Or: praise of futures past

A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the bargain bin at Strand titled Mechanismo. When the guy ringing me up at the checkout counter came upon it in my stack, he stopped, flipped through it quickly and somewhat sheepishly, and alerted a buddy standing a few registers down. They admired it together. I remember thinking, “Well, guess that one is Nonist worthy.” The book, published in 1978, is essentially a collection of essays by the venerable Harry Harrison on all things science-fictional. What makes the book standout, however, is the bounty of 70’s era sci-fi illustrations contained within, and it’s some of these that I’d like to share with you.

01.12. filed under: art. books. science. space.

Gorgeous and creepy all at once. Great stuff. Thanks so much for posting these. I’ve always loved the illustrations Daniel Mróz did for Stanislaw Lem’s The Cyberiad, and I assumed those would simply remain my favorite sci-fi lit illustrations. These open up a new bloom in the brain.

posted on 01.12 at 10:29 PMjanuarista

Angus McKie, one of those artists pictured, created a comics series called “The Blue Lily” back in the early 1990s for Dark Horse comics.  It’s a noir-style mystery, except it’s a future world peopled by humans and intelligent robots, complete with the lead character being named Spade and wearing a fedora.  It’s very text-heavy, getting into some philosophical discussion and ideas through the narration of the characters. 

It was to be a 4-issue series, I think, but only the first two issues were ever published.  It drives me crazy - it’s a mystery that can’t ever be solved, because the rest of the story just doesn’t exist.

There’s an idea for a nonist post: permanently unfinished books.

posted on 01.12 at 11:32 PMJustin Sherrill

Thank you.  This brought back a lot of memories.  I had books with several of those pictures in them back then.  One or two I believe were published in the old “Omni” magazine.

I think the authors “dreamed big” back then.  Remembering my collection of “Analog” magazines, I remember every topic seemed open for exploration, with a sense of drive and energy.  I could detect a change in style, becoming more angrier, as the 80s progressed.

Thanks for this reminder, creating a nostalgic trip and bringing back some pleasant expansive memories.

ps - I’m glad you decided to return to writing The Nonist after your hiatus.

posted on 01.13 at 01:21 PM.

These are very much in the vein of Omni magazine illustrations (Omni ran from about 1978 to about 1994, and while it existed I hardly ever missed an issue. Probably I still have a few in the closet. Good god, did I ever have a hard-on for the future back then!

The walking cities illustration may be for a piece by Orson Scott Card, tho I’m not positive. I’m unable to recall the title, even by googly means, but he did such a story.

posted on 01.13 at 02:24 PM.

@Justin: The Blue Lily sounds a bit, atmospherically at least, like Mike Magnolia’s Screw On Head. Shame

@Januarista: Yeah The Cyberiad is a fave of mine as well. Since you mention it I may as well link the page of Mroz’s illustrations for everyone else.

@Mark & Tom: Funny that the two of you both mentioned Omni. That’s exactly what I was thinking when I bought the book. Well, that and Heavy Metal of course.

posted on 01.14 at 09:15 AMjmorrison

These pictures remind me of another book first published in 1978: the optimistically-titled Spacecraft 2000-2100 AD, as issued by the ‘Terran Trade Authority.’ As an 10/11 year-old nerd-in-the-making, I considered it as cool a book as there could possibly be…

posted on 01.14 at 09:50 AM.

Jim Burns’ “Lightship” is one of my favourite SF illustration books.
I’d also recommend the collection “Infinite Worlds”

posted on 01.14 at 10:45 AMsimon

I am not sure if it’s the artwork that makes me cringe or the fact that it reminds me of a certain period in my life during which I dug this stuff, along with Roger Dean-type airbrushed dragons and probably Genesis albums.
Yet I love earlier sci-fi illustration. I don’t know why - the older artists were not technically superior. Maybe the 70’s stuff just appears to take itself a bit too seriously. A broad generalization, I know.

posted on 01.14 at 06:23 PM.

I was about to say Heavy Metal had more breasts, but you seem to approach the correct level of abundance. re: Michelangelo’s comment that “the 70’s stuff just appears to take itself a bit too seriously,” I see that, but I think the illustrators felt their time to be seen as artists had come (before that, they were generally disposable peons, as far as I can tell, an even more wretched form of life than the amphetamine-drenched, underpaid, pale-as-cave-fish writers; see Kavalier & Clay).

posted on 01.14 at 11:44 PM.

I thought of Omni and Heavy Metal, too. Thanks Morrison!

posted on 01.15 at 05:31 AMJoe Moran

I remember this book well, partly because it was widely remaindered in the UK. I don’t think I had a copy, however, as I was growing bored with sf art by the time it appeared. But friends did since books like this were popular reading material when people were getting stoned.

Odd for me to see the pictures now as they’re all like old friends although I don’t remember Russell Mills being in it. His style evolved rather rapidly after that to more of an illustration/design/fine art thing and he did a lot of great album sleeves for Eno and others throughout the 80s.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Burns some years ago, a very nice fellow. He and Harry Harrison collaborated after this on an illustrated book entitled Planet Story. And I ended up working with Angus McKie on a comic book in the 90s. Makes me wonder what he’s up to these days.

posted on 01.25 at 03:48 PMJohn Coulthart

Great pictures, thanks for sharing! They are really neat.

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posted on 02.06 at 02:58 PMBill

Creepy but badass at the same time. Friend from online community told me about it, thx.

posted on 02.21 at 10:29 AM.

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