I know. I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover. This age old adage rings true in a number of life’s scenarios. And when taken literally with actual novels, the meaning really hits home. However, I recently read the novel, Kop by Warren Hammond (I finished it just before I started blogging again). This was a great book!
True grit, anti-heroes, and a great detective story to boot. I have to admit, the cover design (by the talented Christian McGrath, whose repertoire includes other popular titles like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series) caught my eye. When I saw the book on the shelf in the bookstore, I thought, “Hmm. That looks quite interesting. Why is that city so dirty and crowded? Who pissed off that dude? Is that his girlfriend? Why is he carrying?”
After a quick barcode scan with the iPhone I pulled up the reviews on Amazon. From there it shot to the top of my must-read-next list.
So a few days later, I settle into the book and after reading through the “self-description” of the main character, I’m a little taken aback. Juno describes himself as:
“slightly darker than average skin and barely kinked hair were the last remnants of my diluted African blood.”
What?! This was certainly a welcome surprise. It’s not often that I read a scifi novel where the main character isn’t white.
But this description did not square with the cover. Juno is not some rough and tumble non-latin looking white guy that I originally imagined. After reading through the author’s description, my mind’s eye saw something like the picture of Laz Alonso at right instead…
Why is this? Juno’s ethnicity has nothing to do with the story. It’s just who he is. The fact that he is of African descent is only mentioned in the story when the author needs to describe how Juno looks to the reader. That’s it!
Personally, I was very impressed that most all of the characters in the book were of one hue or another and not just cornbread white with cornbread white names and cornbread white backgrounds: Jim, John, Robert, Sarah, Jane, Emily. In my opinion, Hammond did a great job with fleshing out a more realistic and likely future where all of humanity has expanded out into the stars and not just white Americans.
So why the switcharoo on the cover art? Why not use an image of Juno that the author writes as having “brown” skin? Would the novel have been less appealing to a book shopper with a “minority” on the cover? Does it matter?
The purpose of the cover art is to attract the eye of a casual browser (like me). It should say, “HEY! Over here!” And once it has your attention, it should give you some semblance of what you will encounter as you dive into its covers. The cover for KOP definitely did that for me. But…but….but….
I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t think I even have an opinion. I thought that I had long reached the place where these types of quirks about race and ethnicity didn’t bother me much. America will be America. But, here I am blogging about it. I would love to hear a comment or two from the author or the artist. Maybe they’ll stumble across this blog entry.
What do you think?
Drop me a comment…
Last week, I blogged about the ongoing development of exoskeletons which was inspired by mechas that were in a book about Mars that caught my eye because of the cover art (whew!). After writing that post, I thought I’d find the artist and drop him/her an email and let them know how badass I think their work is. It was a little hard to find, but I eventually found my way over to Kurt Miller’s KMI Studios site (note: Kurt also did the cover for The Last Centurion (image at left), which was a bangin read too). After browsing around his art gallery (his work is pretty prolific), I sent him some SMTP love. To my surprise, he wrote back and showed a lot of gratitude. Classy…
So this post is dedicated to those cover artists that help us to visualize the stories we love. Here are a few artists whose work was featured on some of my most recent reads:
- John Harris – Jack McDevitt’s “The Devil’s Eye”
- Chris Moore – Alastair Reynolds’ “Revelation Space”
- Larry Rostant– S. M. Stirling’s “Dies The Fire”
- Yuko Shimizu – Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother”
- Peter Bollinger – Jack Campbell’s “The Lost Fleet”
- Tomer Hanuka – “The Darker Mask” Anthology