The truth about science fiction
Funny costumes, speaking in Klingon and spending copious amounts of time obsessing about fictional worlds are some of the hallmarks of the science fiction geek. Whenever SF is even mentioned there is no doubt that the clichéd images of anti-social, bespectacled individuals spring to mind. Therefore, the ‘Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it’ exhibition at the British Library could be just the thing to remedy this commonly-held misconception.
The breadth of SF is vast and crosses over into many other genres from comedy to romance to horror. For instance novels such as Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’ , Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ and Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ all fall into the realm of SF. And they are just some of the many examples of SF writing at the exhibition. It may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with the genre that it is not all about canon, conventions and space opera. To reflect the diversity of SF, the exhibition is split into several sections, including ‘Alien Worlds’, ‘Imaginary Voyages’, and ‘The Perception of Time’ which look at the various strands within the genre.
SF is perceived to be a twentieth century phenomenon yet it has a long literary tradition. Its roots can be traced as far back as 2nd A.D to Lucian’s ‘True History’, a satire of a traveller’s tales in which there is a journey to the moon. Even Emily and Anne Brontë delved into SF when they developed the world of Gondal, a large island in the middle of the North Pacific. Although the prose has been lost, Gondal is mentioned in poems written by the Brontës. Despite the geekery attached to SF, some of the finest pieces of writing reside within this genre, most notably George Orwell’s ‘1984’.
Along with the different threads of the genre, there is also “hard” SF which has foundations in scientific fact and “soft” SF which makes no claims to have a scientific basis. Visitors can learn about the history of SF and the way in which it was shaped by scientific discoveries, and in turn how SF influenced scientific innovation. Writers imagined the future through their work, almost challenging scientists and inventors to create them. SF is informed by the science of the time it is created in, a perpetuating cycle that is still happening today.
As well as SF literature, visitors are given the opportunity to interact with a robot via instant messaging in order to determine whether or not the person they are speaking to is human, reminiscent of the Voigt-Kampff test in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick. There is even a chance to listen to SF-related music and recordings and design your own alien.
Novices may find the exhibition a refreshing introduction to SF, while for fans of SF it is a chance to discover more about this genre.
‘Out of this World: Science fiction but not as you know it’ is open from now until 25th September 2011
For more information click here.
Picture: Neela Debnath
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