Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Enchantress From The Stars - my first sci-fi cover!


Published afresh this week, Enchantress From The Stars was written in the 1950s by Sylvia Engdahl, but not published until 1970. A 'young adult' work of science fiction, it was the first in the series set in the Anthropology Service Universe, and was nominated for a prestigious Newbery Award.

The job of creating this cover was given to me by Donna at Bloomsbury New York, and the challenge was to create something very fresh and contemporary while communicating the sci-fi nature of the story:

Elana, the central character shown in ethereal ink on the cover, belongs to a peaceful, technologically advanced, space-faring civilization called the "Federation", which monitors worlds which are still "maturing", allowing them to grow without any sort of contact or intervention. She stows away on a ship in order to accompany her father on a mission to a planet where intervention has been deemed necessary, because a technologically advanced empire has invaded the planet in order to take advantage of its resources. 

In order to lead a young woodcutter (a native of that planet) against them (without exposing him to the truth about either alien civilization) Elana takes on the role of an 'enchantress'. She gives him various tools, leading him to believe that they are magical.

Pre-dating television programmes such as Star Trek, the book explores many of the themes later covered by them, in particular the peaceful exportation of space without intervening in the existence of any other planets. Specifically, the story looks at an emerging concern - the environment, and the plundering of its resources by corporations - here presented as 'a technologically superior empire'.

Having never done a sci-fi book this opportunity pleased me immensely - but could I capture its essence in ink? Initial thoughts went to 70s-style pulp sci-fi covers, but moved quickly into darkened skies which may or not be seen from earth, stars, and a character who although only seen in silhouette is clearly not from our time or place.

Here are the roughs and ideas as they developed. I knew I wanted the texture of some of then 60s and 70s paperback art I'd seen - and collage seemed a good fit, something that could have been created closer to the time Sylvia started writing the book, without digital intervention:

I liked the idea of Elana walking the universe, so put her in front of an inked globe in which the community is seen huddled inside, its lights on and smoke from the chimneys. Her clothes are part-rastafarian-influenced, part 'Rogue One', and part Egyptian Queen:

Variations on a theme used ink-soaked, folded paper dried to a crisp on the range, with bleached-out stars and layers stuck over the top:

(Note numbers for easy client referencing!)

Later ideas explored this mildly disturbing, ink-and-collage portrait of Elana, her eyes like other worlds - I reckon I could have made this one work!
And a hand-drawn lettering style that was meant to sit somewhere between Star Wars, 2010 and Gravity:

In the end the combination of defiant face-on stance for Elana, jewel-like colours for the world she lives in and a strong, hand-drawn title won out. Published today, I hope the book goes on to be consumed by a whole new generation of young readers, all enthralled by this early, female-written and female-told story of life among the worlds we're only just starting to understand!

The book is available to buy here in the UK,
and here in the US.

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