Thursday, May 19, 2011

Trips to the moon in classical antiquity? British exhibit finds sci-fi in unexpected places

Washington Post Entertainment: Trips to the moon in classical antiquity? British exhibit finds sci-fi in unexpected places
( Sang Tan / Associated Press ) - British Library in London: The exhibition explores science fiction through literature, film, illustration and sound and display the Library’s earliest science fiction manuscripts to the latest best-selling novels.

It’s science fiction, but not as we know it.

A genre usually associated with sinister aliens and rampaging robots is getting a makeover at the British Library, which uses 17th-century manuscripts, feminist literature, and even an advertisement for liquid beef to showcase the unexpected ways in which science fiction has influenced our world.

Exhibit organizers said Thursday that one of their goals was to show that sci-fi wasn’t just “The War of the Worlds” or “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

“It’s much, much wider than that,” said co-curator Katya Rogatchevskaia. “H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, they are fantastic influences, but it’s a very diverse genre.”

It’s in service to that diversity that Soviet, Chinese, and Bangladeshi writers feature prominently, as do female authors, such as “Frankenstein” creator Mary Shelley and Jane Loudon, whose 1827 book, “The Mummy,” is set in a futuristic Britain complete with weather control and steam-powered houses.

There’s a healthy helping of the obligatory pulp — “action-packed” tales featuring busty damsels being pursued by slimy beings — but there’s a host of lesser-known material too, such as 1914 postcards showing a futuristic Moscow dominated by soaring elevated trams, or a British satirical piece from the 1820s that features a massive vacuum tube sucking people and merchandise “direct to Bengal.”

One of the most striking pieces is the second century tale by Lucian of Samosata, whose story has a group of traveling adventurers being whipped into the air by a whirlwind and dropped onto the surface of the moon.

Lucian’s story was meant as a riff on travelers’ tall tales, but the British Library said some considered it one of the world’s first works of science fiction.


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