Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Power of the Atom!


(John Richards’ cover for the 1958 edition of Crisis 2000 (1955), Charles Eric Maine)

On science fiction covers from the 40s and 50s the atom is often emblematic of atomic power and all the dangers and promises that such a scientific breakthrough could (and did) yield.  In John Richards’ cover for the 1958 edition of Charles Eric Maine’s Crisis 2000 (1955) the humanoid super beings arrive from Saturn to terrorize Earthmen — and, carefully covering the private areas of one of these denizens of Saturn is the atomic symbol surrounded by blood. The cover is made even more unnerving by the multiplicity of identical heads…

In H. W. McCauley’s fantastic cover for the 1957 edition of Empire of the Atom (1957) by A. E. van Vogt not only is the Emperor of Linn’s garment graced with the atomic symbol but his scepter as well.  Hubert Rogers’ cover for the January 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction (I’ve included this one in a previous post so I apologize for the redundancy) is one of my favorites — human progress, indicated by a morass of human forms, is accompanied by the atomic symbol.  The godlike being in Alejandro de Cañedo’s cover for the February 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction creates an atomic explosion (indicated by the atomic rings emerging from the conflux of his rays) suggesting his great power…

For related posts I recommend Part I, Part II, and Part III of my nuclear explosion series.

What are your favorites?



(Arnold Kohn’s cover for the August 1947 issue of Amazing Stories)

Screen shot 2012-01-10 at 4.13.20 PM

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


(Alejandro de Cañedo’s cover for the February 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)


(Alejandro de Cañedo’s cover for the May 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)

ASF_0232(Hubert Rogers’ cover for the March 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)


(Lela Dowling’s cover for the 1978 edition of Children of the Atom (magazine 1950), Wilmar H. Shiras)MPRFTHTMQS1957

(H. W. McCauley’s cover for the 1957 edition of Empire of the Atom (1957), A. E. van Vogt)screen-shot-2012-08-22-at-12-04-46-pm

(Pattee’s cover for the November 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction)


(Uncredited cover for the 1953 edition of Slan (magazine publication 1940), A. E. van Vogt)

For similar posts consult the INDEX

10 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Power of the Atom!

  1. The Children of the Atom cover is pretty cool but it makes the book look oddly like a poetry chapbook for some reason. Not sure why I think that…

    • Probably due to the fact that it’s not a major sci-fi press…. The author, Wilmar H. Shiras, is actually the pen name of Jane Howes — unfortunately, she did not publish that much in her career.

  2. Great stuff. It’s interesting to see how dominant the atom was. Especially that second to last Astounding Science Fiction cover. Only around five years after the bombs were dropped. I wonder how that would have been received today.

    In today’s climate in the US I could even see Tolkien having trouble getting a book called The Two Towers released five years after 9/11. I don’t mean to make a political point. But a lot has changed in 60 years.

    • I think the last cover is somewhat more complicated than simply a warning about atomic power. It’s also suggesting the great possibilities — the rocket in the cloud…. And, mankind holding up the symbol of the atom — to be used for good or bad. Also, many of these themes are rooted in a pre-bomb actually dropped political environment — there were obviously many tests before that (speaking of which, the footage of the Americans talking to the inhabitants of the bikini atoll is one of the most disturbing pieces of film I’ve ever seen — “we need your island for an important test”)

      Definitely check out my posts on the nuclear bomb explosions that I linked in this post — there are many more…. And they are definitely not all positive.

    • Of course, all 50s and earlier covers are in the public domain anyway and I get them mostly from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (…. I always make sure to credit the artist — but obviously circulating a cover simply promotes the book and author. I do occasionally scan in books from my own collection….

      No email address is purposeful — else I would get constant pestering emails asking that I review self-published novels 😉

      An easy way to contact me is via twitter — if anyone so desires.

  3. I absolutely love these covers – looking through them opens up insights on the different ways humans must have undertaken thought in that era, and the ways that commerce were different to our own world now. All of those delicious typefaces and font-sizes chosen with no thought to how they might look on-screen in a thumbnail size…

    I’m trying hard to think of a current symbol that is as iconic and universal now as the “atom” symbol was then.

    • I bet one could find plenty… I don’t read much new sci-fi so I wouldn’t know. But, nanotechnology and other new fangled sciences simply replace “atomic.” So, perhaps not so different 😉 (a generalization of course…)

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