Friday, November 18, 2022

Review: 'Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination'

From this past October 4 through May the 4th of 2023, The Science Museum in London is running an exhibition called Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination. Those who might cry "blasphemy!" at the idea of a serious science museum paying tribute to a world of made-up monoliths and wookiees hasn't been paying very close attention to sci-fi for the past two-hundred years. Ever since Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, the genre has been raising serious questions about the role science plays in our lives, using fantastical scenarios as a means to discuss touchy topics, and inspiring the next generation of astrophysicists, paleontologists, and biologists. 

The Science Museum's project curator, Glyn Morgan, collects nine essays and contributes one to emphasize the serious side of sci-fi in a tie-in book with the same title as the exhibition. A pair of essays focusing on a different aspect of science fiction is presented in each chapter: the tech, the deep-space travel, the interstellar/interspecies communication, the aliens, and the catastrophes of nuclear war and environmental disaster that were once merely the imaginings of authors and filmmakers and are now real-world horrors we worry about every day. If nothing else, Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination is a reminder that sci-fi is anything but escapist entertainment. It forces us to contend with highly consequential issues of climate, race, gender, sexuality, technology, disabilities, war, and extinction. Not exactly the stuff of a Lost in Space rerun.

Color images of various movie posters and stills, real and imagined scientific devices, comic strips, paintings, and book covers (some of these things are presumably included in the actual exhibition) illustrate the essays. Interviews with contemporary sci-fi writers expand the discussions by explaining how they became interested in science fiction, the role real science plays in their work, and the sci-fi that most influenced them. 

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