Ray Bradbury dreamed about man’s great conquest long before President Kennedy voiced his proclamation and long before Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind in 1969. Colleagues dismissed his talk as hogwash, but they pretty much shut up after fantasy became historical fact. Bradbury said so then and believes so now. Recall Star Trek’s communicators and tricorders. Cell phones and PDAs ring any bells?
UC Riverside English Professor George Slusser drew much of the same ridicule from faculty members when he initially proposed making the dusty sci-fi paperbacks and paraphernalia sitting in the basement of the library available as a cultural archive. Against the advice of his fellow colleagues–and staking his chances of tenure at risk–Slusser kept right on collecting with his shoestring budget, enlisting the help of foreign graduate students and closeted sci-fi lovers (read: faculty, the VIP guys) on campus. Thus was born the J. Eaton Collection. Slusser organized academic conferences, and scholarly research took off at the speed of light. These same colleagues who spurned the initial effort hopped on board, maybe considering the body of research papers coming from the collection. Administrators poured more money into science fiction acquisitions. Like Bradbury, Slusser soon had the last laugh.
If you don’t think sci-fi is serious academic business, just ask George Lucas, whose billion-dollar empire known as Star Wars was reworked from the pages of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. Lucas’ utopian epic THX 1138 is a modern retelling of 1984 meets Brave New World. Even the great J.R.R. Tolkien himself couldn’t have created his Fellowship of the Rings trilogy without his linguistic training. Klingonese anyone?
Slusser’s dream of opening a science fiction studies center became reality this year, following a hard fought battle and thanks, no doubt, to the world’s largest public collection of science fiction, fantasy magazines, graphic novels and fanzines now sitting at UCR’s Tomas Rivera Library. Offered as an interdisciplinary concentration in the Department of Comparative Literatures and Foreign Languages and headed by Professors Mariam Lam and Thomas Scanlon, graduate students will be able to substitute science fiction studies in lieu of the traditional second or third literatures. According to Scanlon, students won’t learn how to write science fiction, but they’ll learn how science fiction impacts our lives, society and technological thought.
"Let us remain childlike and not childish in our 20/20 vision," writes Bradbury in his Zen and the Art of Writing, "becoming such telescopes, rockets, or magic carpets as may be needed to hurry us along to miracles of physics as well as dream."