Most of the SF novels I’ve read have been battered copies borrowed from libraries or bought from second-hand book-shops and charity shops and there is something especially appropriate about this temporal contradiction. These novels, that are frequently imaginings of possible anachronistic futures, belong to the past – scuffed, yellowed, foxed relics that sit in a ‘time out of joint’ (to cite Philip K Dick [citing Shakespeare]).

One of the particular generic pleasures of these ageing SF novels is the cover art which is exemplified by these two novels, picked up in an Oxfam book-shop at the weekend. It often seems that the cover illustrations of SF novels have little to do with the content of the books – one wonders how much these artists knew of the specific stories they were providing the key image for, and what the authors thought of the covers to their books – and so the cover imagery has a separate status. It is not an illustration of the story but takes the brief (to design an attractive and arresting cover for a particular story) as a springboard for an independent art-work with an often tenuous relationship to the book. There are certain visual tropes that recur again and again as seen in these two covers – depopulated surrealist landscapes on the one hand (sometimes rendered in collage or photomontage), and excessive reliance upon the airbrush on the other to depict the smooth surfaces of skin, clothing and spacecraft.

These are not especially beautiful images. They are both functional and visually striking, but whereas there are some artists whose work is immediately identifiable – such as Bruce Pennington, Chris Foss, Jim Burns, Chris Moore, James Marsh, Ian Miller –  these images (by Miss Moss and Adrian Chesterman) are rather more generic. So, this not a matter of nostalgia for the lost art of the novel as a physical object, nor an ironic pleasure in kitsch imagery, but simply a reflection upon the richness of the worlds glimpsed beneath the titles and text on the covers of SF paperbacks.

As it happens the two novels also appear to exemplify one of the principal preoccupations of SF writing and SF imagery, which is with gender and sexuality. According to the blurb, Memoirs of a Spacewoman is a feminist classic from 1962 about a female scientist – a ‘communications expert’ – who explores her own sexuality while becoming entangled with the ‘strange and unnerving life forms’ she is studying. If Mitchison’s novel is about femininity and female sexuality, The Demolished Man, on the other hand, (which is by Alfred Bester author of a superb, timelessly cinematic novel from 1956, The Stars My Destination) is clearly a novel about masculinity: ‘One man sets himself against the whole sophisticated paraphernalia of twenty-fourth century crime fighting, conducted by the peepers – trained telepathists with a strict code of ethics’, explains the blurb.