Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Existential Crisis


(Uncredited cover for the 1968 edition of Operation Terror (1962), Murray Leinster)

Barry N. Malzberg’s depressed/depraved astronauts have inspired me to make a post! (unfortunately, the covers for his books do not really fit the bill).

Guy Billot’s cover for the 1975 edition of Brian Stableford’s Man in a Cage (1975) perfectly embodies the feel of existential crisis—man, hemmed in by a single red line, raises his arms against the star-studded sky in anguish.  The nature of the crisis is left oblique.  I have selected a variety of covers that convey—with varying degrees of success/precision—this same mental state.

I admit that some might not fit the bill exactly—for example, in the uncredited cover for the 1968 edition of Murray Leinster’s Operation Terror (1962) the cause of the crisis is apparent, the mysterious red sphere/alien thing.  However, the face of anguish is bone-chilling.

The uncredited cover for the 1955 edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (1951) is in my top 20 covers of all-time.  The vague shapes of spaceships, the cityscape, the perspective, the text, and the man, at a moment of crisis, head down, still.  Does anyone know the artists?  They DESERVE some recognition for this masterpiece of SF art!

Albert Nuetzell’s cover for the July 1961 issue of Amazing Stories is one of the more effecting stranded on an alien planet covers I have encountered.  The story is clear from the image—the spaceship flies off leaving the astronaut abandoned with a gun and one extra tank of oxygen.


What are your favorites?


(Uncredited cover for the 1955 edition of The Illustrated Man (1951), Ray Bradbury)AMAZJUL1961

(Albert Nuetzell’s cover for the July 1961 issue of Amazing Stories, Cele Goldsmith)


(Alex Schomburg’s cover for the April 1964 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith)

(Guy Billot’s cover for the 1975 edition of Man in a Cage (1975), Brian Stableford)


(Uncredited cover for the 1965 edition of No Future In It (1962), John Brunner)d4cb874ffcf9ad78710ef87b28bf350c

(Uncredited cover for the 1970 edition of Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967), Clifford Simak)


(John Penderson, Jr.’s cover for the May 1970 issue of Amazing Science Fiction, ed. Ted White)


(Uncredited cover for the 1969 edition of Double Jeopardy (1952), Fletcher Pratt)

(Uncredited cover for the 1975 edition of The Earth is Near (1973), Ludek Pesek)


(Josh Kirby’s cover for the 1970 edition of SF The Best of the Best Part Two (1970), ed. Judith Merril)


(Uncredited cover for 1969 edition of The Last Astronaut (1963), Pel Torro i.e. R. L. Fanthorpe)


(Uncredited cover for the 1973 edition of The Second Trip (serialized 1971), Robert Silverberg)


(Uncredited cover (but might be Powers) for the 1960 edition of The Stars are Too High (1959), Agnew H. Brahnson, Jr.)

For more cover art posts consult the INDEX

15 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Existential Crisis

  1. You have a thing for angst-ridden SF, don’t you? But that Bradbury cover is lovely, almost timeless. And that Simak cover is pretty powerful. But I’m not liking the Brunner or the Silverberg covers. Kind of lame.

  2. I actually like the Silverberg cover, though it is a little more “I’m ready to face this challenge” than “existential angst.”

    I want to read the Pel Torro; I love the melodramatic “would have preferred death” tag line. I’ve never heard of “Big T.”

    • Umm, Pel Torro = the worst SF author ever (you should definitely look him up! He wrote by dictation, up to two novels a week for Badger press, i.e. the worst SF press). I suspect that art might have been used for a different novel originally.

        • Pel Torro is a pseudonym — his name is Lionel Fanthorpe (he wrote almost every book for Badger books!). I’m not kidding when I say he is unreadable.

          Quote: “From 1954 to 1965 Fanthorpe was an sf writer of remarkable productivity, towards the end of that period producing novels on a weekly schedule for Badger Books, an imprint of John Spencer and Co, work-for-hire for which he was paid £22.50 per 45,000-word volume, dictating his tales into a battery of tape-recorders for transcription by members of his family or by friends. The rushed endings of many of his novels were a result of this practice, as he often did not know how close he was to his allotted word-length until batches of typing had been completed; if a tale had reached its length while still in mid-plot, it would be truncated forthwith; other passages, composed when he was running short and comprising reiterated narrative and sentence fragments, sound (when read aloud) like a particularly dire form of oral poetry. It has been claimed of Fanthorpe that for the years in which he wrote, chiefly 1958 to 1965, he was the world’s most prolific writer in the genre.”

  3. I have a copy of the Agnew Bahnson book, it definitely looks like a Powers cover, though there is no credit given anywhere on the cover or inside as well. I don’t see it listed in a book on Powers, but the list does begin by stating it may not be complete.

    That story on Fanthorpe is hilarious!

  4. I am not certain, but the cover for Silverberg’s The Second Trip might be by Gene Szafran. I think he did a number of covers for Silverberg books around that time, though this one doesn’t seem to feature the lush airbrushing on a lot of Szafran’s work.

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