Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Visualizing Time

(Hubert Rogers’ cover for the January 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)

In Hubert Rogers’ fascinating cover (titled ‘Achievement’) for the January 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, mankind appears pulled upward, as if against their will, towards an undefined future goal.  Rogers’ cover encapsulates David Hume’s notion of historical time relentlessly moving towards improvement — improvement as something measurable and observable by the historian, and anyone who studies history.  Obviously, this historiographical framework has long been debunked (although it crops up in virtually all of my undergraduate students’ work in intro level courses) — it favors Western conceptions of progress, dismisses the achievements of non-European societies, etc etc etc.

I’ve selected a variety of science fiction covers from both magazines and books that visualize time.  Some can be quite simplistic, a clock, a collage of past ages, sundials, an hourglass.  Others, like Rogers’ masterful cover, are more complex.  The uncredited cover for Charles Eric Maine’s Timeliner (1955) depicts a series of intersecting timelines, coalescing in atomic form, a vaguely defined man strides across them.  As with Rogers’ cover, many of the timelines aim towards a particular point, but his notion of time clearly deviates from the standard pattern of simplistic progression (past, present, future).

Multiple covers concern the physical act of time travel.  A scientist physically turns a dial moving a woman to a variety of ages in Stephen Lawrence’s cover for the January 1951 issue of Super Science Stories.  People jump through a clock in Isadore Seltzer’s cover for The Great Time Machine Hoax (1963).

I’ve noticed that even in the vast quantity of time travel themed sci-fi novels I’ve looked through, artists rarely visualize the act of moving through time.  For example, Kelly Freas ignores Barrington J. Bayley’s complex, original, and peculiar theory of time in his cover for The Fall of Chronopolis (1974) (this is in no way a critique — I just find attempts to depict visualize absolutely fascinating and wish there were more).


(Uncredited cover for the 1956 issue of Timeliner (1955), Charles Eric Maine)

(Oscar Liebman’s cover for the 1966 edition of The Corridors of Time (1965), Poul Anderson)

(Gray Morrow’s cover for the May 1965 issue of Amazing Stories)

(Edd Cartier’s cover for the 1950 edition of Masters of Time (magazine 1942), A. E. van Vogt)

(Gerard Quinn’s cover for the September 1955 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction)

(Larry Kresek’s cover for the 1971 edition of The Time Masters (1953), Wilson Tucker)

(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition of Time for a Change (1966), J. T. McIntosh)

(Uncredited cover for the 1967 edition of Time for a Change (1966), J. T. McIntosh)

(Mort Engle’s cover for the 1970 edition of Timepiece (1968), Brian N. Ball)

(Stephen Lawrence’s cover for the January 1951 issue of Super Science Stories)

(Isadore Seltzer’s cover for the 1964 edition of The Great Time Machine Hoax (1963), Keith Laumer)

(Uncredited cover for the 1965 edition of The Great Time Machine Hoax (1963), Keith Laumer)

(Uncredited cover for the 1974 edition of The Great Time Machine Hoax (1963), Keith Laumer)

(H. R. Van Dongen’s cover for the 1978 edition of Z-Sting (1978), Ian Wallace)

(Robert Swanson’s cover for the October 1954 issue of If)

(Uncredited cover for a 1960s? issue of Time is the Simplest Thing (1961), Clifford D. Simak)

(Alan Aldridge’s cover for the 1967 edition of Time and Again (magazine 1950), Clifford D. Simak)

(Uncredited cover for the 1965 edition of The End of Eternity (1955), Isaac Asimov)

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12 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Visualizing Time

  1. All you need to visualize time is either a T.A.R.D.I.S. or Dali’s melting clocks.

    Actually, these are great covers. I especially like “Astounding Science Fiction” cover, “The Corridors of Time”, all “The Great Time Machine Hoax”, and “The End of Eternity”.

    Not science fiction related but book cover art related, a few years back I went to a book signing of Edna Buchanan for “Legally Dead”. Her stories of her trials and tribulations for the cover art were laugh-out-loud funny.

    • Alas, an image of the T.A.R.D.I.S. in itself doesn’t visualize time — just a vehicle to traverse time 😉 But yeah, lots of covers have time machines but the actual “time element” is not conveyed.

      Thanks! I do think Time for a Change is one of the worst I’ve ever seen — I included it to offset the brilliance of some of the others.

    • I’m not sure it actually represents time…. The book, yes. The cover, not so much.

      But yeah, I want to read it as well. I adore Brunner — although he can write complete crud at times.

      • The people spinning through some kind of bubbly vortex, with the circles reminding me of the motions of stellar objects made my think of time. But clearly the main effect is making the people look like dolls being manipulated by wires.

        • Ahh, I guess so… I found many which were stretching it a bit. But, I kind of see it.

          PKD’s Now Wait for last Year for example….

          Intersecting timelines… etc… man lost in the middle. Sort of, I guess, a visualization of time.

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