The Science Fiction Art of John Harris


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Zoe's Tale

Horizons copy

Signed prints

The Age of Pussyfoot copy

Q Colony sans titles

Old Man's War



ext to romance and fantasy, I can’t think of any genre other than science fiction that relies so heavily on base images. The possibilities with design are wide open for fiction and arguably non-fiction as well. Mystery and its sub-genres are also able to utilize a larger palette of concepts and mediums, and there are more than a few genre authors out there who signed with publishing houses smart enough to utilize brand and art direction to prove it.

But within the world of sci-fi/fantasy, the art is pretty much stuck with the task of presenting to the reader a fairly non-speculative visual representation of the non-existent world we are about to enter. Paint and ink seem to be the medium of choice to achieve a realistic look that remains firmly rooted in fantasy — its properties, the artist’s hand and even the brush itself reminding us that this is man-made.

I haven’t read a true sci-fi book in awhile, but what’s been making me think of it more and more is the artwork of John Harris. Through coming across the random Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova or John Scalzi books I find when I hunt for books, I have really taken to his covers. His use of scale is unparalleled. One clearly feels there is an epic plot lurking in the pages based on the cover alone, but what initially piqued my interest was his use of abstraction.

Clearly capable of intricate technical detail as seen in his early works, it’s his soft, slightly surreal covers that I find most interesting. The pastel colors and abstract brush strokes grant an entirely new vision of science fiction, one slightly matured and without the need for fanfare. The fragmented images of spaceships and structures with their lack of detail actually allow the bigger picture to become the focus and we immediately feel the vastness of space and how small and minute we are in comparison.

It might be a while before I even have time to contemplate starting a new sci-fi series but if and when I do, it will surely have the art of John Harris on the cover. Everything he’s done artwork for just screams epic which is exactly what I like.

Published //

September 7, 2010

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Artists, Books, Design

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(Like this post) 14

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  1. No.


    This guy’s a genius

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    • No.


      Couldn’t agree more. Totally unique approach to traditional sci-fi cover.

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  2. No.


    I spotted ‘Zoe’s War’ in my local bookshops’ ‘US Imports’ section yesterday and was drawn to it by the wonderful artwork. I turned it over and saw the artwork was by John Harris, who I have never heard of (or John Scalzi for that matter). Having Googled it I was drawn here eventually.
    Something about Mr. Harris’s art really touches something in me and I think that not least it is thhe fact that it has the wonderful painterly feel – very refreshing.
    Of course some further work revealed just how much of his artwork I already knew and loved – a quick browse through my book collection pulled up a dozen old paperbacks plus the classic Sinclair manual covers which I loved so much I had already scanned the covers and edited to use as wallpaper on my iPhone, and all the time I hadn’t realised it was all the same artist! Wonderful.

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      I too was drawn to a few covers and after I made the connection became a huge fan of his work.

      Have to say I don’t know about the Sinclair covers, but I’ll dig around for them. Thanks.

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  3. No.


    Great art, thanks for sharing this. But your idea that most SF art is genre-bound … yes, it’s mostly true but bear in mind that almost nothing gets into print without an editor AND marketing team’s approval. The genre limitations are mostly their choice, not the artists.

    But the SF public is a lot more adventurous than many publishers give them credit for. I’ve found this to be true with my own SF freelance work, which rarely looks SF-genre. And Harris’ art is excellent although it does have a ’60s, concept-art feel to it. In other words, it’s still genre-bound, although one that younger readers may be unfamiliar with.

    Frankly, if looks good, it is good.

    Name //

    mahendra singh

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    April 7, 2014

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