Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: A Selection of Bleak Alien Landscapes

(Alex Schomburg’s cover for the 1953 edition of Space, Space, Space (1953), ed. William Sloane)

Our science fiction heroes are often confronted by bleak alien landscapes adorned with rocks, vast deserts, adverse atmospheres — commonly these vistas are traversed, colonized, tamed…  Spaceships touch down on virgin surfaces, the explorers tentatively step forward, aliens peer from the distance.  When settlements are built the alien vista remains an ever present source of fear and fascination.  The depiction of a convincingly bleak alien landscape (think Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune) can be of paramount importance in conveying not only  otherworldliness but the backdrop for human drama and the challenges our heroes must overcome (by technology or other means).

I’ve saved my favorite of Alex Schomburg’s 50s book covers for this post (above) — in this case, a fanciful Moon vista with unusual round spaceships with descending figures (not sure if they’re human or not), crags, astronauts, and Earth in the background.

I was inspired to make the post when I stumbled upon Jarr’s cover for the April, 1960 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction (below): the endless white sands, unusual wishbone-like structures, and aliens on alien steeds in the foreground all evoked a profoundly alien world (not sure which of the stories in the issue it illustrates).

What are your favorite alien landscapes? (and as always, are the novels/novellas/novelettes/short stories worth readings?)


(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1970 edition of Natives of Space (1965), Hal Clement)

(Jarr’s cover for the April, 1960 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction)

(F. J. Terence Maloney’s cover for the June, 1957 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction)

(Richard Mckenna’s cover for the August, 1964 issue of Amazing Stories)

(Chesley  Bonestell’s cover for the August 1967 issue of Analog Science Fiction)

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1960 edition of Next Door to the Sun (1960), Stanton A. Coblentz)

For more posts like this one: Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art INDEX

16 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: A Selection of Bleak Alien Landscapes

  1. Natives of Space is a great cover. It just gives me that excitement that I look for in SF. Just marvellous. It makes me want to read the book, which is of course the point.

    The analog cover’s not bad but a bit muddy. The Emshwiller is rather splendid though.

    • I agree on all three counts! The Emshwiller cover is fantastic! The city in the distance, the flat red surface, the crazy walker! Makes me wish I lived in the 60s or started reading science fiction was 11 instead of 15 (alas, I had the fantasy kick first).

      I love the angle of Ellis’ Natives of Space cover — if it was vertical it would look rather normal. But yes, covers to matter in conveying preliminary excitement before you even open the cover (often to be completely reneged by the egregious contents — haha).

    • The works of his I’ve read all seem deliberate/measured/precise and logical — hence, however fantastic the premise it seemed possible. He’s somewhat underrated in my opinion. I think I’ll pick up the Natives of Space collection to see the quality of his short stories.

  2. I’m a sucker for any cover that shows a vast barren landscape with tiny little astronauts in the foreground. I like a little fear with my sense of wonder. Bonestell did lots of these, and “Fantasy & Science Fiction” has some great ones; July ’59, Sept ’55, Sept ’57 and many others. These can easily be browsed through at

    I read Anderson’s “StarFog” in the last month or so; it was alright. It is readily available in the January 2009 collection, Call Me Joe, which, I regret to report, is full of typos, presumably scanning errors.

    • Me too…

      Most of the images are on isfdb as well. But yeah, I’ll check them out on sfcovers. Perhaps the scan quality is better.

      I’d probably just procure Anderson’s 1969 collection Beyond the Beyond which contains Starfog (along with ‘Brake’, ‘Day of Burning’, ‘The Sensitive Man’, and ‘Moonrakers’).

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