Those Germans and Their Laser Spaceships

Courtesy of a kind German reader, the cover art for the upcoming German edition of Agent to the Stars:

And you ask: Is there, in fact, a laser-shooting spaceship in Agent to the Stars? And the answer is, why, no, no there is not. But apparently at some point it was decided at all my covers in Germany are required to have laser-shooting spaceships, and who am I to argue. That said, this will present a challenge if there’s ever a German edition of my next book, which I am calling Earthbound Laserphobic Pacifists. But that’s a worry for the future, I suppose.

64 Comments on “Those Germans and Their Laser Spaceships”

  1. They’ll simply have a cover showing the dangers of laser-shooting spaceships, thus explaining why the protagonists are so afraid of them.

  2. All you need is a man standing on the ground shaking his fist at a spaceship shooting lasers at the sky.

    Now the real question is whether your fantasy story has spaceships shooting lasers and how they’ll work that onto the cover.

  3. Yes, it’s going to be much harder when you start writing “The Ring of Absalom” or whatever your first fantasy novel is.

    Hey, that would be a good contest – novel names that clearly convey fantasy content and aren’t already taken.

  4. All of our German translations have very classy looking laser-shooting starships on the covers, also (here, take a look: It’s a Theme.

    My favorite, however, is the Polish cover for _Conflict of Honors_ which pictured a heavily armed Saber Tooth Tiger Person picnicking with a Lady of Improbable Hair. That this cover had already appeared on the English edition of _Seasons of Plenty_ by Colin Green only made me love it more. (No Saber Tooth Tiger Persons in Conflict, alas. Missed a bet, there.)

  5. Earthbound Laserphobic Pacifists

    That’s gonna be one really short book.

    Chapter One- The aliens arrive with lots of laser-shooting spaceships. Earthlings go, “Ooooh look, they have lasers. That sure is scary.” President of the United Earth Federation asks his advisers what options they have. The head of the UEF Defense forces says, “Hmm. There’s not really that much we can do. We’re pacifists, remember?”

    Spaceships fire their lasers and humanity is eradicated.

    The End.

    You might want to rethink this premise.

  6. The cover of Erdgebundene Laserphobisch Pazifisten will be a laser-shooting spaceship with a big prohibition sign over it. (⃠)

  7. I just want to mention again that I really enjoyed Agent to the Stars, Mr. Scalzi. I found it interesting and original, even though the change of pace at the end seemed out of place.

  8. I have a vacuum cleaner that looks a lot like that spaceship. It doesn’t shoot lasers though. Sigh. But, man, wouldn’t it be cool if it did?

    Zzzzzzzzzt! Take that, dusty bunnies! Only now, at the end, do you finally understand. Zzzzt! Zzzt!

    Boy, you think the cats hate the vacuum cleaner now

  9. As they say in Germany –

    Brüste, Raumschiffe und Laser sind kühler, als Sie, nicht Affen und blau vergessen, Einhörner.

  10. And here I thought I had developed dementia and forgot about the laser-shooting spaceship.

  11. I think you should just give in and make your next book all about spaceships that shoot lasers, and the humans who love them. And the bug-eyed aliens they shoot.

  12. As if nobody knows about the translation of your titles in german language.
    I’m sure as Hell, what it won’t be the Earthbound Laserphobic Pacifists, but something like “War of laser: the Moon Base”. With a laser shooting starship on the cover.

  13. So, when is ELP due to hit the shelves? All I;ve got left ot read is Zoe’s Tail and then your non-fiction. You need to get a move on with this new project.

  14. Of course, it makes sense for the main conflict in ELP to come from a group of people who are either a) not Earthbound, b)not laserphobic or C) not pacifists. Between that, i’m sure we can still work a laser ship into the mix somehow…

  15. If you don’t care about covers in Germany, why care about them in the US? If you care about them in the US, but not in Germany, that’s worth talking about, IMO. YMMV, and it’s your blog though.

  16. Speaking as a pixel-pusher, it’s a metric cow’s bum-load easier to make a spaceship look exciting and stimulating and science-fictiony than it is an amorphous, protoplasmic blob.

    Though I did like Gabe’s cover art.

  17. Without lasers or spaceships, how would anyone know it’s Science Fiction? Germans require unambiguous cover art.

  18. Good point Marko. They apparently left off the Bug-Eyed Monsters and bubbling retorts too. I don’t know HOW they’re going to reach the target audience. Those Germans, you know…you have to spell everything out for them. ;-)

    In case you’re a German, Marko, that was sarcasm. But since you’re probably exactly right, the ;-) is meant to indicate that it’s not to be taken too seriously!

    (I knew a guy named Marko when I was in Germany in 1976. I haven’t thought about him in years; the name coincidence reminded me.)

  19. John, I get the sense that me asking innocent questions in what I try to make a purposeful respectful tone tends to piss you off. I’ve noticed this, and I’ve noticed how when other people ask the same question, you seem fine with them. I can’t seem to math the tone that gets a response form you that’s not annoyed. I’m happy to own up to it as a personal failing, nothing on you.

    But f you’re thinking of me as someone who’s frequently annoying, I’ll be happy to show myself the door. No “taking my marbles and going home”, but if we’ve got two communication styles that don’t mesh, there’s no fun in me participating in what’s ostensibly social space here.

  20. Wow Josh, JS must have run out of raisins for his cereal this morning, as I thought that was a perfectly fine question. Perhaps it has something to do with having some input on U.S. covers and none on foreign ones?
    who knows what evil lurks…… oops. wrong blog (he says as he waits for a meaninglessly snarky reply; I can perhaps frame it!)

  21. Are you honestly suggesting that all six Star Wars movies have their science wrong? If George Lucas says that laser beams are a.) visible, and b.) about as fast as an arrow, then by golly, it is so.

  22. More bad news. They changed the protagonist’s name from “Tom Stein” to “Perry Rhodan”.

  23. Josh Jasper:

    “I get the sense that me asking innocent questions in what I try to make a purposeful respectful tone tends to piss you off.”

    Well, I certainly accept you didn’t mean to irritate me. I also think it’s true people sometime use language that comes across differently than intended, and in this case might be one of them. I would suggest you look at the rhetorical structure of your question and in the follow-up statement, and the assumptions inherent in both and see if you can’t figure out why I might find them slightly annoying.

    That said, I don’t generally find you annoying; quite the opposite, in fact. In the main I’m glad you comment here. So don’t feel the need to rush out the door. In any event, sooner or later everyone here annoys me, and I have no doubt I annoy them. It will happen, and it’s not abnormal.

  24. I think it’s just a simple (yet annoing) a marketing necessity.
    As recently mentioned in another threat concerning Your German translations, it was (rightfully) said that the SF-market in Germany is quite small. Therefore most bookstores doesn’t have “SCIENCE FICTION” labeled shelves. So if You look for SF in Your bookstore as a German, the Laser-Blaster-Spaceships make it easy to find (otherwise You will be lost, but it’s a safe guess it’s close to the fantasy titles).
    That’s the only explanation I have.
    (since we have big “FANTASY” shelves in our bookstores You can make out more and more fantasy titles without “sworded swordfighting Swordfighters -WITH DRAGONS!-” on the covers)

  25. #4, 5: Obviously, the German edition of the fantasy novel will have a laser-shooting dragon on the cover.

  26. John,

    Thanks for the explanation. I’d edited my original comment once, thinking “Hm, that might be taken the wrong way, let me rephrase” and clearly failed. I can see where it might be taken as an “when have you stopped beating your art?” type question, when it was meant to be a question about the merits of cover art in the US vs. overseas.

    It was the “who am I to argue” sentence you wrote that I felt indicated you didn’t care, which is not something that should matter one way or the other, but I was trying to figure out why, not to imply that you should or shouldn’t care.

  27. Josh Jasper:

    “It was the ‘who am I to argue’ sentence you wrote that I felt indicated you didn’t care”

    I can see that. It’s not that I don’t care; rather a recognition that Heyne knows the dynamics of their market better than I do, even if I find the artwork silly at this point. That said, I’ve pinged them about things when I have a genuine concern; for example, when they gave Zoe’s Tale a title blatantly ripped off from a Robert Heinlein juvie, which I thought was a little much. They changed the title (but the artwork still has laser-shooting spacecraft on it).

  28. Scalzi writes a rip-roaring SF story about a squadron of laser spaceships. The US mass market cover shows a squadron of laser spaceships shooting laser beams at all angles against a fleet of giant destructor ships, from the novel’s main moment in Chapter 15. You can almost feel the sense of vertigo in the battle maneuverings. The Subterranean numbered edition has a dark cover, nearly unreadable, of a ship’s captain brooding over a battle screen — from Chapter 14. The Russian cover has artwork from a 1987 video game. The special YA edition shows two young protagonists skulking behind a bulkhead, looking at the captain brooding over a battle screen, also from Chapter 14. The German cover shows a scantily clad brunette with a spacesuit helmet (but no spacesuit) and brandishing a sword worthy of Anduril, which appears nowhere in the novel. But it’s a big hit in the German male YA market…

    Case solved.

    Dr. Phil

  29. Whew. I’m glad that was all just a miscommunication. I would really miss Josh Jasper here, and I don’t want John to be annoyed either.

  30. I think JS’s next novel should be titled, This Is Not A Laser-Shooting Spaceship, just to go all Magritte on the Germans.

  31. Well, if Kay is right, and the lack of a F/SF section in Germany necessitates a “SF books get space ships, fantasy gets dragons” sort of marketing, I guess they’re making the right choice. But sometimes it’s not superior knowledge, just a failure to care about marketing, and not always for rational reasons. I’m a suspicious type. When I see a lack of good design, I figure it’s because people are being lazy, not because consumers are blind to good design. Even in Germany.

  32. Or just No Lasers! No Spaceships!

    But again, with either of those they could just use the international NOT circle-slash to negate it, keeping the picture.

  33. This cover is almost identical to the one for my most recent book, They Came From Fifty Billion Miles to Light My Weber Grill. Not that I’m litigious or anything.

  34. Alien cat people.

    No, not cats from outer space. Aliens, coming to Earth, who understand who the real overlords of the planet are, and are bringing proper tokens of their appreciation.

    (BBQ lighters, my ass, we use antimatter for that)

  35. I eagerly await the German cover to any future works in the “Space Vixen Packin’ Heat” category.

  36. Josh @#44: Actually, I was shooting for Dieses Ist Nicht Ein Laserschießen Raumschiff.

    (Trusting babelfish for the translation, which may not be a good idea; however, I trust any German-speaking readers will correct it.)

    (And yes, “shooting for” was intentional, if exceedingly weak.)

  37. @josh I think You’re absolutely right with Your suspicion. I would even go so far that the publishers show a good amount of disregard for their readers (“they’re nerds…they buy it anyways”). We would really like to have good cover designs here (and publishers know that; in other genres they hire quite good artists) but the problem is: “why bother? They buy it anyways…”
    Sad but true…

  38. Naja, die wollen verkaufen und das verkauft sich vielleicht besser in Deutschland? Zumindest einheitlich. Auf allen Covern waren bisher Laser.

    I’ve read the tree “Clone Wars” books – the last book one Hour ago…. the best I have ever read! Greate work and a good translation Mr. Scalzi! Wunderbar!!!


  39. To my ex-pat American eyes, the German grasp of marketing concepts is pretty wonky. I mean, you get toy ads during gritty cop shows, ads for drugs to help with your weak bladder and other old people oriented stuff during kids’ shows, and of course the beer and cigarette ads before kids’ movies in the theater. And about half the ads are at a mid-70s, independent TV station level of quality (and to put that in terms Scalzi will understand, I’m talking channel KCOP or KHJ, not even up to KTLA standards).

    As has been noted above, German book covers tend to be very iconic and only vaguely related to content. Spaceships and lasers for SF, swords and dragons for fantasy, period art for historicals (at least usually from the right time period), vague blurry photos for mainstream. Ironically, books that are almost guaranteed to be bestsellers and wouldn’t have their sales hampered in any way by this sort of thing tend to have original artwork closely related to the content. Go figure.

  40. DG Lewis @48,

    that would be Dies ist kein laserschiessendes Raumschiff.

    Babelfish is pretty good for approximations. For some really interesting linguistic performance art, translate a sentence from English to German, then to a third language, then back to English.

  41. Animaniacs reference!

    Oh see, now this thread requires the singing of the Anvilanian National Anthem


  42. Marko @# 54: I knew I could count on someone more attuned to nuanced translations than babelfish. Danke. (I do love me the ß, though…)

  43. Like others have said, it’s a marketing issue. In Germany, SF novels get spaceship cover art, whether the novel actually features spaceships or not. Epic fantasy gets dragons or brawny swordspeople, urban fantasy gets pale girls with blood dripping from their neck or mouth, even if the novel does not feature vampires at all. Historical romances get bodiceripper style covers, randomly snatched from twenty to thirty year old US novels. Once a publisher messed up and slapped a random historical bodiceripper cover on a contemporary romantic thriller by Elizabeth Lowell. For a while, crime fiction tended to get details of random historical paintings (often angels and the like, even though the novel was a contemporary set crime novel with no angels in sight) on a black background, after Henning Mankell’s Wallander series had become a huge hit with such covers.

    I recall buying the German edition of one of Kage Baker’s Company novels with a spaceship cover, even though the novel was set in the 16th century with not a spaceship in sight. It’s just a trend in cover design, not necessarily better or worse than US cover design trends.

    Demetrios @53, German TV advertising has become a lot more targeted in the past ten to fifteen years. You rarely see the really odd mismatches such as toys advertised during gritty cop shows anymore, unless you are watching one of the tiny cable channels who are glad for any advertising they can get. And old people products are advertised during daytime TV, including children’s shows, because some old people keep the TV running all day long and will watch anything. As for the alcohol and cigarette ads before kiddie movies in the cinema, I assume you went to 8 PM or later screenings. Because alcohol and cigarette ads are only allowed to be shown after 8 PM, if the movie has a 6 or 12 certificate, i.e. if children are allowed to watch it. Because in Germany young children are not allowed to attend movie theaters after 8 PM, so it’s assumed that anyone in the theater at that time is old enough to drink or smoke. If you watch a 16 or 18 certificate film, you also get the alcohol and cigarette ads in the afternoon, because young children aren’t allowed in anyway. They tend to be pretty strict about age limits, too, because there are fines if children are exposed to inappropriate material.

  44. Cora I recall buying the German edition of one of Kage Baker’s Company novels with a spaceship cover, even though the novel was set in the 16th century with not a spaceship in sight. It’s just a trend in cover design, not necessarily better or worse than US cover design trends.

    How do you know it’s not worse? If books sold the same irrespective of cover design in the US, publishers wouldn’t have art departments. And Irene Gallo (head of the art department at TOR, John’s publisher) would be out of a job.

    And honestly, pretty and interesting is better than ugly and boring, when it comes to cover design. I hold this truth the be self evident.

  45. Cora, which one was that?

    All the German covers I’ve seen so far have been pretty good; the first edition of Iden had a lot of 16th-century graphics, and the second had (as I remember) a gold lion’s head on a red background. Now the series is coming out over there packaged as the “Zeitsturme” but so far all I’ve seen is a blue cover with a galleon and a reddish cover with a castle and some banners.

    The all time awful cover was for the Spanish translation of Iden, which had a blonde in a catsuit posing with a gun behind a sports car, with the Capitol dome in the background. On a book about a romance in the 16th century….

  46. Kage 59: Wow. Almost like they just mixed up the covers of your book and some Bondoid thriller at the printers. They thought the two were Identical I’m sure you’ve heard every possible joke on the title.

  47. My best guess was, it was a book by an American so they put the Capitol dome on it. Or I suppose it might have been the dome of St. Paul’s, but that doesn’t explain the blonde with the bouffant… oh well.

  48. Kage@59, it was one of the new editions repackaged under the series title “Zeitstürme”. I bought them for a friend, so I don’t recall which one it was, sorry.

  49. Thanks, Cora! I’ve only seen the first two so maybe it’s on one of the others. The agency is a little slow about mailing out my author’s copies.

  50. One of my all-time favorite covers, was I think for the Ace edition of “Agent of Byzantium” by Turtledove.

    The entire book is set in roman times. There is no cross time anything. The protagonist is a spy for the Roman emipre. And at the very end of the book the romans are briefly exposed to some chinese gunpowder.

    The front cover has someone in something resembling the popular conception of Legionnaire clothing, holding some sort of electronic device, complete with screen and antenna. And has a huge honking rifle with scope strapped to his back.


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