Vintage Reads #46: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Paperbacks

Sci-Fi and Fantasy paperbacks were nothing if not interesting back in the day.  When I look at the genre shelves now it seems like the covers are consumed by the author's name, leaving little to no room for artwork.  There's rows and rows of series (i.e. Star Wars, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.) but very little oddball stand-alone books.

Here's just a random collection of interesting, cool, and awful sci-fi and fantasy covers for your viewing enjoyment.

If there's one thing I love on a cover is an Underwater Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Dinosaur Manta Ray with lasers.

I don't know what's more menacing, the generic alien legion or the giant snowball headed right for his house.  The disembodied head with windswept hair seems oddly out of place.

The UFO thing was big in the seventies and early eighties.... real big.  Definitely worthy of a Retrospace post unto itself (in fact, I think I'll make one after this).

Never a big fan of the "what if?" genre, especially when they're this incomprehensibly lame.

A good Boris Vallejo cover could always sucker me into buying the book.  As could a Frazetta....

Frazetta's infatuation with the female booty is the stuff of legend. Like Caravaggio peaches, Frazetta's butt cheeks were his especiality, unequaled before or since.

A hallmark of the science fiction cover was the "trippy mindbender" illustration.  They all seemed to proclaim "Are you ready for your mind to be blown?"

 Oh so very trippy. We get it.

I can only assume what's in that syringe straightens a bad home-perm.

The sex-sells approach was used more often than not as well.  Often with cleverly concealed naughty bits.

I love looking at old depictions of computers.  Yet another great idea for a Retrospace post.  They almost always featured the whirring tape drives and plenty of multi-colored buttons.

Women never wear baggy jeans in the future.  In science fiction, they're always dressed to kill.

Thirty thousand years into the future is a freaking long time for any science fiction setting.  And you would think that the cover illustration would center on the "winged man". 

You can't help but enjoy these foreign titles, especially ones that rip off Hollywood.  This next one is a fairly classic sci-fi novel obviously riding the Star Wars gravy train.

Another Boris Vallejo just because.

I used to be infatuated with the GOR books.  This is one of the less racy covers.

Optiman, arch enemy of Mediocre-man and Milquetoast-man.

This would be an example of a bad cover.  I can't put my finger on why - but it's neither interesting or well conceived.  Sort of "blah".

I know I've been snarky towards these books, but I really do have a great deal of respect for the genre.  Oftentimes, their content lived up to the covers (and beyond).  There's nothing better than that head rush you get when you hit a particularly deep moment in a sci-fi novel and whisper "whooooaaaa".

I simply had to include this.  Sorry, Kansas.  The Gods hate you.


  1. Isn't Kansas where the Westboro bunch is from? I agree...you can never go wrong with Frazetta or Vallejo. Looking forward to the UFO post!

  2. From the fall of 1969 through the summer of 1974, I commuted into Philadelphia on the light rail. There was a book store in the downtown station and I bought a lot of paperbacks to read on the train. I mostly only read science fiction in those days and I remember most of these covers. Even bought many of them.

  3. Sort of "blah".
    Sort of like "The Two Showers" by J.R.R. Bolkein.

  4. Hey- where's the Frazetta butt? Both examples you posted are from Boris... Cool post!

  5. Great pieces of art! Thank you!

  6. The Texas-Israeli War:1999 was not actually that bad. A limited nuclear war and widespread use of biological and chemical weapons has killed 90 percent of the worlds population. the warring powers were a Chinese-Irish-Afrikaaner alliance versus a Russo-British-American one. Europe is neutral and mostly destroyed in the crossfire. The Israelis were also neutral until attacked by the Arabs. Egyptians bombers managed to destroy Tel Aviv, but the Arab world was all but destroyed by the Israelis. Israel managed to avoid most of the effects of the weapons of mass destruction and is of the last prospering parts of humanity. In fact, Israel also has an overpopulation problem. So, Israel now hires out its as mercenary soldiers to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in the USA, Texas secedes and a second US civil war starts. Israeli mercenaries have been hired by both sides.

  7. The covers on the Laser Books all had the same format: a big head in the foreground and something weird going on in the background. It's like they discovered photobombing way before the Internet.

  8. I love old Sci-Fi paperback covers. I can almost smell the yellowing pulp paper they are printed on. Always judge the book by the cover.

    1. Except in most of these cases the covers had nothing to do with the story. Like Gilligan said, sex sells. Don't let the fact that there is no sex in the story stop you from putting a girl on the cover.

      In one of my creative writing classes we had a guest lecturer who was a published author. He brought several samples of a single book. It was interesting to see how the same story generated such diverse cover art. One cover featured a buxom belly-dancer seducing the hero. There was no such character even hinted at in the story.

  9. MISTAKE: You didn't post a Frazetta cover, that was from Boris too. I'd know a Frazetta "butt" anywhere, Boris was great but Frazetta is the butt master! Post a Frazetta butt!

  10. Patron ZeroMarch 05, 2013

    Side note to the John Norman Gor series: Two direct-to-video films were made set in the world of Gor, oddly missing in either was the sadomasochistic theme underlying all of the novels, visually quite attractive films but little connection to the series of origin.

  11. A nubile Rebecca Ferrati about to be branded does not smack (no pun intended) of S&M?

  12. The "Invasion" in the snow is crappy but is by Kelly Freas for crissakes. Old school sci if and fantasy master. What a piece of crap by him. Guess he needed rent that month. On a side note Kelly created THE look for Alfred E. Neuman in MAD. If ya'all ain't familiar with him give a quick Google image rundown. Loved his paintings off the original Star Trek characters.

  13. The Scanner Darkly cover is grrrreat. Looks like a Stepbrothers/Ron Burgandy mash up (John C Reilly on the left, Will Ferrell on the right)

  14. The Gods Hate Kansas ?? Maybe they just hate the BAND !! " If we hear " Dust In The Wind " one more time , Earthling ... !! "