University acquires rare work of science fiction

Shirley J Thompson OBE

A rare first edition of an influential science fiction novel that tells the story of an American soldier’s journey across the planet Mars, has been acquired by the Science Fiction Foundation Collection at the University of Liverpool.

The book, Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, was poorly received upon publication in 1905, but has since earned a reputation as one of the most important works of 20th century science fiction.  Obtained by the Science Fiction Foundation through a bequest from the late Ken Slater – one of science fiction’s foremost book dealers – the book is now part of the collection at the University’s Sydney Jones Library which is home to the largest collection of science fiction books, periodicals and archives in Europe.

The book was written by British writer Edwin L. Arnold and tells the story of an American soldier fighting his way across a utopian vision of Mars to win the love of a beautiful princess.  It is considered a staple work in the ‘interplanetary romance’ subgenre and is considered a forerunner to the best-selling ‘John Carter of Mars’ series by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. First edition copies are extremely rare and have been known to attract valuations of more than £1,000 at auction.

Gullivar Jones was reprinted and renamed in the 1960s as Gullivar of Mars, and gained critical and commercial success at a time when many science fiction writers were inspired by the reality of space exploration. Scholars will now be able to access the work for research into the development of 20th century science fiction.

The University’s Science Fiction Librarian, Andy Sawyer, explains: “In the wake of highly successful invasion stories, such as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Gullivar Jones made very little impact on the genre despite Arnold’s popular historical fantasies.  As more scientific research emerged about the possibilities of life on other planets, interest in space and alien fantasy stories began to grow, particularly with heroes such as Burroughs’ ‘John Carter’, who first appeared in 1912.  This seemed to revive interest in Gullivar Jones, due to the similarities between the heroes’ adventures and it was eventually reprinted in the 1960s and 1970s for a larger audience.

“Due to the lack of interest in the original publication of Gullivar Jones, however, the first edition of the book became rare and collectors have not seen a copy come up for sale for more than 20 years.  Without the generous bequest of Ken Slater, the book may never have become accessible to science fiction researchers and enthusiasts.”   

Until his death Ken Slater ran the book and magazine service Fantast/Medway, which served as a major importer of American science fiction into Britain since the 1940s.

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