Wednesday, July 5, 2023

When did Sci-Fi get so boring?

Note – this isn’t referring to the actual stories, there are plenty of good stories out there, I’m talking about the visual appeal of the sci-fi shelf in bookstores.

When I was in my teens, if I had a few minutes to spare on my way to catch the bus home from school I’d often drop into one of the bookstores I passed. I wasn’t particularly looking for something to buy, I would simply feast my eyes on the cover art on display. These were the days of Asimov, Heinlein, Doc Smith, Herbert et. al.

The covers were bright, vibrant, thought-provoking, and above all – imaginative. They begged questions – what’s happening here? Who are these people? What would it be like to live there? These images, decades later, still serve as inspiration for my own art.

Recently, I had half an hour to kill waiting for a picture frame to be put together, so I wandered across the road to a bookstore. I walked out a little while later despairing for the future of my chosen genre, because there was nothing inspiring in sight.

Most of the traditionally-published covers on show seemed to fall into one of three common groups.

Stylized to death: Maybe I’m just out of touch, but I can’t forgive what Jim Tierney did to the Dune series. He isn’t alone, though. There were other covers consisting of plain geometric shapes that IMO do nothing to entice a potential reader. Boring and pretentious.

Wishy-washy: While keeping close in appearance to traditional covers, these have had the life sucked out of them as if the artist was afraid to commit to a clear picture. Distant ships and space stations obscured in an airbrushed pastel haze. A kind of Disneyfied view of space – no hard edges or nasty harsh vacuum here!

CGI perfection: Also close to traditional, these go to the other extreme. Ships and assorted space hardware rendered too perfectly to be true. And always against the obligatory backdrop of sun peeping over the horizon of a planet. Boring and sterile.

But my biggest complaint across the board was a lack of imagination. All three groups come across as generic and dull. After the first few in each group, they all blended into each other, nothing unique or distinctive about them.

Am I just imagining it? Am I being too harsh?

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