Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Future Archaeology and Mysterious Artifacts (Alien + Human)


(Hannes Bok’s cover for the  Space Science Fiction [UK], Volume 1 No. 4 (1953), ed. unlisted)

A spaceship arrives on Mars…  After a cursory initial exploration, the human astronauts conclude that the planet has always been barren and uninhabited.  But in some chasm or scattered in desolate plain, a column is found, and rows of mysterious buildings, and a pulsating crystal…  An abandoned outpost of an alien society?  Or, Earth’s mysterious forebearers…  Summaries such as this one proliferate the dusty SF paperbacks on back shelves of used book stores and the closets of SF fans — the variations are countless.

Queue my cover art theme: The future discovery of mysterious ruins/artifacts of a lost society.  Some are wonder inducing:   Hannes Bok’s cover for the  Space Science Fiction [UK], Volume 1 No. 4 (1953) is perhaps my single favorite.  I’m generally not a fan of his work so this one is a pleasant surprise….  The Space Science Fiction series would make fantastic posters.   Ken Fagg’s cover for the March 1954 issue of If and Douglass Chaffee’s cover for the October 1958 issue of If convey in an evocative manner the sense of discovery…

And if Virgil Finlay’s cover for the October 1963 issue of Worlds of Tomorrow certainly justifies Barry N. Malzberg’s tirades on the priapic nature of the space industry and pulp SF…

What are your favorites?  Because this is such a common theme I’d love to know of more examples that I could put in a Part II.


Screen shot 2012-08-22 at 11.47.57 AM

(Ken Fagg’s cover for the March 1954 issue of If, ed. James L. Quinn)

Screen shot 2012-10-11 at 10.20.00 PM

(Douglass Chaffee’s cover for the October 1958 issue of If, ed. Frederik Pohl)

(Virgil Finlay’s cover for the October 1963 issue of Worlds of Tomorrow)

Sphere-1610 Bester Starburst

(Colin Hay’s cover for the 1973 edition of Starburst (1958), Alfred Bester)

(David A. Hardy’s cover for the 1974 edition of A Sense of Wonder (1967), ed. Sam Moskowitz)


(Larry Kresek’s cover for the 1978 edition of As On a Darkling Plain (fix-up novel 1972), Ben Bova)


(Ron Turner’s cover for the 1954 edition of Slave Traders of the Sky (1954), Steve Future)

Screen shot 2012-12-08 at 1.13.06 PM

(Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the June 1952 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Screen shot 2012-09-21 at 2.24.44 PM

(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1978 edition of Yurth Burden (1978), Andre Norton)

(Hans Ulrich Osterwalder and Ute Osterwalder’s cover for the 1974 edition of As The Curtain Falls (1974), Robert Chilson)


(Brian Lewis’ cover for the January 1959 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction)

Screen shot 2012-01-03 at 2.24.07 PM

(Neutzell’s (?) cover for the 1957 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Screen shot 2012-01-14 at 1.42.30 PM(Ed Valigursky’s cover for the 1964 edition of The Arsenal of Miracles (1964), Garner F. Fox)

For similar posts consult the INDEX

22 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Future Archaeology and Mysterious Artifacts (Alien + Human)

  1. The If (particularly the second one) and Brian Lewis New Worlds covers are nicely done.

    The Finlay Worlds of Tomorrow cover looks a little unfortunate somehow. It looks like she’s more a he and particularly pleased to see them.

  2. Not enough future humans excavating their own past. 😉 One of my favorite ideas is the Post Post-Apocalypse, when a “new 19th century” arises and the people of 10,000 AD or whatever investigate their lost forebearers. Imagine, for a moment, that we are Atlantis and Mu and Egypt and Rome, etc…

    In any case, I love the Cover Art series. Great stuff.

    • I don’t know who Nuetzell is — only that cover is listed under the name and the cover looks refined enough and similar in style to others that it might be a more well known artist going under a different name… Frustrating. I really like it.

  3. It’s fun to think of the way this has been a theme in SF movies too. The Krell civilization in Forbidden Planet. The mile-high Martian city in Angry Red Planet. The monolith at TMA-1 in 2001: a Space Odyssey. The derelict ship and its giant space jockey in Alien (concepts lifted from Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires). The face on Mars in Mission to Mars. And others.

  4. From a feminist perspective, it has to be ‘Worlds of Tomorrow’s’ brilliant attempt to represent the Judith Merrill story. But, in terms of the art, I really like the cover of ‘A Sense of Wonder’.

    • Hahahaha…. That cover for the Merrill story is downright awful — the rocket, which she is fondling, is clearly representing something else. Which doesn’t match Merrill’s point at all…

  5. Joachim, One of my favorite film representations is from the otherwise kinda dull ROCKETSHIP X-M. We see ruins in the distance, domed structures that have collapsed or been destroyed by a nuclear war. Unfortunately, the team has to return to their ship before they can get too close due to funding cuts. 😉 In terms of illustration, the discovery of alien ruins fascinates because of the historical perspective–just as EARTH is littered with ruins that tell of our past, ruins of an alien civilization often imply the aliens, too, have advanced far beyond these `primitive structures.` If they were capable of building something THIS weird in their distant past, what do their CURRENT objects look like?

    • The movie was dull… I have to admit, although I love even semi-bad SF novels I find it difficult to sit through 50s SF B-films. They tend to be so simplistic, poorly acted, and generally shoddy. I’m not sure I was able to finish Rocketship X-M. The only one I adore is Forbidden Planet (1956).

  6. Pretty sure my Dad has a Damon Knight Space Science Fiction Issue in his car, he closed the boot pretty fast when I went to grab it, He was either embarrassed at his own excellent space age youth or he thought he could get a decent price on the web and didn’t want me to ‘half inch’ it! I’ll investigate.

  7. Alien archeology is one of my favorite SF themes, but I didn’t like the examples here much. I know there are some better ones but I don’t know where to find them. I’ll keep an eye out.

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