(Ebel’s cover for the 1953 issue of Space Science Fiction)
Previous art explorations which looked at disembodied brains and visualizations of the ultra-intelligent set the stage for this post. Imagine skulls without brains: sometimes metaphorically, but often, literally hollow skull cavities that hold a vast array of mechanical devies and living captives. Or, the reader is gifted a voyeuristic peek into the skulls of bodies masquerading as humans but in reality, a mesh of circuits or a metal sheen operates those beautiful limbs and terrifying weapons….
My favorite is by far the pulp goodness of Ebel’s cover (if anyone knows the full name of this artist please let me know) for the 1953 issue of Space Science Fiction. The gorgeous heroine is held captive in gigantic stone heads with partially glass skulls — a robot that fails to conjure any menace stomps in the background across the expanse of a barren outer planet.
Another intriguing cover is the uncredited 1969 edition of The Asylum World (1969). In this incredibly disturbing vision of insanity we stare into the hollow emptiness of the mouth that opens out into a dark, mostly obscured, landscape beyond.
Although I’m generally not a fan of Kelly Freas, his pulp cover for the August 1955 issue of Fantastic Universe is also effective — a menacing machine peals away the skin exposing the brain of its hapless victim (well, in this case, the metal monster is a doctor robot).
(Ed Emswiller’s cover for the December 1958 issue of If)
(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition of John Carter of Mars (magazine 1941), Edgar Rice Burroughs)
(Edward Valigursky’s cover for the March 1956 issue of Amazing Stories)
(Robert A. Osborne’s cover for the 1963 issue of Assignment Luther (1963), Lan Right)
(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1972 issue of The Naked Sun (magazine 1956), Isaac Asimov)
(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition of Childhood’s End (1953), Arthur C. Clarke)
(Uncredited cover for the 1974 edition of New Writings in SF-22 (1974), ed. Kenneth Bulmer)
(David Bergen’s cover for the 1975 edition of The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (variant title: The Unsleeping Eye) (1974), D. G. Compton)
(Uncredited cover for the 1972 edition of Mindmix (1972), Leo P. Kelley)
(Chris Foss’ cover for the 1973 edition of Mindmix (1972), Leo P. Kelley)
(John Holmes’ cover for the 1969 edition of The Asylum World (1969), John Jakes)
(David Plourde’s cover for the 1978 edition of On Wheels (1973), John Jakes)
(Uncredited cover for the 1964 edition of When They Came From Space (1962), Mark Clifton)
(Karel Thole’s cover for the 1977 edition of Herovit’s World (1973), Barry N. Malzberg)
(Davis Meltzer’s cover for the 1972 edition of Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964), Philip K. Dick)
(Kelly Freas’ cover for the August 1955 issue of Fantastic Universe)
(Arnold Kohn’s cover for the May 1950 issue of Amazing Stories)
(Uncredited cover for the 1975 edition of The Inner Landscape (1969), ed. Michael Moorcock)
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33 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Inside the Skull (rats + women + sword fights + robotic circuits + space)”
I’m surprised you could find so many covers with such a distinct theme! Or did the books come before the theme? HmmmmMMmmmmm….?
Well, with thousands and thousands of covers out there it isn’t so difficult to tease out themes with some time, passion, and most importantly, patience… I have close to 50 or so art posts based on themes I’ve collated.
Thanks for visiting.
Hehe, maybe I should have said that I’m surprised there are so many covers on this theme. It seems so esoteric, but wow… I do wish modern SF books had covers this demented. /tips hat
Thanks for the kind words.
I like the esoteric! The bizarre!
(and I dislike 99% of new sci-fi covers)
The first picture reminded me of the Wizard of Oz.
Does the robot remind you of Tin Man?
This may be my favorite of your cover series yet. I suspect I will come back to this repeatedly as I contemplate the myriad psychological subtexts going on. But I must agree with your choiice, the Spacece Science Fiction cover just boggles the mind, though the Rat ine gives me the giggles
Perhaps my most disturbing yet? Haha, I had fun finding the images. While looking for the disembodied brains a while back I came across some of this theme and knew I had to make a post eventually…
It is both disturbing and says a huge amount about society…. particularly the naked women trapped inside the heads of men. Was there a story in the magazine that was related to it? Was it just the brainchild (*) of the artist? Wha… huh… gah…ack!
Great great article.
And, the women don’t look that peturbed — AND the eyes of the stone men are closed…. are they dreaming of the women and the glass encapsulates/puts form to their imaginations? Or, are they really trapped…
I wonder if that’s Alex Ebel ? If so he was only in his early 20s when it was published. He does a lot of art for horror fiction and horror movie posters , just a little Sci- Fi
Hmm, I wish there was a way to verify it — the only covers listed under “Ebel” on isfdb are three for that Space Science Fiction Publication…
The Asylum World cover will likely give me nightmares… Thanks, Joachim.
Hehe, I’m tempted to look for a copy…. I’ve never read anything by John Jakes.
That first one would make an awesome computer den poster.
As Thomas points out in a comment above, the concept of naked women trapped in the heads of old stone men is rather disturbing… But yes, a fascinating piece of art.
The DG Compton looks rather alluring. I wonder what it’s about.
I wrote a review a while back — one of the best sci-fi books out there.
I missed it was the same book as The Unsleeping Eye. Thanks!
The Unsleeping Eye was the title for the American publication. Not sure why the British title, The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe was deemed unsuitable. But then again, lots of books have variant titles… So perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into it.
If you compare signatures, I believe that Ebel and Alex Ebel are the same. Alex Ebel’s most famous sf painting is his cover for Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness”. By the way, in continuation of this theme, the PC video game ‘Plants vs. Zombies’, a dopey, but fun arcade like game has, at one point, a HUGE robot zombie in which a mad scientist is controling the zombie by riding in the zombie’s enclosed skull. Cut and paste this link to see an image: http://cache.g4tv.com/ImageDb3/190654_S/plants-vs-zombies-for-iphone-rakes-in-1-million-in-nine-days.jpg. Also, check out the cover for Roger Elwood’s anthology ‘Future City’.
Thanks! I’ll go ahead and put his full name.
Hi Joachim, The Clans of the Alphane Moon cover is by Davis Meltzer. One of my all time favorites!
I love it as well. Thanks! Yeah, so many covers are uncredited…. and if I don’t know the artist’s style very well they can be hard to identify. I’ve seen his work before though…. many times….
The cover of The Asylum World is really uncanny. It made me jump!
Yeah, it’s absolutely terrifying…. I want a copy of the book….
I’m pretty sure that the Asylum World cover is by John Holmes.
Do you have some evidence? Similar pieces of art I could compare? It is a GREAT cover!
He did a series of permutations on the distorted-face theme in the 70s, may for Mayflower and Fontana:
Definitely looks like his work! Thanks 🙂
Two years later:
Panther used the image on the cover of their 1969 edition of Nabokov’s “Despair”. Apparently it was commissioned by Dave Larkin of Granada Books. Maybe Holmes then re-sold the same art for the John Jakes “Asylum World” cover, or more likely the publisher ripped it off.
The 1972 ‘Mindmix’ cover reappears on a 1972 German translation of “Sinister Barrier” and ISFDB credits the cover art to Ingrid Roehling.
Sorry, previous comment was me using my more academic identity.