The Art of Things to Come, Part 3: 1961-1963

The Art of Things to Come, Part 3: 1961-1963

Science Fiction Book Club brochure (1961)

As I related in the first two installments of this series (Part One: 1953-1957, and Part Two: 1958-1960), like tens of thousands of science fiction fans before and after me, I was at one time a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (or SFBC for short). I joined just as I entered my teen years, in the fall of 1976, shortly after I’d discovered their ads in the SF digests.

The bulletin of the SFBC, Things to Come – which announced the featured selections available and alternates – sometimes just reproduced the dust jacket art for the books in question. During the first couple of decades of Things to Come, however, those occasions were rare. In most cases during that period, the art was created solely for the bulletin, and was not used in the book or anywhere else.

Since nearly all of the art for the first 20 years of Things to Come is exclusive to that bulletin, it hasn’t been seen by many SF fans. In this series, I’ll reproduce some of that art, chosen by virtue of the art, the story that it illustrates or the author of the story. The first installment featured art from 1957 and earlier, while the second installment covered 1958-1960. In this third installment I’ll look at the years 1961-1963, presented chronologically.

[Click the images for Book Club members-only versions.]

Frederik Pohl ‘s Star of Stars (in Things to Come, January-February 1961). Art by Virgil Finlay

As I’ve noted in prior installments, the artists who contributed to these early bulletins are often unidentified. That’s not the case as we begin our tour in this installment. The great Virgil Finlay gets us going with an illustration for Star of Stars, an anthology edited by Frederik Pohl from the January-February 1961 issue of the bulletin. Finlay’s first work for Things to Come appeared in the May-June 1959 issue, and he would be a regular contributor during the 1960’s.

Isaac Asimov’s Triangle (Things to Come, May-June 1961)

The May-June 1961 issue features Isaac Asimov’s Triangle. This was one of the multi-novel collections that SFBC became known for, collecting The Currents of Space, Pebble in the Sky and The Stars Like Dust. As was sometimes the case, the SFBC edition is the true first, released the month prior to the trade hardcover. I’ve never been able to identify the artist for this (a doubly unfortunate circumstance, as I own the original painting and would love to know who did it!), which depicts a neuronic whip in action from Pebble in the Sky.

Isaac Asimov’s Triangle (Science Fiction Book Club, 1961). Designed by Alex Gotfryd

In my book, it wins hands down over the actual dust jacket of the book, designed by Alex Gotfryd, which I show above as well.

Damon Knight’s Far Out (Things to Come, May-June 1961)

The June selection inside that issue is Far Out, a collection of stories by Damon Knight. As was typical during this period, the same artist did both the cover and interior artwork for any given issue.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (Things to Come, July-August 1961)

We’ll also go with a double dose of selections from the July-August 1961 Things to Come, both of which are by another unidentified artist. The July selection from that is Robert A. Heinlein’s classic novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, which won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1962.

Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions (Things to Come, July-August 1961)

Inside, the August selection is Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. As an old-school player of Dungeons & Dragons back in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, I’ve got a soft spot for this one. It’s one of the inspirational reading novels listed in Appendix N of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide” by Gary Gygax. The book was an influence on the game’s paladin class, trolls, alignment system and other aspects of the game as well.

The Fifth Galaxy Reader edited by H.L. Gold (Things to Come, September-October 1961)

Things to Come often offered members best of volumes from Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The Fifth Galaxy Reader, edited by H.L. Gold near the end of his run as Galaxy’s inaugural editor, is featured in the September-October 1961 issue.

SFBC brochure, late 1961

During the 1961-1963 period, the SFBC moved away from taking out ads in the SF digests. They’d later return to that, but during this period, they seem to have relied more on direct mailings to SF fans. Those often featured art that didn’t appear anywhere else, so I thought I’d run one of these brochures here, from late 1961. It features a great retro-spaceliner, but unfortunately the art isn’t credited. The Fifth Galaxy Reader and Alan E. Nourse’s Tiger By the Tail – the selections from the September-October 1961 Things to Come – are the latest offerings depicted in this brochure.

Battle for the Stars by Edmond Hamilton (Things to Come, November-December 1961)

Edmond Hamilton’s Battle for the Stars is the interior selection from the final issue of 1961, November-December. To me, the illustration has the feel of the Cold War era of space exploration.

Mark Clifton’s When They Come from Space (Things to Come, January-February 1962)

1962 kicks off with When They Come From Space by Mark Clifton in the January-February issue of Things to Come. The illustration has all the hallmarks of the alien invasion films of the late 1950’s. The story, under the title Pawn of the Black Fleet, was concurrently being serialized in the January 1962 and February 1962 issues of Amazing Stories.

James H. Schmitz’ A Tale of Two Clocks (Things to Come, March-April 1962)

The March-April 1962 issue offers up James H. Schmitz’ A Tale of Two Clocks. Our hero is sporting what appears to be a variant of an old Buck Rogers ray gun.

Clifford D. Simak’s All of the Traps of Earth (Things to Come, May-June 1962)

A collection by Clifford D. Simak, All the Traps of Earth and Other Stories, leads off the May-June 1962 issue. Rockets and robots, a winning combination!

A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight (Things to Come, July-August 1962). Art by Finlay

Virgil Finlay returns to grace the cover of the July-August 1962 issue of Things to Come. Here he illustrates the anthology, A Century of Science Fiction edited by Damon Knight.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Things to Come, November-December 1962)

Philip K. Dick’s classic alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle, grabs the cover of the November-December 1962 issue. The hand-written penciled note on my copy indicates that the original recipient of this copy rejected this selection, but did order an alternate, The Hugo Winners edited by Isaac Asimov, in its place.

Analog I edited by John W. Campbell (Things to Come, January-February 1963)

The January-February 1963 issue offers Analog I edited by John W. Campbell. This was an entry into the arena of annual collections that rival digests Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had been putting out for many years.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Glory Road (Things to Come, September-October 1963). Art by Finlay

Two of science fiction’s biggest names close our look at this period of Things to Come – Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Both appeared in the September-October 1963 issue, featuring gorgeous art by Virgil Finlay. The cover selection is Heinlein’s Glory Road, which won the Hugo Award for Best novel in 1964.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (Things to Come, September-October 1963). Art by Finlay

Inside, the October selection is even more famous. Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy (collecting Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation) was a SFBC exclusive omnibus volume. The series itself won a Hugo in 1966 as Best All-Time Series. Although the dust jacket is bland, primarily featuring a portion of a checkerboard, the Finlay art shows him at the top of his game.

1963 SFBC brochure promoting The Foundation Trilogy (outside copy)

To promote The Foundation Trilogy, the SFBC created a separate mailer which I show above. The outside features a portion of Finlay’s art from Things to Come, as well as depicting the book itself. The inside features six new illustrations by Finlay, that wouldn’t appear anywhere else. I’m surprised that, having gone to the expense of commissioning Finlay to do these works, they didn’t reproduce them in the book.

1963 SFBC Foundation Trilogy brochure (interior copy). Original art by Virgil Finlay.

While that September-October 1963 issue will bring to a close our look at Things to Come for this period, don’t adjust your dial! Just ahead, we’ll look at a SFBC bonus!

Your First Vacation on the Moon (Science Fiction Book Club flyer, 1961)

In addition to the book deals the SFBC offered to entice new members to join, they also occasionally offered non-book incentives as well. One of these during this period was a 16 page brochure, Your First Vacation on the Moon by James Black. This was advertised in a separate mailer, circa 1961, shown here along with the covers of the brochure. The brochure lacks any publishing information inside. Sadly, 50 years after this touted the attractions of a vacation on the moon, such a vacation is still out of reach.

In our next installment, I’ll cover “Things to Come” from 1964 through 1966. Until then, keep watching the skies!

Doug is a collector of pulps, as well as of pulp, science fiction and fantasy art. He co-founded and co-organizes the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. For many years his Tattered Pages Press published the pulp fanzine Pulp Vault, as well as other books on the pulps. He was one of the authors of The Adventure House Guide to Pulps, and has edited several pulp anthologies, including the Best of Adventure series. His book, Uncovered: The Hidden Art Of The Girlie Pulps, an in-depth study of the spicy pulps and their art, was named ForeWord Magazine‘s 2003 Popular Culture Book of the Year. In 2013, Bob Weinberg, Bob Garcia and he collaborated on The Collectors’ Book of Virgil Finlay, a collection of Finlay’s gorgeous art. The Art of the Pulps, which he co-edited with Bob Weinberg and Ed Hulse, won the 2018 Locus Award for Best Art Book.

Doug’s last article for Black Gate was A Dream of Finlay, Part 2

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Thomas Parker

Thanks so much for these pieces, Doug – this terrific art shouldn’t be forgotten. And by the way – anyone who has visited Barstow, California, can tell you all about your first vacation on the Moon. It’s not that thrilling.

All joking aside, can you imagine all of these fabulous books showing up in your mailbox?! I hyperventilate just thinking about it.

Doug Ellis

Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying them!

[…] (2) DON’T TAKE THIS ART FOR GRANTED. The third installment of Doug Ellis’ look at the Science Fiction Book Club’s Things to Come is now live at Black Gate: “The Art of Things to Come, Part 3: 1961-1963”. […]

Ty Johnston

The SFBC was how I discovered Asimov, McCaffrey, Leiber, and so many others in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Growing up in central Kentucky, I might not have read those authors until many years later if not for the book club. Thanks for sharing these pieces.

Barry Traylor

Another wonderful trip back in time, thank you Doug.


Really nice to see these…a bit before the time I joined the SFBC, but great stuff, all the same.

R.K. Robinson

Wonderful, can’t wait for the next one!

Eugene R.

Despite the blandness of the various Asimov covers, they are the editions I remember reading first from my local library, and so I feel the nostalgic ‘pang’ when I see them. Plus, the Foundation Trilogy cover is pretty neatly subtle in bringing out the idea of psychohistory as a chess game being played for the (just starting to crack) Galactic Empire.

But, why, why no Virgil Finlay illustrations for the interior sections? What a loss, and what a great recovery, Mr. Ellis! I would be tempted to make copies and manually insert them in my SFBC Foundation Trilogy.


K on April 5, 2021 at 1:29 pm said:
The artwork on the Science Fiction Book Club’s Things to Come monthly sales flyers was usually superior to the uninspired garbage that went on the dust wrappers of the actual books they were promoting. Doubleday itself, which actually ran the SFBC, was the worst offender. Dust wrapper “art” reached its nadir in the mid 1960’s to the 1970’s, except for very rare occasions, such as when the SFBC would commission Frazetta to do covers and interior illustrations for special editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian series. I’ve always gotten clear plastic dustwrapper wraps for my books, and I would often insert a TtC cover in the back of the d/w’s wrapper of my SFBC books because they were gorgeous and memorable, and the actual covers were so mediocre. The great TtC illos for Asimov’s Before the Golden Age, or the magnificent one for Lloyd Biggle’s Monument spring to mind.

Roger Reed

This brings me back to the thrill of receiving the Foundation Trilogy for the trivial price of membership, in 1967 or 68, and poring over the Things to Come each month, even though I couldn’t afford to buy anything. I wish they had used better artists, and I’ll try to identify some for you. Thanks for posting.

Doug Ellis


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