Corgi SF Collector’s Library

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Cover artist unknown.

“Here, for the connoisseur, for the devotee of the SF genre, and for those who like their reading to combine excitement with good writing, is the Corgi SF Collector’s Library – a series that brings, in a uniform edition, many of the Greats of SF – standard classics, contemporary prizewinners, and controversial fiction, fantasy, and fact…”

Only in the 1970s would you find a line of SF paperbacks with all the titles set in Thalia, a Victorian typeface revived by the post-psychedelia predilection for any design that was florid and ornate. Corgi’s SF Collector’s Library was published from 1973 to 1976, arriving just as my reading was moving from child-friendly SF to adult fiction. Consequently, I bought quite a few of these books, and still own a couple of them. The design was uniform but with a surprising amount of variation for such a short-lived series. The background colours ranged from deep blue to purple, while the card used for the covers was regular paperback stock for some of the titles with the majority using textured card, a treatment that further distinguished the series from its rivals on the bookshelves.

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Art by Joe Petagno.

Looking at these covers again I’ve been wondering if the idea of framing the artwork in a circle was borrowed from Penguin’s run of HG Wells reprints from 1967. Corgi had done something similar the same year with their Ray Bradbury series (all with art by Bruce Pennington) but the Wells editions went through several reprints, and the SF Collector’s Library follows their form even down to allowing the artwork to break the frame.

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Art by Bruce Pennington.

The samples here are a small selection of the series which featured a fair representation of British SF illustrators of the time. None of the artists were credited on the covers, however—a poor showing on the part of Corgi—so a few of them remain unidentified.

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Art by Tony Roberts.

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Cover artist unknown.

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Crank book covers

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Cover art by Tony Roberts, 1974. A book I received as a present for Christmas, 1974. Also the first place I encountered the words “Popol Vuh”, before discovering the music of Florian Fricke and co. a few years later.

Yes, “crank” is a pejorative word but it’s used with some degree of affection, as in “harmless crank”. It’s also a convenient umbrella term for the books referred to in the weekend post which embrace diverse subjects, from lost continents and “earth energy” to ancient astronauts and flying saucers.

The prime crank decade was the 1970s, a period when publishers were falling over themselves to cash-in on the massive popularity of Erich von Däniken’s dubious investigations, while also catering to the by-products of the hippy era and the occult revival. Books by Charles Fort, Immanuel Velikovsky and James Churchward (the Mu series) all received reprints, with some appearing in paperback for the first time. The British editions of these books were published by imprints like Corgi, Panther and Sphere who were also publishing large quantities of science fiction, a situation that led to many crank titles being packaged as though they were fiction or fantasy. Sphere was in the vanguard, presenting a wide range of books with the same cover designs, cover artists and Novel Gothic typeface as their SF titles. A cynical move, no doubt, but it also makes the crank books seem more like fiction than their authors might have intended.

This post presents a selection of crank titles with cover art by SF artists but there are many more examples out there. (Watch the skies!) I’ve limited the selection to British publishers but the same syndrome was evident in American publishing, as documented at Absolute Elsewhere. And I’ve included a couple of books by sceptics John Sladek and Dr. Christopher Evans. These were intended to dismantle the claims of L. Ron Hubbard, Erich von Däniken and co. but were still packaged in paperback to resemble the books they were attacking. The major demolition of Von Däniken is Ronald Story’s The Space Gods Revealed but covers for that one have always been relatively restrained.

Missing from this list are three paintings by SF artist Peter Jones for books by Dr. Celia Green. The art may be seen in Jones’s Solar Wind collection but I couldn’t find any of the printed covers, which suggests they had a limited run if they were printed at all. These are odd for being typical fantasy imagery attached to serious studies of lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences. Dr. Green is a philosopher and science researcher (she coined the term “out-of-body experience”) so she doesn’t belong on a crank list in any case. Also absent is the most popular British cover illustrator of the decade, Chris Foss, who would have been too busy working through his fiction commissions and creating designs for feature films.

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Cover art by Tony Roberts (?), 1974.

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Cover art by Bruce Pennington, 1974.

Evans was a computer scientist, an occasional contributor to New Worlds magazine, and also the model for the deranged Vaughan in JG Ballard’s Crash. Cults of Unreason investigates crank sects such as the flying-saucer worshippers of the Aetherius Society (hence the cover art), and the Scientologists who caused a stir in Britain in the 1960s when L. Ron Hubbard set up an outpost at East Grinstead.

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Cover art by Colin Hay, 1974.

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Cover art by Angus McKie, 1979.

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Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage

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Jon Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, is reissued this week in a double-disc set comprising a remastered CD plus an audio DVD. I’d been hoping for some time that this album might be given a proper reissue, it’s one I like a great deal but my old CD has never sounded as good as it ought to. The album may command cult status round here but you don’t see it mentioned anywhere outside Yes forums or partisan enclaves like the Prog Archives. This post may be taken as a small corrective to the neglect.

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Olias Of Sunhillow was released in 1976, and was the most unusual of all the solo albums recorded by the individual members of Yes in the mid-70s, being a spin-off from some of the group’s early albums, or at least their cover art. Roger Dean’s first cover work for the group was on Fragile in 1971, for which he painted a miniature world rather like one of MC Escher’s planetoids. This was Dean’s idea, the band had suggested a broken piece of porcelain as the cover image. The back cover of the album showed the same planet in a state of fragmentation with a fish-like spaceship floating above it (see below). Another drawing of the fish-ship was added to the front cover before the album’s release, and it’s this ship, and the narrative it suggests, that leads eventually to Anderson’s solo album. Two years after Fragile, the planetary disintegration had turned into an exodus on the group’s triple-live album, Yessongs, the back cover of which shows pieces of planet being towed through space by a similar fish-ship. The other panels of the cover depict the arrival of these fragments on a newer, larger world. Anderson’s album takes this sequence of events then filters them through Vera Stanley Alder’s mysticism to craft a musical odyssey which Discogs describes as:

…the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.

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For many years in British music circles it would have been a grave error to even acknowledge this album’s existence, never mind admit to actually liking it. This was partly the old animus against progressive rock, an unexamined prejudice that lasted well into the 1990s, but Anderson’s album had so many strikes against it that it might have stood as the winner of a disapproval lottery for the more ideologically rigid writers and readers of the NME. It’s Jon Anderson (strike 1), the lead singer of progressive rock (2) group Yes (3), whose album is a science fiction (4)/ fantasy (5) concept (6), littered with Tolkien-like invented names and words (7), and with a multi-page sleeve embellished with detailed fantasy illustrations (8) by David Fairbrother-Roe. The design was art directed by Hipgnosis, who subsequently designed the next two Yes albums. Anderson originally wanted Roger Dean to create the packaging, which would have provided a further strike of disapproval against the album, but Dean’s career had gone into overdrive following the publication of Views so he either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to be involved. In Views Dean mentions “another project” based on the fish-ship’s journey which may be a reference to Anderson’s forthcoming album, the credits of which thank Dean for “planting the seed”.

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Roger Dean’s original artwork for Fragile (1971). Another fish-ship was added to the final cover art.

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Tentacles #3: Dwellers in the Mirage

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Illustration by Robert A. Graef (1932).

If the predatory octopuses of the Sargasso Sea are too mundane for you, how about an extra-dimensional Kraken named Khalk’ru which has to be placated with human sacrifice? This creature is the prime menace in A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage (1932), a novel I’m afraid I haven’t read despite its quite evident tentacular delirium. The story is a Lost Race adventure with the unlikely setting of a warm valley in Alaska where the usual heroic outsider encounters the diabolical Kraken worshippers. Merritt’s work is out of copyright in Australia so the text of the book can be found at the Australian Project Gutenberg. There you’ll discover that chapter four is entitled Tentacle of Khalk’ru.

A handful of covers and illustrations follow.

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Virgil Finlay (1941).

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Philip José Farmer, 1918–2009

top left: artist unknown (1969); top right: Patrick Woodroffe (1975)
bottom left: Peter Elson (1988); bottom right: artist unknown (1995)

The great science fiction writer Philip José Farmer died today. I wrote about his more excessive works back in August 2007 and that post is as good an obituary as I could offer now. A Feast Unknown remains a favourite for pushing extreme content to a degree which would give William Burroughs pause whilst still functioning as a rollicking page-turner. Few writers could work on both those levels and do much more besides. Feast seems to be out of print today, which isn’t a surprise. Publishers are still a timid bunch for the most part and Farmer never pulled his punches.

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Philip José Farmer book covers