The Contenders Head for the Finish Line

Droomslang -- Dutch cover of DREAMSNAKEA few last contenders for the Bad Cover Contest, including the only cover I consider a true match, to beat or tie Droomslang.

I’m going to disqualify Gate of Ivriel through no fault of its own but just because I’m tired of bad covers with naked women. If anybody has any bad covers with naked men on them, I’ll consider them, but, jeez, enough already.

I once saw a cover that was said to have been for Dreamsnake, till cooler heads at the publishing company prevailed. It wasn’t a bad cover. It was kind of cool, to tell you the truth. But the naked woman with the serpent was so Not Snake that the cover would have driven away anybody who might have liked the book, and caused people to buy it who would have (justifiably) felt ripped off.

I heard, about fifteenth-hand, that the artist was annoyed at me, because, he thought, I thought his painting wasn’t beautiful enough; but in fact I never heard about the painting till after the book was published and I never saw a copy of the painting till years later. I can’t point you to it because the only copy of it that I found on the Internet doesn’t appear to me to be reproduced with permission.

Besides, I’m afraid the artist would see the picture under the “bad cover competition” heading, not read the text, and be even more annoyed.

So here are the most recent contenders:

Astounding SF

I have to agree about the red bell pepper. This cover doesn’t reach the heights of awfulness of some of the others, but I’m including it because I have an aversion reaction to bell peppers.

Darkover (Dutch)

Elmar SF has a very high Bad Cover score.

And now, for the one cover (thanks to Dutchmarbel for pointing me toward a copy of it) I’d accept as a true match for Droomslang:

The Left Hand of Darkness (Dutch)

Ursula has said that aside from the awfulness of the artwork, the art is entirely misleading since, of course, the Gethenians are ungendered most of the time.

So tell me what you think.

— Vonda




The Contenders Head for the Finish Line — 15 Comments

  1. I had a career-destroying cover, but it can’t compete with Ursula’s cover. Mine’s slightly better than the red pepper, and is more suitable for an 8-80 audience, unlike the interesting interp for DREAM SNAKE. And then there was a cover for a book called “To the Resurrection Station” which got 0 orders with its first cover. (Timescape, maybe? Had a bear and a contemporary woman on it?) Eleanor Aranson(sp?)? They not only tanked the cover, they tanked the book. I think she re-sold it, and that house’s version was acceptable to buyers.

    My cover for KINDRED RITES is remembered among my friends, fans and family as the “Floating Pocahontas” cover that tanked my career at HarperPrism. A young white woman dressed in plains tribes’ garments a la 1860s has only sex in common with Alfreda, the daughter of a tall Norwegian fellow and his mostly Irish wife, living around 1809 in what was called the Northwest Territory (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, etc.)

    It had nice trees, though.

  2. Yikes, Kathi, those sound appalling.

    Timescape nuked a number of careers. They published the paperback of Superluminal to little effect. Orca the diver (one tough cookie) wore a turquoise fairy dress and Laenea got a black leather jumpsuit and a raygun. Dunno what it is about my books that inspires rayguns. On the other hand the original cover for Superluminal had Laenea wrapped up in pink bubble gum. (That one, at least, they changed.)

    And then there was the paperback publisher for Dreamsnake, which nuked its sf line and then played dog in the manger with the books for years.

    The original cover of Starfarers was pretty nice — it had Victoria, Satoshi, and Stephen Thomas toasting each other with champagne. But it had a die cut in the middle and booksellers hate them because they’re fragile (this one was particularly so), so a lot of them got torn, and so sent back.


  3. I’ve got to vote for the cover of Ursula’s book. Not only is it incredibly ugly, but it absolutely misrepresents everything she’s talking about in The Left Hand of Darkness. Though the cartoon serpent on the Droomslang cover is pretty dreadful.

  4. Hi Eileen,

    I see what you mean. I think you’re right that it doesn’t come up to the, er, standard of Droomslang or Linkerhand, but as Bad Idea covers go, it’s right up there.

    Funny that “Planet of…” is universally recognized as negative. As in “I almost quit watching Next Generation after Planet of the Underdressed Aerobics Instructors, I came even closer to quitting after Planet of the Pig-Nosed Drug Addicts, but the last straw was Planet of the Illiterate Irish Peasants.”


  5. &ltfanboy_drool>Oooh, I looooved Superluminal (in that very paperback edition), though I’m embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten who wrote it. It was as truly bizarre and wonderful as, well, Nova (I have to admit that Dhalgren went way over the top for me).</fanboy_drool> FTL travel as an experience is a rare thing in sf — Niven, indeed, goes out of his way to make it a non-experience, and most authors treat it as a mere piece of mechanism and bury it under the rug. (I won’t even mention The Void Captain’s Tale, which if it were written in plain English would be an obvious piece of sexist malarkey.)

    No fear of forgetting the author with Dreamsnake or Spacefarers, I hasten to add.

    I think that the criticism of the Analog cover is unfair, though. The title clearly says “Interplanetary Industrial Design”, and the bell peppers (I hate them too) are just the sort of thing we’d expect to get from people who care only about whether something looks cool and not whether it actually works. I once spent a whole summer typing on an Olivetti electric that had won a prestigious ID award, but (a) you couldn’t see what you were typing on the current line, only on the line before the previous line, and (b) if you even slightly touched two keys together, the mechanism printed neither of them but skipped only one space, making it impossible to fix such errors when you found out about them two lines later.

    When Meisha Merlin came out with a preliminary cover for Sime~Gen: The Unity Trilogy, an omnibus of three of Lichtenberg’s novels, the fans got to see it: the result was universal Shock and Awe. One fan described it privately as “Klyd … obviously suffering from advanced leprosy” and referred to “the unedifying view up the nostrils”. Fortunately, the cover actually used was far better, though there’s still not enough room in that forearm to store such long tentacles (your hand isn’t much shorter than your forearm, so Sime tentacles, which leave the arm at the wrists, should reach just past the fingertips).

  6. Hi John,

    Being compared to Delany is a high compliment, thank you. (I’m fond, as well, of Babel-17, though I’m not sure how Chip would like my description of it as the best space opera ever).

    I have plans for putting Superluminal up on Book View Cafe, but in the meantime people can get it from my website:


  7. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  8. Glad you’re enjoying the place. As for your English, you’re doing well for a beginner. A lot of Americans aren’t very good at other languages. (I speak extremely bad French.)


  9. I agree that the last one is the most awful cover I’ve seen in a long time, and I can’t remember a more ugly one. I assume that the cover designers thought this would sell the books. If there is a cover design for any other reason it’s pure b.s. However, my nomination for the worst cover ever would be the one done in the last 70’s or very early 80’s that made the heroin white when she was not, put her in a Xena-esque costume with a push-up bra, and had the male character in a similar get up (without the push up bra but with unattainable pecs) and a dragon like creature in the background. The book was set on a spaceship, there were no dragons, and both characters dressed in protective gear/uniforms for some reason, but not leather Xena-esque fetish-wear. This was before Xena btw. Sorry, I can’t remember the name of the book or author, although I think you knew him/her.

  10. Sounds vaguely familiar but I’m not placing it. The paperback cover of Superluminal had Orca in a gauzy fairy dress and Laenea carrying a ray gun.

    The whole “we have to put white people on the covers” business is something writers have argued and fought about for decades. (See particularly Ursula K. Le Guin’s comments about the evolution of the covers on her Earthsea books, and more recently about the “color-blind” casting of the Earthsea miniseries.)

    I have to give the publisher and artist of the first edition of Starfarers credit, in that Victoria, Satoshi, and Stephen Thomas all looked pretty much as I imagined them. (We’ll skip right over the fact that they’re standing perpendicular to the gravity and drinking champagne out of the wrong glasses, but never mind.)


  11. I have a copy of “Conjure Wife” that was released with a Gothic Mansion high on a wind-swept cliff with one light burning in a window while a raven-haired beauty in a white nightgown runs in fear on the beach below. It causes people who have read the book to start speaking in tongues, because the only way you’ll find a scene in the text to match it is if you read Chapter 10 while on opium.