Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Look, I’m Actually a Robot (chest flaps, faux skin, mechanical brains)


(Gray Morrow’s cover for the the December 1964 issue of If)

One of Philip K. Dick’s trademark narrative devices is a character’s realization that they are not human as they previously believed but rather a robot — for example in one of my favorite sci-fi short stories, ‘Impostor’.  Generally these bewildered robots float to the ceiling and explode, which has to be one of the more terrifying and cataclysmic revelations possible (the knowledge itself and the devastation caused).

Unfortunately, cover artists don’t attempt to depict that sort of “look, I’m a robot” type moments (well, the uncredited artist for the 1979 edition of Sternenkämpfer und Raumpiraten (1979) comes close).  Rather, we see glimpses inside — via an assortment of flaps / cross sections / incomplete stages in construction — realistically humanoid robots, often revealed only for us to see while the narrative’s other characters remain oblivious in the background.  I have a soft spot of Gray Morrow’s cover for the December 1964 issue of If.  The first time I saw the cover it took a second for my eyes to focus on what the figure in the foreground was doing — fixing a robotic / animatronic dinosaur.

The final cover in this collection — Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction — doesn’t exactly fit the topic.  Clearly the hands belong to a cyborg, a human with mechanical parts — in this case, bones.  However, the way the hands are placed, almost meant to be the hands of the reader of the magazine, seem to imply extreme shock at the “revelation”.

As always, are the books worth reading? and, which covers are your favorites?  I’ve read Asimov’s The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun and Philip K. Dick’s We Can Build You….   All three are worth reading…



(John Schoenherr’s cover for the 1972 edition of We Can Build You (1969), Philip K. Dick)


(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the September 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction)

Screen shot 2012-01-08 at 11.31.58 PM

(Adrian Chesterman’s hideous cover for the 1979 edition of Xanthe and the Robotos (1978), Sheila Macleod)

Screen shot 2012-05-26 at 6.35.56 PM

(Uncredited cover for the 1966 edition of Memorias de un Robot (1966), Alan Comet)

Screen shot 2012-06-19 at 5.32.39 PM

(Uncredited cover for the 1979 edition of Sternenkämpfer und Raumpiraten (1979), William Voltz)

(Uncredited cover for the 1966 edition of Lest Earth Be Conquered (1966), Frank Belknap Long)

Screen shot 2012-09-28 at 12.42.58 AM(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1975 edition of The Best of Frederik Pohl (1975), Frederik Pohl)

Screen shot 2012-11-11 at 8.20.32 PM

(Mike Gross’ cover for the 1976 edition of Strange Bedfellows (1974), ed. Thomas N. Scortia)


(Gino D’Achille’s cover for the 1977 edition of Starburst (1958), Alfred Bester)


(Ruth Ray’s cover for the 1957 edition of The Naked Sun (1956), Isaac Asimov)


(Wilson McLean’s cover for the 1970 edition of The Wanting Seed (1962), Anthony Burgess)

(Chris Foss’ cover for the 1986 edition of We Can Build You (1969), Philip K. Dick)


(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction)

For more art posts consult the INDEX

13 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Look, I’m Actually a Robot (chest flaps, faux skin, mechanical brains)

  1. I love Emshwiller’s cover for the September 1954 issue of Galaxy. It’s simultaneously 1950’s and futuristic. I’m delighted by the Janus effect (simultaneously looking forward and backward) of old sf art!

    Thanks for the intriguing post. I hope you will keep them coming.

    • I suspect the work is more a work of pulp — a la Perry Phodan…. But I’ll have to wait for someone who knows German sci-fi to comment.

      But, I have tons of idealized cityscapes covers from the same time for American / British sci-fi so I don’t think an argument along national lines could be made…

      • *clears throat* That would be me, I suppose. Actually, William Voltz did not only write for Perry Rhodan, he was chief author of the series for several years and was responsible for moving it away from the militarist and nationalist direction of its early years into large scale space opera with a strong sense of wonder and pacifist tendencies (still quite cheesy for the most part, though). I never read any of his non-series novels but quite a few of his Perry Rhodan ones and he was really quite good for a pulp author, his stories emotionally far more involving than you’d expect in that kind of environment.

      • Ah yes, was waiting for your comment!

        Cool, again, unless they crop up in translation German sci-fi is off limits. I struggle enough picking apart German scholarly articles on my exact field of interest — and then I sort of look for the buzzwords — haha.

  2. I seem to remember a couple of Twilight Zone episodes with this motif. In one (an hour long one, I think), the character cut his/her arm, peeled back the skin, and saw lights twinkling, metal rods, etc. As I recall, his/her status as a robot was a surprise to him/herself.

    Also, there was another one where a guy was living on a prison planet and had a girlfriend he refused to leave when his sentence was over.
    His rescuer shot her and she turned out to be a robot.

    I’m getting old. I hope these are accurate.

    Also, in Alien, surprise, Ash was a robot.

    I know these are filmed presentations, but they are along the same lines.

  3. Don’t know why Hitler is on the cover of the British edition of “We Can Build You”,let alone in the foreground.It’s so pathetically gauche!Don’t know why Dick who is on there hiding in the background,couldn’t have been in his place instead.Seems to be a strange crossover with “The Man in the High Castle”.

    Have you seen the first British edition by Fontana?It’s excellent.

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