Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Nuclear Explosions + Mushroom Clouds

(Ed Valigursky’s cover for the 1957 edition of Doomsday Eve (1957). Robert Moore Williams)

The nuclear scare produced some of the best dystopic visions ever put to paper — the devastation would be utter, complete, and the radiation, oh what fun science fiction authors and filmakers had with the effects of radiation.  A red spectrum! Mutations! Hybrid bug people!  Godzilla!  Women with two heads!  An endless assortments of monsters…  I’ve selected a wide range of covers depicting the actual nuclear explosion — not the after effects.  Families gaze from caves in dispair, watching the bomb incinerate their world.  People run helter-skelter away from the explosion.  Or, artists take a more stylized approach to the explosion — figures are cast upward amongst the wreckage of buildings.  Also, I’ve included a few that might not be nuclear related but depict a mushroom cloud regardless.  The connotations of the image are meaningful enough!

As always, I’m somewhat tentative with both the publication dates for foreign novels and the foreign artists (especially the German ones).  Often the art is lifted with American or British publications and then credited to another artist who might change little to nothing of the original image.  Unless I can remember the original image I can’t correctly credit them.

I’ve also included multiple covers from the notoriously awful Badger imprint from the late 50s and early 60s.  The majority of their substantial corpus of novels were written in ONE week each by R. L. Fanthorpe under a variety of pseudonyms chosen by the publisher.  He received around 20$ a book!  As a result, most of the covers (usually by Henry Fox) are correspondingly awful and shoddy.  Regardless, it is an indicator of the public’s ravenous consumption of science fiction along this theme.

What are your favorites?  Do you know any which I’ve not included (I’d love to make a second post on the subject)?


(Barye Phillips’ cover for the 1960 edition of On The Beach (1957), Nevil Shute)

(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition of On the Beach (1957), Nevil Shute)

(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1970 edition of Nerves (1956), Lester Del Rey)

(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1974 edition of Nerves (1956), Lester Del Rey)

(Uncredited cover for the 1983 edition of Farnham’s Freehold (1964), Robert A. Heinlein)

(Uncredited cover for the 1957 edition of Finale (1957), Clark Darlton)

(Uncredited cover for the 1961 edition of The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles (1961), Robert Moore Williams)

(Karel Thole’s cover for the 1972 edition of The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles (1961), Robert Moore Williams)

(Robert A. Osborne’s cover for the 1963 edition of Nuclear Subtraction (1963), Colin Roberts)

(Uncredited cover for the 1976 edition of Ground Zero Man (1971), Bob Shaw)

(Uncredited cover for the 1959 edition of The Man From the Bomb (1959), R. Chetwynd-Hayes)

(Frank Kelly Freas’ cover for the March 1871 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact)

(Johnny Bruck’s cover for the 1961 edition of Perry Rhodan, #5: Atom-Alarm (1961), K. H. Scheer)

(Uncredited cover for the 1957 edition of This Second Earth (1957), R. L. Bowers)

(Henry Fox’s cover for the 1963 edition of The Day the World Died (1962), John E. Muller (i.e. R. L. Fanthorpe)

(Henry Fox’s cover for the 1962 edition of Atomic Nemesis (1962), Karl Zeigfreid (i.e. R. L. Fanthorpe)

(Uncredited cover for the 1945 edition of The Atomic Bomb (1945), Malcolm Jameson)

(Carlo Jacono’s? cover for 1950s/early 60s edition of Waffenschmuggel im Kosmos (?), Peter Dubina)

(Carlo Jacono’s cover for the 1957 edition of I Figli Della Nuvola (1957), Audie Barr)

(Mick Wiggins’ cover for the 2009 edition of On the Beach (1957), Nevil Shute)

(Uncredited cover for the 2010 edition of On the Beach (1957), Nevil Shute)

(Walter Velez’s cover for the 1988 edition of Nuclear War (1988), edited by Gregory Benford and Martin Henry Greenberg)

(Uncredited cover for the 1993 edition of Alas, Babylon (1959), Pat Frank)

(Marc Cohen and Tony Stone’s cover for the 1999 edition of Alas, Babylon (1959), Pat Frank)

For similar posts consult the INDEX

13 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Nuclear Explosions + Mushroom Clouds

  1. Very interesting how much Doomsday Eve and Utopia mimic one another.

    And I really like that second cover for Nerves by del Rey. Very interesting concept. The mushroom cloud always reminds me of being a kid during the last parts of the Cold War and the anxiety that even then was in the back of my mind as a child that we could end up in a nuclear war.

    • Are you referring to Finale by Clark Dalton? Utopia is the famous German sci-fi publisher. But yes, as I pointed out in the post, the foreign publishing houses generally lifted and modified ever so slightly (or stole outright, etc.) art from American and British publishers.

      • Oops, yes that is the one. I love how it is a mirror image too, as if that somehow really makes a big difference. Still, that kind of stuff is fun to look at when looking at older publications. I’m sure it still happens today but is less entertaining.

    • Do you have any others in your collection that I missed? Some of the On the Beach covers depict a glow in the sky instead of a mushroom cloud — I didn’t include those…. I guess it’s an explosion in the distance but I wanted the immediacy of the explosion apparent.

  2. The cover of the Signet edition of ON THE BEACH is by Barye Phillips. He was best known for his crime illustrations for Gold Medal in the 50’s.

    • Thanks so much — do you have the edition? Or, is it listed on an webpage? I’m always interested in finding new recourses to improve the citation references (mainly which I use.

  3. Barye’s name (in white) is to the right of the woman’s legs. He usually signed his covers in the lower right corner, or occasionally the lower left corner.

    If you spend enough time looking at his work, the signature will begin to jump out at you.

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