We here at Transfer Orbit love a good book cover, and some recent news from Orbit caught our eye. The publisher is reissuing Iain M. Banks' entire catalog with a series of new covers. The new covers will include his entire Culture series and his standalone books.
There's been a trend in recent years towards a sort of minimalism in book covers, brought on by the tiny thumbnails that you see on online shopping platforms, rather than the physical bookstore shelves that you used to find books on. Orbit recently did this with Ann Leckie's back catalog, Tor did the same with V.E. Schwab's Threads of Power series with the release of her latest book, The Fragile Threads of Power, Penguin Random House changed up the art for Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy a couple of years ago, and Ace re-released the first three Dune novels as special editions with new, minimalist covers (in addition to the entire mass market paperback lineup a couple years ago.)
Recently, I spoke with a friend who has an upcoming book, and they showed me a series of cover concepts that they and their publisher were considering: a mix of overly minimalist and richer ideas. I also was part of the design process for the Vermont Historical Society's cover for our latest book about eugenics, and in both cases, the covers have turned out to be a little more minimal and stark, simply to convey something about the book to shoppers who'll be primarily buying the book online. My own cover for Cosplay: A History underwent some considerable changes: my heart sank when I saw the first, super-minimal design that the marketing folks proposed, and we had to push back hard to get the current cover. I'm happy we did.
These are sometimes hit or miss: I absolutely love the fantastic John Harris art for Ann Leckie's series and think that it's a downgrade, and the same for Schwab's old covers for her trilogy. That said, I do like the new covers for Dune, and I have to say, these covers for Banks' novels are really slick: they walk the line between being just lines and having some depth to them, and feel really retro and cosmic. I also wasn't particularly taken with the recent slate of covers that existed for the series, so that probably factors into my acceptance somewhere there.
Minimalism isn't a bad thing: there are certainly no shortage of that style of cover going back through science fiction history, and I don't think that we're headed for a future where all covers are going to be just white lines on a colored surface. But I do hope that we'll see more vibrant artwork over design: I've always felt that a cover helps set the tone, and I love a good, well-illustrated scene.
I definitely won't part with my copy of Consider Phlebas from The Folio Society – that's a beautiful edition right there, but I might end up snagging one or two of these when they come out. According to Orbit, they'll be released in the UK on November 30th, and sometime later in the US. It's also not the only thing that we'll see from Iain M. Banks this year: Orbit will be releasing an art book, The Culture: The Drawings on November 7th.