Columns > Published on April 3rd, 2012

Guess The Plot, Episode I: "May Contain Runts"

Perhaps more than any other genre, science-fiction embodies that old saying about not judging a book by its cover. Many classic titles feature covers that are, at best, anodyne and, at worst, completely misleading. Indeed, publishers a generation ago would hire designers to create covers for books they had never read, or even commission stories after the cover design had been finished. We sci-fi fans must become amateur semioticians, decoding the covers of perspective purchases in a desperate effort to figure out what the hell they are actually about. Success brings the joy of a great discovery; failure caries the heavy price of artless dreck.

With this in mind, we here at LitReactor have come up with a little game designed to test your skill at deconstructing science-fiction book covers: Guess The Plot!

Here’s how to play: for each of the following four covers, you should come up with a one sentence description of the book’s plot. This logline should be the logical extension of the artwork and text on the covers, although wild-ass extrapolation is certainly encouraged. And no checking with Google for plot information, I want pure originality! Then post your loglines in the comment section below.

I expect genius, but will be more than happy with disaster. Make me proud/horrified!

'Drift Marlo'Drift Marlo

Coming hot right out of the gate! This cover raises any number of questions, the most pressing of which is, Drift Marlo?!? Huh? Is that a name? A command? A heretofore unknown style of street racing? I just don't know. Equally unclear is the relationship between the jet-packed man and his simian counterpart. I want to believe the monkey is saving the man from death by space, but he could just as easily be tossing him from that flaming capsule. (Great, great name for a band: That Flaming Capsule.) At least the U.S. is prominently involved! Also: do you think 'space secrets' are secrets about space, or secrets told in space? Was there a late-night Cinemax movie called Space Secrets, or did 13-year-old me just wish it? "In space, no one can hear your secrets! Now let's all make out before those sexy aliens come back."


'Runts of 61 Cygni C'Runts of 61 Cygni C

Oh boy. Oh...boy. For a second I was all, "Runts? They sound cute!" And then my eye drifted down and now I'm thinking I can never sleep again, or else the Runts will come for me. To start with my nerdiest observation, how can a planet be 'twin' to the Sun? Looks like James Grazier might have skipped Astronomy class in favor of creating the most disturbing creatures imaginable, and then concocting elaborate sexual fantasies about the same. I am creeped out by virtually everything about this cover, but here are the top three:

#3 The phrases 'young earthmen' and 'one-eyed runts.' We get it Grazier, you're a perv.

#2 The fact that the closest Runt appears to be wearing mascara and lipstick. Ick.

#1 The word 'endless.' You really want endless games of sex? Sounds like someone has had no games of sex at all.


'Pagan Passions'Pagan Passions

Now this just feels like pandering. Some enterprising editor took the cover to a romance novel, stuck a ruined cityscape in the background, and voila: geek bait. In my mind, that's why the words "Science Fiction" are capitalized. Dude wanted to be sure we got the message.  Moving on, if I'm really going to give your post-apocalyptic, pagan, polyamorous world any credence, then how did all those windows survive Doomsday? Am I really supposed to believe that society took the time to replace windows before doing the important stuff, like finding everyone shirts? Maybe that explains the cover's qualification that Shirtless Joe is only 'forced' to do it to 'beautiful' women. "All you 5s and below, you're on the window replacement squad. 6s and up, please find an open fainting couch and await your white-trousered paramour!" Man, this is complicated! No wonder it took two guys to write.


'The Day The Universe Came'The Day The Universe Came

Listen we've been having fun here, but seriously: what the fuck? I understand The Day The Earth Came is a hilariously self-mocking exercise, what some might call a tour de farce, if they wanted to be incredibly lame. Yet that does not - cannot - explain the sheer insanity of this cover. This is extrapolation run horribly awry. "Guys love Playboy Bunnies. So what if a spaceman found a planet of actual sexy bunny-ladies? Classic 'nightstand' material, right?" No, Ray, it's not, you're wrong. That is classic furry porn. Furry erotica, in fact, that appears to star a somewhat more Aryan Woody Allen having 'sci-fi sex.' Based solely on that description, I feel like you could use this book as contraception. And 'came?' Blech.

OK kids, have at 'em! I want your best one sentence plot descriptions for all four books. As you might have already surmised, taste and propriety are out the window. And please, look out for those Runts!

[PS - got any suggestions for future covers we can use? Tweet 'em to me @Kornlock!]

About the author

Originally from Concord, Massachusetts, Jon Korn spent a decade in Los Angeles trying to get warm. He now lives in Oakland, where he works as a writer and film festival programmer. Over the past 10 years, Jon has watched tens of thousands of movies for the Sundance Film Festival, AFI FEST, Outfest, and CineVegas, among others. Not all of them were good, but it is still a wonderful job. Jon is the co-creator of the Echo Park Time Travel Mart and a Jeopardy! champion. His hobbies include cooking, being sad about baseball, and not answering the phone.

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