The Jason Wander and Orphan's Legacy series: Bestselling Science Fiction from Orbit Books and Baen Books
JUDGED BY ITS COVER -
THE ART OF THE ORPHANAGE SERIES This Article was expanded in November, 2007, to include new information and images
In April, 2008, the Jason Wander books got a new look!
Fred Gambino, the English visionary who created Orphanage's original cover, wrote in Ground Zero, a volume of his collected work, "Science fiction represents one of the only genres where the fans care as much about the artwork as they do about the literature."
So what follows is the story of the art that so effectively introduced Jason Wander to readers, and of the new art that will continue to introduce the ongoing Jason Wander series.
Orphanage's rich original cover art was "retro," though hardly in the tail-fins-down sense that Robert Heinlein would have understood the term. The cover echoed science fiction's golden age, consistent with the book, which was a conscious literary homage to the classic fiction of Robert Heinlein. It was an homage to Joe Haldeman's fiction, too, but Joe continues to reinvent himself, and the genre, too often to be relegated to "classic."
However, the Jason Wander series, three books old and destined for at least five, now has its own trope. So, from Orbit and illustrator Calvin Chu comes the series' new look, a photo-real treatment reflective of grit, contemporary relevance, and an appeal not only to the classic SF audience but to a broader readership. At left, top, is the cover for new book 3, Orphan's Journey. Orphan's Journey will be released in April, 2008, but it can now be pre-ordered from Amazon.com. Below left are the new covers for book 1, Orphanage, and book 2, Orphan's Destiny. Until April, 2008, those two books remained available with the "classic," original covers. The new Orphanage will include new material, an author interview.
But how did we get that marvelous, original cover image you see at right? It started with a series of questions.
Abstract or Representational? Covers range from plain lettering on a one-color background through completely abstract to symbolic to rigorously representational and narrative. A cover exists to entice a browser to pick up the book, and any style in the range can succeed in that if done right. These days obliquely symbolic covers dominate sci-fi. They project a sense of the book, rather than illustrate action inside. For example, Forever Free, Joe Haldeman's sequel to his classic, The Forever War, tells the story of future-war vets who hijack a starship rather than live stifled among robotic clones. But Forever Free's cover displays no starships or hijackings. It features a near-photographically representational red-and-lavendar butterfly, overlying planets and stars. The butterfly symbolizes, I dunno, "freedom," while the stars and planets signal that the book is sci-fi.
However, my editor, Devi Pillai, and I both envisioned a "narrative" cover for Orphanage. Narrative means what it sounds like, that the cover pictures a specific story moment, hopefully a defining one. Concept? We agreed on the defining moment. Orphanage pivots around mankind's first landing of futuristic infantry on another world, Jupiter's moon, Ganymede. The story is the intensely personal, first-person narrative of one young soldier, Jason Wander. So, the cover elements would include Jason, assault ships "hitting the beach" on Ganymede and Jupiter huge in the background. The image had to be rigorously representational to project that.
Who? For the artist, Time-Warner (now Hachette Orbit) chose to reach across an ocean for talent, as the world's largest media conglomerate can. Veteran Englishman Fred Gambino had created UK covers for legends like Isaac Asimov, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert and Robert Sawyer. Fred was adept with the elements of person, hardware and planet that we visualized. He would bring a fresh look to a cover for the US, where he was known mainly for a late-'nineties series of US postage stamps commemorating space exploration and for work on the animated Oscar-winner, Jimmy Neutron.
A first-novelist like me would turn cartwheels for crayon doodles, much less the work of an artist who walked with giants. One look at Fred's work, like his UK cover for Elizabeth Moon's Rules of Engagement, awed me. You can see much more of Fred's work, including a detail close-up of the Orphanage cover art, by googling "Fred Gambino Illustration."
Job One - The "Rough Sketch"
Fred Gambino not only painted brilliant covers for years, he was a pioneer in the illustration world's move from paint to pixels. Therefore, with Fred's computer wizardry, it seemed scant days before Warner's art director, Don Puckey, translated and refined Devi's and my concepts and received Fred's "Rough Sketch." As can be seen, a Gambino "Rough" is a lesser artist's "camera-ready final."
Elizabeth Moon wrote, "When I saw the first cover Fred Gambino had done for one of my books, I could hardly believe how perfectly he had expressed my vision."
My reaction was different. Fred did not just express my vision, he expanded it.
Orphanage was written after 9/11 to say something true about soldiers.
The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial includes three statuary infantrymen, not charging to glory, but gazing distantly, with what soldiers called "the thousand yard stare." A machine gun drapes over one war weary shoulder.
Fred captured the posture and the spirit of those three figures, and so of Orphanage, in the solitary figure of Jason that dominates Fred's image.
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
Orphanage is a conscious homage to Robert A. Heinlein's classic, Starship Troopers, a youthful favorite of mine. However, Jason's unique voice unconsciously reflects the influence of another Heinlein classic from my youth, the so-called "juvenile," Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Something haunted me about Fred's young man in bulky, segmented magenta armor, with headlighted helmet and a rope-loop suggested at the waist, all against a craggy yellow moonscape.
I hunted up an image of Spacesuit's original, 1958 cover. The similarities are spooky.
Fred composed an eye-centering image, crossing the contrails of the plummeting dropships with Jason's shouldered machine gun. We wanted to see Jason's face, but he had to have an "eyepatch," an information monocle on his helmet. Fred created the clear monocle with reflected heads-up display which survived in the final cover. His vivid color palette and addition of the astronomically-correct two moons between Ganymede and Jupiter rounded out a near-perfect image that promised commercial impact.
Email ping-ponged the Atlantic as Fred, Don and Devi agonized over the stunning final, packed with the usual Gambino enhancements, from a wrecked dropship in the lower right to the name "WANDER" stenciled across Jason's chest.
Oh, there were details only an author would carp about. One of those Jovian moons disappeared under the title and the dropships, gliders that plunged into an oxygen-poor artificial atmosphere, grew air intakes to scoop non-existent oxygen to non-existent jet engines.
Letter-Perfect: Integration of Cover Art into "The Mechanical"
But, overall, the final product, with its vivid text fonts and colors is so much more than any first novelist could even dream of. I'm grateful Warner chose the artist who Hugo and Nebula Award-Winner Robert Sawyer once called "Britain's best-kept secret," and the team created a cover that I can only hope my prose lives up to.
Orphan's Destiny - "The more things change, the more they stay the same."Orphanage became a well-reviewed bestseller. Its sequel's cover had to promise - and Destiny had to deliver - more of the same, but also something new. There would be less emphasis on depicting a particular scene exactly, and more on establishing continuity with the first book. And there's a saying in SF publishing, "An exploding spaceship on the cover improves sales 50%."
About that time, Fred Gambino began turning Julia Roberts, Nicholas Cage, and Meryl Streep into ants, for the Warner-Tom Hanks animated feature film, The Ant Bully.
Fortunately, Fred was also able to create Orphan's Destiny's cover.
Maybe Fred had too many bugs on his mind. Fred's first drafts of Slug ships proved splendidly alien, but a bit too "garden snail" (top left), and then a bit too "exploding bumblebee" (center left) for Time-Warner.
Fred's final (bottom left) captured Jason, and the second book's alien-but-mechanical Slug Armada, very well, and preserved the look of Jason front-and-center, with a planet, Earth, this time, behind, and the requisite exploding spaceship.