Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection at Texas A&M University | Archives Deep Dive

While many library collections and archives start with a gift of materials from a donor, sometimes a collection originates with a forward-thinking librarian and curator. Thanks to Hal W. Hall, special formats librarian at Texas A&M University (TAMU) Library from 1970 to 2010, TAMU is now home to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection at Cushing Library.

Four vintage Amazing Stories magazines
Vintage editions of Amazing Stories, a popular pulp magazine
Courtesy of Cushing Library 

While many library collections and archives start with a gift of materials from a donor, sometimes a collection originates with a forward-thinking librarian and curator. Thanks to Hal W. Hall, special formats librarian at Texas A&M University (TAMU) Library from 1970 to 2010, TAMU is now home to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection at Cushing Library.

Jeremy W. Brett, curator of the collection, explained that Hall was not only a librarian but also a science fiction scholar and bibliographer. One day in the mid-1970s when Hall was working at Cushing Library, he found an advertisement in a fanzine—the name currently lost to time—for 2,000 science fiction magazines for sale. With that ad and his own interest in science fiction, Hall concluded it was time to make the case to decisionmakers at the library that they should seriously begin to collect science fiction and fantasy, starting with those magazines.

Not only did Hall make the case that sf and fantasy fiction was becoming a scholarly pursuit, but noted that TAMU was predominantly an engineering school. “Engineers love science fiction. Most of them get started [reading] science fiction,” Brett said. That acquisition in 1974 was the seed that eventually grew into the larger collection now held by the Cushing Library, currently comprising 208 archival collections: 39,733 cataloged titles, not including individual issues of serials; 557 items in the Maps of Imaginary Places collection; and a backlog of 27,000 to 28,000 uncatalogued items from donations, according to Brett.



Initially the library acquired science fiction and fantasy books as well as science fiction pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

The collection focuses on acquiring different editions of books, including first editions, advanced reader copies, paperbacks, and reprints, to see how they may change over time. A paperback will have different cover art from the hardcover; a reprint may have a well-known author or scientist write an introduction. These changes are all tools for understanding the text, Brett explained.

Under Brett’s guidance, the collection has been accelerating efforts to acquire fan works—creative endeavors by fans of science fiction and fantasy or of specific franchises. These fan-created items include fanzines (magazines written by fans for fans); filk songs (music made by fans about their favorite franchises, including song parodies); fanvids (fan-made videos) and fan fiction (works of fiction made by fans). Brett thinks that the library may have one of the largest—if not the largest—collections of fanfiction in the world.

This includes the Sandy Hereld Memorial Digitized Media Fanzine Collection of fanzines and other fan created materials from the late 1960s to 2013. The late Hereld was “a popular and prolific fan writer in the 1990s and early 2000s, and one of slash fandom’s most visible fans,” according to the collection’s website.

Morgan Dawn, the Hereld Collection donation coordinator (and also a fan writer) has been digitizing the fanzines materials for the TAMU Science Fiction and Fantasy collection—2,343 items so far, with more to go. However, Brett pointed out, he and Dawn prioritize respect for the copyright and privacy of the works’ original creators. Many of the fanzines were exclusively created in print and meant for small fandom communities. Creators, especially older fans, may never have expected them to be read outside of their circles. Brett and Dawn are careful to get permission to digitize from the fanzines’ writers, editors, and illustrators.

“Most fans seem happy/bewildered that [we] want this stuff,” Brett noted, “Some of the stuff [the fans] have written is sexually explicit, or otherwise embarrassing to them.”

Researchers can use the materials but “they are not allowed to post it on their website or post at a blog,” Brett said. “They are not allowed to print the whole thing out and start giving it away.” Some digitized copies are available only on TAMU networks for privacy purposes. A small percentage of creators have given permission for their fanzines to be made available to the public.

In addition to fan works, books, and magazines, the collection also includes toys, figurines, and maps, including those from sf/fantasy fiction and video games, roleplaying games, and comics. Perhaps the most popular components of the collection are the papers of science fiction and fantasy authors, including Martha Wells of “Murderbot” fame and George R.R. Martin, best known for the Game of Thrones series.



Mary Shelley is widely credited as the first science fiction writer for her 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The oldest book in the collection, though, is a 1574 edition of the Malleus Maleficarum (translated as Hammer of Witches), a German text written in 1486–87. “It’s basically a handbook on how to identify witches” and what to do about them, Brett said. “It’s a horrifying book. It’s a book that’s been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people over hundreds of years.”

However, it’s important for helping to understand world and women’s history, Brett noted. “This is a book written by someone who believed in magic, believed that people have magical abilities.” It may not be strictly fantastical, but Brett wanted to “extend people’s and researchers’ concept of what fantasy and science fiction is.”

Another pre-Shelley example is a 1663 translation of the 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian of Samosata’s True History, a series of dialogues and essays mocking travel narratives of the time. In his account, he describes meeting people on the moon, which Brett explained is the first known tale of people traveling to another planet.

Frankenstein is here too; the collection has the second and third printed editions. The second edition is particularly special, Brett noted, because it was the first time Shelley is listed as the author; the first was printed anonymously.

The Cushing Library may be most well-known for its George R.R. Martin collection, although the author has no connection to Texas. But in the 1980s Martin frequently attended AggieCon, the largest and oldest student-run fan convention, held at TAMU, Brett said. At the time, Martin had not written A Game of Thrones but was known for his science fiction.

In 1986, the library director at the time asked Martin if he would consider donating his papers to the relatively recently established science fiction and fantasy collection. Martin said he would consider it, and in the early 1990s the library got a call that Martin had decided to do so.

Brett recalled that they drove a truck to Martin’s house in Santa Fe, NM, in 1992, and picked up 300 boxes. Since that time Martin has been supplementing his archives with approximately a box a month, though the library never quite knows what they’ll get. Sometimes the box includes books, manuscripts, or papers; lately they contain merchandise and props from the Game of Thrones HBO series. Replica swords from the series are so popular that the library bought display cases to show them off permanently.



In its earliest days, the collection primarily acquired the work of American writers, with some expansion into other Anglophone countries. Currently it aims to widen its focus to include non–English-speaking fantasy and science fiction. Brett is also making a greater effort to include more works by women, LGBTQIA+ writers, and writers of color. Science fiction and fantasy “have always been a part of everyone’s heritage,” he noted.

Marked up handwritten manuscript for Tanith Lee's Don't Bite the Sun on notebook paper
Manuscript of Don't Bite the Sun by Tanith Lee with personal notes to Jeremy Brett
Courtesy of Cushing Library

When asked whether the collection has been impacted by recent attacks on intellectual freedom, Brett said, “It may seem that a collection devoted to science fiction and fantasy may not be a target of attempts at banning or censorship. However, this collection is dedicated to preserving the beautiful diversity of both creators and subjects that make these genres so wonderful, and that, of course, makes it a potential target for hateful attacks.”

He added, “Making the imaginative possibilities of story open to everyone is more important than ever. Everyone deserves to have stories they can relate to, or in which they can find themselves, their dreams, their desires, and their loves—science fiction and fantasy have those stories.”

Some items hold special connections for Brett. One of the first adult fantasy writers he ever read was Tanith Lee, the prolific late British writer of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. “I just fell in love with her right away,” he said. When he started his job at the Cushing Library, his predecessor, Cait Coker, suggested that Brett should reach out to Lee for her materials. To his delight, she responded to his query, and sent the manuscript for her 1976 science fiction novel Don’t Bite the Sun.

Brett loves the manuscript for two reasons. The first is that it was written on notebook paper, he said. “That’s old school. We don't get those anymore.” The second is far more personal: “On the front page of the manuscript, she wrote notes to me, telling me more context about what it was, where it came from, what was in it.” For Brett, this is an example of the joy that the collection brings to people.

“Many of our patrons have their own emotional connection to authors,” he said. “When a patron comes in, they ask for a book by some author they loved as a kid, or some author they love now. I have shown them the first edition or the signed edition, or whatever version they had when they were kids. They just love it.”



Texas A&M recently added a Sci-Fi/Fantasy minor as part of a bachelor’s degree in English, and classes often draw on collection’s primary source materials. In 2014, instructor Judith Hamera, now a professor of dance at Princeton University, brought her performance studies students to look at 1940s/1950s pulp magazines as the sources for 10-minute performance pieces. Students were particularly fascinated by the advertisements in them, Brett said.

In 2019, reporter Bill Bradley tracked down the original script for the Game of Thrones pilot at the Cushing Library, which he described as a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad pilot” in a Huffington Post article.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection at Cushing Library is open to the public as well as to scholars. TAMU is a public university, so “our stuff is the property of the state of Texas,” he said. Visitors can come to the library’s Reading Room and ask to see an item. Digital access is provided for those who cannot visit in person.

“I like to say there’s not an item in the collection [in which], at some point, somebody [didn’t] find meaning or enjoyment,” Brett said. “This collection is a place of stories, a place where people can find themselves—they find characters who look like them, or sound like them, or share with them life experiences both joyful and traumatic. [It’s] important that everyone can see themselves in the stories they love.”

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