Newswise — Thanks to an eBay-shopping English professor, the University of Iowa has acquired more than 250,000 science fiction fanzines and almost overnight has increased its stature as a prominent science fiction research center.
The collection was assembled by Martin M. (Mike) Horvat of Stayton, Ore., a longtime science fiction fan and collector of fanzines, or zines. Rob Latham, a UI professor of English and American Studies who researches science fiction literature and its fan base, said the collection is one of the most impressive he's ever seen, with titles from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia.
"It includes substantial runs of all major and many minor fanzines from the 1960s to the 1990s," said Latham, who is also an editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies. "It even has legendary and relatively rare zines from the 1940s and 1950s, such as Bob Tucker's Le Zombie and Robert Silverberg's Starship, which are significant names in science fiction history. We also found such British, Canadian and Australian zines as Pete Weston's Zenith/Speculation and John Bangsund's SF Commentary."
Zines are small-circulation publications that are made by non-professional publishers for a small audience of devoted science fiction fans. Zines occasionally feature fan fiction, but mostly contain commentary and analysis written by fans, and letters written by the science fiction authors themselves. While the increased use of desktop publishing technology gives many recent zines a professional look, many of the earlier zines in Horvat's collection are written on a typewriter, mimeographed, and bound with staples.
Latham said the archive rivals the Bruce Pelz and Terry Carr collections, both housed in the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of the University of California at Riverside, and makes the University of Iowa a major player in science fiction research.
"It's an extraordinary collection and a significant contribution to the resources available in our library," said Sid Huttner, head of Special Collections at the UI Libraries. "We've long collected the scholarly literature related to science fiction. As a result of this acquisition, however, we now have the largest collection of science fiction fanzines in the Midwest and one of the largest that exists anywhere." Huttner and Latham worked with Brooks Landon, professor of English, to bring the collection to the university.
It would never have happened, though, if a former student of Latham's, Greg Beatty, a UI alumnus who graduated in 2000, had not stumbled across a listing showing the collection for sale while looking at online auction houses one night. Knowing how valuable the collection would be, he immediately emailed Latham.
"Mr. Horvat put his collection up for sale on eBay because the rented building he stored it in had been sold and the new owner was going to demolish the building," Latham said. "The local fire department was going to burn it down to practice fighting fires, so if he couldn't give or sell his collection to someone, it would probably have been burned with the building."
No one had upped Horvat's initial asking bid of only $5,000 when Latham first saw it, but the way that online auctions work, prices tend to skyrocket during the final minutes of bidding, he said.
"As thorough and as valuable as this collection was, we knew there would be a high demand and the final sale price could easily shoot well out of our price range," Latham said.
So Latham persuaded Horvat to remove the collection from eBay and instead let the university take possession of it as a scholarly resource.
"It wasn't too difficult to persuade him because he preferred to keep the collection intact," Latham said. "The fact it would be available to the public and provide an important resource for academic research also appealed to him."
"One portion of the collection -- issues of about 3,000 titles -- came very well organized in file cases," said Huttner. "We have prepared a list of those titles that is already available on the Web." The link is on the Libraries' Special Collections home page at http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll.
Latham said Horvat founded the American Private Press Association and, during the 1970s and 1980s, published South of the Moon, a catalog of publications of amateur press associations. As a result, the Horvat Collection houses a vast archive of zines-such as NAPA, the long-running zine of the National Fantasy Fan Federation. The correspondence of fan editors Gertrude Carr and Richard Geis are also part of the collection.
"When it is fully available to scholars, the Horvat Collection will provide an invaluable resource for research into the history of modern science fiction and the formation of fan communities," said Latham. "We are deeply indebted to Mr. Horvat for providing us with this superb archive."