When the Sky Fell details a scientific theory about Earth crust displacement first put forth by Charles Hapgood, and expanded on by Rand & Rose Flem-Ath. Albert Einstein supported Hapgood’s work. The theory also dovetails with Plato’s description of the end of Atlantis, and the many flood myths in ancient literature. When the Sky Fell was first published in the 1990s, and I was at one point working on the updated version to be published as an ebook.
Developing the Cover
The top two covers are the original Canadian hardcover and softcover editions. The bottom two are UK and US paperback editions. They’re all quite basic. The revised edition needed to resonate with the existing audience and readers of speculative science, while hopefully not repeating the common images of the genre.
The flood was the obvious motif with Atlantis sinking during the cataclysm. Even though I wasn’t going to do a full water cover, exploring various textures and colours of water was a place to start.
Poseidon was the god of Atlantis, and he was another idea to begin with. This shot of a statue – with the dramatic upshot – shows Poseidon as alive and powerful. On its own, though, it was just a little too dry and classical.
It was simple to take an aerated underwater shot showing turbulence to strip into the background.
With the addition of some painterly manipulations, the classical feel is maintained without feeling stale.
This led into the first round of layouts. The running spiral is also a symbol of Atlantis and made a nice decorative element. The waterfall typesetting – with the ‘fell’ suitably separated from the rest of the title – is set in Clarendon and is a refinement on the title treatment for the original Canadian editions. The other face used is DIN, which carries through inside the book, partnered with Bembo.
By this point, Poseidon continued his descent to the bottom of the ocean. This was a literal and illustrative approach, so the next step was to remove the imagery and explore something purely typographic as a way to clear my head of early ideas.
Combining the running spirals into a geometric shape created an interesting focus, and it’s hard to go wrong with the weight and elegance of a rich black.
Hints of the blue and gold jewelled water texture.
Bringing back the imagery with real, but abstract, forms melded nicely with the type treatments without being too literal.
This shot of water rippling behind a sheet of glass interested me because of its short depth of field, its coldness and the suggestion of slow motion. Flipping it upside down creates a sense of unease even if you don’t realise that the water is on the top and the air is underneath. This one became the cover because it leaves behind the overly-illustrated and type-heavy covers used in new age and speculative science books. There’s a certain weight and confidence by laying things out quietly and simply.
The Flem-Aths make a strong case for Lesser Antarctica being the site of Atlantis. Like the world being turned upside down by disaster, looking at the world with Antarctica on top is a key concept of changing our perceptions of geography and history. It was the only interior title page I considered.
The classical typeface Bembo was chosen for the body text, and DIN for heads and information, a conscious pairing of one of the oldest traditional typefaces and a very modern one. The ideas presented in the book are ultimately ancient, but it takes a modern perception to appreciate them. Like The Forbidden Manuscript, special text was set in its own typefaces, though there was far less of it in this book.
The illustrations were updated to full colour, and you can read about their revisions below.
Pulling from many sources is common in scientific texts. Presenting those references as footnotes or end notes is a major challenge in book design. From the outset, I Ieft a wide outer margin and ran the footnotes parallel to their references in the text. It is a very flexible and straightforward way to lay them out, and makes them easily accessible to readers. This was an idea taken from Robert Bringhurst who used it in The Elements of Typographic Style.
The Revised Illustrations
The original drawings – prepared by the Flem-Aths and their original publisher Stoddart – were clean and crisp. But, as they did not have the budget to do full-colour illustrations, the graphics didn’t have as much depth or punch as they could have. Ebooks and modern illustration techniques remove those barriers without adversely increasing costs, and add greatly to the richness of the ideas presented in the book. I kept in mind the great information design of National Geographic when I redrew the existing pieces and added to them with new drawings in the same style.
Unfortunately, this project ended before it could come to market. It is presented here as an example of my design thinking.
When the Sky Fell and original illustrations © 2009 by Rand & Rose Flem-Ath
Book design and revised illustrations © 2009 by Scott Dutton