The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers Book cover art can be a beautiful thing, an ugly thing, or a beatifically ugly thing. While all book genres have their share of awful book covers, science fiction and fantasy books are the most likely to have awesomely bad covers. With literary fiction, bad covers tend to be simply boring. But when you wander into the sci-fi/fantasy section of a book store, boring turns bizarre.

Part of the joy of bad sci-fi and fantasy covers surely comes from the fact that they are often paintings. Instead of a lazily designed poetry collection, where some overworked graphic designer slaps a font over a stock photo of trees, we know that someone actually spent hours painting these things. The cover was planned, sketched, and painted without the artist ever thinking, “Wait, maybe a sexy blond centaur whose arms morph into more sexy centaurs isn’t a great idea.” It helps that science fiction and fantasy, as genres of the unreal and magical, lend themselves to the bizarre and the unintentionally absurd to begin with.

The joys of awful sci-fi/fantasy covers have long been celebrated. There are many websites and pages devoted to them, such as Good Show Sir – only the worst Sci-Fi/Fantasy book covers (from which some of these were taken). Having wasted enough of my afternoon reading through these lists, I present to you the 20 mostly awesomely bad sci-fi and fantasy covers. Or 19 after the Ray Bradbury centaur cover. In no particular order:

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Being able to surf across a lake on tigers is already pretty badass, but check out the mace that swings other maces.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Some near-nude barbarians surf on tigers, others on whales.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book CoversThe Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Remember on The Simpsons when a bunch of suits get together to create a new character for The Itchy & Scratchy Show and just throw a bunch of teenage cliches together? “Can we put him in more of a “hip-hop” context?” “Forget context, he’s gotta be a surfer. Give me a nice shmear of surfer.” “I feel we should rastafy him by … ten percent or so.”

These two covers represent that impulse for little boy and girl SF readers.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

I’d probably stay a virgin on a planet where women have black holes for genitalia.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

I’m actually posting this cover more for the amazing title, Get Off the Unicorn, than the art. Although it helps that the art has nothing to do with getting on or off unicorns.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

This is one space park ranger that knows how to strike a pose. This cover also has five different fonts.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

This cover crops up on a lot of these types of lists, but you have to love how this ninja fights perpendicularly to his opponent.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Yes, that is a swan vomiting flames running next to a woman holding a banner of a swan vomiting flames.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Luckily they subtitle it “a science fiction novel” so we aren’t confused.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

I really hope the title’s pun is intentional.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

The land where third nipples have the power to emit ghosts.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Strategically placed award sticker.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Teens! You too can travel through time by asphyxiating with plastic bags.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

We are down to the final five here. Gladiator-At-Law deserves a spot on the awesomely bad titles list too, but check out the torch lightsabers used in this futuristic combat.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Nothing screams science fiction like a typewriter with a bowtie.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

This is straight up Doctor Doom drawing a pentagram with a novelty dagger.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series is one of the best selling and longest running (fourteen books spanning twenty-one years so far) fantasy series of all time. Indeed it sold so well and lasted so long that Jordan actually passed away before completing it, although Brandon Sanderson was chosen to continue the series. You’d never guess these books had sold more than 10 copies by the cover art though.

The Joys of Awful Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Covers

I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite awesomely bad cover. It has everything: warrior monks whose outfits are sponsored by McDonald’s, bizarre slant perspective, and sexy barbarian woman being held back by a fat redneck monk who has a crew-cut t-shirt under his karate gi. Brilliant.

Any that I missed? Feel free to post in the comments.

Lincoln Michel keeps a personal blog at lincolnmichel.com and tweets @TheLincoln. His work appears or is forthcoming in Tin House, Oxford American, The Believer, NOON, Bookforum, and elsewhere. He is ...read more

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