Thursday, 21 March 2013

Futures Past: SF History in Leeds, P.3 David I. Masson

The University of Leeds Library's Science Fiction collection largely orginated from two sources. The first was Professor Cyril Leslie Oakley, who began in 1971 to present his own extensive collection of science fiction literature to the Brotherton Library (he will be the subject of a future post). The second, a major source of the collection's printed books, was David I. Masson, Curator of the Brotherton Collection between 1955/56 and 1979. Prior to that he had worked at the University as an Assistant Librarian, and been the Curator of Special Collections at the University of Liverpool, which now holds Europe's largest catalogued collection of SF material

David I. Masson (1915-2007)
However, Masson was also a published science fiction writer. In his 23 years at Leeds he wrote some of his most well known short stories, including ‘A Two-Timer’, the tale of a seventeenth-century man’s revulsion at the twentieth-century world he finds himself in and ‘Traveller's Rest’, originally published in 1965 in New Worlds magazine. Set on an alternate Earth where time varies with latitude, the story can be read as an allegory for the futility of war, and was probably influenced by Masson's own experiences serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War. These, along with five other stories, were collected in The Caltraps of Time, published in 1968. All reflect his deep personal interest in linguistics and literature; ‘A Two-Timer’ is told entirely in 17th century English, and another story, ‘Not So Certain’, is about a linguist's exploration of alien phonology.

Masson came from a distinguished family of academics and thinkers. His father, Sir Irvine Masson, was a Professor of Chemistry at Durham and Vice-Chancellor at Sheffield, while his great-grandfather David M. Masson was Professor of English Literature at Edinburgh. A friend of Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill, he wrote and published a 6-volume biography of John Milton.

David Masson died in Leeds in 2007.

This post adapts text from the booklet Visions of the Future: The Art of Science Fiction by Paul Whittle and Liz Stainforth.

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