Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Seeing the Cover of Your Book for the First Time

Though in my past few posts I’ve talked about my recent stay in the hospital, I want to describe here a great event that took place toward the end of my time there:  I received through email a copy of the cover for my upcoming science-fiction novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes.  And—oh!—how that made my day.  (It was just “revealed” formally today at http://dogstarbooks.blogspot.com/2014/03/cover-man-who-loved-alien-landscapes-by.html, so tune in there to see it yourself, but I also include a copy and some quotes about the story below.) 
I’ve done work in photography, especially landscape photography, and I’ve even dabbled in visual art—like drawing and oil and acrylic painting, though I haven’t learned enough Photoshop to do fully digital work (I intend to someday).  I’ve also studied art history and have given lectures on Romantic painting, the sublime in art, modern art, graphic novels . . . and SF covers.  So I like to think I have some small knowledge of the “visual sense” for illustration and composition, especially how it relates to SF imagery. 
Thus, getting ready to see my cover was a bit scary.  I wasn’t certain exactly what I hoped for the book—I wanted to leave all that to the artist—but at the same time, I knew many types of covers that I didn’t want.  So, when it came, a long deep breath of appreciation flowed out of me.  I thought the cover looked wonderful.  And, what really knocked me over was how much it “showed” the book in a way I hadn’t seen before.  When the author of a book sees his work in a transformative way because of the cover, then you know the illustration has succeeded on many different levels. 
I had viewed the work of Bradley Sharp before, on other Dog Star covers, for example, and I had been deeply impressed by the clean lines, the subtle color, the restrained and yet tense moods, the elegance of the composition, the quiet but clear reaching for the viewer’s attention, not through bludgeoning mayhem or gore but through a thoughtful combining of elements that led and encouraged readers instead of forcing or dragging them into a story. 
Since many of the novels he’s provided covers for had a near-future cyberpunk flavor, I was curious how the “planetary wonder” sense of my own book would be depicted, with its ring-shaped habitat in space and travel to several exotic and fully natural worlds.  I had pondered what the cover might contain (a landscape from one of the worlds, an impression of the “fist of thorns,” maybe “Annulus” the space habitat, and a figure or two within a wide landscape), and the picture did convey those notions.  But what so impressed me was how thoughtfully and originally it was done.  This wasn’t just an illustration of events in the book, but a visual “summation” of what the title itself was trying to convey, the book’s whole theme—the sense of off-world mystery and adventure, of wonder, of danger, and yet of “loving” all these beckoning and threatening components. 
And that was the very suggestiveness behind the cover. The sense of other-worldly majesty, the solitude of the protagonist and yet his strong emotions (conveyed so simply and yet so clearly in the dark simplicity of the image), the ghostly “alienness” of the forest on the different planet, the foreign and vaguely ambiguous object in the sky, and even the hint of an annular structure in space—all of these conveyed an emotional longing that I felt was the core of the story.  And it was right there on the cover, plain as could be.  I wouldn’t have believed such emotion could have been suggested so well, and so subtly, by just the few visual elements of the image. 
You can make other connections to the events of the book, like how the trees and cliffs and central peak are depicted, as well as the choice of color for the title, but I’ll let the reader find those connections.  I made enough ties of my own to be fully happy with the picture.  A cover for any book is not supposed to be viewed for only its accuracy (though this cover is accurate), as if the artist was supposed to be a futuristic reporter snapping pictures of the story’s happenings.  A successful cover suggests through its different medium of visual art the same “impression” that the prose novel conveys; it just uses a different medium.  It’s like interpreting prose into another language, and if the translation is too literal, then the second language can sound like gibberish. The translation has to be “redone” into that second language, so that it conveys an impression of the original but also takes advantage of the communicative power and unique strengths of that second medium itself. 
My protagonist is a loner who carries memories and secrets from a past that have made him wary of others and of the universe itself.  And yet he yearns for contact, for reaching other worlds but also other people.  Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he does not.  And in the course of the novel he’s plunged into a situation that is dangerous not only to him but to his only friends (and to the whole human race), that is unexplained, mysterious, and haunting, that leads to different worlds both beautiful and deadly, that speaks of forces far bigger than himself and even bigger than human history.  And his adventure, though terrifying, is also filled with wonder, deep longing, a need for “the other” and an eagerness to explore all that’s new and different to him. 
Now it took me a whole paragraph to say that.  But Bradley Sharp did it in just one picture. 
So, yeah, that was a great day when I got the cover.  I showed it to all the nurses, doctors, and visitors who came to see me then.  And all of them were as thrilled as I was.

Here’s the cover itself and some commentary on the book taken from the announcement.  Thanks to both Diana Dru Botsford and William H. Keith for their kind and insightful words.  And a big thanks to Bradley Sharp for the fine artwork. 

What could draw poet, explorer, loner and paranoid Mykol Ranglen away from the relative peace of his own ring-in-space habitat?

            He has no choice in the matter as one by one acquaintances are murdered or disappear altogether. Propelled by ever changing and deepening mysteries Mykol embarks to uncover secrets which could make people rich beyond their wildest dreams…or tear apart human civilization.
            The escalating quest takes him through worlds of many dangerous extremes, leading him to confront the deadly alien Fist of Thorns, extinct species refusing to give up their power over the future, and those racing against him to uncover the secret first. But in the course of his pursuit, he must also face his own secrets. And some of these are even more dangerous.

The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes by
Albert Wendland
Cover Art by
Bradley Sharp
Foreword by
William H. Keith
Space Opera Paperback coming from
Dog Star Books in June 2014

What They’re Saying About The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes

"Mystery, heart-pounding adventure, and the dazzling wonders of far-flung space play significant roles in Wendland's breakout novel, all while gifting us with a mesmerizing tour of alien landscapes destined to get under your skin and remind you of the very reason science fiction exists: Not to escape to other worlds, but to find ourselves within them."
--Diana Dru Botsford, author of THE DRIFT and FOUR DRAGONS

Inside are alien worlds and titanic space habitats and a brilliant and paranoid hero, all skillfully blended together with long-vanished galactic secrets. Science fiction… good science fiction, by a college professor of literature who loves good SF."
--From the foreword by William H. Keith, New York Times Bestselling Science Fiction Author


  1. Great post on an awesome cover! Love the dark glow of this numinous image...it's sublime! :-)

    Mike A.

  2. I totally agree about the "awesomeness" of the cover, Mike. Thanks for the comment. And expect a bunch of posts in the future about "the sublime." It's the bread-and-butter of SF.

  3. This book is such a wonderful journey, Al. Very excited about its release!

  4. Thanks, Heidi. Can't help being excited too.