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Friday, 28 May 2010


I could buy aliens, but not aliens that
look  like  Fifties’ comic art.  They’re  semiotic  phantoms, bits  of  deep
cultural imagery that have split off and taken  on a life of their own
          from ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

Eeleen’s blog, stardate 29/05/10: My attempts to people (hah!) my science-fiction narratives with workable aliens have resulted in unusual abdominal pains. A xenomorph, or the green curry I had for dinner last night, could emerge from my stomach at any time.

You, sitting there and reading this blog, what comes to mind when you hear the word, ‘alien’ ?(and I don’t mean for immigration purposes..) Little green men waving ray-guns? Thin bug-eyed grey men wielding rectal probes? Colourful outlaw folk that frequent the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars? Those beings in Star Trek uniform with bizarre facial markings? (Oh sorry, those happen to be Star Trek fans …) Some of you may recall HR Giger’s Alien and the Predator with a shudder. How deeply these images have permeated our popular culture. Now, GET THEM OUT OF YOUR HEAD!!!

Finished? When you have banished the last pop culture alien from the orbit of your intellect, sit down with your preferred poison (An ice-blended sencha, Diet Coke and Nutrasweet in my case…) and ponder on alien possibilities.

Notice that I didn’t say, ‘possible aliens’. Then the usual stock questions would emerge, "What if they have six eyes, no mouth and communicate by telepathy? What if they look like giant praying mantids?". Cutting and pasting from a bizarre Identikit does not help your cause.

The most plausible alien possibility is that mankind will find an alien artefact. Only because humans have jettisoned so much rubbish into space, we do stand a chance of chancing upon some debris, even if it is the interstellar equivalent of a soft-drink can. We haven’t actually seen aliens upfront (despite accounts from hillbilly truck drivers) so your story become more credible when it rests on evidence of aliens.

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Monday, 17 May 2010

Cover Art(illery)

Bang! Pow! Zum Tum Tum! Striking sci-fi and horror book covers that make the maximum (positive) impact. Movie tie-in posters and reproduced photography/artwork do not count and names of photographers and illustrators included where possible.

1. R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek
Penguin Edition 2004 (cover photo credit- Bob Esdale)
Czech playwright Capek did not coin the word 'robot' in his best known play 'R.U.R'': that credit goes to his brother Joseph. A disturbing image; four AA batteries embedded in the back of the cranium, creepily reminiscent of cyberpunk 'jack-in' portals and implanted microchips.

2. Dune by Frank Herbert (SF Masterworks hardcover edition 2007) 
There's a gi-normous worm on the cover, poised to swallow everything that can't get out if its way- what more do you want? Other covers depict the Arrakeen desert, spacecraft and multiple sand worms ridden by the Fremen of Arrakis, but less worms are definitely more.

3. The Spook House Ambrose Bierce. Cover illustration by Coralie Bickford-Smith (2008 Penguin reprint)
The jagged imagery reminds me of Saul Bass' opening movie credits, especially the one for 'Psycho'. You can almost hear the animated knives slashing through the cover.

4. I Am Legend Richard Matheson (SF Masterworks reissue 1999). Cover Illustration by Jim Thiesen
"Hello Hollywood? Take a look at this book cover. Yes I know this has been made thrice into a movie but this cover is scarier than all three films edited together. This is what a post apocalyptic nightmare of the undead is supposed to look like! Not a major star wondering around the ruins of New York looking for his dinner."

4. Eon Greg Bear (Victor Gollancz reissue 2009) Design by Sanda Zahirovic

Utterly striking book cover but provokes divisive reactions. I've veered from regarding it as "contemporary and minimalist" to "Who's been playing in the publishing office's recycled paper basket during lunchtime?" and back again. 

5. A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess (Penguin editions clockwise from top left: David Pelham (1972); top right: photography by Lionel F Williams (Eye) and SOA / Photonica (Cogs) (1996).Bottom left and right: photography by Véronique Rolland (2000 & 2008).

I know I'm cheating here but I love all four covers, even the Tate Modernesque photos of glasses of milk. I don't own any of them, in fact my copy is the 1986 Norton edition with flames and the lower screaming half of a man's face. It doesn't sound exciting but I've seen worse literal covers for this book with mechanical oranges and cogwheels.

6. Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination Edogawa Rampo. cover illustration by Bolger Edward (Tuttle 1956)

Bow down to the Grandfather of the Japanese mystery tale! Let this cover hijack your attention before you open this book of bizarre psychological horror tales. The chair on the cover refers to Rampo's most famous short story 'The Human Chair', which will scare you off buying comfy sofas and armchairs. For life.
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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Cover Argh!

Horror book covers used to be a ghoulish delight, now I find them rather abstract and minimalist. In the 1980s, I loved the WH Smiths in Finchley Road and Brent Cross, London UK because they stocked an extensive range of horror books. Back then, I was too young to read the titles but I loved looking at the book covers because they scared the sh*t out of me. Scary films do not give me nightmares but these covers in their glossy lurid glory (or gory) were highly effective at making me not read the contents of the books until well into adulthood.

1) 'The Spear' James Herbert (1981)
Those glaring red eyes! That disturbingly phallic spear held by a skeletal hand! All set against an impenetrable black background! I suppose the cover artist showed the publisher a rough rendition got the rest of the week off for this work as a bonus.

2) 'Slugs' Shaun Hutson (1982)
Hokey as this novel seems now and since made into a very cheesy B-movie in 1988, perhaps the only genuine shudders are provoked by this first-edition cover art. A slug slowly nibbling the corner of some unfortunate woman's eyeball - although now I believe perhaps a pinch of salt would kill the pesky thing?

3) 'Books of Blood Volume 4' aka 'The Inhuman Condition' Clive Barker (1985)
The man's brain is exposed while his body is dissolving into ribbons, and yet his eyes are full of manic glee - he really shouldn't be enjoying his ordeal. This cover seriously scared me when I was seven but when I later discovered that the cover art was also painted by the author, I *had* to read the book just to find out whether the contents measure up to the cover. They do. (This book contains the short story 'The Forbidden' which was adapted into the film 'Candyman' in 1992)

4) 'Communion' Whitley Strieber (1988)
There's a good reason why I do not believe that the little green men will be cute, cuddly and benevolent if they visit this planet. This book cover is that reason - do those eyes say 'We come in peace'?! No, they say ,'We come to send rectal probes to Uranus!'

5) 'It' Stephen King (1988)
"Where's the clown?" you may ask. The clown owes much to Tim Curry's terrifying portrayal in the miniseries adaptation and subsequent editions later put the clown on the cover. However, this simple and very understated cover art hints at a monstrous menace hiding just under the ordinary streets where children play. 

6) Spooky Stories 1 edited by Barbara Ireson (1982)
The first volume in a great anthology series (for children!) with a cover so unnerving that my mother hated it. Grubby fingernails, decayed teeth and wild staring eyes- urghhh!

7) 'Koko' Peter Straub (1988)
Not really disturbing for me when I was 10 but more grungy, grainy and very enigmatic; What or who is 'Koko'? I remember reading the back cover; its about Vietnam War veterans trying to catch a serial killer (hence the camouflage paint on the face) Thankfully reprinted in 2009, so I can finally read it to find out.

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