I picked up my very first Pern book, Dragonflight, partly because I’d read an excerpt from it in an anthology (Weyr Search), and partly because of the cover. At the time I was not yet aware of Michael Whelan, only appreciative that the cover always gave me a good visualization of Pern’s dragons.
My favorite Pern book was The White Dragon, as I found its young hero very sympathetic (I being also an adolescent at the time), the wilderness exploration angle and discovery by the Pernese that they’d come from another world getting my sci-fi adventure glands all a-tingle, and of course there was this astounding Whelan cover. The Whelan covers did a lot to sell McCaffrey’s books to me then, and when I take them down from my shelf for an afternoon’s reading it’s often the cover that makes me do it. Guess it’s all part of being very visually oriented.
I first realized that I was consistently getting Whelan-covered books when I got Julian May’s The Many-Colored Land, book one of the Pliocene Exiles series. I was floored by the gorgeous artwork and incredible attention to detail as soon as I saw the book on the shelf, and on picking it up to skim through it, I got hooked on Julian May’s warm characterization and subtle wit. This is the one Whelan painting I really really want to buy a print of, but for some strange reason it’s not even listed on his site. I wonder why.
I also began to find the M-rune, as my friends and I called it, on editions of Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, the latter having been my very first introduction to the speculative fiction genres but with the Gino D’Achille covers. I now set about buying as many of these books as I could.
Whelan’s often cunningly-hidden monogram became a seal of approval for me when buying books. With a Whelan cover, I could trust that what I was seeing was actually related to the stories and imagined worlds I would find between the covers – not always a guarantee with other artists! Indeed, had Del Rey’s new release of the Pliocene Exile (non-Whelan cover) been my first contact with it, I may not even have looked at it!
It was through Whelan also that I got hooked on two of my current favorite authors, Celia S. Friedman and Tad Williams. Whelan’s cover for Green Angel Tower, the conclusion of Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, is my second or third favorite Whelan painting (can’t decide between this and A Princess of Mars!).
So. I’ve been buying Pern books and Whelan covers since the late 70’s, and I’m still doing it. Looking back, it’s amazing how much my tastes were guided and influenced by these two masters. Madam McCaffrey’s gone, but here’s hoping Michael Whelan will continue pointing us to good reads for many years to come. Hope you enjoyed this visual trip!