A Tale of Two Covers: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
For this installment of A Tale of Two Covers, we look at my favorite book by one of my favorite writers: John Brunner’s Hugo Award-winning Stand on Zanzibar.
Stand on Zanzibar was published in 1969. I read it about a decade later, when I was in my mid-teens, and it pretty much blew my mind. It’s set in the far-distant future of 2010, when the Earth groans under the weight of a staggering seven billion souls, terrorists are the major threat facing America, China is a new economic superpower, erectile dysfunction and depression are treated with pills, and the head of state is President Obomi.
Pretty clear-eyed predictions (over the years, in fact, Brunner has been lauded for his amazing forecasting). But it wasn’t his predictive skills that drew me to the book — it was the brilliant structure. Brunner painted an astonishingly vivid picture of the future of our planet by interspersing his chapters with numerous brief vignettes, news items, book quotes, and snapshots of life all over the world. It was the most believable and compelling rendition of the future I’d ever encountered, and it has stayed with me for decades.
Many writers have compared Brunner’s book to John Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy, and it’s clear that’s where Brunner drew his inspiration for the sprawling non-linear narrative. This was the book that opened my eyes to the true possibilities of the novel… that there were still fascinating ways to be innovative with storytelling, even in the late 20th Century.
But we’re not here to talk about the novel itself… we’re here to talk about its covers. I first read Stand on Zanzibar in the May 1980 Del Rey edition, with a cover by Murray Tinkelman (above right, click for bigger version). We’ve discussed Tinkelman before… he produced a set of highly regarded Lovecraft covers for Del Rey, and did the same for E. R. Eddison’s Zimiamvia Trilogy (many readers — me among them — consider those covers definitive.)
Usually the nostalgia factor weighs pretty heavily in these cases, and I admit I find the Tinkelman cover a standout piece of work. But I find I prefer Steele Savage’s cover for the original paperback edition, from September 1969 (above left). It’s a more beautiful piece of art, for one thing, and it also very effectively captures the theme of Brunner’s book — the effect of rampant overpopulation — as well as hinting marvelously at its structure, with its close-packed cast. All those stories, all happening side by side, to so many different people. I also find the tone of Savage’s piece more optimistic, with its diverse and often smiling cast.
For you completests, here’s the back covers for both books.
Here’s the complete publishing details.
Stand on Zanzibar (Ballantine Books, 650 pages, $1.65 in paperback, September 1969) — cover by Steele Savage
Stand on Zanzibar (Del Rey, 650 pages, $2.50 in paperback, May 1980) — cover by Murray Tinkelman
Stand on Zanzibar is still in print, 47 years after it was first published — an amazing accomplishment. It’s currently available in trade paperback and digital format from Orb Books, with a foreword by Bruce Sterling.
Our previous Tale of Two Covers was:
See all of our articles on fantasy art here.
Another author I really have to explore at some point, since I own a bunch of his books but the only one I’ve actually read was the Complete Traveller in Black. (Which I think was very atypical, but which I highly recommend.)
I keep meaning to do a VINTAGE TREASURES post on The Traveler in Black. But I need to re-read it first…
Please do Shockwave Rider, for vintage treasures. Along with The Compleat Traveller in Black, and The Whole Man, it’s one of my all time favorite Brunner books.
I agree with you, Mr. O’Neill, on intellectual grounds that the Steele Savage cover art is superior to the Murray Tinkelman version. But, love that Tinkelman. I have been collecting all of the Brunners (Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up, The Whole Man) with Tinkelman covers. Oh, heck, I guess I will just have to add Mr. Savage’s edition, too, to the pile.
I was aware of “Stand on Zanzibar” for a loooong time, but never actually read it. I did finally listen to it via audiobook.
I liked it quite a bit, although if I had been reading it I don’t know if I could have gotten through the, what is it?, like 10 pages of Scannalizer ads/previews?
Also, the Del Rey back cover really doesn’t do the story that much justice. It is waaay bigger than poor Don Hogan.
Great to see all this love for John Brunner!
Arin, I’d love to do Shockwave Rider (I’m not sure I’ve ever read that one.) Have you ever read Squares of the City?
> But, love that Tinkelman. I have been collecting all of the Brunners with Tinkelman covers
OK, this is embarassing, but I hadn’t realized that Tinkelman did multiple Brunner covers. I’ll have to check that out.
I keep telling myself I need to showcase more vintage artists at Black Gate. What better excuse do I need to scan a bunch of my favorite old paperbacks?
> the Del Rey back cover really doesn’t do the story that much justice. It is waaay bigger than poor Don Hogan.
Ain’t that the truth!
But you have to pity the poor Del Rey copy writers. how the heck do you summarize Stand on Zanzibar in 80 words? (Hmm… that’s a great idea for a contest!)
Yep, have read Squares of the City (and many, many other Brunner books beside.)
I have several of the books from Brunner’s own library (when they were sold off via Porcupine Books.)
Have you read The Whole Man/The Telepathist? Another fave.
…and oh gods, The Compleat Traveller in Black! Yes, plenty of lovely lovely Brunner books.
Hi John. I did a reread of Stand on Zanzibar for what will be the last time and I made myself a few notes to understand why the book is still one of the landmarks in speculative fiction. I borrowed the Steele Savage cover image from your site because I never seem to get around to doing a proper edit of my blog. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you are fine with my link to your site. Feel free to trim or remove this comment.
Thanks for letting me know. And of course — we appreciate the link!
I’d be very interested to read your article when it’s ready.