Star Trek Covers: Boldly Beheading for 40 Years and Counting

To boldly go where no artist has gone before.  To explore strange new colors and psychotic layouts.  To disembody heads of beloved television characters.  To buzz Nurse Chapel’s beehive . . .

These are the voyages of the covers Star Trek.  Their 40-year mission: to let no reader go without a fight.

Before we get started, I couldn’t resist doing “Priceline Negotiator” with William Shatner’s current head, and couldn’t get this other cheesy cover out of my mind.  When I first saw it, I thought it was depicting Spock and Nurse Chapel, but when I looked at it more closely, this is the Vulcan high priestess known for torturing Spock.  As we all know, Vulcans have extra-high brows and seldom make extreme facial expressions.  Therefore, this certainly must have been a Federation beauty treatment, at which Spock and his friend got a “two for one” special.

Star Trek Botox Conspiracy Yes: a forgotten classic.  Star Trek: The Botox Conspiracy.

But on to the real classics. All or most are all available on the Amazon Kindle now, which allows us to enjoy, and re-enjoy, these classic artistic efforts.

Of all the Star Trek characters, I’d have to say that Cmdr. William Riker (that’s “#2” from TNG – see, I do know a couple of Star Trek acronyms) has to be a major candidate for cover suffering.  

Star Trek A Weary Life By “suffering,” I mean that which is imposed by the artist’s guillotine, or “disembodied head syndrome.”

I could cycle through thousands of other types of book covers and never come across a disembodied head, and thousands of film posters.  Today, there’s a trend in teen or YA book covers where the photographed model’s head is somehow cut off or obscured, and I’m sure that means that the young teen buyer is supposed to imagine their own head on that body – but what’s with the floating head and no body? As far as floating Riker head, with and without neck goes, this one to the right is one of the finest examples.  Yes, #2 was so weary of life, that he just cut off his head and floated away.  Twice.

Star Trek Destiny This time, angry Riker obviously disembodied and floated away because this space wench was teasing him and not putting out.  Is it supposed to be Troi?  Well  . . . it could be. He’s also bedeviled by some sort of space whirlpool.

Star Trek Slings and Arrows It’s not just Riker.  Data too – look.  I have no clue as to who that guy also beheaded is.  However, with Data, I watched enough shows to know it was no big deal for him to screw his head off and then replace it. This other guy?  Not so sure about that.

Star Trek Starship Trap As can easily be seen, this problem is not exclusively related to TNG.  Kirk’s head floats too. However, usually they include part of his torso, so I guess he can stump around on the bridge and bark orders or something.

Star Trek Missions End Now, here we have a familiar scene from TOS, with a phalanx of our guys ready to phaser some Klingons.  But thoughtful floating Kirk?  I don’t recall that being in the show.’

Oh, well.

It’s the reader’s imagination that does the trick . . .

Star Trek Myriad Universes Sometimes these artists didn’t trust the readers to use their imagination.  I can only call this type of cover the “fruit salad” or possibly “busy quilt” approach.  Who’s featured in the book?  Uh . . . everybody! (Who’s the Vulcanish one on the lower right?  Eck!)

Busy quilt (That’s a real busy quilt to the right)

Then there are the ones that are just plain . . . wrong.

I was going to let The Yesterday Saga (Book Two!!) go without comment, but . . . what the hell is Conan is riding out of – a time pustule?

Spock seems characteristically unperturbed.

Star Trek Time for Yesterday I was collecting these like mad the other night.  There are hundreds and hundreds of Star Trek books, including many that aren’t related directly to the different TV series or movies.  There are some that seem based on the animated Star Trek series, and stories and characters that exist only in the books.

Star Trek Pawns and Symbols Actually – it’s the heads again.  That looks like one of the original Klingons (may they live forever).  And of course, a purple Kirk.

“Jim, it’s Purplorian Fever.  You’ve got 35 minutes to live.”

Star Trek Captains Honor Here, the artist has taken the literal approach of showing the instrument of beheading displayed below Picard and Riker – Worf’s obviously already been finished off).

Worf is, by the way, probably my favorite Star Trek character.  It’s awfully hard to choose, though . . .

Star Trek Trellisane Now, this is the cover that drew my attention to the whole phenomenon.  Now, you will notice that the shuttlecraft or whatever that is, is threatening to behead Nurse Chapel, or at the very least, mess up her hair.  And Spock doesn’t like it one darn bit.

Star Trek Double Double Then there are the covers where the artist was basically overmatched by the challenge of portraying these expressive actors’ faces and forms.  I can only describe the expression on Spock’s face to the left as “WTF???” Maybe that was what the artist was going for.  Like the pink there at the top.

Star Trek Dark Victory It’s not that the cover to the right is all that bad artistically – except – what’s with the phallic floating sword?  It looks like Kirk is considering applying it to Picard’s manly parts, and Picard is like “no-no-no-you manic screamer,” and . . . he probably did use it in the book, because the book is BY William Shatner (yes, I know who really wrote them, you won’t hear here).

Star Trek Vulcan Academy I am probably fondest of the Star Trek covers that harken back to the old pulp covers.  For example, this one has a stiff-looking Spock confronting a lovely green BEM (bug-eyed monster).

Look at the anatomy on that thing!

Star Trek Dominion Some of the covers appear to have left the artists little choice, as in “floating heads you do NOT want to see”. Bubble them!

Star Trek Tribbles

Technically, this is a nonfiction ST book with what’s his name and the Tribbles, but its awesome specialness was too good to pass up.

And at some point after the passage of the millennium, the Star Trek artists crystallized their excellence, using all the symbols and symbolism collected over the past four decades, combined with Photoshop magic and a new, cool color sensibility.

Star Trek Ex Machina OFF WITH THEIR HEADS?

Of course, now, they are sticking their heads inside their Starfleet insignia and calling it a day.



Star Trek Covers: Boldly Beheading for 40 Years and Counting — 2 Comments

  1. Over at Orbit Books they’re running a multi-part contest. The first part was for the Worst SF Title Ever, the winner being “Across A Trembling Sea the Cyborg Fairies Dance.” (Although the second-place contender, “The Rise of the Fallen, Book Seven: the Antepenultimate Battle” has undeniable charm.)
    They’re now working on an appropriate ‘reading line’, a sentence of alleged text to put on the cover, and the art is going to follow. The ultimate goal is of course the Most Awesomely Bad SFF Cover in the Universe, which I feel confident they will achieve.
    View the process here: