Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Science Fiction classics at the Barbican Library

This week we have added more to our Into the Unknown post: the Barbican Library is having its own little exhibit of classic science fiction memorabilia!

Contemporary fiction like the X-Files and Stranger Things owe a lot to the earlier genre called 'sci-fi' by people who mocked its improbable premises and situations. The Bionic Woman, Adam Strange, and 'little green men' from other planets are the ancestors of today's thoughtful and critical 'speculative fiction'.

Collectibles were a huge part of the movie market: trading cards, 'ray gun' toys, and limited-edition dolls were all part of the rage.

Even Barbie dolls jumped into the game: there were Barbie editions for X-Files, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other major franchises.

Star Trek was one of the most fan-targeted TV series: after its first season, it was about to be cancelled until its fans (led by a a woman, Bjo Trimble) organised a letter-writing campaign that led to two more seasons and several movies.

There was a flood of Star Trek merchandise: toys, dolls, figurines, and books written in the universe by multi-awarded science fiction authors. Much of current technology owes its inspiration to Star Trek's imagined equipment like communicators and the PADD, and international aerospace engineers are currently trying to create a working warp drive.

Some great memorabilia from the earliest classics: a model of the operating table from The Bride of Frankenstein and a scene from the Ray Harryhausen cult film The Lands of the Giants. Alongside them was a rare illustrated script book from the first Alien movie, arguably the first modern science fiction classic.

In the main exhibit, there's also an interactive installation featuring the NASA Mission Control Room from the movie The Martian. You can see a video of the installation here.

I liked the setup so much I had to draw it.

Having drawn it, I went on to draw a rough sketch of the robots in the main room even though I'd already taken a picture.

The power of speculative fiction is that it inspires you first to copy it, then to go on your own flights of imagination. I owe my current enthusiasm for flying ships, strange creatures and screen-faced floating heads to volumes of Best Science Fiction and the Dune Chronicles in my family's collection.

A book is a time machine, and this exhibit did its best to remind us of that.

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