When Lightship came out in 1985, a showcase of the science fiction illustraitions of British artist Jim Burns, I was blown away by the vivid and imaginative worlds he captured in paintings. I was in high school at the time and already planning my career as a science fiction writer, and when I saw this book my imagination went into overdrive, visualising some of the stories I could tell based on the pictures that were engrossing me. Stories from books I had never read, but now felt intrigued to read.
I’d studied art in high school and had considered a career as an illustrator, but I never did much more once I was at university except to dabble. That said I did enough to have had my illustrations published in books such as Secrets of Kenya, and although I was never very good and my writing was more important for me to pursue, art did give me a great starting point in imagining the future. For example, for a long time while I was developing my space opera setting for a series of books I’m planning in the future, I used to do lots of illustrations for that setting and my art skills really helped me imagine what my universe would look like. It was Lightship that sent me down this path, influenced me to give illustration a go to develop future settings.
In a recent conversation with D.M. Cornish we discussed the merits of writers who are also illustrators, and how it can greatly enhance the creative process. I certainly see that in his Monster Blood Tattoo series he is head and shoulders above most fantasy authors in creating amazing worlds with his words alone, because he illustrated it all first. I hope my illustrating experience eventually leads me to similar success (one can always hope).
My favorite illustrations in Lightship include the covers for Downward to the Earth, Mechanismo Spaceport, The Lovers, The Deathworms of Kratos, Bio of a Space Tyrant 3 and Startide Rising, but they are all great. The accompaning text by Chris Evans was an added bonus, openning me up to a whole host of science fiction ideas I’d never considered before, including terraforming and pantropy, concepts I would have never come across just from watching science fiction movies and television shows of the time.