Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: My Top 15 Science Fiction Covers

1. Harold Bruder’s cover for the 1967 edition of Pyschogeist (1966), L. P. Davies.

Because everyone loves lists…

…I’ve selected from my collection of cover art, placed in no particular order, my fifteen favorite science fiction covers of all time.  Of course, lists being lists, and the fact that I’ve only seen a portion of all the covers ever made, it is incomplete and maleable.  Although many of the most famous sci-fi artists (Powers, Lehr, and pulp masters such as Wesso) feature, some of my favorites are by lesser known artists whose visual contributions to the field should not be forgotten (Bruder, Podwil, Foster, Schongut, etc).

A few points to consider: 1) The artist rarely had control over the font.  If the graphic designer responsible for putting together the final cover wasn’t up to snuff, the text often doesn’t mesh well with the artist’s canvas. 2) All my favorite covers are from before the mid-70s (computer generated images, the 80s visual aesthetics, etc tend not to appeal to my artistic sensibilities). 3) In the making of this list I considered ONLY the image, not the contents of the work or how the artist adequately or inadequately conveyed the feel/meaning/themes of the author’s work.


50s Surrealism!

Bizarre cityscapes!

Nefarious machines!

Crashed spaceships!

Mysterious spheres!

Evil robots!


(as always, your lists are welcome — I look forward to reading them)

2. Jerome Podwil’s cover for the 1966 edition of The Players of Null-A (1966), A. E. van Vogt

 3. Robert Foster’s cover for the 1969 edition of Turn Left at Thursday (1961), Frederik Pohl

4. Richard Powers’ cover for the 1961 edition of Turn Left at Thursday (1961), Frederik Pohl

5. Jerome Podwil’s cover for the 1970 edition of Recall Not Earth (1970), C. C. MacApp

6. Frank R. Paul’s cover for the October 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories

7. Gaylord Welker’s cover for the December 1952 issue of Astounding Science Fiction

8. Walter Popp’s cover for the August 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures

9. Emanuel Schongut’s cover for the 1966 edition of Watchers of the Dark (1966), Lloyd Biggle, Jr

10. Karel Thole’s cover for the 1973 edition (?) of The Mind Thing (1960), Frederik Brown

11. Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1968 edition of Conquerors from the Darkness (1965), Robert Silverberg

12. Mitchell Hooks’ cover for the 1958 edition of The Big Eye (1949), Max Ehrlich

13. Ken Freeman’s cover for the 1965 edition of Far Boundaries (1951), ed. August Derleth)

14. Richard Powers’ cover for the 1954 edition of Costigan’s Needle (1953), Jerry Sohl

15. H. W. Wesso’s cover for the 1938 issue of Astounding Science Fiction

For similar posts, consult the INDEX

28 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: My Top 15 Science Fiction Covers

  1. Number #6 is insanity! Have you checked out the comic book coming out now called Saga? There’s aliens with similar heads.

  2. Pingback: Favorite Sci-Fi cover art | The Finch and Pea

  3. I’m a fan of both traditional on canvas art and digital work. Having seen so much digital work and talked to several artists it takes every bit as much talent to create the art (Stephen Martiniere is a good example), it is simply using a different medium. While I much prefer the idea that an image exists as a one-of-a-kind physical object (some of which were WONDERFUL to see at the recent SFAL event), There are some really impressive digital masterpieces out there.

    These are some really great choices here. I’ve purchased many a pre-70’s book over the years not knowing anything about the book or the author simply because I had to have that book in my collection. The cover was something I wanted to be a part of my home.

    I love the moon outside the doorway on the Robert Foster cover. Something about that part of the image just sucks me right in. The rest of the image is nice too and reminds me of some of the photo-collage “found art” work that I see current artists doing that I enjoy, but that part of the image gives it that “wow” factor for me.

    I am also impressed with Walter Popp’s illustration for Fantastic Adventures. The 50’s SF aesthetic, represented so well by this piece, is a HUGE favorite of mine. I’m thinking you might have featured this image before. At any rate I know I’ve seen it and would love to add a copy of that to my collection some day.

    • Yup yup, it does require an equal amount of talent — without doubt. What are your favorite “digital masterpieces”?

      Yeah, I’m often seduced by the gorgeous covers — and am sorely disappointed by the contents.

      The image I have for the Foster cover isn’t the best. The colors are far better than that scan — but yes, the moon does add a great deal to the image. It’s a trope of his — this for example is similar but not nearly as visually stunning.

      • Robert Foster had an unusual process. He’d make photo collages, then rephotograph them and make a large (maybe 20 x 30 inches) b & w print which he’d mount on stiff board. He’d do color oil glazes and some opaque painting right on it. It was a cheating way to get a photorealistic look, and always had a sense of collage pasteup about it, but damn, some of them looked just great.

        Love the wrinkles on this guy’s smock.

        The gal looks a lot like Shere Hite, a model Robert McGinness used extensively in the sixties (like for his Carter Brown covers). She later wrote a results-of-a-women’s-sex-survey book, The Hite Report, which was a bestseller.

        David Mattingly, a prolific SF cover artist from the eighties onward, owns a Foster original, which reveals his process.

  4. I’d pick the December ’52 cover of Astounding for my list too! I’d never heard of Psychogeist, that’s an awesome cover.

    Do you have a list of top covers that you don’t have? I’d include the Hannes Bok cover for the Nov ’62 F&SF – illustrating ‘Rose for Ecclesiastes’.

  5. I would include Virgil Finlay’s cover for Herbert Gold’s ‘Galaxy Magazine’ featuring Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination.” Finlay’s interior illustrations were detailed pen-and-ink drawings accomplished with stippling, cross-hatching, and scratchboard techniques, very labor-intensive and time-consuming old-school style work. His covers, however, were mostly done in Oil. The photo-realism he used to paint Gully Foyle, the pre-cyberpunk anti-hero of Bester’s pyrotechic novel, defines the protaganist in my mind to this day.

  6. This is the second Printing of “The Stars My Destination” in Signet Paperback. I’ve read this novel over 9 times, and once owned this edition. Alfred Bester was an erudite writer in a world of hacks. This book is often credited as the first CyberPunk novel. Signet #S1389: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, 1957. Cover art by Richard Powers.

    • Yes, I have read the novel — although, I would rather read the wealth of other great novels from that era than reread it 😉

      As for the cyberpunk claims, I find them absolutely bogus. How can you have cyberpunk without the technological environment to spawn it? Yes, perhaps in some stylistic fashion it proved influential but you can’t have a (sub) genre without the historical environment that is able to give rise to it… You can’t have a Cold War paranoia novel without the Cold War…

  7. Loved #8. Popp, who would later be known for his romance covers, gives us a very feminist cover. The women show the range from panic to serious concentration as they study an upcoming apocalypse. I’m sure the story couldn’t live up to the promise of this piece of artwork.

    Also, the clothing isn’t the garish “futuristic” dress that many artists used to indulge in. Simple and practical, I can see women wearing this type of dress now.

    I also liked #5, Podwell’s cover reminded me of John Berkley’s art. Berkley was always a favorite of mine. Although not similar, check out this man/machine cover:

  8. It’s interesting to see just your favorites. I only like a few of them, which suggests we’re programmed differently for art. I should make up a post about my favorite covers. I have done posts on the covers I love most because of nostalgia.

    • This is an old list. I probably have a few new favorites…. if you don’t engage in reasons or be more specific, which styles you find appealing, rather than “I like some of them but not others” than it’s really hard to have a meaningful conversation.

  9. Yes, Joachim, I was being vague, and that’s useless. Let’s see if I can be more specific.

    The covers I love best have illustrations that are realistic, or somewhat realistic, that conveys a dramatic scene. The December 1952 Astounding is my favorite of this bunch, with an astronaut walking away from a crashed spaceship. It’s very memorable and I’ve seen it many times before.

    My second favorite is the August 1952 Fantastic Adventures. It makes me wonder why the crew is all women, and what are they observing?

    Third, should have been the October 1929 Science Wonder Stories by Paul, it’s rather fascinating in his funky style, but the cover for Lloyd’s Biggle’s Watchers of the Dark is more compelling for me, so it’s 3rd and the Paul is 4th. I generally prefer realistic/representational art over modern/abstract art usually, but not always.

    The L. P. Davies cover is intriguing and interesting, but not quite pleasing to me. But it is eye-catching.

    I like the middle part of the van Vogt cover, the human figures walking away. The whole brown part makes me think of cave paintings.

    I like the Turn Left at Thursday cover. It has pleasing colors and design, and I love Powers. Not one of my favorite Powers though. But I especially love what he was doing in the 1950s, even his most abstract work.

    The Recall Not Earth cover is okay, but the text overwhelms the art.

    I also liked fairly well the Conquerors from the Darkness cover. My favorite Lehr is:

    Finally, I like the Powers’ cover for Costigan’s Needle.

    The others didn’t click with me.


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