I planned to write up a blog post about how science fiction books generally have stranger, less attractive covers than mainstream genre books, and how publishers seem to be taking steps to correct that lately. But then I got sidetracked on how sci-fi books shouldn’t need to have especially skiffy covers, as long as their cover fits some tone of the book.

As you can see from these covers for Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, it’s taken a while for a publisher to use a cover that’s not completely ridiculous (with the exception of the 1st edition, which I find kind of charming and interesting, and the latest edition which would look at home on the front table at Barnes and Noble).

But I’m thinking now that this isn’t an issue special to science fiction and fantasy. Sure, as sci-fi blog IO9’s Charlie Jane Anders illustrates, I’m not alone in thinking “science fiction books should have dignified covers that look less pulpy and skiffy” (but she closed with an unattributed quote “the bottom line…is that a cover should tell distributors and bookstore clerks where to shelve a book”).

But a fair amount of modern sci-fi books are coming out with beautiful cover art that, while certainly regulating them to the sci-fi section in appearance alone, is still dignified or artistic. Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness In The Sky comes to mind.

Am I crazy? Would that Vernor Vinge cover make non-sci-fi readers cringe? Will it seem ugly even to sci-fi fans in 10 years?

Or is this “being a sci-fi problem” all in my head? Do all genres have cover art cycles that suffer the same design/style cycles that make 1st gen iPods and 80’s cars look ugly? Can you think of a favorite book that used to have hideous cover art but now is available in attractive packaging?

Wow, I’m a cover art snob.

UPDATE: There’s a discussion thread on Tor.com about what people are looking for in a book cover (via SF Signal).