The Science Fiction Collection at Houghton Library consists largely of 20th-century trade paperbacks, magazines, fanzines, and prozines. Established as a discrete collection in 1957, it complements the Rev. Francis G. Peabody Utopian Literature Collection, as well as the library’s individual author collections of such writers as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edward Bellamy.
Following the death of his son, junior Richard “Dick” W. Clarkson (Class of 1955), Paul S. Clarkson donated Dick’s collection of science fiction books to the Harvard University Library. The collection was curated by Lauriston Ward, curator of Asiatic Archaeology at the Peabody Museum, and a keen science-fiction fan. He was assisted by G. William Cottrell Jr., research associate in ornithology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and founding editor of the Harvard Library Bulletin.
Ward and Cottrell arranged a space for the collection within Houghton Library and solicited gifts to grow it, adding many volumes from their own libraries.
Acquisitions declined following Ward’s death and Cottrell’s departure from the Harvard Library Bulletin, both in 1960, and ceased altogether by 1972.
In 2009, funding from the Ruth Miller Memorial Philanthropic Fund enabled the library to catalog the collection, making it available to readers for the first time.
The collection includes many works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror by both well-known and lesser-known authors, including:
- Poul Anderson
- Isaac Asimov
- John Brunner
- Murray Leinster
- Eric Frank Russell
- Robert Sheckley
- Roy Sheldon
- Robert Silverberg
- Clifford D. Simak
- E.E. Smith
- George O. Smith
- Jerry Sohl
- Vargo Statten
- Theodore Sturgeon
- John Taine
- J.R.R. Tolkien
- E.C. Tubb
- Wilson Tucker
- A.E. Van Vogt
- Jean-Gaston Vandel
- Jules Verne
- Stanley Grauman Weinbaum
- H.G. Wells
- Dennis Wheatley
- Jack Williamson
- S. Fowler Wright
- John Wyndham
Material in the collection dates from the 1880s to the present and also includes numerous anthologies and runs of nearly 200 science fiction periodicals.
The collection also contains collections of fanzines, prozines, and APAs (amateur press association publications): the general collection, covering 1939–1971; that formed by William Wilson Goodson Jr., 1970–2008; and the New England Science Fiction Association APAs.
Recent additions to the collection include The Star Trek Guide, a handbook detailing everything an aspiring writer needed to know write a script for the series. (Read more about the guide here.)
Manuscript collections of science fiction authors include:
- the papers of Sterling Lanier
- page proofs of George O. Smith’s The Fourth “R”
- the Dick Clarkson collection of correspondence on science fiction clubs
- typescripts of short stories submitted to various publications by over 30 authors
- records of the Pittsburgh Science Fiction Association
- Lauriston Ward’s notebooks on “imaginative” science fiction
- compositions by John Wood Campbell
- a collection of materials relating to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger
Accessing These Materials
Items in the Science Fiction Collection can be located in HOLLIS by searching field "Code: Local call number" for SF*. This will return materials specifically in the collection, but not all material by some science fiction authors in author collections. For this reason, it is often preferable to search HOLLIS by author or title.
Many items in the collection were printed on low-quality woodpulp paper, and are brittle. These are identified as "Restricted" in HOLLIS. Readers are asked to consult other copies at Harvard if possible.
Permission to use restricted material must be obtained from Houghton Library. Additionally, some manuscript material is uncataloged and requires permission before access is possible. For these materials, please contact the library in advance of your visit.