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:
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)