Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it

Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it (20 May – 25 September 2011)
is the British Library’s first exhibition to explore science fiction through literature, film, illustration and sound. It will challenge visitors’ perceptions of the genre by uncovering gems of the Library’s collections from the earliest science fiction manuscripts to the latest best-selling novels. www.bl.uk/sciencefiction

This unique exhibition, guest-curated by Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Collections Librarian, University of Liverpool, will examine how science fiction is distinct from other related genres such as fantasy and horror. Tracing the development of the genre from True History by Lucian of Samosata written in the 2nd century AD to the recent writings of Cory Doctorow and China Miéville, the exhibition will trace how science fiction has turned from a niche into a global phenomenon.

Visitors to the exhibition will discover an interactive space based on ‘other worlds’ presented by science fiction. These will include: Alien Worlds; Future Worlds; Parallel Worlds; Virtual Worlds; the End of the World and the Perfect World. Each area will draw on a variety of exhibits, multi-media interactives, film and sound to experience new surroundings and ask questions such as: ‘who are we?’, ‘why are we here?’, ‘what is reality?’ and ‘what does the future hold?’

A few exhibition highlights include:

• Thomas More’s, Utopia (1516). More coined the word ‘utopia’ which became the name of the ideal, imaginary island nation whose political system he described in his book. Despite modern connotations of the word it is widely accepted that the society he describes was not actually his own ‘perfect society’. Rather he wished to use the contrast between the imaginary land's unusual political ideas and the chaotic politics of his own day as a platform from which to discuss social issues in Europe.

• Lucian, True History (1647 edition). Originally dating from the 2nd century, this story depicts a group of adventurers setting out on a sea voyage – they visit a number of fantastical lands and, lifted up by a giant waterspout, they are deposited on the Moon. True History has been described as ‘the first known text that could be called science fiction’. Literary critics see the text as a satire against contemporary and ancient sources, which quotes fantastic and mythical events as truth.

• Bovril Ad (1890) and manuscript of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871). The drink Bovril derived its name from ‘Vril’ and its association with power and energy. This comes from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, in which the narrator accidentally finds his way into a subterranean world occupied by advanced beings, the Vril-ya, who use a substance Vril as an energy source which makes them powerful and potentially dangerous to the Earth.

• Luigi Serafini, Codex Seraphinius (ed.1983). The Italian artist and designer Luigi Serafini produced an encyclopaedia of an imaginary world, in an imaginary language, which is as yet undeciphered. The first section appears to describe the natural world, dealing with flora, fauna, and physics. The second deals with the humanities, the various aspects of human life: clothing, history, cuisine, and architecture.

• H G Wells, The War of the Worlds (1906). From its first appearance in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897, The War of the Worlds was a vastly influential description of an alien race. The narrator travels through the suburbs of London as the Earth is invaded by Martians. It is one of the earliest stories that details a conflict between mankind and an alien race. It is also variously interpreted as a critique of evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian fears and prejudices.

Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Collections Librarian, University of Liverpool and guest-curator of the exhibition commented: ”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.”

Katya Rogatchevskaia, British Library co-curator of Out of this World, said: “This exhibition aims to show that science fiction provides a window on the world and society in which we live today. It pushes the boundaries of our imagination into uncomfortable and pleasant places and appeals to our desire to understand a deeper meaning of other worlds. We hope that visitors’ perceptions of science fiction will be challenged by this exhibition so that we can both celebrate the genre and use it as a warning for the future.”

As part of the Library’s ongoing relationship with high-profile media partners the Library is pleased to be working alongside Discovery Networks UK for this exhibition. Discovery will launch a short science fiction programming season on two channels, Discovery Channel and Discovery Science, coinciding with the start of the exhibition. Discovery’s sci-fi programming schedule will feature a number of UK premieres such as ‘When Aliens Attack’ and ‘Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible (with Michio Kaku)’. Other programmes included are ‘How Techies Changed the World with William Shatner’ and ‘Are UFOs Real’. www.discoveryuk.com

Dan Korn, SVP, Head of Programming, Discovery Networks UK & Western Europe said: “We are delighted to partner with the British Library and to promote this important exhibition on-air and online. Discovery will also create an exclusive 30 minutes documentary about the British Library. ‘Saving The Past: How Do They Do It?’ will go behind the scenes and observe the work of its conservationists and curators. Both the British Library and Discovery seek to educate and inspire and this partnership gives us an opportunity to raise awareness about the Library’s topical exhibition.”

The exhibition will also include a variety of science fiction-based interactive displays such as: ‘Design an alien’, where visitors can draw their own vision of aliens; ‘Predictions’, a crystal ball where predictions made in science fiction will be shown in a mini-quiz format and ‘Sleepy robot’, which will give visitors more information about well-known science fiction characters.


Notes to Editors

Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it is open from 20 May 2011 – 25 September 2011 in the PACCAR Gallery at the British Library. Admission to the exhibition is FREE.

Exhibition opening hours

Monday 09.30 – 18.00, Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00, Wednesday – Friday 09.30 – 18.00, Saturday 09.30 – 17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00 – 17.00. All galleries are accessible by wheelchair. Information can be requested from Visitor Services staff on: T +44 (0)20 7412 7332. Supported by the Patrons of the British Library.


The accompanying events programme will feature some of the great science fiction writers of recent decades including: China Miéville (20 May); Iain M Banks (6 June); David Lodge and Stephen Baxter (8 June); Audrey Niffenegger (10 June); Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss (21 June); Alan Moore (4 July) and others to be announced soon.

Musicians George Clinton and Nona Hendryx will talk about the science fiction influences on their lavish stage shows and albums, and a remarkable night of futuristic music on 17 June will see The Radio Science Orchestra and Global Communication perform live at the Library.

Learning programme

An exciting learning programme linked to the exhibition will be offered to students and teachers and will include:

• Workshops for Primary, Secondary and Further Education students
• CPD (Continuing Professional Development) events for Primary and Secondary teachers
• Study Days for A Level students
• Young Researchers project working with students at risk of exclusion
• Workshops for local Camden Primary and Secondary Schools as part of Pop Up (A Festival of Stories taking place in summer 2011 in the Kings Cross area)

Exhibition book and related audio CD

Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as we know it
This book by Mike Ashley reveals what science fiction has achieved and seeks to explore. It shows its history over the last two thousand years and its international importance.

Paperback £16.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5835 4), hardback £27.95 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5831 6), 144 pages, 280 x 220mm, publishing May 2011.

Science Fiction Writers
What is science fiction? Are science fiction writers under-appreciated compared to literary novelists? Is their prime mission to predict the future or to comment on the present? These and other questions are discussed by major writers including Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Brian Aldiss, J G Ballard, Doris Lessing and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

CD £10.16 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5113 3), running time: 73 minutes, publishing April 2011.

Available from www.bl.uk/shop (T +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email bl-bookshop@bl.uk).

For more information:

Evenings and weekends:
+44 (0) 20 7412 7150

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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is the world’s number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in over 180 countries.  Discovery empowers people to explore their world and satisfy their curiosity through 100-plus worldwide networks, led by Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Science and Discovery HD, as well as leading consumer and educational products and services, and a diversified portfolio of digital media services including HowStuffWorks.com. In the UK, 13 Discovery brands reach over 3.5 million people per day.