Lockdown Discoveries is an exhibition currently on display at Rare Books & Special Collections in Fisher Library. Due to COVID restrictions preventing access to some people, we’ve created a series of blog posts to ensure no-one misses out.
The Lockdown Discoveries exhibition presents highlights from the Ron Graham Science Fiction collection, handpicked and curated by the RBSC Cataloguing Project Team. This is Part 2 of our blog about the exhibition. Read Part 1 and Part 3.
Inventing the future
Professor Archibald Low, a physicist, inventor and engineer, was known for his pioneering work on early radio guidance systems. In addition to enthusiastic non-fiction books on science and technology, Low also penned a handful of novels, including this 1937 science fiction adventure which features a garage-built rocket-ship, a cloud-like space monster, evil aliens, terror rays from Mars, floating space islands and technological marvels such as a supervitamin pills and colour television!
In the book shown below, Doctor Dolittle, world-renowned physician, linguist, veterinarian, and animal rights activist travels to the moon on the wings of a giant moth. There he learns to communicate with the local fauna and singing plant life with the help of marooned sculptor, Otho Bludge, whose occupancy dates back to the separation of the moon from the Earth. Together they work with the Lunar Council to negotiate an agreement for annual seed production quotas (a common theme in children’s literature).
Originally published as a short story Starship Soldier in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Heinlein’s controversial novel, Starship Troopers was written as a furious reaction to the United States’ suspension of nuclear testing in 1958. On the surface a military space adventure, it is at once a coming of age story for its main protagonist, Rico, and a vehicle for the discursive exposition of the author’s martial theories on civic virtue, criminal justice and voting franchise. While his Cold War opposition to communism is undeniable, Heinlein is equally critical of American democracy in themes that are as much satirised as they are presented in the popular 1997 film adaptation.
As science fiction, the work occupies a seminal position in the ‘space marine’ sub-genre, inspiring a military strategy game in 1978 that may be seen as the precursor to such games as Battletech and Warhammer.
Collectable first editions
The most valuable editions are usually the hardcover first editions with a dust jacket. An author’s first book might be considered rare and harder to find, but in science fiction the most valuable tend to also be the best known. Titles such as I, Robot, Fahrenheit 451, Dune and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Bladerunner) are known as both literary and cinematic classics, and demand in collectors’ circles remains high for copies in fine condition.
Fahrenheit 451 is regarded as one of Ray Bradbury’s best works. This first edition from 1953 features a personal letter written by the author to a fellow science fiction writer, providing a rare glimpse into his playful mind, which is contrary to the ‘brilliant nightmare’ painted in his famous book. The special asbestos-bound edition of Fahrenheit 451 mentioned in the letter is highly sought-after by collectors and sells in excess of $20,000.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
This is an early 20th century reprint of Samuel T. Coleridge’s famous 1798 poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It was published by Haldeman-Julius Company as part of their ‘Little Blue Book’ series that mass-produced cheap pocket-sized paperbacks to make literature accessible to the average citizen.
I first encountered this poem in my high school English class, and the imagery of the albatross and the heavy burden of guilt weighing on the ancient mariner’s neck has remained with me more than a decade later.
Fandom can take many forms. Here we have a hand-made book inspired by horror and fantasy stories and artwork. The book is a collection of handwritten stories, bound, with two variant hand-painted dust jackets. It may have been created for pleasure or as a student project. Unfortunately, no information has come to light (or dark) on E.C. Lambert, who concocted this work in Brighton, England, 1947-48.
It is not known how Ron Graham acquired the book.
Lockdown Discoveries was curated by the Rare Book & Special Collections Cataloguing Project Team: Vicky Chiu, Simon Cooper, Tonia Fossey, Chingmy Lam, Hiyori Ogawa, Phuong Pham, Liz Ray, Theresia Sandjaja, Dannielle Williams & some other guy.
The Lockdown Discoveries exhibition is located at:
Rare Books & Special Collections
Open: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm
Phone: +61 2 9351 2992