Collection Overview

Outstanding Significance and National Importance of the Bob Gibson Collection

            The University of Calgary Library’s Bob Gibson Collection numbers 40,000 published speculative fiction (SF) items. The collection consists of 1913 hardcover books (some as early as 1778), 24,030 pocket books (softcover books) and runs of 434 pulp magazine titles (1920’s to the present). As an Albertan, Bob Gibson actively collected a wide range of publications in Canada, in England, and as a soldier stationed in wartime Italy. Notably, and most significantly, his collection includes many Canadian items.

Among the magazine runs are unique Canadian titles such as Les Adventures Futuristes (1949); and Tesseracts (1985-1992). Also of interest to Canadian researchers is the collection of Aboriginal Science Fiction (1986-2000).

With the entry of the United States into World War II, pulp magazines became more expensive to produce because of wartime restrictions on paper and ink. This spawned new Canadian titles such as Uncanny Tales (most of which are included in the Gibson Collection). Uncanny Tales featured the work of Canadian science fiction writers such as Thomas P. Kelley, Leslie A. Crouch, John Hollis Mason and Dennis Plimmer. The companion magazine to Uncanny Tales was Eerie Tales, which folded after issuing only one number (also held in the Gibson Collection). In addition to these Canadian titles, the Collection contains rare runs of Canadian editions of American titles. Published during the mid-1940’s to the early 1950’s, these include Canadian printings of: Astonishing Stories; Doc Savage; Famous Fantastic Mysteries; Out of This World Adventures; Planet Stories; Science Fiction; Startling Stories; Super Science Stories; Thrilling Wonder Stories; Uncanny Tales and Weird Tales. Many of these Canadian printings featured Canadian artists and writers. Some of these Canadian printings became more successful than their American “parent”. For example, when Super Science Stories was revived in America in 1949, it relied on its Canadian run (1942-1945) to reproduce authors such as Cleve Cartmill, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry Kuttner, Ray Bradbury, William Hope Hodgson and Ray Cummings (in the Gibson Collection). The Gibson Collection also has the complete 10-issue run of the now, extremely rare French        Les  Adventures Futuristic (Montreal, 1949).[1] Significantly, the Canadian printings of Weird Tales include stories not printed in the American edition. I was able to confirm the existence of these rare Weird Tales issues on a recent trip to visit the Science Fiction Collection at the University of Liverpool where scholars there were most interested to learn that the Bob Gibson Collection indeed had these rare issues.

Of the softcover books collected by Mr. Gibson, the significant Canadian items include: Thomas P. Kelley’s Face That Launched a Thousand Ships; rebound Star Weekly Novels; Harlequin’s Golden Amazon’s Triumph; and Brigands of the Moon Duchess, a Canadian publication by John W. Campbell (aka Ray Cummings)

The collection is supplemented by original research conducted by Bob Gibson for over fifty years. First, there are three boxes (seven linear feet) of hand-lettered index slips. A modest estimate numbers these author entries at about 10,000. A preliminary investigation of the Gibson indexes involved cross-checking the author index entries against the leading print index (William Contento, “Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections”, 1978). Of the 27 titles listed under Judith Merril, for example, 6 were not listed in the Contento index. The “Locus Index to Science Fiction” http://www.locusmag.com/index/ updates Contento. The Locus index missed 5 titles indexed by Mr. Gibson. Furthermore, Contento and Locus only list established SF writers (normally British or American), and therefore miss authors who are not normally associated with the genre or nationality. This convinces me, as a bibliographer, that Mr. Gibson’s research is truly unique and merits full investigation. In consultation with my counterpart, the curator of Liverpool’s Science Fiction Collection, he is in agreement with me that these indexes represent a significant addition to bibliographic scholarship. For example, Mr. Gibson ascribes three works of speculative fiction to the Canadian author, Stephen Leacock. Neither Contento nor Locus would consider Stephen Leacock as an SF writer. Similarly, Canadian writers are such as Pierre Berton and Margaret Atwood are also indexed. Canada’s only Hugo award winner for (international prize for science fiction writing), Robert J. Sawyer, is also indexed. In fact, he was most pleased to examine the index to his articles when he personally visited the collection this year.

Second, there are 888 compilations that Mr. Gibson collected, bound and indexed during his lifetime. It is estimated that these contain roughly 6500 individual speculative fiction stories from British, American and Canadian magazines from as early as the 1870’s. The 888 compilations in the collection are currently being catalogued and the stories within them are being indexed. Preliminary work has been done on scanning the covers of each of these compilations. The covers of these anthologies list the contents of each compilation have been hand-illustrated by Mr. Gibson. These compilations are truly unique. They compile SF stories from unlikely magazines. Mr. Gibson traveled often to England. In order to save shipping costs, he would tear out SF stories from magazines such as Punch (1874), Chatterbox (1925), Chambers Journal (1893-1948), Cassell’s Magazine (1865) and discard the rest of the magazine. He would then group the stories according to magazine title, and prepare the cover and contents listing. Similarly, he would create anthologies from Canadian magazines such as Chickadee or Chatelaine or McLean’s (surprisingly containing SF work by authors such as Pierre Berton) 

            The University of Calgary’s Bob Gibson Collection already rivals the collections of other leading academic institutions in size and breadth. Specifically, University of Liverpool (actively collecting since the 1970’s) boasts the largest collection in the UK (25,000 items). The University of Sydney, after four decades of active collection, numbers 70,000 items. In the United States, the Eaton Collection at the University of California at Riverside is by far the largest, at 80,000 items after decades of aggressive collection. The most active scholarly institution, besides the University of Liverpool, is at Texas A&M. The collection there numbers 40,000 items, but it is recognized as the most active web resource outside Liverpool among SF scholars.

            Thus, the significance of the index and compilations in our Gibson collection is remarkable for Canadian SF scholars. They are the product of fifty years of meticulous research in Canada. They offer unique insights into SF stories by authors and magazines not normally associated with SF or countries outside of Canada. Equally, the depth and breadth of this Collection is a remarkable legacy of one Canadian collector.

            The collection has been formally presented at various venues: ConVersion Science Fiction Convention, Calgary (2001, 2003); Science Fiction Research Association, Guelph (2003); Alberta Comic Collectors’ Convention, Calgary (2002, 2003); FutureVisions and New Ways, Mount Royal College, Calgary (2004); Interaction WorldCon, Glasgow (2005); Conference of the Book, Oxford (2005). The collection has also received visits from scholars as well as the Hugo Award winner, Robert J. Sawyer. The American science fiction author, David Brin and the Heinlein Society, has sent expressions of interest. Offers of donations have been received from David Brin and the Jack Vance Society.

Dr. Susan Stratton, one of the first English professors at the UofC to teach courses in science fiction, says research in the genre can reveal important insights about the prevailing cultural, social and political attitudes of the day. “Researchers now are likely to view literature as the product of the culture that produced it, rather than as the product of the individual great mind. Speculative fiction is the literature of the age of science and technology. It's the literature that imagines change in an era of increasingly rapid social change. The new resource for researchers complements one of the university's four strategic strengths - understanding human behaviour institutions and cultures”.

“There isn't a thing here that isn't of interest,” says Dr. Jānis Svilpis, a University of Calgary English professor who teaches a course in science fiction and has written about pulp magazines. “What we have here is a complete account of our changing attitudes toward science. This makes Calgary a major source of material on early science fiction.”

In 2005, I was invited as visiting scholar to the University of Liverpool’s Science Fiction Foundation and was granted a 6-month professional fellowship leave (July-December). I have since met with colleagues at Science Fiction Collection in Liverpool, have toured the collection extensively and have agreed to contribute scholarly links to the Bob Gibson Collection web site when it becomes fully functional. The Liverpool visit underscored the need to maintain scholarly communications regularly as the undergraduate and graduate students in the School of English’s Science Fiction programme have become aware of the depth and breadth of the Gibson Collection.

A recent television programme, How William Shatner Changed the World (Discovery Channel, November 13, 2005) describes how Star Trek has influenced society by examining social relations and by depicting technological advances. Personal computers, non-invasive medical diagnostics, cell phones, and automatic sliding doors owe a debt to the role of speculative fiction. Canadian scholars owe a debt to Mr. Bob Gibson.

 

 Mary Hemmings
Liaison Librarian
Canadian, English, French,
Italian & Spanish Literatures;
Latin American Studies

November, 2005


 

[1]  For a discussion of Canadian SF publishing, see, Mike Ashley, “The Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950” (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2000), p. 215-219.