We’ve all read (or gave up on) really bad books over the years. We’ve also been subjected to some really poorly conceived and executed book covers during that same time. I’m not going to attempt to meld the two, because bad books often make it in to our hands because of a beguiling covers. “All that glitters is not gold,” as Shakespeare made popular.
Here is a list of books that I, shamefully, own…with covers so bad that they defy explanation or logic. Some of these editions are obscure and difficult/impossible to find, for good reason.
I own more, but these twelve are the worst of the worst…at least on my shelves. If you’ve got some examples of hideous book covers on your shelf, post them up in the comments section below.
So in no particular order, here they are…
The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany (published 1967, cover edition 1967)
Gigantic red bull head. Woman showing some ass. Random and nonsensical mathematical symbolism (Hey, Einstein is in the title!). So why not toss in a space backdrop with a random planet to make it legit? A cover as trippy as the novel itself. Ahhhhh, the 60s!
A Case of Conscience by James Blish (published 1958, cover edition 1966)
Wow. I…uhh…okay. Publisher hires his ten year old daughter to do his next cover. Hands her a pair of scissors, Elmer’s glue, a stack of random magazines, and some construction paper. “Please have it done before dinner, dear.” Result? The amazing cover we see below. Rockin’ the collage!! The dude on the cover is probably thinking…Why me?
A World out of Time by Larry Niven (published 1976, cover edition 1978)
Okay, catsnake has got to go! Nix the cuddly serpent, focus on the ship transiting the Jupiter system and maybe you’ve got a cover. Yes, catsnake is related to the story of the book, but this cover comes across to me as pure pandering to a juvenile market. Also, spoilers! Earth is orbiting Jupiter! Meow!
Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (published 1963, cover edition 1964)
Curse the influence of the movie tie in! Pierre Boulle’s novel is far more compelling and interesting than any film version, but those are not two words I would use to describe this slapped together cover. Ape head rampant on field of white looking like he’s taking a dump? Check. Taylor and gang from the movie thrown in for good measure? Check. Hmmm, how do we make them stand out more? Blue glow! Check! Raft? Wait…what?
This Immortal by Roger Zelazny (published 1966, cover edition 1966)
Moe from The Three Stooges dressed in a toga standing in front of…random blobs of blue and red. The receding line of white lights really ties it all together.
Oron by David C. Smith (published 1978, cover edition 1978)
Conan, eat your heart out! This airbrushed masterpiece just screams derivative knockoff. I’d bet money that this beauty ended up on the side of some vans in the late 70s, sandwiched in with some unicorns, wizards, and spaceships. Awwww yeah. The lime green neon title proclaiming ORON is all you need to know that this cover means (and is the) business.
Double Star by Robert Heinlein (published 1956, cover edition 1967)
A cover so generic and so clichéd that even the artist got bored and didn’t bother finishing the face of the figure in the foreground How could he bear to finish it with all the awesome 50s scifi elements going on, like: spaceman boots, spaceman cape, spaceman tights. evil spaceman widow’s peak cap, buildings that look like giant space antennae…oh, and a spacemen scepter. Fear the faceless man!
No Enemy But Time by Michael Bishop (published 1982, cover edition 1989)
The cover is supposed to represent the meeting of modern man with his prehistoric counterpart. All it represents is the poster child for bad 80s art.
Colony by Ben Bova (published 1978, cover edition 1978)
Yep, I know what you’re thinking, and it was the same thing I was thinking back when I read this in junior high. What self respecting dude walks around school with a romance novel!? I liked the book from what I can remember, and the art itself isn’t bad (Boris Vallejo). The main problem with this cover is that it really, REALLY misrepresents what’s going on between the covers, much to the embarrassment of my 14 year old former self. It looks like a poster for a primetime soap opera from the 80s like Dallas, Dynasty, or Knots Landing. I just admitted too much, didn’t I?
Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin (published 1968, cover edition 1982)
Here we go again. Another cover that looks like a pseudo-romance novel, but one marketed to teenagers this time. And why is there a F16 Falcon taking off right behind her, on an alien planet, hundreds of years in the future? That menacing look while brandishing that Buck Roger lasergun!! Just bad all around. I recently read this one in the seclusion of my office, where it shall remain forever hidden.
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber (published 1958, cover edition 1961)
There must have been some good drugs in the 60s! We’ve seen a theme here with cover art that originated in the 1960s. A bizarre mishmash of random images (often unrelated to the book) superimposed on a solid background, either white or black, with almost no symmetry.
Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle (published 1979, cover edition 1979)
Another book I’ve had since I was a teenager. One look at the cover raises many questions. Like…what the hell is this? A war book? A fantasy book? A romance book? A science fiction book? The answer is: yes. The cover itself is enough to scare away pretty much everyone because it’s hard to tell what the book is even about. Of course I picked up a copy. Despite that it was apparently the “#1 adventure novel of the year!”