Bad Cover Competition

Dreamsnake had the good fortune to be nominated for the Hugo Award; as it had won the Nebula earlier in the year, my publishers thought it had a good chance at the award and sent me to the World SF Convention in Brighton, England.

I thought Anne McCaffrey’s The White Dragon would win, and so did everyone else; when Dreamsnake took the prize I was astonished. The first person to congratulate me and give me a big hug when I came off the stage? Anne McCaffrey, one of the most gracious people I’ve had the good fortune to be acquainted with.

That same weekend, I met the editor who had bought the Dutch rights to the book. I blush to admit I can’t remember his name. This has nothing to do with the following story; I’m famously awful at names and faces.

“I’m delighted to have Dreamsnake being published in Dutch,” I said. “I lived in Wassenaar when I was a kid.”

“I have the cover with me,” he said.


“I’ll show it to you…” he said. “If you promise not to kill me.”

“Um, OK.”

He showed it to me.

I tried to kill him.

You can see why after the jump.

It’s badly drawn; however, it is ugly.

“You’ll be glad to know,” he said, “that this cover is so bad that from now on I get control over the covers on the SF books in my line.”

“That does make me feel ever so much better,” I said.

I’ve been informally claiming the cover of Droomslang as the worst SF cover ever published.

Now, inspired by Sarah’s LOLcovers, I’m challenging anyone to come up with a worse cover. It has to be worse on all fronts: Badly drawn, ugly, and inaccurate. Extra points if the cover includes a ray-gun (nonexistent in the book) with a screamingly uncomfortable-looking tie-down.

I’ve only ever seen one cover illustration that I thought could give Droomslang a run for its money (the Dutch cover for Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness), but I searched high and low and couldn’t find a copy of it on the web. Maybe it’s so ugly its pixels evaporated into the universal entropy.

The Dutch have no qualms whatever about full frontal nudity.

My main objection to the full frontal nudity isn’t the full frontal nudity; it’s full frontal nudity that has no relation to anything that happens in the book. Note that the one time Snake has the opportunity to get fully frontally nude and roll around on the sand, she opts out. When she decides to go to bed with somebody, she goes to bed with somebody in a proper bed.

Post the URL for your candidate for Worst Cover Ever.

If I decide another book cover beats Droomslang’s, I’ll think up an appropriate prize for the first person to point it out.

You’ve been warned.

— Vonda

You can find Dreamsnake and other ebooks by Vonda N. McIntyre in the Book View Cafe ebookstore, with a much nicer cover.

Vonda N. McIntyre is the author of the Nebula-winning novel The Moon and the Sun, which has a really nice cover, and which is being offered at Book View Café in electronic form for the first time. “The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea,” the faux-encyclopedia article that inspired the novel, written by Vonda N. McIntyre and illustrated by Ursula K. Le Guin, appears as a Book View Café Bonus story.

Other fiction by Vonda N. McIntyre, including cell-phone-friendly formats of The Moon and the Sun, can be found in the fiction section of her website, as can mint copies of her published books. To celebrate the debut of Book View Café, book prices are temporarily lowered.

Books make great gifts!



Bad Cover Competition — 30 Comments

  1. That is truly awefull. I’m not sure it’s possible to find a worse cover but I’ve got some that are pretty bad:

    These are badly drawn and ugly to be sure, but I’ve not read any of them, so I can’t say if they’re inaccurate. I hope they aren’t. If the “last man in the universe” actually dresses like the Boy Wonder in the book, I’ll have to pass.

  2. Wow, Vonda, that is truly terrible! Have you seen the German edition of Bujold’s THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE? I will have to scout around for an image, but it looks like an advertisement for an orthodontic practice with an obsession with black uniforms.

  3. Brenda, I haven’t seen the Bujold cover. If you come across a copy of it, please do post it.

    Dave, thanks, those are pretty awful, but I’m not conceding Droomslang’s position at the top of the heap.

    By the way, anyone who posts a comment with URLs (which is of course exactly what I asked you to do…) — it might get stuck in the anti-spam machine for a little bit, but we’ll catch and release it asap. The alternative is reams of comment spam or a captcha, which we’re trying to avoid inflicting on our actual human visitors.

    Before Nancy installed Akismet (an anti-comment-spam utility), I sat here one day and the spam flooded in almost faster than I could delete it. It was horrible.

    If your cover competitor URL doesn’t appear within a reasonable amount of time please email me the address. You can find my email at


  4. Brenda,

    Now, that one is just laugh-out-loud funny.

    I don’t speak German but “Der Kadett” is self-explanatory, and if I remember right “roman” is novel. I can’t read the text well enough to grab it for Babelfish.”

    My favorite blurb on a book of mine in German was for one of the Star Trek novels, which said “Raumschif Enterprise weider auf grosser fahrt” (I won’t answer for all the spelling), which I am led to believe means “Starship Enterprise goes on a big journey.”


  5. Those covers are extremely funny! They remind me of some of the worst sffh covers from the earlier part of the last century. This one – – is unreal! The Italian version of Superheroes has a fun cover – they call the book, Superman versus Newton, and the cover has an illo of Superman on the top and Newton on the bottom – it’s delightful, bizarre, and always cracks me up.

  6. Here’s the UK cover for Diane Duane’s “The Door into Fire”:

    You might want to know before clicking on it that the main male protagonist is gay.

    Diane’s story about this is that they hadn’t commissioned a cover for her novel, and another book they had commissioned the cover to had been canceled, so they decided to save some money…

  7. Gary Farber pointed me this way. You can find the Dutch cover of ‘the left hand of Darkness’ on Librarything, amongst the user-scanned covers (‘Duisters linkerhand”). It’s pretty horrible indeed and the translation of the title is not inviting either.

    The Dutch cover of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover” (by the same publisher) is as bad I think (picture is here. The person in charge appearantly had a thing for nude women on sand.

  8. Those new ones are great (in an awful sort of way), and thanks for the Left Hand cover, which I may have to share the trophy with. I’ll put up another blog post displaying the new contenders when I have a moment.



  9. Wow, those are all great / awful! I remember the “Droomslang” cover; people liked it BECAUSE it was dreadful.
    Anyone remember the original covers for parts 1 and 2 of Eleanor Arnason’s “A Woman of the Iron People”? Rereading them recently, I found myself intensely embarrassed to be carrying them around … and

    (hope it’s OK to use those links)

    But I still think “Droomslang” tops them all.

  10. I remember being openly embarrassed to be re-reading the Amber Chronicles because I was re-reading them in the omnibus Book Club edition with the mega-cheese covers, and had to try to explain to my physicist boss that the book wasn’t nearly as dumb as the cover made it seem, viz:

    (Can’t find one for the other, equally bad, volume. Sorry.)

    Then again, this cover for Trumps of Doom is a real miss, art-and-relevance-to-contents-wise:

  11. I should have said I was disqualifying Door into Fire on the “enough already with the naked women” principle, not Gate of Ivriel… but does anybody else think that the two covers are essentially identical? And that the artist could have used the same model for the standing figure’s abs?

    Ulrika, The Trumps of Doom artist must have had a recent overdose of Fantastic Four; and what is it about artists who like to draw muscles that it seems like they don’t pay much attention to the bones?

    Woman of the Iron PeopleKristi, I’ve heard severalth-hand that the Woman of the Iron People covers did significant damage to the book, which is really a shame because it’s a neat book. The first one isn’t so bad; it just looks like somebody trying to riff off Indiana Jones, but the

    “But that is only my opinion.”

    — Vonda

  12. Yes, I have to agree…I think you win for most horrible cover. It’s not simply bad; it’s offensive, inaccurate, AND badly executed.

    However, I think Door Into Fire runs a pretty close second.

    I used to be incredibly picky, when I was a managing editor, about covers. If the protagonist had the wrong hair color or whatever, I sent it back to Art with an argument. At the time, I didn’t realize that was even the tiniest bit unusual that I had the license to do that. I suppose Doomslang would have made my brain explode if it’d shown up on my desk.

    You shoulda held off on promising to kill him ’til AFTER you saw the cover.

  13. Hi, Susan —

    I had to promise not to kill him or he wouldn’t have shown me the cover. And I didn’t actually try to kill him after he showed it to me; it just makes a better story. I was too stunned to do much of anything.

    I’ve been pretty lucky with covers for my books in my own country. I’d say “in English” except that the cover for the paperback of Dreamsnake in England, while quite beautiful in a creepy sort of way, was so snaky that I didn’t think anybody would buy it, and indeed mostly they didn’t.

    I forgot about the French paperback, which is fairly awful:

    Forgive me for not linking that up properly or putting in the picture itself or completely the missing sentence from a comment above. I’m going to go ingest some cold medicine and feel miserable.


  14. That Trumps of Doom cover is infamous among art directors and artists. I can’t remember how the Locus news squib put it, but if you look at it and the cover to Berserker Man at the same time you’ll see why Trumps of Doom got a new cover for the second edition.

    The sad thing about the Bell Pepper cover is that I believe I’ve read the original article and not only is it about an industrial design project that was well known and respected enough to be mentioned in Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek, but the cover artist did a pretty good job duplicating the design in the study! A designer assigned his class to develop a “car” for a race of E.T.’s that were similar to ostriches and who lived on a planed with high atmospheric pressures. One of the tasks was to make sure the design could take the punishment provided by the enviornment but not be close enough to an egg shape that the driver would feel too secure, dose off into a pre-hatchling state, and crash the “car.” I’ve seen the original paper somewhere: bell pepper is pretty much the best discription for the final version of the engineering drawings of the “car.”

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