Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Brian Aldiss, 1925-2017

August 31st, 2017

On August 19th, science fiction writer and critic Brian Aldiss died, a day after turning 92. In an obituary for The Guardian, fellow writer Christopher Priest characterized Aldiss as “by a long chalk the premier British science fiction writer.” As fans and scholars of speculative fiction around the world mourn this loss, some will be surprised to discover that part of the British writer’s literary legacy resides in Kansas: the Spencer Research Library a holds significant collection of papers for Aldiss, including materials for his Billion Year Spree and his Helliconia Trilogy. The trilogy, which consists of the novels Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983), and Helliconia Winter (1985), is among Aldiss’s most admired works. “This depiction of a world that circles a double star, where an orbital Great Year lasts long enough for cultures to emerge, prosper and fail,” Priest writes in his remembrance of Aldiss, “is a subtle, deeply researched and intellectually rigorous work.”

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Helliconia Spring, Lawrence, KS, 1983.

Brian Aldiss accepting the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel for Helliconia Spring (1982) in Lawrence, KS in 1983.  Call number: RG 0/19: Aldiss, Brian

The collection of Aldiss’s papers at KU provides a wealth of evidence for the research and rigor that went into his writings. The 25 boxes of materials for the Helliconia Trilogy include, for example, Aldiss’s extensive correspondence with scientists and scholars to determine the scientific basis for the world he was creating. Those consulted include Iain Nicholson of Hatfield Polytechnic Observatory on the subject of astronomy, Peter Cattermole of the University of Sheffield on geology and climate, and Tom Shippey, then at the University of Leeds, on the languages of the novel. The result is a world  striking in its attention to detail.

A selection of research Correspondence for the Helliconia Trilogy.

A selection of research correspondence with Iain Nicholson, Peter Cattermole, and Tom Shippey concerning the creation of Helliconia. Brian Wilson Aldiss Papers. Call #: MS 214: A.

Not only do these letters reveal the extent to which technical and scientific matters underpin the trilogy’s concept, plot, and themes, but they also offer lighter moments of humor between on-going collaborators. Aldiss, for example, begins a June 1981 letter to Cattermole by quipping, “Helliconian scholars have failed to study Helliconia’s sister planets in any depth; they have been too busy drinking the whisky out of their orrerys.” (MS 214:Aa:2:14a).  Writing again to Cattermole in September of 1982, following the publication of Helliconia Spring earlier that February, Aldiss reports,

Vol. 1 has been very well received, especially in the States; over here there were complaints, as you say, about names. Well, it’s no good building up an intense winter atmosphere in Embruddock and then call[ing] the sods Joe and Charlie. There will be more complaints of that nature with Vol II, where I have a vast character list, with over fifty speaking parts, but I see no way of evading the problem and so forge on hopefully.  Wait till you meet Queen MyrdalemInggala….. (MS 214Aa:2:16b)

Spencer Research Library’s collections also include manuscript materials for Aldiss’s groundbreaking Billion Year Spree (1973)subtitled “The True History of Science Fiction,” which he later expanded with David Wingrove into Trillion Year Spree (1986). The volume argues for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) as the birth of science fiction.

Aldiss’s ties to the University of Kansas grew out of his relationship with fellow science fiction writer and critic, James Gunn, Professor Emeritus of English and the founder of KU’s Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. “We were long-time friends, although an ocean between us limited our encounters,” Gunn explains.

I was a guest in his Oxford home for a couple of days after the founding of World SF in Ireland [in 1976], and he was a guest in my home during his author’s visit here.  We were competitors only in the writing of science-fiction histories.  We both started in 1971, but circumstances (and maybe the complexities of illustrations) held up Alternate Worlds (1975) [Gunn’s illustrated history of SF] for a couple of years.  When I wrote him for a photograph, he suggested that we exchange blurbs–that I would say his history was the best and he would do the same for mine.

Though the delay in the publication of Gunn’s Alternate Worlds meant that the exchange of blurbs never came to pass, researchers can explore both Aldiss’s and Gunn’s processes in writing their respective histories of science fiction by examining the collections of their papers at Spencer Research Library.

Cover of Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree (1974 paperback edition)  Cover of James Gunn's Alternate Worlds (1975)

Left: Brian Aldiss’s Billion Year Spree (1973). Schocken paperback edition, second printing. New York: Schocken Books, 1975. Call #: ASF B1245. Right: James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds. First edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J : Prentice-Hall, 1975. Call #: E2598.

In his introduction to Billion Year Spree, Aldiss mused, “Possibly this book will help further the day when writers who invent whole worlds are as highly valued as those who re-create the rise and fall of a movie magnate or the breaking of two hearts in a bedsitter. The invented universe, the invented time, are often so much closer to us than Hollywood or Kensington.” Thank you for those invented universes, Brian Aldiss.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Throwback Thursday: North Gallery Edition

August 31st, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Spencer’s North Gallery has been the library’s iconic space since the building opened in 1968. Earlier this summer we finished a renovation of the space and installed a new permanent exhibit featuring a snapshot of Spencer’s collections.

Come see the changes in the North Gallery any time Spencer Research Library is open, or attend the grand reopening next Thursday, September 7th, 3:00-4:30pm. The opening reception is free and open to everyone, and we hope to see you there!

Photograph of the Spencer Research Library North Gallery, 1960s

The North Gallery at Spencer Research Library, 1960s.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 0/22/82/i 1960s Prints:
Campus: Buildings: Spencer Research Library: Interior (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

An Embarrassment of Riches: Highlights from a survey of the Summerfield Collection

August 29th, 2017

This year I have been conducting a survey of part of the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books. It is not an exhaustive survey, but rather a cursory look at each volume to determine its general condition, immediately address minor refurbishment or housing needs, and note any issues that can be followed up on in future projects. I have not been recording every small detail, but I still get to handle and glance over each volume, which is a great treat – the Summerfield collection is truly a treasure. Summerfield’s many beautiful bindings, in particular the limp vellum and ornately tooled alum-tawed pigskin bindings, merit their own post someday. But today I want to share some of the hidden gems that I’ve encountered in the course of my work.

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

This botanical text (Summerfield D519) has the most lovely line illustrations. Wouldn’t they make absolutely wonderful coloring pages?
(Click all images to enlarge.)

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Summerfield E397 has two pieces of binder’s waste manuscript fragments taped into the back of the volume. Whoever put a new binding on this volume in the last century saved the fragments from the earlier binding.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Summerfield contains a wealth of pastepapers in classic crumpled-paper and combed patterns.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

There are also printed pastepapers in big, bold patterns…

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

…as well as tiny, delicate printed patterns.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

These endpapers with an oversize printed floral design might be made from wallpaper or wallpaper samples.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Here are two examples of colorful decorated text block edges.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse of a binding’s structure and the printed or manuscript matter that binders used in their work.

 

Summerfield Collection, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Traces of prior readers, such as this charming handmade bookmark, can be especially thrilling to encounter. Such evidence makes me feel particularly connected to the past and very lucky that I get to do this job!

 

Angela Andres
Special Collections Conservator
Conservation Services

 

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: August 28-September 3, 1917

August 28th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Highlights from this week’s letters include Forrest’s description of various bugle calls (“the one that sounds best is ‘taps’…the ‘soup & beans’ call sounds good, too”), his possible transfer to the “photo section” (“they are simply waiting to get enough men to ship together”), his request for more letters (“I am mighty glad you do like to write because you can’t do it often enough to suit me”) and fudge (“but don’t put any nut meats in it”) from Marie, and his description of watching some “real war motion pictures in the college Riding Hall.”

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, August 29, 1917

Take any music you want

Wed. Aug. 29, 1917

Dear Marie,

I am waiting to be surprised with your “bright idea.” Let ‘er shoot. Some fancy dress and ribbon, I’d say. If you had one of these bugles tooting in your ear every morning at 5:15 you wouldn’t need Andy to pull you out. A large megaphone is set up on a post and a bugler puts his music box up to the mouthpiece of this horn and sounds the different calls. The one that sounds best is “taps” at 9:45 10:00 P.M. First one bugle away over the hill will sound then a nearer one, then one still nearer. Finally the bugles in back of our barracks will blow. The “soup & beans” call sounds good, too, in a different way. This morning we had the usual hour of foot drill, an hour of heliograph practise, an hour of wireless, and an hour and a half of grooming horses. The heliograph consists of mirrors and shutters mounted on two tripods. The shutter is opened and closed by a key and makes the dots and dashes in the telegraph code. The mirrors reflect the rays of sunlight to the distant station thru the shutter when it is operated by the key. Under favorable conditions it is possible to send a message 120 miles at the rate of 8 words per minute (40 letters). We have been having it pretty soft this week in the afternoons. We go to the corral, get our horses and feed them on the grass by the roadside in the woods. We have over 100 horses for our company and it keeps us busy watching them. I like to “monkey” with these horses; they are beginning to show the results of a good care and feed, too.

I was talking to Sergeant Williams today and he said I could feel sure that I will be transferred to the photo section pretty soon. You see they are simply waiting to get enough men to ship together and meanwhile they give us the regular signal training as photography is a branch of the Signal Corps, the same as a telephone, telegraph, radio, and visual signaling, you see the Signal Corps is the information dept. of the Army and the photographer gives his information in the form of maps and record photographs. Well this will have to be enough. I wish I knew if I could plan to come to Beloit for a day. You can bet Lyle and Ethel would have nothing on us. I can’t help but think of all the good times we had.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Friday Aug. 31, 1917

Dear Marie,

You said that you love me more every time you think of me, so I’m going to try my best to keep myself in your thoughts. I am mighty glad you do like to write because you can’t do it often enough to suit me. The very most you can do for me is to write the some helpful and inspiring letters. I would like some of your fudge just as often as you want to make it. But don’t put any nut meats in it. You sure are one mighty good girlie to do these things for me. I wish we could eat a dish of fudges together – you know how. Do you remember what a day we had the 4th of July? I am not going to try to come home, I guess. Last night we saw some real war motion pictures in the college Riding Hall. We saw a Zepplin raid over London and saw one machine set on fire by an anti-aircraft gun. The pictures were of all the warning nations and were interesting. I have only seen two motion picture shows since I came here and they were at Leavenworth City. They have free motion pictures here three times a week but I haven’t seen any yet. I know that I liked the shows in Beloit just because they were a good excuse to be with one mighty sweet and lovable little girl. This evening Sergeant Baber played “Flower Song” three times in succession. I went over to the machine to listen and told him that I knew a girl at home that played the piece on the piano, with the phonograph. He looked up and said “Same here, by gosh,” and the look in his eyes told that he was thinking of Her too.

But there is not a single one lucky enough to have a girl like You to think about. Make that photographer get those pictures out “doubletime” as we say in drill. I wrote to Mother to send my film tank so you make get some “snaps” of me sometime. I did the transmitting on the field buzzer today for the class of “ham operators,” of which yours truly is one. Well I must quit.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

Throwback Thursday: Canine Mascot Edition

August 24th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

National Dog Day is this Saturday, but you can celebrate a little early with this week’s photograph.

Photograph of the KU Marching Band mascot, Boris, 1968

Boris, former mascot of KU’s Marching Band, 1968.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 22/1/m 1968 Prints:
Fine Arts: University Bands: Marching Band (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Want more cute pictures of KU-affiliated dogs? Check out last year’s photograph of James Naismith with two adorable puppies.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services