The Story of the “Science Fiction Special”

The Science Fiction Special by Sara Light-Waller

Recently , I got a really fun commission–to illustrate an ice cream sundae called “The Science Fiction Special” for THE VISUAL HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION FANDOM: VOLUME ONE: THE 1930’s.

This book is a compilation of rare material and ephemera from the early days of science fiction fandom. Then, as now, fans would gather for meals and drinks and excitedly discuss favorite books and movies.

In an interview with John L. Coker III, David Kyle recalled this treat [Science Fiction Sundae] as a regular feature of meetings of the International Scientific Association, one of the warring [science fiction] fan-factions of New York at the time:

“I went to a meeting of the ISA and there I met Donald Wollheim, Fred Pohl, Dick Wilson, John Michel, and a few others who came a little later, like Robert W. Lowndes, Chester Cohen, and Cyril Kornbluth.  After the meeting, which was on a Sunday, we did what all young guys did in those years: we went to a soda fountain.  Somebody said that they wanted certain flavors, with nuts and a cherry, custom-made by the ice cream shop.  It was called the ‘Science Fiction Sundae.’  It was a small store and we went there regularly.  You didn’t have to go through a routine of the ingredients, we’d just ask for it by name.” (Taken from the First Fandom Experience website.)

The sundae’s alternate name was the Science Fiction Special.

This adorable period ad appeared in the fanzine, ARCTURUS (February, 1936). The address of the soda shop is a few scant miles away from the house where I grew up. Apparently, my old Brooklyn neighborhood was one of the first places to host science fiction fan clubs!

The Science Fiction Special is a geeky delight with the parts named for popular magazines and stories of the time including: The March 1933 cover of ASTOUNDING STORIES and John W. Campbell’s story, “The Brain Stealers of Mars” (1936).


Original artwork from stories referenced in the 'Science Fiction Special.' From left to right: 'The Affair of the Brains' by Gilmore (ice cream), 'The Last Evolution' by Campbell (whipped cream), 'The Brain Stealers of Mars' by Campbell (pecans and cherry toppings).

The editors of First Fandom Experience asked me for a technical drawing of the sundae, what’s called, “an exploded drawing” in drafting. I have done technical drawings before but never for ice cream! As I planned the illustration, I remember thinking that if you explode a sundae sideways all the ingredients will get mushy and spill. Therefore, it would have to “explode” upwards. (I must have been pretty tried at the time. LOL) I did the bulk of the drawing in waxy pencil on coquille paper then added the text later, digitally.

To read more about the Science Fiction Special head over to the First Fandom Experience website and their post: Dessert of the Day.

Bon appétit!

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