Roger Dean book covers

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The View Over Atlantis (1972).

The covers in question are the handful that Roger Dean produced for paperbacks in the 1970s and 80s, rather than those for his own books and the ones he edited. Given the popularity of Dean’s work in the 1970s you’d expect there to be more than this although I’m not sure he would have had the time for any more work than he was doing already.

The two covers for Pan Science Fiction vexed me for a while since the art is reproduced in Dean’s Views collection but with no mention of the book titles. It’s taken some time, but ISFDB has updated its Roger Dean page so I can finally sate my curiosity. The Michell cover is an ideal illustration for the author’s theorising about ley lines but the Pan SF paintings are vague enough to be used on other books, or even on album covers.

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The Puppet Masters (1973).

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Gold the Man (1973).

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The War of the Worlds (1986).

I’ve not read the Colin Greenland books so I can’t say whether their cover art relates to the novels but the Wells cover certainly does. A rare example of Dean depicting a scene from somebody else’s imagination.

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The Hour of the Thin Ox (1987).

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Other Voices (1988).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 17: Boris and Roger Dean
Roger Dean: artist and designer

Hinton’s hypercubes

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Illustration from The Fourth Dimension (1906) by Charles Howard Hinton.

A slight return to the worlds of Borges. I happened to be re-reading some of the stories in The Book of Sand (1975), one of the later collections which includes the story Borges dedicated to HP Lovecraft, There are more things. Borges’ writings are nothing if not filled with references to other works of literature, philosophies, religions, and ideas in general; following up the less-familiar references would preoccupy a reader to the detriment of the writing so there’s a tendency when reading a Borges piece to take for granted many of those nuggets of esoteric information. I’ve read There are more things many times—it’s a favourite in part for having the additional thrill of Borges going Lovecraftian—but only realised with this reading that I can now fully appreciate the following:

Years later, he was to lend me Hinton’s treatises which attempt to demonstrate the reality of four-dimensional space by means of complicated exercises with multicoloured cubes. I shall never forget the prisms and pyramids that we erected on the floor of his study.

Prior to reading this I did know that Hinton was Charles Howard Hinton (1853–1907), the British mathematician and dimensional theorist. Hinton’s name tends to turn up in discussions of the work of his mystical contemporaries, notably the Theosophists who were more taken with his theories than those in the scientific fields. (A conviction for bigamy didn’t help his reputation.) But those multicoloured cubes were a mystery until the publication of (fittingly) the fourth number of Strange Attractor Journal. Among the usual selection of fascinating articles the book contains a piece by Mark Blacklock about Hinton’s ideas including those mysterious cubes. Drawings of the cubes first appeared in A New Era of Thought (1888) where Hinton proposes using them as aids to a series of mental exercises with which the reader may visualise the higher dimensions of space. Hinton invented the word “tesseract” to describe the four-dimensional structure projected from the faces of his three-dimensional cubes.

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Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus, 1954) by Salvador Dalí.

Hinton may not have impressed his mathematical colleagues as much as he hoped but his ideas have an understandable attraction, as the Borges story demonstrates. The story concerns the refashioning of a Buenos Aires house for an unusual resident; thirty years earlier Robert Heinlein wrote “—And He Built a Crooked House—” in which an architect builds a house in the form of a four-dimensional hypercube: only the lowest cube attached to the ground is visible from the exterior. I read that story when I was a teenager, and was already acquainted with tesseracts thanks to school-friends who were maths whizzes; I was the arts whizz, and I think I was probably the first of us Dalí enthusiasts to discover the artist’s own take on the hypercube, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) from 1954. Borges and Heinlein in those stories were both writing their own forms of science fiction, and Dalí’s painting finds itself co-opted into another story with sf connections, The University of Death (1968) by JG Ballard, one of the chapters in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970):

He lit a gold-tipped cigarette, noticing that a photograph of Talbot had been cleverly montaged over a reproduction of Dalí’s ‘Hypercubic Christ’. Even the film festival had been devised as part of the scenario’s calculated psychodrama.

If we seem to have strayed a little then it’s worth noting that Borges was familiar with Ballard’s work: he included The Drowned Giant in the later editions of The Book of Fantasy, the anthology he edited with Adolfo Bioy-Casares and Silvina Ocampo. The two writers also met on at least one occasion.

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JLB and JGB, circa 1970. Photo by Sophie Baker.

Charles Hinton’s coloured cubes and tesseracts are described in detail in The Fourth Dimension (1906), a reworking of the ideas from A New Era of Thought, and also the source of the colour illustration that everyone reproduces. Mark Blacklock has his own multi-dimensional website where you can read about his construction of a set of three-dimensional Hinton cubes. As for the mental exercises, Blacklock’s piece in Strange Attractor contains an anecdotal warning that the auto-hypnotic system required to fully visualise Hinton’s dimensions can result in a degree of obsession dangerous to the balance of mind. Proceed with caution.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Borges and the cats
Invasion, a film by Hugo Santiago
Spiderweb, a film by Paul Miller
Books Borges never wrote
Borges and I
Borges documentary
Borges in Performance

Renaissance Man

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Ask anyone for a definition of this term and most people would immediately mention Leonardo Da Vinci (can his reputation survive Dan Brown?) or Michelangelo, the two most highly-regarded geniuses of the Italian Renaissance. While Leonardo’s numerous achievments are well-documented, Michelangelo’s work as a painter and sculptor tends to overshadow his other talents as an architect (most notably for the dome of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome) and writer of over three hundred homoerotic sonnets and madrigals dedicated to Tommaso dei Cavalieri.

A lesser known figure of the period who perhaps exemplifies the full range of the polymathic Renaissance ideal is Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472). In an era over-stuffed with geniuses, Alberti tends to be overlooked but his achievements in a variety of fields still seem staggering today.

One of Alberti’s earliest works was Philodoxeus (‘Lover of Glory’, 1424), written when he was 20, a Latin comedy that was convincing enough as a parody of Classical style to pass for an original work of the Roman era. Other works followed, among them De commodis litterarum atque incommodis (‘On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literary Studies’, 1429), Intercoenales (‘Table Talk’, ca. 1429), Della famiglia (‘On the Family’, begun 1432), Vita S. Potiti (‘Life of St. Potitus’, 1433), De iure (‘On Law’, 1437), Theogenius (‘The Origin of the Gods’, ca. 1440), Profugorium ab aerumna (‘Refuge from Mental Anguish’, 1442-43), Momus (another Classical comedy, 1450) and De Iciarchia (‘On the Prince’, 1468). More significant than all of these was Della Pittura from 1436, the first ever study of perspective construction. Alberti’s friend Filippo Brunelleschi had earlier devised his own system of perspective but Alberti was the first to set the principles in book form for other artists.

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Brunelleschi was an architect and Alberti also produced his own architectural designs, including the Rucellai Palace in Florence, the first Renaissance building using a system of Classical pilasters, and the facade of the Santa Maria Novella church. His monumental study De re aedificatoria (‘On the Art of Building’) was begun in 1450 and occupied him for the rest of his life, a ten-volume work and the first of its kind to address modern architecture based on Classical principles. This was also the first work of architecture to be printed in 1485 and remained an essential working text up to the 18th century. The book’s recommendations for fortification and siege defence were in use for hundreds of years.

Alberti’s restless talents also encompassed music (he was an accomplished organist), map-making and cryptography. The polyalphabetic cypher he created in 1467 was the first significant cypher of its kind since Julius Caesar’s and has since earned him the title “Father of Western Cryptography.” Alberti has also been proposed as the author of the enigmatic Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of 1499. The jury is still out on this but this is a book whose creation would certainly require someone of Alberti’s breadth of knowledge.

The Renaissance ideal rather fell out of favour in the 20th century, even though there were more than enough polymaths to go around (Harry Smith comes to mind). No one in Quattrocento Italy would accuse any of the great men of the period of being a “jack of all trades, master of none”, the familiar dismissal of a culture that makes a virtue of aiming low. Artists today have to compete in an art market saturated with mediocre work which means they need to find a single gimmick that distinguishes them from the crowd then plug it for all it’s worth. As Robert Hughes memorably says in The Shock of the New, “More artists came out of American art schools in a single year in the 1980s than there were people living in Florence during the Renaissance.” Artists like Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Tom Phillips let their curiosity and creativity carry them forward, producing work that ranges over a variety of styles and media. Phillips is a good example of the contemporary Renaissance man, a painter, sculptor, writer, composer and creator of the extraordinary artwork/experimental novel A Humument. The fact that most people are unfamiliar with his name says more about our world than it does about the value of Phillips’ work. Robert Heinlein isn’t a writer I usually have much time for but he had the perfect riposte to this situation, and to the philistine assertion of “jack of all trades, master of none”. “Specialisation,” Heinlein said, “is for insects.”