Back from Two Week Trip to UC-Riverside and the Eaton Science Fiction Collection

From February 5 to 18, I researched in the Eaton Science Fiction Fiction and Fantasy Collection the University of California, Riverside‘s Tomas Rivera Library. As I mentioned last year, I was very appreciative to have won an R. D. Mullen Fellowship to fund my travel and accommodations for the research-oriented trip.

Professor Rob Latham administers the fellowship and the science fiction work at UC-Riverside, which includes an annual SF symposium and the biannual Eaton Conference co-hosted with the library’s special collections. He is a gracious host, and I enjoyed our conversations while I was in Riverside.

UC-Riverside is building a strong constellation in science fiction studies. Besides Latham at the helm, the university recently hired the science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson into the creative writing program. Now, the university is conducting a new hire for a science fiction media studies person (I applied, but alas, I didn’t make the short list). I suspect more the university will continue to grow in this direction–at least, I hope that it does, because it can grow the SF program around the significant holdings of the library.

The Eaton Collection is located on the fourth floor of the Thomas Rivera Library and its hours of operation are from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. I planned my trip so that I would have two full weeks to work in the special collections to conduct research for my dissertation chapter on Philip K. Dick, his 2-3-74 visions, and his health problems. In the event that I found as much material related to Dick’s work as possible, I also planned a contengency set of materials on the following chapter on William Gibson’s work.

I am very happy to report that I achieved both goals and went a bit beyond my original set of documents thanks to cross referenced connections as well as new leads produced by my readings. Additionally, Reference Library Gwido Zlatkes turned me onto the two boxes of Philip K. Dick archival materials, which included some very cool autographed materials along with a full run of the Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter and other rare magazines and fanzines (including the November 6, 1975 Rolling Stone article).

I began my research by reading the full thirty issue run of The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, which includes a double issue (#9/10) on cassette tape—one side being an interview conducted by Paul Williams with Dick and the other side Dick recording writing notes. The experience of fast-forwarding Dick’s posthumous canonization yielded more primary sources than I could have hoped for in letters and interviews. Interviews with Dick’s friends and former spouses also provide important corroboration and clarification of Dick’s sometimes-unreliable personal narratives.

References in the Newsletter, combined with other research done before my visit to Riverside, led me to other interviews, notes, and reviews in fanzines including: The Alien Critic (later Science Fiction Review), Algol (later Starship), and The Patchin Review, and magazines including: Locus, Vertex, Science Fiction Eye, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Analog.

After exhausting my leads in the collection related to Dick’s later fictions and personal life, I spent the last three days collecting research for the William Gibson chapter of my dissertation. I focused on the Locus reporting of Gibson’s success following the publication of Neuromancer in 1984 and later interviews with the writer in 1991 and 2003. I was pleased to find a fanzine co-edited by Gibson titled Genre Plat, but Gibson’s essay, “Blues for Horselover Fat” in the fanzine Wing Window provides the strongest evidence that I can use to bridge my chapters on Dick and Gibson.

To fill out the time that I was in the library, I also found photographs and reports of past Science Fiction Research Association meetings, including the one hosted at Kent State University in the mid-1980s where Samuel R. Delany was honored with the Pilgrim Award.

My UC-Riverside visit was punctuated with a weekend visit to see Patrick and Sharon Sharp in Los Angeles. They played hosts and guides to my first visit to the strange world of LA–a place that actually felt like another country to me. We visited the Little Tokyo area for lunch and snacks and then strolled through the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles photography exhibition (Weegee was doing amazing stuff with photography!). We also enjoyed the sunset from the top of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel (a fascinating hotel with interesting designs and spaces, but is it really postmodern? I think that a better case could be made for Riverside’s Mission Inn in that respect). I also got to meet their very friendly cat, Tonks.

I believe that the research trip (and my first trip to California for that matter) was a smashing success! I have many materials that I have notes on and many other materials that I need to review again. I also got to reconnect with friends and colleagues there: Pawel Frelik, Mark Biswas, and William Sun.

You can see my photos from around Riverside and Los Angeles on Flickr here.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.