Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: A Selection of Elevated Cities Part I

(uncredited cover for the 1975 edition of Growing Up in Tier 3000 (1975), Felix C. Gotschalk)

“After a seven days’ march through woodland, the traveler directed towards Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived.  The slender stilts that rise from the grown at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds that support the city […] There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it to much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence” — Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities, 1972, pg. 77)

I’ve always been fascinated by imaginary and historical cities: the utopian (Tommaso Campanella’s 1602 work The City of the Sun), the allegorical (Calvino’s Invisible Cities), the multi-layered (Rome), the planned (16th century Palmanova), the decaying (Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris), the multi-tiered (Tolkein’s Minas Tirith)…  The list is endless….

Science fiction has its share of fascinating cities — Asimov’s Trantor (Foundation), a world city, is conceptually interesting but underdeveloped; Robert Silverberg’s urban monads in The World Inside are designed to facilitate the one and only Truth, babies babies babies; Samuel Delany’s mid-western city Bellona is cut off from the rest of the world (Dhalgren); Katherine MacLean’s future New York, fragmented into innumerable communes (Missing Man) etc.

I’ve selected a range of covers by various artists which depict elevated cities poised above the rest of the world, observing or ignoring the surrounding world, migrating across expanses, reaching above barren wastes…

What are your favorite imaginary cities?

(uncredited cover for the 1974 edition of Commune 2000 A. D. (1974), Mack Reynolds)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1954 edition of The Black Galaxy (1954), Murray Leinster)

(uncredited cover for the 1975 edition of The Towers of Utopia (1975), Mack Reynolds)

(Kelly Freas’ cover for 1972 edition of Roller Coaster World (1972), Kenneth Bulmer)

(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1968 edition of The Proxima Project (1968), John Rackham)

For similar posts…

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art INDEX

12 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: A Selection of Elevated Cities Part I

  1. Holy cow… the Towers of Utopia cover looks like one of the early Space 1999 sets…

    That aside, I agree. The concept of a Future Cities, particularly the utopian imagery is a marvellous mind tease. This is particularly difficult when uses a graphic medium to portray it. I always had a particular affinity towards domed undersea cities myself… even though the concept is clearly ridiculous, it still appeals

    • Which episodes are you referring to? I didn’t make it very far into the show — I wasn’t very impressed — and, I discontinued my netflix DVDs in protest to their suddenly hiked up prices….

      But yes, the graphic representations of imaginary ELEVATED sci-fi cities are rather lacking — I wouldn’t claim that I *like* any of these covers that much (other sorts of cityscapes are more successful) — but conceptually/theoretically in text they can be quite interesting.

  2. Lots of memorable SF cities…

    The city in Christopher Priest’s The Inverted World is pretty cool. The city is on wheels (or maybe treads, I don’t remember), a huge vehicle, and must travel every day because it will suffer some dreadful fate if it stops. I loved the start of this novel, but the payoff, the reason why the city must move, was a big disappointment to me.

    H.P. Lovecraft has some pretty cool alien cities in hidden areas of Earth, probably most famously in “Call of Cthulhu” and “At The Mountains of Madness,” but also in “The Nameless City” and “Shadow Out of Time” and probably some other stories I am forgetting.

    I loved the evil alien city in the second half of Jack Williamson’s Legion of Space. The diabolical aliens can fly, which has a big influence on the city’s architecture.

    There’s the Dreaming City of Melnibone from Moorcock’s Elric stories. The Melniboneans do not trust others, so trading ships have to be guided through a maze before they get to the port. The people of Melnibone are decadent sadists and perverts, and I recall a scene in which a character sneaks about the streets at night, and can hear screams of agony and ecstasy coming from the windows of the towers high above.

    The city of Naze in A.E. Van Vogt’s “Siege of the Unseen” is a city of spires that has been blockaded by a space ship for centuries, so that all the wheeled vehicles have worn out, the streets are rubble, and the people have degenerated into drug addicts, whose drug of choice is human blood.

    Hmm, all these cities are pretty horrible. Maybe that says something about my psyche.

    • A wonderful list! I haven’t read Priest’s Inverted World, yet. It’s on my list. And I’ll definitely have to pick up a copy of A. E. Van Vogt’s Siege of the Unseen. (At the moment I’m not a fan of Moorcock)

      A great list!

      • Moorcock has produced a lot of work and some of it is quite weak, and some of it is experimental and so not to everybody’s taste. And, like many SF writers, when he starts mouthing off about politics he can be tiresome. Still, I have fond memories of much of the Eternal Champion things I read in my youth; I like a good sword & sorcery or planetary romance adventure story, and some of the Elric and Corum stories are very good specimens of the genre, and Moorcock brings a different perspective to the material than earlier practitioners like Burroughs and Howard.

      • I’ve only read The Warlord of the Air — and my father (a sci-fi fan as well) adamantly warned me to stay away from the supposedly atrocious The Blood Red Game… But yes, I haven’t read his well known works.

  3. If you give Moorcock another try I would suggest Elric of Melnibone and Sailor on the Seas of Fate. I read the 1980s Berkley versions with the Robert Gould covers; it is my understanding that there are numerous different revisions of the Elric stories out there and I have no idea how one differs from another.

  4. The ‘Towers of Utopia’ cover is recycled from the UK edition of ‘The Canopy of Time’ by Brian Aldiss and is unmistakably the work of Bruce Pennington. Other recycled Pennington includes using ‘Dune’ for ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’

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