Yesterday, in four brief photo-posts on my Posterous account I highlighted snapshots — literally — from the British Library’s current exhibition on science fiction. I’m more of a fan of the genre in movies than in books but I had heard good things about the Library’s display and wanted to take a look.
The exhibition is mostly books and manuscripts that exemplify the form — locked in glass cases in a fairly dim room — but I wasn’t disappointed. It is organised into themes — the moon, visions of the future, time-travel, alien forms, alien invasions and such-like — that provide an easy framework for perusing the various artefacts on display.
I tend not to be very intensive in my examination of museums or galleries. I prefer to mosey here and there and see what takes my fancy. In this exhibition there was plenty to catch the eye and stimulate reflection. I’ve already displayed a few of the items that struck me (start here and work forward).
But there were a few themes that also had some impact. Prominent among them are the limitations of the human imagination, exemplified in visions of the future, most of which have been shown to be too closely rooted in the time of their conception. This was particularly true prior to the 18th century since there was not a strong conception then of the transformative power of science and technology.
That said, the age of science fiction was also striking. The earliest example on display (if I remember correctly) was a tale of interplanetary travel and extraterrestrials from Lucien of Samosata, a greek author from the 2nd Century AD. But there were also works on display from the 13th and 14th Centuries.
I guess I had always regarded the form as a fairly light type of fiction. I’m not sure why. It might reflect my predilection for science fiction movies, many of which are inconsequential entertainment, though of course there are significant exceptions. But the exhibition has enlarged my idea of the genre. I see its seriousness more clearly, as an art form that allows imaginative exploration of what it means to be human.
So, with my interest re-ignited, I’d like to get back into science fiction literature. I will start with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a free version of which has been idling on my Kindle app for a few months now). I also want to have another look at The Forbidden Planet, to examine for myself its Shakespearean fabric and I think I’ll give one of Alan Moore’s steampunk graphic novels a go.
Anyone care to make recommendations on where to go from there?