Mister Doctor Men: Doctor Who Meets Roger Hargreaves

The various incarnations of the Doctor have long lent themselves to caricatures: the Second Doctor’s flute, the Fourth Doctor’s flowing scarf, the Fifth Doctor’s, um, celery. So a combination of Doctor Who and the art style of Roger Hargreaves, of Mr. Men and Little Miss fame, seems, in retrospect, blazingly obvious.

Image from Dr. First by Adam Hargreaves, available via Penguin Books

Adam Hargreaves has carried on his father’s work, and in collaboration with the BBC and Penguin Books, he’s turned out a series of Doctor Who children’s books that plans to devote one installment to each Doctor. The First, Fourth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctor books have already been released, with the Second, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth in the queue for this summer.

The results so far are certainly charming, though also undeniably aimed towards, well, children. (Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the entire series is aimed towards children, but we’ll ignore that debate for the time being.)

Image from Dr. Fourth by Adam Hargreaves, available via Penguin Books

For adult Whovians, the thin volumes serve as delightful little confections, priced perhaps a bit high for the amount of time one might reasonably spend with them but otherwise a nice addition to any Doctor Who book collection. I’m certainly appreciative of the inclusion of all of the Doctors, even the oft-overlooked Eighth. And for those hoping to introduce our favorite time traveller to young children, I can think of no better entry point than these cheerful and oddly respectful volumes.

(Images from Dr. First and Dr. Fourth by Adam Hargreaves.)

Beyond that Blue Event Horizon: Frederik Pohl 1919-2013

Gateway Cover via The Way the Future BlogsIt was with some sadness that I learned this morning of Frederik Pohl’s passing, on his own blog of all places. He was a giant in science fiction, writing prolifically in many forms.

For me, his seminal accomplishment will always be Gateway, with its mysterious spacecraft pre-programmed on journeys to fortune or, more often, doom, and the men and women who risked all to take their chances with them. When I first read it in 1984, my science fiction diet to then had been space operas and little else; now, suddenly, there is deep characterization, a bit of suspense, and a robotic psychiatrist.

I still try to read Gateway once every few years, preferably in the mass-market paperback version I had as a kid. Some books just don’t work in hardback or trade paperback for some reason.

And Pohl wasn’t just a significant writer. His contributions to science fiction, from its relative infancy mid-century to the present, extended into publishing as well. Jo Walton over on Tor.com points out his importance as an editor:

But Pohl was also a truly great editor—he edited Galaxy and If for more than a decade in the sixties. He also edited for Bantam, and bought and published Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (both 1975). He was one of the most imaginative editors the genre has ever seen, always prepared to buy things in new styles and move ahead.

It’s tempting to view his passing as him taking a trip on his own Heechee spacecraft into the unknown, but I get the sense he was too much of a curmudgeon to have appreciated that view, so I’ll just bid a fond farewell and dig up my tattered copy of Gateway instead. That, I think, he would appreciate.

(Image via The Way the Future Blogs)

How We Dream When We Dream in Science Fiction: Chris Foss’ Hardware

When I think of science fiction, in an abstract way, as a concept rather than a genre—indeed, when I think in science fiction—my thoughts hew remarkably closely to the artwork of Chris Foss:

Detail of cover artwork for The Grain Kings, from Chris Foss, Hardware

Chris Foss’ art has graced hundreds of science fiction book covers, and a handsome new collection, Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss, brings these covers and concept sketches together. These are the images that informed my understanding of science fiction as a child. When I have random science fiction thoughts (doesn’t everyone?), they take the form of giant angular craft with bright patterning, a Foss hallmark. So to say that I was delighted to find this collection is perhaps an understatment.

Foss’ art invites and engages the creative process. One cannot help but begin to create an entire world around the images, which, though mostly intended to help sell an existing world (in the science fiction paperbacks they adorned), always seem to go far beyond the “source” material. Frankly, the stories seldom delivered on the promise of the cover artwork—meant not as an insult to the authors but as a compliment to the artist.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, perhaps in recognition of the strength of the cover artwork being produced by Foss and others, publishers released quite a few compilations of science fiction artwork that attempted to weave a coherent story using the art as the source material. The best known series, the Terran Trade Authority, features art from, among others, Chris Foss. I devoured those books as a child, going so far as to attempt drawings of spacecraft and aliens, coming up with worlds and universes of my own.

I suppose all art tells a story. This art invites you to tell your own.

(Image detail from Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss)

Covering Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald by Penguin Books UK on flickr.comOn their blog, Penguin Books UK recently posted the covers for their new hardback re-issue of several of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works. The foil artwork, by Coralie Bickford-Smith, is Art Deco in nature, echoing Fitzgerald’s times. The not-quite-symmetrical scallops on the cover of The Great Gatsby are quite striking, a commentary, perhaps, on the not-quite-harmonious contents within.

Every attempt at creating a cover for The Great Gatsby has to contend with Francis Cugat‘s iconic cover image, and I think Coralie Bickford-Smith takes the right approach here. Cugat’s image hews so perfectly to the novel that you can’t compete with it, and the Penguin cover instead takes a more muted, subtle tone—not an image but a feeling, a movement, an emotion.

And, one must add, the Penguin cover looks great with the other volumes in the re-issue series. Coherence of artistic cover vision within a series of books is so very important, and Penguin tends to get that aspect of series design correct, as seen in their Ian Fleming re-issues.

Read more

Penguin’s Fall Foliage

Cover of 1939: Countdown to War from The Penguin Blog

Over at The Penguin Blog, the house blog for venerable publishing house Penguin Books, art director Jim Stoddart has unveiled some choice cover selections from this fall’s releases.

My favorite of the bunch has to be the cover to Richard Overy’s 1939: Countdown to War, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, combining the typically clean Penguin cover look with a sense of movement.

And I think I’m going to need to get the collection of 100 cover postcards being released in November. They’re just crying out for mounting in small frames.

(Cover image from The Penguin Blog)

Book Mining: The Evolution of Used Book Stores

Hands gloved against paper cuts and the cold, an employee of Wonder Book flipped quickly through our six bags of paperbacks and hardbacks to assess the value of the unwanted bounty we had brought to his Frederick, Maryland, storefront. He spent perhaps twenty seconds per bag, deftly pushing aside the good books at the top to see the makeweights at the bottom of each bag, before mentally tallying up our reward: $20 in store credit, mostly due to an unopened DVD. Deal.

Wonder Book

I was reminded of this employee’s efficient calculation of words’ worth by Bob Thompson’s article in the Washington Post (“Twice-Sold Tales,” Monday, December 29, 2008) about his employer’s own experience sorting books. Profiling Wonder Books and its owner, Chuck Roberts, Thompson finds Roberts in a 54,000-square-foot warehouse, filled with books:

Dressed in a sweat shirt, sweat pants and funky shoes, he’ll stand for hours at a sorting table in the middle of the warehouse. That’s where he and a longtime employee, Ernest Barrack, determine the fate of the books in the “raw boxes” that come in every day.

“It’s like book mining. You never know what you’re going to get,” Roberts says.

The increasing sophistication of local used book stores like Wonder Book and the constantly moving McKay’s has, I fear, begun to leave me feeling less like a book miner than a book recycler. I don’t mind trading six bags of books and leaving with one in return—books deserve to be read and returned to the world—but anymore, that $20 store credit won’t buy you five tattered paperbacks.

Once upon a pre-Internet time, entering a used book store meant the possibility of finding a pulp science fiction novel for a quarter or a stash of Starlog magazines, the whole pile for a fin. Now, everything is priced according to complicated algorithms that chart the book’s price volatility across three continents for the last four months. As a kid, I could grab handfuls of books and get them all, sampling genres and authors with abandon; last time I was at Wonder Book, a month ago, I heard a mother tell her son, “You can only have one book.”

The New York Times also has an article recently (David Streitfeld, “Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It,” Saturday, December 27, 2008) about the pressures all book sellers are facing, from publishers to people peddling books out of their closets. I respect that used book stores need to turn a profit, and I’m certainly guilty (if that’s the right word) of hunting down book bargains on the Internet, but I can’t help wishing that there were more wonder when I entered Wonder Book.