[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Fred Gambino

An Appreciation of Fred Gambino

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1998 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

[Cover Art] [Cover Art]

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 say:

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 in the pages he had been given to work from. That sort of courtesy and professionalism is all too rare; Fred is a real gentleman.

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