British Library’s SF Exhibit

Martians from a Belgian edition of War of the Worlds.

Years ago I visited the British Library when it was still housed together with the British Museum. In the Museum I gawked at the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and that little cuneiform tablet Michael Wood said on tv might be a Hittite letter about the Trojan War. These days the first two items feature regularly in news items from countries demanding their return. Afterwards I went into the British Library’s famous exhibit of illuminated manuscripts. There’s little controversy about the Library’s holdings because Britain is the country of origin for many of the most interesting literary artifacts.

I’m remembering that trip because today I’m wishing I could see Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It, coming to the British Library this summer (May 20-September 25):

This new exhibition will invite visitors to enter the world of the future, alien worlds, parallel worlds and virtual worlds, and speculate on how our universe might change. These imaginings can provoke hopes and dreams, exhilaration or fear – and shed light on the time and place in which they were created. We hope to encourage visitors’ questions such as : ‘Is there such a thing as a perfect world?’ ‘When and how will the world end?’ 

We will examine how scientific advances have influenced Science Fiction – and vice versa. We uncover hidden gems in our collection of manuscripts, printed books, magazines, fanzines, radio broadcasts and author interviews – from the earliest works to the latest films.

The exhibition traces development of the genre from True History by Lucian of Samosata written in the 2nd century AD to the writings of Cory Doctorow and China Miéville. Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Collections Librarian, University of Liverpool, and guest-curator of the exhibition says in the press release:

There is no doubt that science fiction has split literary experts for decades and remains a source of debate and discussion across the world. What this exhibition shows is that science fiction is a way of asking questions about the world, its future, and our place in it that has roots in a number of literary traditions and cultures. What we call ‘science fiction’ has long tradition and will continue to dominate popular culture for a long time to come.

Key exihibits include Francis Godwin’s 1628 book The Man in the Moone, deemed by some the first work of sf in English literature (a man harnessed to a flock of geese makes a Moon landing) and a 17th century Dutch edition of Lucian of Samosata’s story about a war between moon people and sun people. There’s also an ad for the beef drink Bovril, a name inspired by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, in which a subterranean race of advanced beings use the substance Vril as an energy source. The manuscript of the novel will also be displayed.

[Thanks to Michael Walsh for the link.]

Bovril ad

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