top of page

"Science fiction represents one of the only genres where the fans care as much about the artwork as they do about the literature."  

- Fred Gambino, the visionary who created Orphanage's original cover

Orphanage's rich original cover art (left) was "retro,"  - 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."

In April 2008 with the release of Orphan's Journey, Orbit and illustrator Calvin Chu came the series' new look (right), a photo-real treatment reflective of grit, contemporary relevance, and an appeal not only to the classic SF audience but to a broader readership.



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.  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, here.

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.

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.

bottom of page