Space Avengers

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS
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Illustration by Cliff Cramp

In stack level 1, in the bowels of Butler, graphic-novel librarian Karen Green ’97GSAS rips open a box of magazines that await classification and binding. She pulls out a November 1989 issue of Amazing Stories, with a cover illustration of a dour Albert Einstein clutching his fiddle while an anonymous galaxy hovers in the background. “Awesome!” she says.

Green dips into the box again, extracting another issue, this one with short fiction by Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany, Theodore Sturgeon and Richard Matheson. “November 1968,” she murmurs, glancing at the jet-packed, space-suited astronaut hovering at the bottom of the cover. “That’s the month I turned ten.”

Even beyond the marquee names of Isaac Asimov ’39GS, ’41GSAS and Robert Silverberg ’56CC, Columbia can claim its share of figures in science fiction and fantasy. Among them are anthologist Groff Conklin ’27CC; writer Roger Zelazny ’62GSAS; book editor Liz Gorinsky ’03CC; and publisher Ian Ballantine ’38CC, who with his wife, Betty, founded Ballantine Books, which became a leading science-fiction publisher in the 1950s. This summer, Betty Ballantine donated a trove of books and papers to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The magazines that Green is now processing were donated in July by Fred Lerner ’66CC, ’81LS — a collection of two thousand or so copies of such titles as the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Astounding Science Fiction, and, of course, Amazing Stories. Lerner, as an undergraduate, had founded the Columbia University Science Fantasy Society (CUSFS), which in the 1970s morphed into today’s Columbia University Science Fiction Society, with an identical acronym affectionately pronounced “cuss-fuss.”

“In my high school, almost no one I knew read science fiction,” says fantasy author Pauline J. Alama ’86BC. “Meeting the people in the club was like meeting the people of my tribe.”

Since its inception, CUSFS has hosted mini-conventions; produced a newsletter of reviews, essays, and fiction called CUSFuSsing (with that peculiar capitalization); screened movies like Metropolis and Blade Runner; held birthday parties for hobbit extraordinaire Bilbo Baggins; and conducted virgin sacrifices to Cthulhu, a creation of H. P. Lovecraft (“It typically involved wrestling in a pool filled with fake blood,” recalls former CUSFS president Eugene Myers ’00CC).

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