Science fiction and fantasy                                            


Musings and rants

La Revolution: A Series For Our Time
In the television series La Revolution, French aristocrats are afflicted by a mysterious disease, whilst peasants go missing in suspicious circumstances.

Pandemic Reading
As the Covid pandemic rages, it has affected the way we read in a number of ways.

Reading Resolutions For The New Decade
Here are seven reading resolutions suitable for the 2020s.

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

The Hobbit  
The Last Guardian  
Empire State  
Shadow and Bone  
The Assassins Curse  
Zenn Scarlett  
The Farm  
  Black Lung Captain
  Empire Of The Saviours
  Between Two Thorns
  Last Blood
  Cold Steel

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?

17th February 2013

In July I'll be releasing my novella, The Secret Eater, and choosing a cover art style has been part of that process. One of the pieces of advice I've noticed in several places is that a modern cover has to look good as a thumbnail. For many readers the first time they see a book cover it's going to be a tiny image on a screen. Goodreads, for instance, makes a lot of use of 50 by 75 pixel thumbnails, whilst Amazon uses a range of sizes, some as little as 50px high. As people move from discovering books in bookshops and libraries to finding them online, how will that affect the way they look?


I'm really drawn to epic landscapes, especially those with towering mountains that dwarf the main characters. But on the whole they don't work at smaller resolutions. This subtle version of The Hobbit, first printed in 1999, becomes a muddy blur when it's shrunk. The same sort of thing is true of this French edition of The Last Guardian brought out by Bragelonne.

It may just be me, but I'm hard-pressed to think of many recent covers which feature detailed landscapes. Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay series is an exception. The recent cover for Empire of the Saviours by A J Dalton also bucks the general trend, although it's the figure of the hero who takes centre stage as much as the mountains in the distance.

So what does work in smaller sizes?

I've notice a lot of new covers coming out with big, elaborate fonts. Abstract or stylised artwork which allows for simpler blocks of colour also seems to work well. I don't think it's any accident that a lot of these covers feature some combination of red, black and white. I'm particularly taken with the high contrast artwork on Last Blood. Silhouettes, such as on the cover of Zenn Scarlett, can be effective. Figures and faces also seem to work well both in small sizes and when you zoom in to examine the fine detail. And that's the trick: there's no standard size for displaying cover images, so the best ones need to work at any reasonable scale.

There are so many books published every year that I could have chosen covers to illustrate any style I liked, and called it a trend. So ultimately this is no more than my opinion about what's eye-catching, and what might be on the way out. There's no doubt fantasy cover illustration has moved on since the eighties and nineties, and often it's got better, certainly at the top end of publishing. But it's a different type of better, with fewer sweeping vistas and more saturated close-ups of characters or simplified designs.

Do you agree?