Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Rocket, Field, Figure Part I

(Rod Dunham’s cover for the 1953 edition of Planet of the Dreamers (1953), John D. MacDonald)

First (archetypal) incarnation: rocket, field, figure.  Second incarnation: rocket with extra fins, field with unusual terrain, human staring at alien figure (s).  Repeat with virtually infinite variation.

By far one of my favorite science fiction cover tropes, rocket/field/figure evokes covers spanning the entire history of science fiction.  Rod Dunham’s cover for the 1953 edition of John D. MacDonald’s Planet of the Dreamers (above) perfectly evokes the archetype in its pure unadulterated form.  Emswiller’s cover for the 1960 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (below) uses a more traditional perspective but manipulates the field with a human hand, and eye, a pair of breasts.  The otherworldly massive stature of an alien is conveyed with but a mere glance by its position next to a rocket (below, the cover for Contact).

The placement of a rocket in a traditional “American rural” scene — in the uncredited cover for the 1965 edition of Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961) (below) — not only screams “science fiction” but “technology disparity,” “culture clash,” etc.

There’ll be more in this series… for sure.  What are your favorites?

Enjoy! (as always, are the books worth reading?)

(Ed Emswiller’s cover for the June 1960 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1946 edition of Assignment in Tomorrow (1954), ed. Frederik Pohl)

(Uncredited cover for the 1965 edition of Contact (1963), ed. Noel Keyes)

(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition of Adam Link – Robot (1965), Eando Binder i.e. Otto Binder)

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1954 edition of Dark Dominion (1954), David Duncan)

(Mel Hunter’s cover for the October 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction)

(Robert E. Shulz’s cover for the 1960 edition of The Tomorrow People (1960), Judith Merril)

(Uncredited cover for the 1965 edition of Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961), Zenna Henderson)

9 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Rocket, Field, Figure Part I

  1. This is one of my favorite sf cover tropes as well, and there isn’t a cover pictured above that I don’t like. I’d buy each and every one for the cover alone. Another good one you should check out is Andre Norton’s Star Born. You can see (and feel free to take) the cover in this post of mine:

    On a more contemporary note, I love the rocket/ship covers that Stephan Martiniere does. The most recent I’ve purchased is the Life of Mars collection Strahan edited. Such a fantastic rocket ship cover.

  2. I wrote a merciless review of Tomorrow People on Amzon in 2007:

    Don’t be fooled by the positive blurb from Fred Pohl (Merril’s husband) on the cover of the 1968 paperback edition of The Tomorrow People; this book is incredibly slow and painfully dull.

    Written in 1960, it depicts 1977, a year after the Soviet Union and the United States have each sent a rocket to Mars. Only the American rocket came back, and only one of its two crew members came back with it. What happened to the rest of the astronauts is a mystery, and truth drugs, hypnosis, and psychotherapy are unable to get the answer out of the one surviving astronaut, Johnny Wendt.

    This is a good foundation for a story, but after setting the above scene in a few pages the reader wades through 150 pages of poorly-written soap opera stuff; can Wendt beat his alcoholism? Is his girlfriend cheating on him? Why does Wendt’s girlfriend refuse to marry him? Can Wendt be convinced by the space agency to go on another space mission? Will that up and coming politician hurt the space agency’s budget? Lots and lots of long boring conversations in which people look for subtle clues about each other’s psychological states and try to manipulate each other; about as thrilling as a staff meeting at your office or Thanksgiving with your extended family.

    In the last 40 pages or so of this 192 page novel the story slowly comes back to life, and evolves into a forgettable utopian tale about how the Martians can teach Earthmen to love each other, how to use telepathy, and how to access a non-polluting, infinitely renewable, energy source.

    The 42 page hippy story was worth two stars, just barely, but the 150 pages of mind-numbing conversations make this one of the biggest duds of all time. One star.

    • I think I read your review when I looked up the book after I found the cover — haha. Wasn’t planning on reading it… What do you recommend of Merril? I just bought her collection of three novellas, Daughters of Earth. I’m looking forward to it. I didn’t realize that she was married to Frederick Pohl!

  3. I don’t know if I have read anything else written by Merrill. I’d be interested to hear what you think of her short fiction.

    Merrill and Pohl were only together for like 4 years, so its not surprising you didn’t know.

  4. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 2/9/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

  5. This is a really classic cover subject. It gives the artist a lot of latitude to depict many kinds of threat, humor, wonder, adventure. I particularly like the Galaxy cover.

  6. The cover art for Zenna Hendersen: Pilgrimage is taken from a 1948 painting by Andrew Wyeth, called “Christina’s World”. The people and the spaceship have been added for this book. I’ve had this book since 1969 and love her writings. Time to re-read!

  7. There’s a SF cover illustration that has been bugging me for a while. I don’t know the artist, but a simple execution of brain jogging summons the following scene:
    A snowy landscape between mountain tops. In the left field of the page stands a rather 50s styled rocket ship – torpedo or sigar-shaped with landing struts and fins -, no sign of its occupants. In the right field, on some distance from the spacecraft, a group of men; they’re about ready to ambush the ship. I can’t recall exactly their vestiture, a somewhat contemporary mishmash of threadbare outerwear, they denote a barbaric or regressive society, possibly in a post-apocalyptic future.
    I definitely saw it in the mid-eighties in a comic bookstore; given that I was browsing around on my own, without company of either of my parents, it must have been between late 1983 and 1985.
    I was so sure that the illustration belonged to the cover of an issue of the SF (comic) magazine 1984, but an on-line check of all its issue, both English and Dutch edition, hasn’t resurfaced the image. I then tried Metal Hurlant and its Anglo counterpart Heavy Metal and no dice there as well.
    Same for Epic. Scouring Google Images was no help either, nor the website, which is
    a visual catalogue of the cover art of the science fiction, fantasy, weird and horror fiction magazines from the early twentieth century to the present day. I went hours doing research, including personal and official websites of SF illustrators, but nowhere is this illustration to be found. And I am adamant that it does exist, that my mind isn’t producing false memories . So has anyone an idea what it was, who the artist could be? Maybe even direct me to sites I’ve overlooked or even attach here a picture of this illustration? Unless I walked without knowing from one parallel universe to another, from one where the illustration exists to this one where it never was created, this cover illustration should be out there somewhere… 🙂

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