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Legendary author Brian Aldiss reflects on years of strange book covers

Illustration for article titled Legendary author Brian Aldiss reflects on years of strange book covers

Over at the Guardian, there's a must-read feature where Brian Aldiss celebrates the publication of his final science fiction novel, Finches of Mars, by looking at six decades of weird book covers. Here are a few of our favorite quotes.

The Dark Light Years Faber & Faber (1964)
Faber were my first publishers. I never had to search for them. Charles Monteith wrote to me and invited me to send them 'The Brightfount Diaries'. That book amused people, and from then on I was away. This novel has an oyster design by the very trendy Bridget Riley. My title is a quote from TS Eliot: 'O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark, / The vacant interstellar spaces ... ' All the same, it's a cheerful tale of space explorers on an alien planet, who find an alien ship crammed with alien shit ... So metaphysical questions are raised ...

Life in the West Carroll & Graf, New York (1990)
The American rather than the English edition. I liked the style of this hardcover's jacket. I lunched with the publisher and his lady; the blighter stuck me for the price of the meal. This is the first of four volumes known – or unknown – as The Squire Quartet. Covering our loves and troubles, the series ran into problems in the UK, with each volume being published by a different publisher. Anthony Burgess called this volume rich, saying it was 'not afraid of thought, full of vital rounded characters'. Alas, that didn't help much.

Helliconia Gollancz / Orion Publishing (2010)
This portly paperback contains all Helliconias, Spring, Summer and Winter. The cover, beautiful and dignified, carries a quote from the TLS, claiming that 'Science fiction has never before had this grandeur.' Hmm, I spent two years on research before writing a word ... Most SF contains assumptions – an assumption that we will colonise Mars, let's say. Here, we assume that a year may last for 5,000 years, leading to two types of being. Front page, New York Times, 16 September 2011, announces NASA has discovered a distant planet with two suns, a lesser and a larger. Some astronomers though this impossible. It is the Helliconian model.

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Check out his comments on seven more book covers, spanning his career, over at the Guardian.

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DISCUSSION

I can't tell you how rewarding it is to have an author like Aldiss talk about something like this. I've worked in publishing, so I'm well aware how disconnected authors are from things like blurbs, cover art, etc., but it's still really entertaining to hear what an intelligent author really thinks about the commercial process they're forced to take part in.

(Not that that's _wrong_...after all, they wouldn't have sold many books without a publishing house behind them, and brilliant authors aren't necessarily good marketers, by any means. It's just really interesting to get their perspective.)