Though not well-known, Darkstar library has nurtured a dedicated community of science fiction writers at UCSD since its inception in 1978.
Darkstar library, located above the shell of promised Taco Villa, hosts one of the largest public collections of speculative fiction in San Diego, with a surprising number by UCSD alumni. The UCSD Guardian dives into hyperdrive and terraforming Mars to find the relationship between science fiction and fact at UCSD.
On the second floor of Original Student Center, perfumed by the savory smells of Hi-Thai and given a soundtrack by KSDT Radio, exists Darkstar Science Fiction and Fantasy Library. Occupying a corner of the building, Darkstar overflows with one of the largest science fiction and fantasy collections of the area. It is home to over 6,000 volumes, covering the range from pulp fiction to hard-science fiction. Novels line the shelves and the floor for most of the library; cardboard boxes occupy the corners with the spines of novels visible from the open tops.
Publicist of the Darkstar organization and Sixth College freshman Athena Knopes informed the Guardian that the boxes littering the floor are signs of a new influx of novels.
“All of them are donations; the Darkstar doesn’t buy their own books ever,” Knopes said. “We have so many books that we are going through a purge to get more shelf space and prune out the less favorable types.”
She gestured to a small shelf of “unsavory” ‘70s trash novels. However, even those books are available for checkout with a student ID. The library is not only open to all students but to the entire San Diego community, provided that you can abide by the one-month due dates.
While the literature documents authors’ speculations about the future, the collection shows a history of UCSD’s involvement in the creation, inspiration and inception of science fiction. Darkstar has been around since 1978 and since that time it has expanded its collection to include works by former members.
“We have of a lot of [authors] who are not only UCSD alumni but Darkstar alumni, and that is very validating,” Knopes said.
UCSD hosts a large cohort of alumni and speculative-fiction authors, including Hugo and Nebula Award winners David Brin (“Postman”), Kim Stanley Robinson (“Mars Trilogy”) and Gregory Benford (“Timescape”). Although the Hugo and Nebula Awards are relatively unknown outside the realm of science-fiction writers and readers, these awards are regarded as the Oscar of speculative fiction. Looking at the Nebula Award for Best Novel only 37 have been awarded, three to UCSD alumni.
Shelley Streeby who currently teaches CAT 3B “Worldmaking: Imagining the World in 2116,” seems to have an answer as to what inspires UCSD students to write speculative fiction.
“Of course our STEM strengths are a big part of that, but since those strengths gets most of the attention and tend to overwhelm consideration of the other things that make UCSD great in this regard, I would like to call your attention to the unusual and distinctive strengths our particular configuration of social sciences and humanities here has for writers of speculative fiction.” Streeby told the UCSD Guardian. “The fact that the Literature Department engages world literature rather than being a monolingual English Department and its U.S.-Mexico border location also contribute to the particular strengths of science-fiction here.”
As a professor of literature, Streeby works with a range of students through the CAT program but, when her undergraduate students leave for the summer, Streeby ushers in a new set of students for the Clarion Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop. As director of the program, Streeby has seen firsthand the effect of the university on quality of writing.
“Since Clarion came to UCSD, our classes have become more diverse and more excellent, proving my point that diversity and excellence go together instead of being at odds with each other,” Streeby said. “Our students quickly go on to publish and to be nominated for major awards in the field, such as the Nebula Awards.”
According to Streeby, Clarion now resides at UCSD partially because of the efforts of Robinson, a frequent instructor and contributor to the workshop. Since the move from the original location, Clarion University, to UCSD in 2007, Clarion has brought speakers and lectures such as writer Ted Chiang, filmmaker Alex Rivera, to campus.
“Clarion is a great asset to UCSD and everyone at UCSD who cares about making connections between STEM fields, social sciences and arts and humanities, and about undergraduate and graduate education, should be very glad it is here and should try to keep it here,” Streeby said.
When asked, Knopes, an electrical engineering major, also remarked on the importance of these novels to students.
“I think that sci-fi is very rooted in UCSD, and if it turns out that it isn’t it should be,” Knopes said. “Everyone is STEM focused and hard sci-fi especially extrapolates from current and reasonable science into the future. Sci-fi should be required reading for any STEM major. And then fantasy is just escapism, which we have a lot of also.”
If it’s science you are looking for, you can find it around any corner. If it’s scientific speculation with a substantial helping of imagination, check Darkstar Library or maybe you might write it yourself.