favorite genre: visually stunning space opera. His painting for Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy is another iconic example of his ongoing popularity.
Beyond This Horizon, by Robert Heinlein
This is a 2014 edition of the classic Heinlein novel, first published way back in 1942. The updated version required a careful hand, and Bob Eggleton stepped up to the plate. Another famous artist with a lengthy track record, Eggleton has worked in the industry since the 1980s, and his vibrant, fantastical approach has spiced up plenty of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories.
Ivory, by Mike Resnick
Eggleton’s attention to detail and realism serve to heighten the awe behind whatever spectacle he creates, so I couldn’t stop at one cover. Check out this 2007 image depicting the launch of a rainbow-colored spaceship. Eggleton named it “one of [his] best covers ever” on his blog. I hope you’d more impressed than that elephant on the right.
Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson’s epic speculative series The Stormlight Archive is illustrated by yet another heavy-hitting cover artist: Michael Whelan. Sanderson, one of the biggest names in fantasy today, has loved the artist since the age of fourteen, and shared a story in a 2010 blog post about his idol:
“[W]hen I was a senior in high school, I was forced to take a life-planning class. In that class, we had to write down ten ‘life goals’ we wanted to achieve some day. #1 on my list, which I still have somewhere, was ‘Publish a book someday that is good enough to deserve a Michael Whelan cover.'”
Here’s a link to the Stormlight Archives’ first, equally epic, Whelan cover, which you can download as a desktop wallpaper.
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, by Frederik Pohl
You know the drill by now: This cover’s artist, John Berkey, is a legend in the genre, with a decades-long history of imaginatively painted spacecraft. But has even more of a claim to fame: his track record stretches all the back to 1967, and his first cover for Heinlein’s Starman Jones (the version on the currently in-print edition is by…Bob Eggleton! See, I told you these guys are prolific). Berkey is known for his geometrically adventurous, larger-than-life spaceships, and this 2009 cover is no disappointment.
Abyss Deep, by Ian Douglas
Fred Gambino was one of the first sci-fi cover artists to jump into digital art, but he always retained an affection for the trappings of the ’70s, when he got his start. The classy, dynamic design behind the bulky spacesuit featured on this 2013 cover is a great example. The massive six-eyed worm alien doesn’t hurt, either.
What modern covers do you think capture that vintage flair?