John Harris is hands down my favorite Science Fiction cover artist. I’m a simple man: I see his artwork on a book, I pick it up. Every single time. There’s just something about his work that is instantly recognizable and always draws me in. His covers have become so highly sought after that their inclusion on a book has become a personal indicator for me that a publisher has faith in that book. It’s a certain mark of quality, or almost a seal of approval. It says: “This book lives up to the John Harris cover”.
If you’ve read any Samuel Delany, Frederik Pohl, John Scalzi, Ann Leckie, Jack McDevitt, Ben Bova, Jack Vance, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Allen Steele, John Barnes, etc, then you’re most likely familiar with his artwork.
His paintings are absolutely dripping with massive scale, temperature, atmospheric motion, “otherness”, a marriage of the alien and the recognizable, and far future antiquity. He provides a real aged quality to everything he paints. Everything feels old and lived in: ancient ships, xeno-archaeological remnants, etc. He provides just enough detail to spark your imagination, but he leaves the edges blurred, ambiguous and almost out of focus, so you have to fill in the mental blanks yourself. It all has a photographic feel to it, although no one would confuse his painting for photographs. How he manages to do this with a paintbrush is beyond me. It’s like he thinks through a lense and paints it with a brush. Just like reading a story, you meet the artwork halfway with your own imagination and fill in the blanks.
I immensely enjoyed this collection because it not only had most of his gorgeous cover artwork, it also had earlier iterations and sketches of them, as well as sections of writing by John Harris describing his process and a little bit of his own history. John mentions playing as a child in the post-war wreckage around rural England. He guesses that this probably had an effect on his artistic output, and I have to agree. You can see it in his art, the giant fuselages, war machines, airplanes, etc. Pieces that would certain look alien in a rural English landscape.
I was thrilled to discover that for many of his images, he has also written a rough history or story to correspond. He has imagined a whole world that we only glimpse a single moment of. He is able to show us this history and story with just a still image. It’s such perfect art to be paired with novels.
I’d highly recommend picking this up if you’re a fan of SF artwork.