Armageddon tired of books without pictures


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“This afternoon, having found myself completely by accident in some sort of slave market, was really horrified to see girls pirated from convoys being sold off. They’re obviously doped up to the eyeballs. They’ll need to be.”

Diary of a Spaceperson by Chris Foss, Dragon’s World Ltd, Limpsfield, 1990

Reviewed by Everard Cunion in March 2011

The nearly 70 full colour paintings (all created more than 20 years ago as I write this) in this book are Foss’s trademark hulking spaceships, city blocks that resemble battleships and railway locomotives, and huge bipedal robots – the latter usually coming to grief.

Cover art

Cover art

The black and white (and gray shaded) drawings, of which there are more than 70, are mostly simpler than the paintings and nearly all involve topless young women strutting their stuff. Many of those women are surrounded by leering alien beings amid urban clutter reminiscent of the bizarre structures that used to be seen on Britain’s railway system. While the paintings are nearly all elaborate and printed full page or double page, many of the drawings are smaller.

One drawing depicts inter-species rape, the eventual outcome of which is the reversal of the Armageddon I refer to in the title of this article. Politically correct, this book is not.

Some stories written to go along with sci-fi paintings are rather thin, but Diary of a Spaceperson is engaging enough. It is written from the point of view of a young woman and the text is entirely composed of a series of entries in her diary. There is plenty of implied lesbianism—both in the text and in the drawings—and the story reveals the main character’s progression from youthful optimism to jaded cynicism.

“Give me a Foss – any Foss”

When Peter Jones started to paint covers for science fiction, art directors told him, “Give me a Foss – any Foss.” (See Armageddon II: Solar Wind.) Jones is one of the most talented artists around, but that statement demonstrates the state of affairs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While many previous artists laid the foundation (including the pioneer sci-fi artists such as Chesley Bonestell) Foss’s work represented a quantum leap that defined a new yardstick in quality and imagination.

This book constitutes a grand tour of Foss’s 1980s work.

Criticisms

At one point in the book the narrative starts to become repetitive, as if Foss had left it for a while before picking it up again – and in the meantime had lost the plot. However, it is a brief lapse and the adventure quickly resumes its progression towards the climax.

Some of the elements in the story do not quite hang together. For example, the main character, known simply as J, flies over an extensive desert when low on fuel, glider style, using thermals to remain aloft. She somehow manages this for two days. Thermaling at night? And, by ‘low on fuel’ we’re talking only a couple of light years. Just how big a planetary surface is this? And, while I am at it, few of the craft depicted have wings; normally considered essential accessories for gliding…

To be fair, the book is clearly not in the category of serious science-fiction. Having said that, the astute reader will find the answer to a minor mystery that J puzzles over. The mystery is an apparent outdoor landscape (a world) inside a building, but one you can traverse without running into a wall. The answer is in a painting that depicts a design of space habitat studied extensively in the 1970s. (The Foss painting depicts pre-fabricated civil engineering on a colossal scale.)

Back cover art

This drawing of J, the viewpoint character, was colorized for the back cover.

Conclusions

Foss’s art – both sci-fi paintings and girly drawings – are likely to appeal to the individual who, like me, grew up during the space race of the 1960s and ‘70s and could not wait to strut their own stuff at the controls of space ships, gliders (Neil Armstrong is a noted glider pilot) or hover-bikes, and in so doing –as a by-product– make off with some gorgeous women.

As well as embodying Foss’s strong use of contrast both in colour and texture, some of the paintings have tremendous detail. The pages measure 12 inches by eight (some paintings are double spread) so you can spend hours just appreciating them.

The impact of this genre of science fiction depends in large measure on the clash between two viewpoints: Like proverbial cave men, we marvel at the astonishing size, complexity, and mystery of life in this possible future. In contrast, those who live in that time (J, in this story) take the technology much for granted, finding meaning in aspects of life with which we also readily identify. This book is a fine example of that narrative art.

Related (internal links)

Among friends, my review of The Alien Way by Gordon R. Dickson, 1965

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