Designing the future: a new look for Neal Asher

11 December 2017

Editorial Director Bella Pagan introduces a new look for Neal Asher's books, the first of which are coming in 2018. 

Science fiction is full of time travel paradoxes. And I don’t just mean the oops-you-travelled-back-in-time-and-now-you’ve-accidentally-become-your-own-grandmother kind. Or the you-glimpsed-the-future-and-then-you-changed-how-it-unfolded-so-how-could-you-possibly-have-seen-it-in-the-first-place kind. I mean the kind where you design a fictional future, and then one day, as you travel inexorably through time second-by-second, the future arrives. And it doesn’t look anything like how you designed it.

The most obvious examples are the stories with dates in the title – think 1984, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. But there are many more. The year 2015 did not give us the flying cars envisioned in 1989’s Back to the Future. The early 90s did not, thankfully, see the onset of the Eugenics Wars, as envisioned by Star Trek (though I’m still holding out for first contact with the Vulcans on 5th April 2063). And sometimes the opposite happens: the technological wonder that is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sounds positively antique in the age of the smartphone: ‘a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press-buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice.’ Hundreds of buttons?! No touch screen?! How can something so visionary go out of date so quickly?

Which brings us back to the paradox of designing the future. It’s a challenge faced not just by writers and filmmakers, but by our own book cover designers. Every literary genre is affected by changing fashions, of course – but few things evolve as fast as SFF covers. Which is why we like to polish them up every few years! Last year we redesigned Douglas Adams’ Trilogy of Five, the year before we jazzed up the ebook covers for Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 10-book Shadows of the Apt series. And now: it’s Neal Asher’s turn.

Over the next couple of years, science fiction giant Neal Asher’s complete backlist will be republished with fantastic new jackets, to reflect the way the future is depicted now – as opposed to how it was depicted when they were first published in the early 2000s, or how it was depicted when they were last re-jacketed eight years ago.

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We kick off with the five-part Agent Comac series, which takes place in the far-future Polity Universe. Here, artificial intelligences rule over humans, and interstellar travel is as easy as stepping through a doorway. (Intrigued? Read an extract of Gridlinked here) The current cover designs have an action-packed ‘video game’ aesthetic – which is all well and good, except that video game graphics have also improved dramatically in the past eight years. For the new look, we wanted a design that would maintain that level of energy – this is exciting, gritty science fiction! – but with more grandeur and elegance, to reflect the current trends in SF imagery. Book covers these days tend to depict objects in space, rather than people. For an idea of how we got there, take a look at the design for Asher’s brand new title, The Soldier - the first in a new trilogy. The Soldier publishes in May 2018, with the newly-designed Agent Cormac series following close behind, in June and July, and the Spatterjay trilogy in November. Here are our fab new designs, created by Neil Lang:

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Will these still reflect the way we envision the future in another eight years? Probably not! But that’s the paradox of science fiction for you – nothing goes out of date faster than the future.

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