Days of Future Past

I am a proud Charter Member of a museum, a very young one to be sure, but a charter member nevertheless — The Science Fiction Museum in Seattle.
Back when I was still living in New Zealand, a traveling Star Trek exhibition came to town.
They did a decent job of it – figures dressed in iconic TOS uniforms stood in glass enclosures which were motion sensitive. If you stopped in front of one, it would light up and a voiceover would waft from it with some famous line that the character/actor uttered during the series.
For Spock, it was, of course, “Fascinating”. I believe Scotty got the “canna change the laws of physics” one. Kirk’s glowing golden uniform lit up to a backdrop of the Captain’s patented dramatic breathy, “Spock…!”
In other glass cases were props from the series. Tricorders. Communicators (it’s REALLY hard not to see an ancient flip-top cell phone when looking at those…) Phasers of various eras – and dear GOD I sometimes found myself in awe of the real and unsung acting abilities of some of the original cast – because to point this plastic toy at somebody and threaten grievous bodily harm, and look like you MEANT it, required a better actor than I could have been, Gunga Din.
But it was all there, the flotsam and jetsam of the early star-struck days of my childhood. and I inhaled it all.
It was a memory of this that brought me to the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle like a magnet, when I first heard about it.
SF Museum SeattleIn the time since its inception in 2004, the SFM (together with its sister museum, the EMP – those weird multucoloured blobs at the foot of the Space Needle, you can’t miss ’em…) have drawn millions of visitors. Can you doubt it, when its Statement of Vision reads like this:
EMP|SFM celebrates the creative process, engages the imagination, and inspires personal expression in current and future generations.
It’s HOME. For someone like me, it’s HOME, dammit.
The permanent exhibitions at the SFM are threefold.
We begin with Homeworld, what Carl Sagan called the shore of the cosmic ocean. You start out by taking a look at the most basic questions – like, for instance, “Why science fiction?”
This is where the oddness and uniqueness of this museum begins to become obvious. Because in a sense you are here looking at the future as seen through the eyes of the past – and in many instances you yourself, the physical you standing there, have already surpassed some of the wilder dreams of early SF.
Here, you will start at the beginnings – the “what if” questions which illuminated a generation of dreamers; a wide-ranging timeline exploring the genre’s background, its ideas, where it started, where it thought it was going, the milestones it reached and passed on its journey, as well as the science which grew out of the fiction (think back to those early Star Trek communicators and the cellphones of semi-modern times).
Then there are the creatures which inhabit and shape the genre, from BEMs and little green men to the iconic Queen in Alien, from Robbie the Robot to Data; the way science fiction has shaped our society right from the get-go; and the building blocks of that society, the science fiction community, both the fans and the pros featured in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. You might trip over anything from Captain James TIberias Kirk’s original chair from which he commanded the first Enterprise, to a first edition of Ursula Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness”, from Darth Vader’s helmet to a Klingon blade which looks like has seen its share of action.
But this is only the point of departure. From here, from the homeworld and things that remain semi-familiar even when viewed through the lens of imagination, we set out on SF’s Fantastic Voyages.
Eight permanent sub-exhibitions make up this section, starting with a virtual spacedock which has gathered together almost any spaceship ever mentioned or seen in a work of science fiction. There is a gallery of heroes and villains, the characters who piloted those ships or tried to blow them out of the firmament and a mind-blowing display of the weaponry they used to do it (“Set it on stun!”).
We can go from a section of spacesuits as we THOUGHT they were and as they might still one day be, through incredible travel technologies many of which are still beyond the scope of our science today, to the magnificent mistakes made when playing with forces barely understood and far from tamed, and on to the astonishing places that we might have gone to if you believe the glorious, often lurid, but always incredible SF & F art depicting strange new worlds we can only dream of right now.
And then it’s off we go, into the future, where no self-respecting museum ought to tread. The Brave New Worlds exhibition, presupposing that we have already left the homeworld, presupposing that the voyages have already been attempted – how are we to live, what paths are we to choose, in the brave new world of our own future? This exhibit looks from anything from science fiction’s most famous cities that never were, to the societies that built and broke them, to ways to come back from the edge after everything seems to have been lost.
And those are just the permanent exhibits, housed on the premises. The SFM also does travelling exhibitions, which then tour the country. One was entitled “Out of this World: Extraordinary Costumes from Film and Television”. Indiana Jones’s jacket? Check. The hat of the WIcked Witch of the West from the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” movie? Check. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s robe? Check. Batman’s costume and cape? Check. Improbable paraphernalia once worn by Captain Kirk? Check. There’s stuff here from the thirties and from the new millennium, and everything in between. Any movie you’ve ever seen, anything that’s ever made you starry-eyed, it’s here somewhere, waiting for you.
It would probably not have been the first thing that popped into your head when somebody said “museum”. You’d have immediately thought of Egyptology, of portrait galleries, of Houses Where Famous People Lived. But perhaps not this – not this vivid and vibrant and frankly joyful gathering of all of humankind’s dreams and hopes and wishes and imagination.
Even in the worst of dystopias depicted here, even with the worst of fictional villains brooding behind glass in the halls, even with the most improbable “technology” you’re ever going to see – there is something here that is transcendental, that speaks to the highest things that we aspire to, to our greatest dreams.
Go to a museum, and strain to glimpse the future.
A Museum for Writers
The U.S.’s first museum celebrating its literary heroes will open in Chicago in 2017, honoring more than 300 years of American writing. It will include social media and digital journalism as well as poetry and novels.
Writers MuseumRead more HERE
18 Unusual Museums Worth Traveling For
These museums each have powerful, distinct, and sometimes niche cultural significance, says Bryan Kitch who collected them for AFAR. “While not all off the beaten path, each offers a unique window into wider intellectual, artistic, and historical landscapes. Get below the surface.”
One example:
Medieval Tranquility in New York
The CloistersThe Cloisters Museum & Gardens is devoted to medieval art and architecture and is a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is perched on a towering cliff and offers commanding views over the Hudson River.
The buildings include elements from medieval sites from Europe and renowned artwork includes the Unicorn Tapestries and the Annunciation Triptych. But the heart of the museum is the cloistered garden. This lush space consists of an interior courtyard surrounded by covered walkways.
See all the museums HERE
Alma Alexander      My books       Email me
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