Rian Hughes and Imogene Foss, HARDWARE: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss (Titan Books, 2011)

If you are a science fiction fan of a certain age, then you are familiar with, at least by sight, the work of Chris Foss. One of science fiction's most prominent artists, Foss helped to create the look of British SF publishing in the 1970s. In HARDWARE: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss, Rian Hughes and Imogene Foss have collected many of Foss' greatest paintings from that period in an attractive, hardbacked volume.

Foss is perhaps most well-known for his spaceships. They are colorful, industrial, believable, and above all, enigmatic. These are craft meant to voyage between the planets and the stars, and their sometimes total isolation from other objects bespeaks the deep mystery, the vast emptiness, and even vaster loneliness, of outer space.

The Bloodstar Conspiracy (1978) epitomizes these themes well. A dagger-like, finned starship, checked orange and white, moves across a roiling planetary surface, its destination an ominous mushroom cloud rising from below. The craft in Mission to the Heart Stars (1980) resembles nothing so much as Tutankhamun's burial mask departing from a planet beneath a bright white sun. In Conquests (1981), a squat, blue- and black-striped ship cruises just above the cloud layer of an alien world of three moons. In the distance are slender towers. Who lives within them?

Iceberg in Space (1979) is another favorite. A red and yellow tug, with a lobster-like pincer claw affixed at the bow, tows an enormous chunk of gleaming-white ice behind it. Foss' future was a future that worked, literally.

There is a strong emphasis on the technological in this book, but the paintings are neither sterile nor dull. Many works are of aircraft and seagoing warships locked in combat. The German warship Prinz Eugen (1975), under relentless air attack, is at least as fine as any other work made of a similar naval encounter.

In addition to his cover work, Foss was involved in an early attempt to bring Frank Herbert's Dune to the silver screen, and herein are several conceptual sketches and paintings executed by Foss for the never-made Alejandro Jodorowsky film version of that novel. They are especially intriguing in a “road-not-taken” way. Pirate Spaceship Spilling Spice (1975) is a wonder to behold. If only! Conceptual works made for Alien, another sci-fi film, have also been included.

I also appreciated Foss' puckish sense of humor. Easter Island (1975) portrays a spacecraft employing cables to lift one of that island's great moai into position. Best of all is EMI Billboard (1989) in which three tugs maneuver a space-based music advertisement into orbit.

I can hear the question now. Oh sure, old, beautiful, evocative SF art is all well and good, but surely Hardware is no more than a fine coffee table book. Nostalgia aside, is it really worth $34.95 American?

Apart from the hoary response that the value of art is itself not to be measured in money, there is the fact that Hardware is a freakishly awesome coffee table book, straight from the living room of the House of Cool. It is full of richly detailed paintings that will, at the very least, stir some thought for the future of our species in space, something that we seem to have forgotten.

There is another compelling, practical reason for owning Hardware. In an era in which seemingly every newly published sci-fi novel is bleak, dystopian, bloated, or riddled with zombies and other such nonsense, Hardware conveniently provides the titles of the books for which Foss executed these marvelous covers. You have heard of most of the authors already - Asimov, Blish, Van Vogt, etc. Track these books down. They can still be found somewhere. Perhaps Seventies SF had what too many recent novels seem to lack – story.

reviewed by Marc

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