Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cover Problems

I'm starting to a bit sorry for Syne Mitchell. I'm reading her latest novel, The Last Mortal Man, as a bit of pleasure reading before I continue reading the books I have promised to write reviews for. Thus far, it's a nice little read -- well paced, with nicely drawn-out characters and a slightly different take on the nanotechnology than I recall reading before. However, the publisher, Roc, has done her a disservice in the back cover summary and in the cover illustration.

The back cover summary starts as follows: "In the twenty-fourth century..." Already, we have a problem. The main narrative of this book takes place in 2186 (a number of events, back story for the main event, take place beforehand). I know I haven't had my math skills rigorously tested in a while, but I figure that as the late twenty-second century. Big difference. Actually, it has little bearing on the events of the story, but some copy editor or fact checker could have easily caught that slip.

Then, there's the cover.

There are a few problems with this illustration:

  1. Assuming that's supposed to be Jack, one of our protagonists, on the cover, this scene doesn't exist in the book. The destruction of Manhattan takes place off-stage and he is nowhere near it when it happens. In fact, he only sees live pictures of its destruction.
  2. Jack is deathly allergic to the nano-designed biology that encompasses the earth, and anytime he's in a major metropolitan area, he needs a full-body isolation suit for protection.
  3. If that's not Jack, then this is a very unusual human being, because nearly every adult on the planet has undergone some sort of nano-engineering. And unless he is unmodified, he should be dying from the very thing destroying New York.

I don't know much about how these things happen in the publishing world. But clearly, Roc has done a major disservice to Ms. Mitchell in handling the cover of her book.


Blogger Jacob said...

Isaac Asimov wrote an article on this named "Metaphor" (from the book Gold. A reader had complained that he bought a book with a man with a blaster rifle in an ancient roman military uniform (Isaac Asimov Presents: Agent of Byzantium) but the book itself didn't contain that scene, indeed it would be impossible since it was in a far less technological universe. Asimov contains however that though it wasn't faithful to the literal meaning of the story it was faithful to the spirit. The contrast of the man with Constantinople in the background implied an alternate reality novel.

As Asimov says: "If you ask an artist to illustrate a piece of writing precisely, you make him a slave to the literal word. You suppress his creativity and impugn the independence of his mind and ability." In the case you cite, the artist illustrates the nature of the novel: that the Earth is dying (and so is life).

Regardless, the point of the cover is to sell books and by presenting something dramatic it can help do that, hardly a "major disservice". The destruction of Manhattan is pretty dramatic, and by moving it from offscreen to on the artist creates a better, and more importantly, more lucretive piece.

2:11 AM, July 24, 2006  
Blogger Matthew Appleton said...

Jacob, you have a good point. In fact, the artwork for Last Mortal Man succeeds in conveying the basic premise of the novel. I guess my beef arose because the artist was so close to portraying an actual scene that I found the differences jarring.

12:01 PM, August 02, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home