Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to judge a book by its cover: Christopher Priest, The Separation

Final Draft of Text Published in Financial Times Magazine 13/10/07

The aeroplanes on the cover of Christopher Priest’s The Separation resemble a formation of meticulously-assembled Airfix kits. The
triangular arrangement is striking, deliberately and boldly artificial. The shapes are debossed – the opposite of embossed - pressed into unadorned matt card. Behind the iconography is a graphic referent – that of aircraft recognition silhouettes. These simple but accurate renderings of fighters and bombers were essential tools designed to familiarise service personnel and civilians alike with the shapes in the sky during times of war. These particular outlines are Wellingtons - bombers used by the RAF to strike at targets across Europe in the early years of the second world war. They date the action of the novel, which focuses on identical twins Joe and Jack Sawyer. One is a Wellington Pilot, the other a conscientious objector. Their estrangement from one another mirrors another divergence as the novel traces paths of actual and alternative history. Priest suggests a route by which the peace offer delivered Rudolf Hess might have been realised, bringing about an end to hostilities between Britain and Germany in 1941. Events are dependent upon circumstances in which the twins play subtle but decisive parts. The fate of these brothers decides which parallel reality holds sway.
This new edition of The Separation, first published in 2002, is one of eight reissues of recent science fiction novels published by Gollancz. All have striking text free covers, the work of in-house designer Emma Wallace. Marketed under the heading of ‘Future Classics’, these editions set out to seduce readers who might be put off by some of the more garish and futuristic imagery normally associated with the genre.