Philip K Dick wrote ‘We Can Build You’ in 1969-1970, and it was serialised in ‘Amazing Stories’ before being published in book form. Often touted as a forerunner to ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ It tells the story of Louis Rosen, an Organ manufacturer who is is persuaded by his partner to build working androids (Dick uses the term ‘Simulacra’) of Abraham Lincoln and his secretary of war Edwin Stanton. Rosen tries to sell these Simulacra to a wealthy industrialist but ends up having an affair with the industrialist’s mentally unstable daughter Pris before going completely bonkers and being locked up, Leaving the Robots Lincoln and Stanton to run the business.
For a fairly unremarkable example of Dick’s work it has undergone a staggering number of reprints, each new cover design a pretty accurate reflection of the graphic design of its respective era.
The first edition and a cracking 1972 design with a very nice font for the title, portraying the artificially built android. He looks like the Terminator's uncle, all mysterious.
What the hell's going on here? a topless guy with a metal plate on his back walking towards some ornate carvings on the Moon while pixie dust swirls around him? My guess is that they had a cover left over for another book that never got made, and they slapped it on here knowing full well that the events depicted absolutely do not occur in the book.
1977, and finally the cover depicts Robot Abraham Lincoln. In this scene the Robot's head is being infused with life-giving chemicals by an optical illusion.
1983: My all time favourite, this one. If someone told you this book is about a Robot Abe Lincoln who goes mental at a disco you'd just have to believe them. Is that even Lincoln? This was 1983- it could have been Kenny Everett. Notice how they're hyping Dick now as 'The Blade Runner novelist'.
For front-cover falsification this one from 1986 takes the prize. Hitler, either in robot form or otherwise, does not appear in this book. He is also not accompanied by a tie-wearing robot Philip K Dick as suggested on the cover. One can only assume that the publisher tried to bolster sales in the 'Golfing for cats' manner. Nazi sci-fi fans beware!
We're up to 1994, and in classic early-90s postmodern montage style, the cover strips the story down to its bare essentials. 'Build' is represented by some pliers and 'you' by a hand. The rest of the cover looks like a massive brown 'Dick' on a horrible pink background. Must have taken all of 20 minutes to put together on a beige Mac with Photoshop 1.
Sorry about the crappy quality of the image. This 1997 cover was designed by Sci-Fi airbrush legend Philip Castle who also did the poster for the BBC Micro game'Elite' ( http://blog.kierankelly.net/wp-content/uploads/elite_poster.jpg ). It's another very '90s design, with a nod to the story but more in the direction of Cyborg than Android. This William Gibson/Johnny Mnemonic style was hot shit in the 90's, and clanking mechanical simulacra were somewhat unfashionable. My personal copy of this book is this edition, though I'd much rather own the Disco Robot Abe Lincoln one.
And now the latest English language edition from 2008, and we're back in stuff-that-doesn't-happen-in-the-book territory, with this alien abduction nonsense. Apart from the UFOs it's quite a nice design. a normal suburban house being truer to the spirit of Dick's work than spaceships and bug-eyed monsters
Now we're on to the foreign editions of the book, starting with this eyecatching Robot Abe Lincoln, looking particularly swarthy. He looks a bit more like Don Quixote on a Holodeck than anything else.
This French edition has a fantastic cover quite unlike any other edition. No UFOs, moon dust or Abe Lincolns, just a guy with a hole in his head and a red wire sticking out. I don't think anyone gets shot in the head or has red worms eating his brain in the book, but this cover could easily go on several other Dick books, as it sums up how you feel after reading one.
This hideous 1975 Dutch edition is the kind of thing you'd be ashamed to be seen reading on the tube. OK, it (barely) covers the robot simulacrum angle but last time I checked it was Abraham Lincoln in the book, not Mick Jagger. Horrible- it makes the book look like the worst kind of moronic sci-fi.
Appropriately we finish with a Finnish edition, which also looks like it took all of 20 minutes to design. No clip-art of robot Lincoln? No problem, just bung in a spaceman. They're sci-fi fans, they'll never know the difference. Despite this, it's fairly pleasing to the eye. Just don't expect any space travel.
Hope you enjoyed the update. A new Zero-budget Filmmaking tip coming soon, and it’s a good one so stay tuned.