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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