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J. Lloyd Eaton Science Fiction Collection rocks

15/07/2005. Contributed by Jessica Martin

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UC Riverside's 'J. Lloyd Eaton Science Fiction Collection' is the largest in the world, and the most useful to scholars of any in the nation, according to the latest edition of Anatomy of Wonder.

The Eaton Collection is "the premier collection in the U.S.," states the fifth edition of "Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction," edited by Neil Barron. The collection embraces every branch of science fiction, plus fantasy and horror, the reference says, and boasts the largest holdings of 17th- to 19th-century utopian and dystopian fiction in North America.

It is an accumulation that inspires admiration, and even envy, among curators and librarians of other science fiction collections.

"It's definitely a race," said Professor George Slusser, curator emeritus of the collection. "We've been at the top for the last 10 years, but there are others catching up."

"Anatomy of Wonder" estimates the Eaton Collection at 295,000 items, but that's old news, Slusser said -- and it's a rather conservative estimate in any case; a recent acquisition of thousands of science fiction fan magazines from UCLA puts the total at close to 350,000. The collection includes original manuscripts, periodicals, magazines, comic books, literary papers and much more memorabilia. Housed in the library's Special Collections Department, the collection holds 90 percent of English-language science fiction, fantasy and horror published in the 20th century, plus a wide range of works in Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, German and 12 other languages.

And yes, among its rare and valuable first editions is H.G. Wells' original 1898 "War of the Worlds."

The science fiction of popular culture -- movies like Spielberg's version of "War of the Worlds" and TV shows like "Star Trek" -- owes an enormous debt to the written science fiction that makes up the bulk of the collection, Slusser said.

"Moviemakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg learned from science fiction stories in books and magazines," Slusser said. "They read it and it inspired them. Where else do they get their storylines? The heart of it is here, in written science fiction."

Under Slusser's direction the Eaton Collection has expanded twenty-fold, generating dozens of international conferences and attracting scholars from around the world to do original research in science fiction, fantasy and mass culture.

"Anatomy of Wonder" puts the collection at the top, worldwide, of its "Statistical Summary of the 26 Largest Science Fiction and Fantasy Collections." Next in line, with 130,000 items, is Phantastische Bibliothek Wetzlar in Germany. After that comes The University of Louisville, with 100,000 items. UCLA's and Cal State Fullerton's highly regarded collections are 15th and 21st on the list, respectively.

The collection was established at UC Riverside in 1969, when Oakland physician J. Lloyd Eaton, a prominent West Coast science fiction fan who hobnobbed with the likes of authors Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, left his 6,000-book collection to the university. Then-UCR librarian Eleanor Montague saw it as the nucleus of something that could become much bigger, Slusser said. It has since assimilated several other large collections and is growing by thousands of items per year.

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