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An Appreciation of Fred Gambino
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1998 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
The British editions of Illegal Alien
and The Terminal Experiment
The covers above are by British artist Fred Gambino;
I love them both.
In December 1998, I was asked to write a few
words about Fred for an appreciation of him being prepared for
the magazine Science Fiction Age. This is what I had to
There are two wonderful things about Fred Gambino. The first is
that he manages to find ways to illustrate books that are
difficult to capture in a single image.
Analog serialized my novel
The Terminal Experiment (under its
original title, Hobson's Choice);
normally, they use the serial as the inspiration for two covers
over the course of its run, but they only did one, and that one
very generic, because the artist was at a loss of how to
appropriately illustrate the book. HarperPrism likewise used a
very plain spot illustration, and the Science Fiction Book Club
opted for an abstract collage. The Terminal Experiment
has had many foreign editions, but only Fred managed to come up
with a really spectacular image to encapsulate this story of a
man who made three computerized copies of his own brain.
His illustration just blew me away, and I knew the moment I saw the
rough sketch (one of the nice things about having British, as
opposed to American, publishers is that they routinely ask for
your input on covers) that I would have to own the original.
When I saw that Fred was displaying it at the World Science
Fiction Convention in Glasgow in 1995, I spent the weekend
bargaining with his British representative (not because what Fred
was asking was so high by British standards, but because the
Canadian dollar was so low in relation to the British pound).
Although I own a number of original paintings used as covers of
my books, the Gambino cover for the New English Library edition
of The Terminal Experiment is the one that everyone stops
and admires in my home.
The second great thing about Fred is that he can pull off art
that other artists might botch. When I pitched the concept of
Illegal Alien at Ace Books in the
States, I said, in the outline, "You can picture the cover art
with an outlandish alien in a witness box." Well, my American
editor said, no, we won't do that there's too much of a risk
that it'll come off looking ridiculous. But Fred did do that for
the British edition, and it looks absolutely charming.
Art directors often give artists only a page or two of manuscript
on which to base their illustration, and that's all Fred had to
do his Illegal Alien cover by.
But unlike just about every artist I've ever met, Fred then went out,
as soon as the book was printed, and read the whole thing
and sent me a letter apologizing for missing details that simply weren't
pages he had been given to work from. That sort of courtesy and
professionalism is all too rare; Fred is a real gentleman.
More Good Reading
More about The Terminal Experiment
More about Illegal Alien
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