Locus Collection Tracks the Stars and Universe of Sci-Fi

The Locus collection includes some 16,000 rare and noteworthy monuments of science fiction and fantasy, many in their original dust jackets.

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has acquired the archives of the Locus Science Fiction Foundation, publisher of Locus, the preeminent trade magazine for the science fiction and fantasy publishing field.

The massive collection—which arrived in almost a thousand boxes—includes first editions of numerous landmarks of science fiction and fantasy, along with correspondence from some of the genre’s best-known practitioners, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Octavia E. Butler, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Dean Koontz, Robert A. Heinlein, and hundreds more.

Locus started out in 1968 as a one-sheet science fiction and fantasy fanzine. Since then, it has evolved into the most trusted news magazine in science fiction and fantasy publishing, with in-depth reviews, author interviews, forthcoming book announcements, convention coverage, and comprehensive listings of all science fiction books published in English. It also administers the prestigious annual Locus Awards, first presented in 1971, which recognize excellence in science fiction and fantasy.

Over the course of five decades in print, the magazine’s editors and staff have collected and saved correspondence, clippings, and books by and about science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. What emerges from this trove of material is a tapestry of a diverse and thriving community of writers, publishers, and editors, all working to create new and modern genres of speculative literature.

This rare advanced reader’s copy of the first edition of Game of Thrones has a distinctly different look and feel from the popular HBO series.

Of the magazine’s original three co-founders—Charles N. Brown, Ed Meskys, and Dave Vanderwerf—only Brown remained after the magazine’s first year. He would continue to edit the publication until his death in 2009, earning the magazine some thirty Hugo Awards in the process and becoming a colorful and influential figure in the publishing world. A tireless advocate for speculative fiction, Brown was also a voluminous correspondent and friend to many of the writers featured in the magazine. Many of them wrote to him over the years to share personal and professional news, or to quibble about inaccuracies and suggest corrections. The letters are often friendly, personal, humorous, and occasionally sassy.

Reacting to a recent issue of Locus that featured one of her short stories, the science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler wrote, “I am Octavia E. Butler in all my stories, novels, and letters. How is it that I’ve lost my E in three places in Locus #292? Three places! You owe me three E’s. That’s a scream, isn’t it?”

One also finds frequent remembrances and retrospectives of departed members of the Locus community, such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s poignant reflections on the passing of Philip K. Dick. After Brown’s own death, the magazine continued publication under the auspices of the Locus Science Fiction Foundation, a registered nonprofit. The magazine launched a digital edition in January 2011 and has published both in print and online ever since.

In addition to the correspondence, story drafts, and other manuscript material (which has now been processed), the collection includes some 16,000 rare and noteworthy monuments of science fiction and fantasy from Brown’s extensive personal library, such as first editions of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and hundreds more.

“Historical literary treasures abound in the Locus collection, from full runs of the pulps to vintage first editions to contemporary works,” said Liza Groen Trombi, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Locus Magazine. “And its preservation is deeply important. It is the product of decades of collecting and curating, starting in the 1940s, the Golden Age of science fiction, when Locus’s founding publisher Charles N. Brown was an avid reader with a deep love of genre, through his time working within the science fiction field, and up to the present day under the current Locus staff. Housing those core works in an institution where they’ll be both accessible to scholars and researchers at the same time as they are carefully preserved is a goal that I and the Locus Science Fiction Foundation board of directors had long had. I am very happy to see them in the dedicated care of the curators and librarians at Duke.”

In its new home in the Rubenstein Library, the Locus collection complements existing collection strengths in the areas of science fiction and popular literature, including the Glenn R. Negley Collection of Utopian Literature, and the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Pulp Culture.

“The opportunity to acquire the Locus Foundation library is a tremendous one for Duke,” said Sara Seten Berghausen, Associate Curator of Collections in the Rubenstein Library. “Because it’s a carefully curated collection of the most important and influential works of science fiction of the last several decades—most in their original dust jackets, with fantastic artwork—it complements perfectly our existing collection of utopian literature from the early modern period through the mid-twentieth century.”

Locus started out as a one-sheet science fiction and fantasy fanzine and grew into the most trusted news magazine in science fiction and fantasy publishing.

Berghausen notes that Brown and Locus created not only this collection, but a community of writers, and those relationships are documented throughout the archival collection as well. “The research and teaching possibilities are almost unlimited,” she said. “From political theory to history, art, anthropology and gender studies, there are materials in the collection that could enrich the study of so many topics.”

The collection is already being used in courses at Duke. This semester, English professor Michael D’Alessandro brought his class on utopias and dystopias in American literature to the Rubenstein Library to examine some of the Locus materials first-hand.

“It’s a curious strength Duke has that I didn’t expect,” said D’Alessandro. “I taught this course previously at Harvard, and even the archives there didn’t have anything like this collection, which adds a whole new breadth and depth to the class.”

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