By Tim Eggington, assisted by James Leonard.
We are most grateful to Queens’ College alumnus, Simon Mainwaring (1961-64), for this 617-book gift which adds an entirely new dimension to Queens’ diverse range of special collections. Bearing in mind Cambridge’s historic and on going status as a powerhouse of science it is, perhaps, unsurprising to find that science fiction has also been a preoccupation of its members. Indeed, it was due to the presence of a community of fellow enthusiasts at Queens’ at the time of his arrival here (in 1961) that Simon Mainwaring’s scifi collecting gained impetus. One of that Queens’ community, Tom Shippey, has subsequently achieved fame as a scifi author in his own right (he is also a Medievalist and leading Tolkien scholar). As for many of Mainwaring’s generation, his first exposure to SciFi was provided by the 1950s comic strip “Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future”: I understand that Mainwaring first school report complained that he “lived in a world of space”!
In contrast to the modern-day emphasis on scifi fantasy, the earlier 20th-century authors that predominate in Mainwaring’s collection imagine technological advances and encounters with alien intelligence together with the challenges that these might bring. Some of the science was very good: Fred Hoyle (The Black Cloud) was Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge and Arthur C Clarke has been credited with anticipating the use of satellites for telecommunications. Others such as Larry Niven were more fanciful but still told good tales. Further well-represented authors include Jack Vance (who writes about ESP, genetics, brain parasites, body switching, etc.), Kurt Vonnegut (whose Slaughterhouse-Five draws on its author’s experiences of fire bombed Dresden), as well as the ‘Big Three’ of Science fiction: Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov.
Writing under the 50s shadow of impending nuclear doom, many authors included in the collection portray a grim, yet insightful reflection of the cold war era. A further well represented theme in Mainwaring’s collection is the computer age. In place of the hand held devices we know today authors of the 50s and 60s looked forward to a time when one single computer would dominate the universe to out-live man and even the stars. Some imagined future technology seems unexpectedly regressive today: Asimov’s robots and computers still used punched cards and slide rules, whilst his Foundation and Empire (1952), looked forward to an era when a newspaper could be bought at a vending machine! A number of books in the collections have provided the basis for films e.g. 2001 a Space Odyssey, I Robot and Do Androids dream of electric sheep (made as Bladerunner).
The Mainwaring collection is currently in the Library office & is searchable via an online listing accessible via this link (it has yet to be catalogued onto iDiscover). If you’re curious about the collection or would like to borrow from it please just speak to a member of library staff, who will be happy to help.