Misjudging A Book By Its Cover (In A Good Way)

The Killer Mice by Kit Reed. Cover art by Peter Andrew Jones

The Killer Mice by Kit Reed. Cover art by Peter Andrew Jones

The recent furore over fantasy author Terry Goodkind‘s comments about the cover of his novel Shroud of Eternity has provoked some fierce debate and criticism over the past week, leading to a forthright apology for offence caused to artist Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme.

The condemnation for publicly decrying the work of a fellow professional aside, the debacle again raised some more interesting general discussion and the battles between authors hoping the actual story would be represented by the cover, as well as fulfilling the requirements to feature art that leaps off the book shop shelf and encourages purchase.

Fenris by Stephen Gallagher

The publisher of this edition of Stephen Gallagher’s Fenris used art by Boris Vallejo under secondary rights. The wolf is “slightly relevant”

Several authors pointed to covers for their work that bore little or no relation to the story inside, including horror writer Stephen Gallagher, who highlighted how publisher Heyne decided to promote his novel Follower – which features a soul-devouring spirit in a small town in modern Norway in deep winter, with a “spam-in-a-cabin finale” using a Boris Vallejo, second rights usage cover.

(Yes, apparently the wolf is slightly relevant).

In the case of The Killer Mice, a 1970s SF-leaning short story collection I came across in my local Oxfam a while back, however, it turned out the cover was actually more relevant than the title.

The Killer Mice is written by Kit Reed and was published by Corgi Books, which features an uncredited cover  by Peter Andrew Jones. (In future, I will know to look more closely for his distinctive PAJ signature, nestling in the right hand corner of this art).

The tantalising title aside, its origins revealed below by Kit herself, Peter’s art helped sell the book to me when I came across it – just like his work (and that of others, such as Chris Foss and Chris Achilleos) did back when TheKiller Mice first appeared.

It’s a testament to Peter’s skill that he’s helped introduce me, also, to a terrific speculative fiction writer, both through her work and online.

A little disappointingly, it turned out there were no killer mice in the collection. But some of the short stories in this collection are great – an enjoyable mix of more traditional short sharp SF with more speculative work, including some great tales that lean more toward horror than SF, such as “The Vine”, which seems to be the inspiration for the cover – albeit very loosely. If you can find a copy in your local charity or secondhand book shop, do give it a try.

Somehow I don't think the cover of the Gollancz edition of The Killer Mice would have had the same appeal as Peter Andrew Jones Corgi book cover - but Brian Aldiss' praise for Kit's work is bang on.

Somehow I don’t think the cover of the Gollancz edition of The Killer Mice would have had the same appeal as Peter Andrew Jones Corgi book cover – but Brian Aldiss’ praise for Kit’s work is bang on.

“[It’s an] interesting collection,” Kit Reed acknowledged when I asked her if she recalled anything about the reasons for the book title and the cover. “Gollancz published the hardcover. Some stories [were] never collected elsewhere. A friend dreamed the title.

“Hilary Rubinstein, then of A.P. Watt, sold The Killer Mice collection to Gollancz, who brought it out in hardcover in 1976.

Kit Reed, who describes her own work as “”transgenred”, has gone on from being simply “one of the bright new talents in SF” as described on the Corgi Books cover to becoming an established veteran of speculative fiction, described by Publishers Weekly as “one of our brightest cultural commentators”. Her latest novel, Where, set in the tidelands of South Carolina, a story in which the population of an entire island vanishes. Mormana, scheduled for spring, 2017, unfolds in sort-of ‘ancestral’ territory, a deteriorating mansion on a once-distinguished street in Jacksonville, Florida.

Recent books include Son of Destruction and The Story Until Now, with an introduction by Gary K. Wolfe. The collection features some Reed classics as well as her personal favourites over several decades, including six new stories, never before collected. Both The Story Until Now and her 2011 collection What Wolves Know were Shirley Jackson award nominees in 2011 and 2013.

Of Peter’s gorgeous art, Kit tells me no-one asked her about it, telling me “it is quite distinctive”.

Peter Andrew Jones is perhaps best known to many downthetubes readers for his memorable cover for the first Fighting Fantasy book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but he’s created cover art for literally hundreds of science fiction, fantasy and role playing products for publishers around the world down the years. 

Creating professional fantasy and SF art worldwide since 1973, he’s now entirely self published.

Peter has titled The Killer Mice cover art “Garden of Dreams” and a new version – a parallel piece – features in a collection of his work, Solar Wind Volume Two.

“Parallel pieces were normally created by the artist at the same time as experiments, as artist-choices as to which piece would be supplied to the publisher,” Peter’s partner Deborah explains on his official web site. “Artistic preference.

Garden of Dreams by Peter Andrew Jones

Garden of Dreams by Peter Andrew Jones

“In this case, the parallel piece came about because, for reasons the artist has never been able to fathom, unlike his studio’s normal and diligent practice, when it came to fulfilling a secondary request from another publisher to supply a transparency of the art, it could not be located in the artist’s archive, meaning the only way the request could be fulfilled, since the original version of the painting had been sold, was to re-paint it.

“It was an interesting experiment in creating a painting that was like the original but then again not actually like the initial version, an exercise in how to create it again and yet make a new artistic statement.”

The way a novel is “seen” by author, cover artist and publisher are often all very different. Sometimes, they even agree!

• Kit Reed is at www.kitreed.net | Follow Kit on Twitter @TheRealKitReed

• Peter Andrew Jones is at www.peterandrewjones.net | Facebook | @pajartstudioPinterest

Categories: Art and Illustration, downthetubes News, Other Worlds

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