Great Science Fiction Artists – John Schoenherr

When I was young I purchased most books and magazines in the science fiction field based on their covers. Nowadays that still applies, though much less so since I now know what to look for in a book or in an author–regardless of cover. In fact, there are times when covers don’t matter and I’ll purchase any book by a certain author. Mostly this is true for my interests in mainstream fiction–Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, Thomas McGuane, and reprints of the works of John O’Hara. There are few “automatic buys” for me in the science fiction field, but the covers almost always do help.

One of the most important artists for me when I was younger was John Schoenherr. Schoenherr made his true mark in illustrating covers and interior art for Analog during the sixties and is best known for his work with Frank Herbert’s Dune books. His sandworms absolutely cannot be beat. What Schoenherr’s art does for me is that, through its abstractions, it allows the mind to fill in the blanks. The original Dune cover has sandworms on it, but they are not clearly drawn as sandworms. The cover to Mark Geston’s Out of the Mouth of the Dragon has a blasted landscape that forces the mind to fill in the blanks regarding what the hell happened here! To me, this is the best kind of art–as opposed to the kind you find these days which is quite literal, relating in exact detail what’s contained in the book in question. The more “imaginative”, the better for me. Schoenherr’s work has an otherworldly quality to it that fairly shouts out that you’re about to visit a science fictional world.

And in Schoenherr’s case, the adage is true: A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s also just as true that the art of John Schoenherr allows the imagination to take over where the visual image leaves off. This is true with his cover to Mission of Gravity. In fact, I have most of the paperbacks that John Schoenherr did the work for and they are my most treasured books. There’s no mistaking the uniqueness of Schoenherr’s artistic vision. It conjures worlds beyond words and takes you places that ever the artist cannot predict. His job is to start the journey; the rest is up to us.

–Paul Cook


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