Discussion Board

Topic: Baen Book Covers

From: Sean M. Brooks
Location: Lawrence, MA
Date: 07/03/2010

Dear Mr. Bear:

This seems as good a location as any to express my irritation with some of Baen Books' cover illustrations.

I'm sure you are aware of Baen Books collecting and republishing in internal chronological order all of Poul Anderson's Technic Civlization stories and novels. Something I highly approve of. HOWEVER, I'm very disappointed with the book covers for YOUNG FLANDRY, CAPTAIN FLANDRY, and SIR DOMINIC FLANDRY. With the partial exception of the second volume, I found them both pornographic and misleading. Possible buyers seeing those ghastly covers might be miled into thinking the contents are trashy, rather than classics of science fiction--and so not buy them.

I know striking book covers are designed to attract the interest of prospective buyers. But there is a fine line between good and bad taste. And Baen's covers for the Flandry books are in wretchedly bad taste. How many people will want to be SEEN holding books with those pornographic covers?

Just getting this irritation off my chest!

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Greg Bear
Date: 07/20/2010

I can see where some might be put off--but I think they're great, rather like James Bond covers or those wonderful Travis McGee covers from the 60s. I think Poul might have enjoyed them as well. Flandry himself almost certainly would approve of that sort of companionship!

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Sean M. Brooks
Location: Lawrence, MA
Date: 07/21/2010

Dear Mr. Bear, Thank you for replying!

Oh, I agree, Dominic Flandry was a refined voluptuary who amply enjoyed the sophisticated pleasures available to him. Including the companionship of beautiful and obliging ladies. What bothers me is how the Baen Books covers might imply Flandry was pursued by hordes of naked bimbos. And he was so much MORE than a mere sybarite!

As far as book illustrations go, I vastly preferred the Roger Hane jacket illustrations for the first hardback editions of ENSIGN FLANDRY, AGENT OF THE TERRAN EMPIRE, and FLANDRY OF TERRA. Or the Ace Books cover illustration for AGENT. These too were adorned by women, one lady being NON human, to indicate Flandry's fondness for the other sex. BUT, it was done with restraint and good taste.

A jacket or cover illustration does not have to HIT you over the head, in my opinion.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Kelly Marsh
Location: Everett, WA
Date: 07/23/2010

Greg, my apologies, but I fear I must agree with Sean. I'm not terribly certain I'd want to be seen in public with them. Well, strike that. I am certain I would not. To me they seem to embody the very reason many people do not read science fiction.

Many people who don't, and indeed have never read sci-fi, tend to think of it as nothing but swashbucklers or soap operas in space, or at least most I have discussed it with seem to think this way. After all, many of the mainstream movies they could not avoid watching would seem dedicated to reinforcing this opinion.

On the other hand, I recall being immediately "grabbed" by what I believe were the original covers of the paperback editions of Varley's Gaea trilogy. Amidst all the other rather lurid illustrations vying for my attention on the shelves, there were these three. Simple, glossy white covers, almost completely plain except for the titles "Titan," "Wizard," and "Demon" in gold. They fairly compelled me to pick them up, and were my introduction to Varley. Had they contained "sexy" illustrations of Cirocco Jones and Gaby, replete with weapons and much exposed skin, I probably would have bypassed them, and as a result would quite possibly have later missed out on the wonderful novels "The Golden Globe," and "Steel Beach," which are among my all-time favorites.

I have not read the stats, but suspect the target market for a lot of science fiction is young males, for the publishers, anyway. Or, at least young males would appear to be the people who mostly buy science fiction novels, if, as it would seem, the covers can be taken as an indication. Not to say that females don't read science fiction, but aside from functions relating to science fiction, I rarely encounter them. It is usually a surprise and delight when I do. (By the way, I rarely attend said functions. The last one I attended was a writers' workshop a couple of decades ago, [or more] where I had the pleasure of having lunch with you and Megan Lindholm. As I recall, most of our lunch was spent with her regaling us with tales of her neighbors, who were a cult that followed Ra, or somesuch.)

I have to wonder how many more females (and older curmudgeons like me) would buy and read science fiction novels if less of them had scantily clad women, ray guns, swords, and the like on the covers?

However, I must admit, I picked up Allston's "Doc Sidhe" on the theory that any book with a cover that incredibly hokey couldn't be bad, and, as it turned out, I was right. I never took it out to read in public, though. :)

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/06/2010

Hmmm... I'm not sure it's the head the Baen covers are aiming for! Curious how both Bond and Flandry can bridge intellect and senses in our culture.

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Sean M. Brooks
Location: Lawrence, MA
Date: 08/10/2010

Dear Messieurs Bear and Marsh:

Parts of this note will address points you both raised.

Mr. Bear, I still have to disagree with you. I actually unearthed my collection of old Ian Fleming's "James Bond" novels to examine the covers. Some of them do depict women, but none of them are as NUDE as the Baen Books covers for the republished Flandry stories. It's my belief that some restraint is GOOD, both artistically speaking and for the book itself.

To cite another example of how I believe the female form can be used in a striking way for a cover illustration, I would offer Frank Frazetta's jacket painting for Poul Anderson's novel THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS. The woman shown is virtually nude, BUT it is far better than the Baen Books covers being discussed because of the restraint and skill shown by Frazetta. For example, we see the bull dancer from BEHIND, as she faces the charging bull. Which means we don't SEE as much as we might have. THAT is left to our imagination. It was also a nice touch by the artist to show the streak of white in the woman's hair, to indicate she was middle aged.

Getting back to the Flandry stories, I would add that I preferred them to the James Bond's novels. Why? Because ultimately the Flandry stories seem more ethically serious. The later Bond books were weakened when Ian Fleming replaced the KGB/SMERSH with Blofeld/SPECTRE as the chief villains. The latter never rang quite "true" to me, compared to the very real world EVIL of the KGB.

Poul Anderson did not make that mistake in his Flandry stories. While he never demonized the Merseians (in fact, depicting them sympathetically in A CIRCUS OF HELLS), he never tried to minimize the implacable hostility of the Roidhunate to the Terran Empire Flandry served. I think he would also agree with Flandry in preferring the old, weary, decadent Empire to Merseia for MORAL reasons.

I read Mr. Marsh's comments with interest. I'm glad, naturally, that he agrees with me. And I believe, as he does, that garish book covers of the kind he commented on are at least as likely to REPELL as to attract buyers. There needs to be a middle way between absolute plainness and the kind of pornographic excess Baen Books perpetrated for the Flandly stories. See my comments on Frank Frazetta. I think he hit the right "note" for the cover paining he made for THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Sean M. Brooks
Location: Lawrence, MA
Date: 08/11/2010

Dear Mr. Marsh:

I forgot to mention another point I should have included in my previous note which I thought of after reading your comment about SF movies. I'm VERY dissatisfied with practically all SF movies. After reading so many of the classics of SF written by Anderson, Asimov, Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, Norton, etc., I find TV shows and movies like STAR TREK and STAR WARS to be LAME and weak by comparison. Thin, hackneyed plots, poor characterization, over reliance on special effects, etc., are merely a few of their weaknesses.

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Alex
Location: st neots
Date: 09/01/2010

I think there are two sides of the coin here; on the one hand I love the Science Fiction Masterworks series covers. They give great SF books a dignified literary look but retain the sense of wonder sf essentials: strange alien people, future architecture, all that good stuff. But those things less well done can put people off.
But sometimes its nice that SF is a geeky club of likeminded people; its fun!
And as people have talked about, good books with bad covers are always a wonderful pleasurable surprise.
I like buying about a foot of Penguin classics from the charity bookshop every few months, many of which have elegant but rather intimidating modernist covers. The art on the front of A House For Mr Biswas makes it look like the most boring book ever, not the brilliant Hogarthian masterpiece I thought it turned out to be.
And those old cloth covers are great; they seem to fusty and old fashioned so when the contents are some slick, sarcastic Graham Green thriller or Amis comedy that has you in stitches, again its a nice suprise. Something that seemed worthless suddenly has great value.
In a fit of embarassment I pulled the cover off my Emily Dickinson collected poems because guys on the bus to work used to make fun of it. It did look very pretentious to read a fat book of poems on public transport though. I feel a bit silly about that now!
So good covers can be good, and bad covers can be good.

That said, I totally know what you guys mean about sf covers sometimes being annoying. I like to doodle my own versions to scratch that itch.

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Greg Bear
Date: 09/14/2010

Emily Dickinson in a filmy negligee might sell books!

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Sean M. Brooks
Location: Lawrence, MA
Date: 09/18/2010

Dear Mr. Bear:

As you know, I've been saying very harsh things about the covers Baen Books used for the reprinted Flandry stories. So, it's only right to do the opposite when it's justified.

I've been rereading Poul Anderson's THE HIGH CRUSADE (the 50th anniversary edition) with great pleasure. And THIS time Baen Books used a cover which was both APPROPRIATE to the book and in good taste. The cover shows Baron de Tourneville mounted on his horse and surrounded by some of his men at arms as they face the newly landed Wersgor ship.

Alas, even here, I still have some criticisms. Chapter II of THE HIGH CRUSADE describes the Baron as having a Norman style hair cut, thick on top but shaven below. The cover shows Roger de Tourneville as bearded and having moderate hair growth all around his head. And the Wersgor shown descending from the ship does not fit the description of that race in the book. Poul Anderson described the Wersgor as being short and strongly built. Not tall and slender as the cover shows it.

BUT, I liked the cover illustration for the HIGH CRUSADE a LOT better than I did those for the Flandry books!

Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

Re: Baen Book Covers

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/02/2010

When I illustrated my own story for GALAXY way back in the seventies, I got details wrong... Glad you like this one, Sean!

Respond to this discussion

May we post your correspondence on this site?
Yes
No
IMPORTANT: For form verification, type the following number in the box below: 75




See Also...

Archives: [Oct-Dec 2004] [Jan-June 2005] [July-Dec 2005] [Jan-June 2006] [July 2006] [Aug-Dec 2006] [2007] [2008] [2009] [2010] [2011] [2012] [2013] [2014] [Current] [Search Blog Archives]