Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it - 20 May – 25 September 2011

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

Guest-curated by Andy Sawyer, Director of Science Fiction Studies MA at the University of Liverpool, the exhibition will trace 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, showing 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, Director of Science Fiction Studies MA at the 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 a 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 exhibition, the British Library has partnered with the Discovery Channel who will be showing a thrilling selection of Sci-Fi premieres in May. Science Fiction literature, films and television have been some of the most influential in terms of inspiring generations of scientists to develop new technology, search the cosmos for extra-terrestrial life and theorise about other universes.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Earth was invaded by aliens? What would the aliens be like? How would they get here? What kind of weapons would they use? How would alien wars unfold? As part of Sci-Fi season, When Aliens Attack (Friday 20th May) attempts to answer these haunting questions. Combining science with extraordinary CGI, and compelling facts, this one-off special reveals a minute-by-minute story of how an alien invasion would likely unfold.

And on Sunday 22nd May at 22:30pm, go behind the scenes at the British Library as they conserve three rare and precious Science Fiction classics : The Battle of Dorking; the World of Tomorrow and the Amazing Stories in Saving the Past: How Do they Do it? http://www.discoveryuk.com/web/sci-fi-season/?cc=GB


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 (31 May); David Lodge and Stephen Baxter (8 June); Audrey Niffenegger (10 June); Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss (21 June) 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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