Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s (2023)

There is, I think, no arguing that contemporary genre art has a character distinct from previous decades. I also think that while there are big shifts in aesthetics somewhat aligning with each decade of the 20th century, here in the 21st things have definitely slowed down—I feel like the look of genre art has fossilized somewhat in the last 20 years. I don’t have a good explanation for why. Sometimes I wonder if I’m blinded by nostalgia, and that there really aren’t any obvious objective differences at all.

Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s (2023) is a compelling argument, I think, that there are definite differences. The book, by Adam Rowe (and spinning out of his social media accounts dedicated to, well, ’70s science fiction art) looks at both artists and thematic categories of art from the period, mostly from paperback covers, and offers commentary and historical context in the text. The result is startling: a body of work by a variety of artists working in their own styles that nevertheless seems visually unified. With the exception of a couple outliers, this stuff all feels of the ’70s. The fact that there are some inclusions from both the ’60s and ’80s makes this even clearer.

I think the most interesting thing about this is how bizarre some of the ’70s art seems to be. A lot of these artists appear to be entirely off the leash, delivering work they wanted to produce rather than what they were directed to produce (you can see a shift toward clearly pairing the cover art with the content of the book in the later part of the decade). There was also more money in the work, then, so speed wasn’t quite so big a part of the equation as it is now.

And, greater questions of genre art aside, Worlds Beyond Time is still a mesmerizing collection, worthy of your time even if you just want to feed pictures to your eyeballs.

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