Monday, 24 November 2014

New Project to Digitise 10,000 Sci-Fi Zines from University of Iowa Libraries

Back in 2012, the University of Iowa Libraries announced its acquisition of the James L. 'Rusty' Hevelin Collection of pulps, fanzines, and science fiction books. Hevelin died at the end of 2011 but he was well known, particularly in US science fiction circles, as an avid SF fan, collector and dealer. His founding of Iowa state's Icon and DemiCon SF conventions made the Univeristy's purchase of the collection a fitting one.

The items in the collection attest to Hevelin's years as a fan, during the evolution of SF fandom, and the announcement in October of plans to digitise 10,000 fanzines was motivated by a growing interest in the history of this movement. Fanzines to be digised include titles such as the The Phantagraph published in the 1930s-1940s in New York and the Leeds-produced Futurian War Digest (covered in previous posts Futures Past: SF History in Leeds, P.2 and P.4, an issue of which can also be seen in the SF montage that forms a background to the blog). These were DIY materials produced for a growing SF community and often distributed by hand. They also provided a chance for aspiring SF writers to publish their stories, some of whom, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke to name a few, would go on to become icons of the genre. The University's Curator of Science Fiction and Popular Culture Collections, Peter Balestrieri, explained, 'some of the earliest works by these writers can be found in Rusty’s collection of fanzines, along with important writing from all of the major fans who created this new form of popular culture'.

There are plans to record the progress of the project to digitise the fanzines at the Hevelin Collection Tumblr, where updates will be posted.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

An Appendix to Structures of Soviet Science Fiction: Visitor to a Museum

Following the previous feature, which touched on the influence of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker and its parallels with the ‘zone of exclusion’ created by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the 28th Leeds International Film Festival has screened two Soviet films which can be considered in the same light. Both were written and directed by Konstantin Lopuchansky, who worked as an assistant on Stalker, and both deal with post-apocalyptic environments. Lopuchansky’s screenplay for the first of these, Letters from a Dead Man (1986), was written in collaboration with Soviet authors Vladimir Rybakov and Boris Strugatsky. The film depicts the aftermath of nuclear meltdown, a golden-tinted world of ‘perpetual twilight’ where a scholar, holed up in a makeshift shelter, copes with the devastation around him by writing and reciting letters to his son, who is presumed dead.


Posters for Letters from a Dead Man and Visitor to a Museum,
from 'The Apocalypse Quartet of Konstantin Lopushansky' at

The second, Visitor to a Museum (1989), has even been interpreted as a sequel of sorts to Stalker. Its main character travels through a vividly portrayed nightmarish wasteland (literally – it appears to be one vast rubbish dump) on a journey to visit the Museum of the title, which lies submerged under rising flood waters and can only be reached at low tide. In this blighted landscape, an underclass of mutated humans, known as Degenerates, are confined to reservations, where they persist in primitive forms of worship – their sole prayer is “let us out of here”. The central protagonist is disturbed by their plight and fascinated by their religious customs, later seemingly being adopted by them as a Messiah before continuing on his mission as a form of spiritual quest. The latter part of the film is particularly hallucinatory and harrowing; the ‘hero’ reaches the Museum, only to find that it is nothing more than a bleak island of ruins amidst the toxic sea. These evocations of a decayed civilisation, environmental ruin and social collapse are vividly portrayed throughout – a truly dystopian vision created at the very end of the era of Soviet Communism.