I am designing the cover to episode four of my series of sci-fi novels at the moment. Only a few thousand words are written as of yet, but that just means I have plenty of time to work on it in tandem with writing the actual book. I’m designing the cover using Blender, an open source 3D modeling suite advanced enough to create the model spaceship for the cover and the typography, and almost anything else I can think of.
I already have a half way decent looking spaceship, though it still needs work. I also have some nice text, even if it is a little retro, and I have the beginnings of an artificial planet in the background. Blender could even create the background starscape, but I cheated and used a picture taken by a European Space Agency telescope. Once all these elements are in place, Blender allows you to place them in a virtual studio, set up virtual lights and take virtual photographs of them, a process called rendering.
I haven’t set up very many lights yet, and the ones I have put in place are quite muted, which results in quite a dark scene. The thing is, I quite like the darkness of the scene. This has me wondering whether to give the spaceship a brighter paint job and flood the area with light, or leave the whole thing dark and brooding as it is at the moment.
There is lots of advice out there about writing a sci-fi book, and even advice on what font to use on your sci-fi book’s cover, but very little about the art itself. As usual, I don’t trust my own instincts, which are persuading me to stay dark, so I started Googling sci-fi novel cover art, to see if I could glean any kind of guidance. I started by Googling for dark cover art.
I found some very nice ones, including, The Temporal Void by Peter F. Hamilton, Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher, and The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu. I have read The Temporal Void, and I liked it even though I don’t think it’s Hamilton’s most successful work. I have read other books by Asher, such as The Technician from 2011 which I enjoyed, but not Dark Intelligence. A dark range of colors is perfect for his writing, at least if The Technician is anything to judge by. Only today I had the third book, The Dark Forest, in my hand at my local bookshop, debating with myself whether to buy it. In the end I decided instead for Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, another book with dark art on the cover. Then I searched for bright cover art.
I found some interesting, retro covers, and some modern ones, including Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. Of these three, it was Hyperion that surprised my the most. Anyone who has ever read the book will know that it is one of those strange books where sci-fi meets horror. The Shrike, for example, is a creature that would be equally at home in a horror movie. Wikipedia describes it thusly:
The Shrike is a menacing half-mechanical, half-organic four armed creature. The Shrike appears to act both autonomously and as a servant of some unknown force or entity… Surrounded in mystery, the object of fear, hatred, and even worship by members of the Church of the Final Atonement (the Shrike Cult), the Shrike’s origins are described as uncertain. It is portrayed as composed of razorwire, thorns, blades, and cutting edges, having fingers like scalpels and long, curved toe blades. It has the ability to control the flow of time, and may thus appear to travel infinitely fast. The Shrike may kill victims in a flash or it may transport them to an eternity of impalement upon an enormous artificial ‘Tree of Thorns,’ or ‘Tree of Pain’ in Hyperion’s distant future. The Tree of Thorns is described as unimaginably large, metallic tree, alive with the agonized writhing of countless human victims of all ages and races… The Shrike is also known as the Lord of Pain.
I started out reading Asimov and the colorful cover is perfect for the Golden Age sci-fi he was one of the masters of. Of the three the only one I haven’t read is John Scalzi, though I know he is quite famous for his political opinions on his blog. I just checked his blog out, and this post on his feminism is a nice one. All three books and authors on team “bright” are interesting, but I must say I indentify more strongly with the covers of team “dark”.
I am very much toying with the idea of keeping the cover to number four in the series dark, though another voice in my head is urging me to keep it looking like the previous three in the series, so as not to mess with my “brand” as a sci-fi author. The internet is full of advice on branding yourself as an author. So go with my gut and have a dark cover, or go with my brand and have another colorful cover, like the first four books in the series. Hmm…
There are still hundreds of thousands of words to write, and therefore there is still a lot of time for me to go backwards and forwards with this problem in my head. The cover of a novel is probably the most important element for grabbing a customer on line, and so it absolutely deserves very careful consideration. Right now though, I’m still tending toward dark.
Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy)
It may be a while before Drifter Prime sees the light of day, but you can start reading the series, so you can be ready for it when it comes. The fist sci-fi book I ever wrote, and stil the one that sells the best, is Galaxy Dog. It is the first book in the Dark Galaxy series and it is a story of adventure, spaceships, and rebellion across a galactic empire. A small group of friends, one woman, one man, and one robot incite a revolt and take on the might of the Tarazet Deep Space Navy. They find an immensely powerful alien spaceship so, even though the rebellion is extremely outnumbered, they still stand a chance. Galaxy Dog combines the action of military sci-fi with the heart of space opera. There are robots, aliens, space battles, and all the good things that make sci-fi so enjoyable. Galaxy Dog is available from Amazon right now, so just click the Amazon link and download a copy.