julieandrews: (Default)
So the Huffington Post did a piece on 21 of the Coolest Book Covers This Year.

I was looking forward to seeing some awesome, beautiful, funny covers.

But. Blah. Well, they all scream 'literary' to me, and that generally turns me off.

After working in a library for a couple of years, I will tell you that you absolutely should judge a book by its cover. 9 times out of 10*, I can tell you what collection a book goes in just by looking at its cover.

"Celebrity Chekhov"'s cover amused me. But I won't be reading it. Otherwise, blah blah blah. Even the one with the solar system does nothing for me!

You want coolest covers, take a look at the SF/F, YA and children's books. I mean, seriously. Heck, even the business and science books are usually more interesting.

Coolest? No. Especially not when one of the supposedly coolest is a headless woman! That's not even creative!

* Statistic totally made up.
julieandrews: (Default)
Caveat: This isn't about the artists. Sometimes the art is really quite, quite good. It's just.. not appropriate, to the book or to the target audience. And sometimes it gets screwed up by the font and text choices, or this or that.

In a discussion about book covers with [livejournal.com profile] tomomi, I suggested that the newer Ender's Game (et al) covers made me cringe. I admit, I hadn't looked at them too, too closely. So, well, then I did.

I bring you my current pick for absolute worst cover of an sf/f book published in the last 10 years.

My challenge to you is to show me a cover that's worse than that.

(And no, please, please, please don't try to tell me which is Bean and if the other kid is Ender or not. I have my guesses, but I don't want to know!)
julieandrews: (Default)
I'm going to just focus on the covers and very little of the rest of the discussion going on in multiple venues. And while it may seem I'm picking on Realms... as last year it seemed people were picking on Eclipse... they're basically just good, recent examples to get the discussion going. They're hardly the sole source of the problem.

Looking at the Realms of Fantasy covers here (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] oldcharliebrown for the link) and here (Google images), I took a look at what I liked and didn't like about them.

The absolutely worst one is Xena, followed close by Harry Potter. They're not advertising what the magazine is about. They're saying 'Like Starlog? Buy me too!' They're giving the impression that it's an sf/f entertainment magazine. And it only very slightly is. It's an original fiction magazine, and those covers don't say that at all. At best they could indicate Xena fanfiction is inside.. except fan magazines would have more interesting Xena-inspired artwork on their covers.

My favorite one (not having seen a full range of all covers, granted) is this one. There's a story there! There's a promise of motherhood, which you don't see all that often in sf/f. I'm not into motherhood as a theme personally, but it's different. And the characters aren't white! And one has wings! I may not like the story that artwork is based on, but at least I know it's going to give me a point of view I don't commonly get. There's even the possibility I read the gender wrong and that's fatherhood on the cover, which would actually be slightly more cool.

I'm also drawn to the covers with dragons on them. Even though the dragons are run-of-the-mill and not quite the style I like, they're still dragons. Love me some dragons. Now, this one doesn't fair well in the smaller size (aka, from further away), but closer up, it's way cool. That's an atypical dragon, hoarding a typical stash of gold, but drinking tea. That dragon says "I look Chinese, but I'm British through and through."

Horses? Eh. Unicorns? Slightly better. People with swords? Been there, done that.

The later covers are prettier (but is that a picture from Watchmen? What the heck?), but not necessarily more appealling to me. Showing me a character without showing me why I should be interested in that character is not going to attract me. Show me some hint of conflict, or plot, or emotion at least.

And there's only one thing this one from October 2001 is saying.

So my, admittedly layperson's view is:

1. Don't use movies/TV shows to try to sell magazines. It's lame.
2. When commissioning the artwork, tell the artist to look at the whole story, not just an interesting character in it. Pull out a theme, or a scene. Give us more than a character.
3. Don't be so afraid to have men on the cover.
4. Don't be afraid to toss in some boys and girls as well.
5. When you do have a woman, she doesn't need to be an idealized beauty. Wrinkles are a bonus.
6. Leave out human-esque figures entirely sometimes. We can handle viewing dragons or squid as main characters. And landscape can be cool too.
7. Don't forget the cats.

Oh, hey, this one is pretty cool. Is the secret to have Terri Windling in the issue? She seems to have all the best covers.
julieandrews: (Default)
I just finished reading the last book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore series. Well, last published one. I don't know if she plans more.

Some spoilers for the entire series will follow, but I'm not going to bother with a cut tag.

Taken as a whole, the series seems to me to be about two themes. One, slavery in several different forms and two, reading and knowledge.

I think when Americans think of slavery, the first thing that comes to mind is blacks working on Southern plantations. And if we think a bit harder, we might come up with examples from the Bible and Moses leading Egyptian slaves to freedom. And maybe that will lead us to think of Roman slavery. But it probably pretty much ends there. (Or, if we're geeky Americans like myself, we might think of the Tenctonese.) So the books provide for us a different way, actually several different ways, of looking at slavery. And it's even hard for me to explain the different types in each book in a succinct fashion, because Le Guin has done such a great job of creating a number of different rich societies in these books. You might call the first serfs, the second book an occupied city, and the third book something that comes closest to the history of US slavery. But they're all more complicated than that and tied to the notions of family.

As for the reading, that just touches my geeky little heart. And I imagine for any nongeeks who might pick this up, it'll at least touch their bookwormy heart, which is a close relative. The main character in the first book learns to read from his mother, while the rest of the community around him is illiterate and uninterested. The character in the second book, her city is occupied by soldiers to whom books are evil and have been worse than banned, but she learns in secret from the city's hidden cache of books. And the character in the third is living in a literate society in a family who believes in educating everyone, including the slaves. And he is meant to grow up to be the teacher of the next generation of the family's children and young slaves. So you've got an instant bond with all these main characters, as well as stories and knowledge continuing to be a theme throughout all the books.

I liked all the main characters quite well. The second book is the one with a female main character, though, and I ended up rather disappointed by the end of it. One of the problems with first person narration is that your main character needs to be there for everything important, or you'll be reporting things secondhand. And there were a number of times this happened in the book. It wouldn't have been true to the character, perhaps, to have been there as witness, but it was rather annoying to me as a reader to hear her talking about how she heard about this. It put me at a remove, and it took her out of the action. And I just find it particularly problematic because she's the only female lead in any of these books. She's not exactly passive, but the character from the first book who's coming over into this one seems to be playing more of a role in some of the crucial bits. If it wasn't Le Guin, I'd probably be a bit harsher in my criticism, but I do cut her some slack. I have to think she knew what she was doing.. but I just can't figure out why.

Another odd thing that struck me was skin color. In the first book, I didn't notice much reference to skin color. Was it me not noticing? Not caring? Or was it less of a big deal in that book in particular.. with the next two characters caring about their lineage and appearance a lot more? Did it have something to do with the cover? Because the editions I read, the first cover looked like this. Two small silhouettes. Whereas the next two books looked like this (a closeup of a young black woman) and this (a similar closeup of a black teen boy). No way a white reader can comfortably pretend to not know what color the main character (and everyone else) is.

I noticed that the newer edition of the first book looks like this (a closeup but with dark hair obscuring more than half the face). This leads me to the conclusion that the publisher wanted all the books to look alike once they had a series on their hands. But that first cover is still odd. You can't see his face. And I couldn't tell you what color he is.

Is this meant to sucker in the white readers? Hey, look, here's a cool book. Oh, now you liked that book? Then you won't mind we put a black girl on the next one, right?

What's going on here exactly?

Me, personally, while I love Memer's hair, it's the cover of the third book that appeals to me the most. Though.. on further thought, it's probably the second book that would stand out the most on a shelf and is probably the one I noticed first. Not that I read them on the basis of the covers, but because I knew they were new Le Guin YA fantasies.

Covers aside, let me conclude this post by highly recommending this series to anyone who likes fantasy, regardless of age. You're allowed to get books out of the YA section, honestly you are. And they're not all about teenage vampire angst. (Though some of them are good too.)

And if you haven't read any Le Guin, well, then.. as good a place to start as any, just so long as you do start!


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