Michael Whelan’s Works Of Wonder (book review).

Several months back, I reviewed an old Michael Whelan book, ‘Wonderworks: Science Fiction & Fantasy Art’, and said I would cover his other book from the same period at a later date. Meet the later date and ‘Michael Whelan’s Works Of Wonder’ and much of his work from the mid-1970s-1980s, mostly for Del Rey, got many of his Hugos and established himself as a professional book cover artist. In some respects, its a puzzle why this book hasn’t been reprinted or the lack of more recent books of his art aren’t available.


What is significant about these years is how many book series he did the covers for in these decades: Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series, McCaffrey’s ‘Pern’ and ‘Crystalsinger’ series, Rice Burroughs’ ‘Barsoon’ novels and even HP Lovecraft. The latter was an unusual case where the budget only allowed two covers for five books but because they could be segmented, they were spread across them, getting around the problem. Here, as with the other covers, where you only often see the front cover, the spread showing the back cover without any copy enables you to see them as they were painted.

michaelwhelan-swords of mars

Contrary to opinion, Whelan doesn’t like the airbrush and most of that is often in the background as he works from the back to the front of the painting. Looking objectively and reading his comments, Whelan liked playing with particular colours, making them as the focus of the painting. This is bore out when he explains he thinks having one painting, ‘Swords Of Mars’ pre-dominantly yellow than blue might have been a mistake. Apart from the paintings, none of which are spread across two pages, many of them are also accompanied by preliminary sketches and thoughts. Not bad for a book from 1987.


To top it all, at the back of the book, Whelan spends several pages, with examples, of how he created the cover of ‘Moreta: Dragonlady Of Pern’. Seeing how he traces his drawings onto canvas before painting did make me think that today that although the lightbox is available, I do wonder how long before there is a computer printer capable of printing on to canvas to make that easier.

If you missed this book when it was first released, then do what I do and seek out a copy of this book on the secondary market. I like making finds like this.

GF Willmetts

July 2015

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine, 1987. 108 page illustrated very large hardback. Price: varies a lot but I got mine second hand for under £ 6.00 (UK). ISBN: 345-32679-2)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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