My fascination with old books, and cover illustrations in particular, was rewarded recently when I visited one of my local library’s used book sales. Among the innumerable romance novels and near-destroyed kids books was a book club copy of “Journey to the Center” by Brian Stableford. The book is also known as “Asgard’s Secret” or “Journey to the Centre.”
Stableford specializes in “biology sci-fi,” where the science part of the “sci-fi” focuses on how creatures work. (Or at least that’s what I’m getting from his wikipedia and fan-site text.)
The cover, of course is what initially intrigued me.
Since this was first published in 1982, it doesn’t really count as a pulp magazine illustration, but I like it anyway.
Here’s what the rather ridiculously lengthy dust cover text has to say about it.
Mike Rousseau is a loner, a scavenger who spends his life going on independent forays into the labyrinth of levels that honeycomb the planet Asgard. There, in the cold that approaches Absolute Zero as one goes deeper, Rousseau and scavengers like him hunt for artifacts of the race that once lived there but now seems to have disappeared.
Except for occasional run-ins with the official relic collection agency — the Co-Ordinated Research Establishment, which frowns on Rousseau’s independence — Rousseau has led a relatively untroubled existence…. Until he receives an early-morning call from the Tetrax, Asgard’s ruling authorities. In accordance with local laws, they want him to take responsibility for a fellow human immigrant named Myrlin until he can get on his own feet. Since the last thing Rousseau wants is to be stuck with some freeloader, he hands Myrlin over to his old friend, Saul Lyndrach. When Rousseau discovers that this “fellow human” was over seven feet tall, and that Saul, along with Myrlin, has disappeared, he begins to wonder if Myrlin is really just another human visiting Asgard.
For the meantime, however, Rousseau finds himself occupied with more immediate problems. Two Spirellans, members of a race that puts much credit in “doing someone else down,” as Rousseau notes, have appeared at his door with an offer they suggest he not refuse: to join them as guide on a deep- level expedition. The leader of the Asgardian underground Amara Guur, has apparently set his heart on receiving Mike’s help – voluntary or not. When Mike refuses, he discovers just how far Guur is willing to go. According to Tetrax law, a convicted criminal must pay off his debt to society by being sold as a slave. Before he knows it, Rousseau finds himself framed for murder – and Guur intends to buy him.
Just as he is about to sign the contract binding him to Guur, a voice rings out, “Don’t sign that!” A human starforce captain, the beautiful Susarma Lear, offers a rival bid, and Rousseau, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, agrees to become her property. Susarma is just back from the long and victorious war between humankind and their enemy, the Salamandra, and now wants a guide to the lower levels of Asgard. She, Mike discovers, is hot on the trail of that mysterious Myrlin, but refuses to say why.
With the blonde, assured Susarma, Rousseau starts off on a dangerous journey to the center of the planet. Pursued by the sinister Guur and his henchmen, braving the fearsome cold of the unknown world of the deep levels, Mike finds himself heading towards a deadly confrontation at the heart of the planet.
Unfortunately, I can’t find much about the cover artist, Mike Yost, but I love what he did with the eerie green glow from the planet’s core.
You can buy your own copy of the book, with a different cover, here .