So the latest thing I’ve been doing is hitting the Lucky Dip button in the Picture Gallery section of the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. It generates a random book cover from their massive archives:
So far, I’ve seen a few hundred vintage hardcovers and paperbacks, from a 1951 Lord Dunsany hardcover I never knew existed (The Last Revolution) to Samuel R. Delaney’s 1977 collection of critical essays on science fiction (The Jewel-Hinged Jaw); from John Brunner’s 1968 Lancer paperback Into the Slave Nebula to the 1954 Gnome Press edition of C. L. Moore’s Northwest of Earth. And many hundreds in between.
It’s a fascinating kaleidoscope (I can’t really call it a tour) of our genre — and a great launching point to ignite your interest. I ended up reading about UK author M. John Harrison after seeing the cover to his 1975 Panther paperback collection The Machine in Shaft Ten and Other Stories. Plus, doing about a dozen Google searches on the words “Slave Nebula.”
Of course, there’s a powerful search function as well, in case you want to leap directly to a specific book or author. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the new online incarnation and third edition of the classic reference book edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, indexes some 54,000 individual titles, with 113,500 internal hyperlinks and over 4,000,000 words. It builds massively on the text of the (already massive) 1995 CD-ROM edition, and is produced in collaboration with British SF publisher Gollancz and the SF Gateway. And it is, as the introduction points out, still a work in progress.