If you’re a writer, and you’ve dabbled with book layout, at some point you’ll have thought, what font should I use inside the book? Furthermore, if like me you write science fiction you’ll probably have pored over all sorts of funky fonts for the cover, but what do you use for the interior. Surely not Times new Roman!
I thought about this when I wrote “The Tango”, which is contemporary fiction, and one of the first books I published. In the end I did what I usually do in these kinds of cases, I “borrowed” from what the pros do. I grabbed a book off my bookshelf that seemed to suit, and used that font. In that case it was “Bookman Old Style”. For the life of me I can’t remember which book it was.
Now Bookman is a nice font. It suited “The Tango”, and I ended up using it for the first two Precursor books as well, but I’ve never been totally happy with how it looks. It’s just a bit wide, and I always had to fiddle with the spacing to get it readable. So with a new book, “Quantum Chronology” not far off. I decided to revisit that choice.
Why? Because these things matter. Consider the following three images (extracts from my upcoming book “Quantum Chronology”)
Quantum Chronology Text sample in classic Garamond
Quantum Chronology text sample in modern style font.
Quantum Chronology text sample in Typewriter style font.
Now there’s nothing in the text itself that tells you when this is set. Is it few years after 1829, or centuries afterwards? But the second image, with its slightly more rounded lettering nudges the reader to a more modern time. The third, while a patently ridiculous choice for anything other than an epistolary style, recalls for me at least a post WW2 time.
This extract is from the middle of the book and may not even make the final cut. But what if it were the opening chapter?. A choice of type, like in the second image, along with ambiguous wording could easily lead the reader to think they were reading something set in current times, not science fiction. Compare that to a cleaner, plainer choice like the first image which doesn’t nudge the reader into an assumption.
So what font to use? Unlike font choice for covers, there is a dearth of suggestions on the internet for this topic. There’s a couple of articles with good advice which can be summarised by “stick to the classics”. But what are the classics, and what about science fiction specifically?
So I decided to do a survey off my bookshelf, and see what kinds of fonts have been used for a variety of my favourite titles. If only to save someone else the job of looking inside every book they own on the off-chance that the font name is included on the copyright page.
This is not going to be an exhaustive list, mainly because most of my books don’t have the font listed. So e.g. you’ll see “The Moat Around Murcheson’s Eye” by Niven and Pournelle, but not the much more well known “Mote in God’s Eye”. I have both, but only the sequel specifies the font. Go figure.
Likewise Iain M. Banks is well represented, but Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton are not; though I have just about everything by all three.
What conclusions can we draw from this?
The full list (such as it is) follows. And yes I realise I should be writing instead of dicking around with fonts. But it’s my time, and I’ll squander it however I like.
|Arthur C. Clarke||2061 Odessey Three||Grafton||Times|
|Arthur C. Clarke||The Light of Other Days||Voyager||Meridien|
|Asimov||The Early Asimov Vol3||Panther||Times|
|Asimov||The End of Eternity||Panther||Plantin|
|Asimov||The Stars Like Dust||Panther||Plantin|
|Asimov||The Caves of Steel||Panther||Plantin|
|E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith||Children of the Lens||Panther||Plantin|
|E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith||Second Stage Lensman||Panther||Plantin|
|Grant Naylor||Red Dwarf||Penguin||Benbo|
|Guy Gavriel Kay||The Summer Tree||Harper Collons||Times|
|Harry Harrison||Homeworld||Granada||intertype Times|
|Heinlein||To Sail Beyond the Sunset||Sphere||Sabon|
|Iain M. Banks||Surface Detail||Orbit||Stempel Garamond|
|Iain M. Banks||Matter||Orbit||Stempel Garamond|
|Iain M. Banks||The Algebraist||Orbit||Stempel Garamond|
|Iain M. Banks||Look to Windward||Orbit||Stempel Garamond|
|Iain M. Banks||The Hydrogen Sonata||Orbit||Stempel Garamond|
|Katherine Kerr||Time of Omens||Grafton||Times|
|Kevin J Anderson||Hidden Empire||Weiss|
|Lee Modesty jr||The Ethos Effect||Orbit||Garamond 3|
|Niven Pournelle||The Moat Around Murcheson’s Eye||Harper Collins||Meriden|
|Phillip Jose Farmer||To Your Scattered Bodies Go||Grafton||Linotype Plantin|
|Phillip K. Dick||Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep||Panther||Times|
|Piers Anthony||Bio of a Space Tyrant 3||Granada||Times|
|Raymond E. Fiest||Daughter of The Empire||Grafton||Times|
|Richard Bach||Johnathan Livingston Seagull||Harper Collins||Optima|
|Sean Willams & Shane Dix||Echoes of Earth||Voyager||Sabon|
|Stephen Donaldson||Chaos And Order||Voyager||Galliard|
|Terry Pratchett||Pyramids||Corgi||English Times|
|Terry Pratchett||Night Watch||Corgi||Meridien|
|Terry Pratchett||Feet of Clay||Corgi||Sabon|
Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash