Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Three early David Pelham covers in honor of his birthday

(Cover for the 1971 edition of Fifth Planet (1963), Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle)

On twitter I occasionally post the birthdays of important figures in SF history (artists, authors, and editors). Every morning I scan The Internet Speculative Fiction Database’s birthday list on their main page and lo and behold a name immediately popped out for May 12th–the iconic 70s SF artist David Pelham (1938-present).  Enough has been written about his distinctive and surreal covers for Penguin that I won’t go into detail here. Instead I’ve included a few links if you wish to learn more below.

I invite my readers to link in the comments their favorite articles and tidbits about David Pelham and I’ll include any links I receive in my list as well.

I’ve chosen to include in this post his first three SF covers, which happen to be stylistically and thematically similar. Although his catalogue is probably recognizable to most SF readers (especially those in the UK), these three are probably less known (and for good reason). His most minimal, hinting at cosmic moments, lunar measurements…

As an extra bonus if early Pelham doesn’t sit well with you, I’ve included my favorite of all his covers…. and the only one I own.

Enjoy! Have a favorite Pelham cover (maybe one I didn’t include!)?


1) A 2012 interview with Pelham about his J. G. Ballard covers.

2) His art listing at The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

3) A 2010 article by James Pardey about Pelham’s ability to embody the essence of Ballard’s early fiction.

4) 13 covers and a Ballard box set from Unsubscriber’s collection.

5) Speaker to Animals gathered all of his covers here.

6) For a visually fascinating collection of all the Penguin SF novels see the press’ homepage.

(Cover for the 1971 edition of October the First is Too Late (1966), Fred Hoyle)

(Cover for the 1971 edition of The Black Cloud (1957), Fred Hoyle)

(Cover for the 1974 edition of Terminal Beach (1964), J.G. Ballard)

For more adventures in SF cover art consult the INDEX

27 thoughts on “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Three early David Pelham covers in honor of his birthday

  1. I like the cover of The Black Cloud very much – but that may be because I like the book a lot too! 🙂 It seems to say all it needs to say in with simple imagery, and the typeface is wonderfully of its era too!

  2. I like the designs, but not as cover illustrations, however, being on a strict diet, the cover of the Fifth Planet looks like an ice cream cone taken from a sharp angle. It seems that Penguin Books always had a tendency towards artistic designs, rather than out-and-out illustrations, for their covers. I see the same thing in their mysteries.

    I should say that I never read Hoyle, but he can’t be worse than Hal Clement, an author that I just can’t read. 

    • I’ve always been immensely satisfied by Penguin’s willingness to experiment — for example, my single favorite Penguin cover (created by the art director at the time — Germano Facetti)!

  3. Following the link from Peter S., I really liked Pelham’s cover for Ferman & Malzberg’s Final Stage the best, followed by the one for Tiger! Tiger!

  4. Hi

    Great stuff, I have been following up the links, my favourite Pelham’s are the two Bester covers posted by Speaker to Animals. I also enjoyed the links to the unsubscriber I have to admit I miss his updates. I confess I enjoyed The Black Cloud, I love big cosmic intelligences. I also like UK SF authors like John Wyndham, Fred Hoyle or more obscure writers like William Dexter or Philip E. High.That said Hoyle’s The Incandescent Ones about the space skier is one of the silliest and badly dated novels I have ever read.

    Happy Reading

    • Hello Guy, I miss Unsubscriber’s posts as well!

      Not sure what I think about cosmic intelligences…. individual human choices matters so little in those narratives. (a generalization of course).

  5. Cosmic intelligences have been around for quite some time now, and range in tone from Lovecraft’s mythology to Olaf Stapleton to Star Trek to, if you want to be crass about it, the Bible.

    • Oh most definitely! As with any theme I proclaim to dislike, a few authors manage to weave something compelling.

      To be blunt: the character of Q in the various Star Trek series causes me to skip those episodes.

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