Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Skull (connected to mysterious contraptions + looming above all + the moon mutated), Part I


(Richard Weaver’s cover for the 1972 edition of Dreadful Sanctuary (1948), Eric Frank Russell)

THE SKULL. The bones of the dead, the empty sockets gazing at us, a deathly gaze….  I have collected for your [horror filled] enjoyment a vast variety of SF skulls: the moon mutated into a skull, the half-skinned skull as part of mysterious contraptions, photographs of real human skulls interspersed with statuary and wigs, bizarre pink skulls pulsating with green radiation-esque light, the gas mask as skull, the all-seeing skull as a manifestation of doom and destruction—among other sinister delights.

I am reminded of Capuchin catacombs, and the relic of St. Catherine in Siena…

What are your favorites?

Are any of the books worth reading? Of the bunch I have read PKD’s A Maze of Death (1970), John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up (1972), and Robert Heinlein’s dismal I Will Fear No Evil (1970).


For more cover art posts consult the INDEX


(Bob Pepper’s cover for the 1983 edition of A Maze of Death (1970), Philip K. Dick)


(Lorie Epstein’s cover for the 1978 edition of Our Lady of Darkness (1977), Fritz Leiber)


(Garland’s cover for the 1976 edition of Isle of the Dead (1969), Roger Zelazny)


(Richard Weaver’s cover for the 1979 edition of Sinister Barrier (1939), Eric Frank Russell)


(Richard Weaver’s cover for the 1968 edition of The Monitors (1967), Keith Laumer)


(Murray Tinkelman’s cover for the 1976 edition of The Sheep Look Up (1972), John Brunner)


(Uncredited cover for the 1972 edition of I Will Fear No Evil (1970), Robert A. Heinlein)


(Richard Weaver’s cover for the 1976 edition of Badge of Infamy (1963), Lester del Rey)


(Hubert Rodgers’ cover for the September 1951 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, ed. John W. Campbell, Jr.)


(Bob Pepper’s cover for the 1974 edition of The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (1969), Harlan Ellison)

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(David Pelham’s cover for the 1973 edition of A Cure for Cancer (1971), Michael Moorcock)


(Edward Valigursky’s cover for the February 1957 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Paul W. Fairman)

18 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Skull (connected to mysterious contraptions + looming above all + the moon mutated), Part I

  1. The moon as a skull is certainly a popular motif in fantasy and horror, perhaps not as much in science fiction, although as you said it does show up from time to time.

    It is not a book , but a skull is front & center on the DVD cover of the Doctor Who serial “Image of the Fendahl.” In the story, the skull is millions of years old, containing the essence of a vampiric alien entity which has apparently infuenced human evolution in an effort to recreate itself:

    H.P. Lovecraft’s writing perhaps falls more into the horror genre than into science fiction. That said, Michael Whalen’s artwork “Lovecraft’s Nightmare,” which has been used for several book covers, feature numerous skulls:

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I think the SF covers try to do rather different things with the skulls, obviously their aim isn’t so much the horror element… Or at least in the ones I’ve shown.

      I suspect there are quite a few more but those are the ones I could find in my image collection so far. Who knows, I might put together a part II eventually.

      What is your favorite of the ones I included?

  2. Great theme selection. I confess that I fall more easily for a book if it has a nice skull somewhere in the cover art. If I went through all my books, I would probably find many more fine examples.

  3. “A Maze of Death” is perhaps the weirdest,most disturbing and contentious of Dick’s novels.There’s no doubt it’s brilliant,and should be one of his best novels,but with it’s surreal portent and concepts leading to an indefinite purpose of the whole,strange drama,it does I hate to say leave much to be desired.The trouble is,that it’s unfinished or the last part of the novel is missing I think,which is true of others of his stuff.

    It’s also an antidote of a sort to the notion that anybody might have that his interest in religious experience started with the “events” of 1974.The’re more spontaneous and enjoyable I think than the later novels that dealt with the same subjects.It still has much to recommend it,despite my qualms.

    It and perhaps the creepy but excellent “Book of Skulls” by Bob Silverberg,of all books,deserve to have the skull motif upon the cover!

    • I read A Maze of Death too long ago to remember much. Of all the PKD novels I’ve read I think it’s the top of the list for a reread.

      Oh, should I read The Crack in Space (1966)? I was looking at it the other day.

  4. H.R. Van Dongen used skulls as a frequent motif. His May ’54 cover for Astounding is one of my favorites, and the Feb ’53 issue of Astounding cover is also good.

  5. If you haven’t read “The Crack in Space”,you might not like it particularly,it’s far from the best of his stuff,and unfortunately belongs near the lower tier of his stuff…..mind you,considering the number of novels he wrote,there’s extremely few of these,and if you’re a real “hard fan” of his,you should give it a go.

    Don’t remember much about AMOD?It bristles with so many astonishing concepts,despite it’s flaws……yes give this one a reread instead then,and tell me if you agreed with my comments.

    Have you read “The Book of Skulls” though?

      • You’ll appreciate them in a new dimension now then I would think……sure you know what I mean.That is one of Silverberg’s best novels,better I think than the nebula award winning “A Time of Changes”.

        I have the 90s Gollancz paperback,with the Jim Burns cover that shows a “preist” with a sort of Aztec skull mask.

  6. The Leiber is well worth reading, set in a now-vanished 1970s San Francisco and drenched in what Iain Sinclair would be doing as “psychogeography” two decades later. (I am perhaps slightly biased since I read it the first time a bit more than a month after I moved to San Francisco, and unknowingly had moved into a room a block from Leiber’s apartment, so the descriptions of the (semi-autobiographical) main character’s milieu were extra-uncanny.)

  7. I do love me a good skull, I have several of these books in my collection too. I particularly like the Brunner and Heinlein covers here though, very creepy!

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