Essential Information

Royal Observatory

08 May 2013

We’re very excited to announce that to coincide with the opening of Visions of the Universe – the upcoming exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Pandemonium Press are publishing The Lowest Heaven, a new anthology of contemporary science fiction.

Each story in The Lowest Heaven is themed around a body in the Solar System, from the Sun to Halley’s Comet. Contributors include Alastair Reynolds, Kaaron Warren, S.L. Grey, Lavie Tidhar, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Sophia McDougall, Maria Dahvana Headley, Adam Roberts, E.J. Swift, Kameron Hurley and Doctor Who’s Matt Jones. The stories are illustrated with photographs and artwork selected from our world-class collection, while the book’s cover and overall design are the work of award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi. Joey has provided us with an exclusive Q&A about how he created the design for the cover artwork.

The design you created for The Lowest Heaven centres around a map - where does this idea come from?

With The Lowest Heaven being an anthology, the brief was to create a piece of artwork that would tie all the stories together. Since the book features stories based on various celestial bodies in our Solar System - creating a bespoke solar system map seemed like an interesting way to do that. Plus, having a fascination with all things cosmic (bordering on Kosmikophilia), I couldn't resist. I used to draw maps of alien solar systems as a kid - peppered with space battles of course. So this is a childhood dream come true. I was inspired by the wall hangings in the National Maritime Museum collection. These were produced by the Working Men's Educational Union in the 1850s and based on astronomical themes. The hangings were printed lithographically on cotton, which gives them an interesting appearance. I liked their simple, yet striking design. One in particular (see jpeg) formed the basis of my design. I just took a more modern approach - if you can call it that. My map has more of a 1950s aesthetic as opposed to one reminiscent of the 1850s.

The map also has hints or elements from the stories themselves. Can you talk us through these, and how you settled on which ones to include?

I wanted the solar system map to be unique to The Lowest Heaven. So I thought it should not only include the celestial bodies - but elements from the stories themselves. What would make a map of the solar system even more awesome? Why, Spaceships of course! I decided to include some simple illustrations of the space-faring vessels (as well as an asteroid and a comet) that were mentioned in the various stories. I had read the entire book already, so I went back through my notes and picked the objects I wanted to include - in the end, I settled on four. I’ll leave the reader to discover which stories they fit. To match the retro feel of the map, all the spaceships (bar Voyager) have a 1950s retro feel to them.

There are two editions of The Lowest Heaven, but this map is the central design for both of them.

For this project I decided to illustrate and design the fold-out solar system map (to be included in the hardcover) first. I felt it would be simpler to work from a full solar system map and then decide how to adapt that artwork to work on the two book covers. What would work on the fold-out map wouldn't necessarily work on the book covers, given the change of size and so on. I wanted the covers to have the same character as the map - but I didn't want the cover artwork to be exactly the same as the full fold-out. For both creative and practical reasons. Since a simple crop of a section of the full solar system map wouldn't work as a cover, it required reworking the typography, changing the design & removing small details while adding others.

Is designing for an anthology different from illustrating a novel or a single story?

 It is. This is my first cover for an anthology featuring different authors. I had to approach it in a different way conceptually. Whereas a novel may have one central protagonist, voice, style or tone - an anthology obviously has many. Finding that common thread can be a challenge. Many of the anthology covers I see tend to be quite generic in terms of concept. Science fiction will have a space ship on the cover, horror a ghoul of some kind, etc. For The Lowest Heaven, having each story based on a celestial body made for a strong central concept, one that was unique enough to steer clear of cover clichés. I also felt that I didn't want to focus on one story over another. I wanted to have the various writers all equally represented on the cover.

For more artistically readers: how did you go about making this? There's so much detail!

I do the basic layout. Then, at night, extra-dimensional space elves materialize and complete it. Jokes aside - having never designed a solar system map before - It started with much research. I had to brush up on the orbit of the planets, their approximate sizes in relation to each other and so on. I wanted the map to have some semblance of scientific accuracy. The gaps in my knowledge of our solar system made me realize I should have payed more attention in science class at school - instead of filling my textbooks with super-hero themed doodles. I then moved onto some rough sketches of the solar system map design (incorporating typography and other additional elements). Once I'd decided on a rough layout/design that I thought would work - I then started on the finished illustration. Parts of the illustration were done in Illustrator or Photoshop, others by hand (ink on paper). I also scanned in various old paper textures to help give the solar system map that slightly aged / retro feel. I enjoy using a combination of various techniques in the illustration process. It allows me to experiment a bit.

Which was your favourite story?

By Grabthar's hammer! My illustrator sense foresaw that question coming. Do you want all of the contributors to The Lowest Heaven to hate me - bar one? Tough question. It's so hard to choose. All the stories we amazing in some way. But if you insist on putting a phaser to my temple - I particularly enjoyed the tale for Jupiter by Jon Courtenay Grimwood.

Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?

Oddly no. I wanted to be a 'Diver Uncle'. Which was my four year old self's term for a deep sea explorer. At a young age I was watching Star Trek (plus other 80s Sci-Fi classics) and dreaming of space exploration - but I was equally fascinated by deep sea exploration. And I still am - who doesn't find giant squid fascinating?

Find out more about The Lowest Heaven and Pandemonium Fiction