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Worlds Without End Blog

Are You Nostalgic for Old SF Art? Posted at 1:34 PM by James Wallace Harris


I recently joined two groups on Facebook devoted to science fiction art: Raypunk and Space Opera Pulp. It makes me wonder: How many people love science fiction art? Over the years I’ve encountered a number of blogs devoted to SF art like Joachim Boaz’s Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations and 70s Sci-Fi Art. And more databases of covers from science fiction magazines are showing up, like The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from Phil Stephensen-Payne’s giant website. Even the Internet Science Fiction Database has become much more cover oriented. If you search Pinterest for “science fiction art” you’ll get countless collections.

Raypunk features more modern SF artwork but does include some older stuff. Space Opera Pulp is exactly what it says, and more to my nostalgic tastes. I would love to include samples of art these sites provide but I’m not sure about the rules of copyright violations.

It would be a wonderful blogging project to show the evolution of science fiction art as it parallels written science fiction. But I’m not sure how when it comes to getting permissions to use artwork. For now, I’m showing screenshots to these sites as a colorful enticement to try them. Here are some of the covers from F&SF. If you go to the site and click on a thumbnail it will show the large view. However, if you love a particular cover search for it on Google using the image view. Often larger higher resolution images are available.

For my personal use, I just right-click on images, select “Save image as…” and then put them into my SF Art folder. I search for the best scan at the highest resolution, and use my computer’s desktop background as an art gallery, using John’s Background Switcher to change images. It’s available for free and works on Windows and Mac. For Linux, I use Variety Wallpaper Changer. These programs automatically switch desktop background images at set time intervals. Here’s what my current desktop looks like:

One idea for a visual essay would be to take a single topic, say Mars, and show how fiction and illustrations have changed over time. Go year-by-year describing stories, quoting them, and showing the illustrations. Of course, that’s just another project to put on my pile of projects-to-do, but it would be fun. If anyone knows about the copyright laws that would apply to such a project, leave a comment, please.

Another project would be to pick one artist, say Richard Powers, and show how their work changed with the science fiction times. ISFDB makes that easy. They list books by cover artist. I assume showing whole book covers are kosher when it comes to copyright.

That should allow a project showing all the covers for a particular book. Here’s the ISFDB page for Have Space Suit-Will Travel. It goes on and on.

But really, how many fans of SF art are out there? Is it in the hundreds, the thousands? I can’t imagine it in the tens of thousands, but maybe. Wouldn’t it be funny to find out if 167 people keep all those SF art websites going? I think they must come in two kinds. The folks that love the current work, and the folks that are nostalgic like me.

I think that because I believe that’s how people read science fiction. When you’re young you read new science fiction to imagine the future. When you’re old you read the old science fiction you loved when young and think about the past.

Here’s the desktop image as I finished this essay.


Sable Aradia   |   04 May 2017 @ 04:48

Well, I subscribe to a couple of these Twitter accounts, if you’re gauging interest. I’m into stuff from the period I got into sci-fi mostly (which would be the early 80s and classic pulp stuff prior because I got a lot of it from secondhand bookstores).

JohnBem   |   07 May 2017 @ 15:47

I absolutely love science-fiction art. My tastes in SF are weighted more toward the space-opera side of the scale rather than hard SF (although I’ve imbibed my share of the hard stuff as well); similarly I am most fond of the lurid side of SF art. You know, the virile and space-suited lasergun wielding hero defending a scantily clad and disheveled woman from the slavering tentacular grasp of a bug-eyed monster. That sort of thing. But, I am also frequently awed by the gleaming spires of futuristic or alien cityscapes, explorers landing on alien planets, or sleek spacecraft plying the stars. I tend to prefer older art from the pulp era, of a representational style. But yeah, I’ve got books and pulps in my collection that I may never read, but I pull them down from the shelves from time to time to admire the cover (and sometimes interior) art.

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