Midcentury Sci-Fi pulp was brimming with fantastic cover art. Illustrated by some of the most talented pop artists of the day, they depicted thrilling space adventures with a special kind of pizzazz that just begs you to read what’s between the covers. The brilliantly colored covers featured lots of lasers, spaceships, musclebound heroes, evil aliens, and exotic space babes. Here are 20 of my personal favorites…
Planet Stories v04 n11 1951
Is this Black Martian Amazon not the coolest sexiest thing you have ever seen? I don’t mean that as hyperbole – I am completely serious when I ask that. Even the virile king of space shagging, James Tiberius Kirk, may find this eye-popping sexual conquest out of reach.
Other Worlds 04 1950
In the 1950s, aliens were either to be destroyed or shagged; the idea that they might be caring creatures was a verboten concept. The E.T. with a heart of gold has become a cliche over the years; however, this painting captures that trope perfectly.
If v01 n06 1953
A very real fear, that may have dissipated some over the past few decades, was that robots would inherit the earth, enslaving their fleshy creators. It seemed only a matter of time before we’d all be bowing to our mechanical overlords. This picture looks to be painted by a sort of Industrial Age Hieronymus Bosch. Instead of Medieval fears of the Reaper and various denizens of the underworld, we have the twentieth century depiction of our communal fears of what the future may hold.
Out of this World Adventures v01 n02 1950
There’s an obvious problem here – the artist has no ability whatsoever to convey action. The way the alien arachnid poses stiffly next to the maiden with a dagger awkwardly stuck in her belly as the potential culprit appears to yawn in the foreground…. really bad. Yet there’s a sort of imagination-run-amok Alice In Wonderland quality here. Jack Kirby would frown on the poor depiction of action, but the sheer spectacle of this scene lures me in with a childlike creative flourish…. and that’s something m’man Kirby would appreciate.
Amazing Stories v30 n05 1956
The unconscious lady being carried by either the brutish monster or the sweaty hero is a motif repeated countless times in the sci-fi and horror genres (look no further than another article on the matter). It would simply be wrong not to include an example in this list.
Thrilling Wonder Stories v09 n01 1937
Oh, hell yes. There’s a giant glowing brain in the sky turning the masses into zombies – that alone warrants inclusion on this list. Add to that, the hideous contortions and expressions of the possessed, and I’m handing over a few shekels without hesitation and taking this son of a gun home.
Imagination v06 n01 1955
I’m not sure what sort of accident would result in the driver sitting the road still clutching the steering wheel; however, I get the point. It’s that Jetsons Utopia that’s being evoked, and I love it. In the future, everything will be cool daddy-o just like the 50s, except there’ll be nifty gadgets to make our lives even more swanky. Can you dig it?
Galaxy v17 n04 1959
The Cantina scene in Star Wars captured the imagination of thousands upon thousands of youngsters. George Lucas’ aliens, with only a few seconds of screen time (i.e. Walrus Man and Hammerhead), got their own action figures. There’s something about seeing a conglomeration of alien races all going about their business in the same location. Perhaps it makes us feel not so alone and isolated in the universe. Whatever the reason, this cover elicits that same feeling, nearly twenty years prior.
Startling Stories v28 n01 1952
It’s a fairly generic concept, but one that deserves inclusion on this list: stepping off the proverbial flying machine onto an unknown world. Exploration never looked so good.
Thrilling Wonder Stories v13 n03 1939
The aliens look absolutely ridiculous. I get it. However, the whole role reversal thing where we humans are the captive creatures has always struck a chord with me. The thought that we, who plunder the earth making it our bitch, could one day find ourselves no longer numero uno is a timeless and tantalizing concept.
Planet Stories v04 n09 1950
There’s so much going on in this cover (explosions, scantily clad damsel in distress, alien hero), yet I find myself transfixed by this badass space sled. I want one.
Fantastic Universe v01 n02 1953
The Planet of the Apes novel came out ten years after this magazine. I’m just sayin’.
Other Worlds 026 1953
This is the real incentive for space exploration – the off chance that our solar system is populated by beautiful moon maidens and martian queens. They wouldn’t be bound by the Puritanical conventions of Earth – they would be scantily clad, uninhibited space vixens, unencumbered by our primitive earthbound etiquette. And even better if they cruise around on cool Galactic Senate floaty things.
Weird Tales v35 n05 1940
With the world embroiled in yet another world war, it’s not hard to guess the inspiration for this piece. I just love the giant kick-ass laser-shooting skulls on these spaceships. Granted, the rest of the ship is fairly lame (propellers on their wings and goofy weaponry at their top); yet, these demonships are wicked-evil looking – the stuff nightmares are made of.
Thrilling Wonder Stories v35 n03 1950
Yeah, this one is just odd. However, the idea of being overcome by tiny gremlin is sort of a collective Jungian nightmare, isn’t it? You may be big and powerful, but you will be overpowered by the synergy of the smaller weaker numbers. This cover I think depicts the age old Gulliverian horror perfectly…. but with boobs and lasers.
Infinity v03 n05 1958
All that seems to be going on in the foreground are boobs, but beyond that is a truly engaging cover. There’s something about the look in her eyes and the imposing aliens that reels in my interest.
Imagination v02 n05 1951
People forget that these science fiction stories could be every bit as scary as the horror pulps. The glowing tentacled orb, the frightening eyes, all cast in a pallet that perfectly elicits terror. This is an Invasion of the Body Snatchers styled fear that humankind will be undone, not by spaceships bringing Martian conquerors, but by sinister forces operating under the radar.
Amazing Stories v35 n02 1961
The desolation and hopelessness that we feel for the chimp is intense. I love this theme in science fiction – someone trapped alone in space.
Thrilling Wonder Stories v32 n02 1948
This cover has cast me in its hypno-erotic grip and won’t let go. The transcendental combination of balls, breasts, and spheres is too much for my small mind to handle. They say the psychedelic movement began in the sixties – I say it began with pulp science fiction.
Infinity v01 n01 1955
Shhhh. If you scoot up close and put your ear up next to this image, you can hear the distant sound of my mind being blown. The Arthur C. Clarke story, which I’ve read, doesn’t shed light on this enigmatic work. Although, the underlying theme of the title story is a reckoning of man’s place in the cosmos, whether it be insignificant sentient beings or as some part of some divine plane. Like the end of 2001:A Space Odyssey, I know there’s something deep going on, but I’m not quite sure what it is. But its fun to let your mind wander to try and figure it out.