Walk into Seattle’s new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, and you’ll see E.T. the alien, in the (fake) flesh, the creature that became Elliott’s best friend in the 1982 movie.
Next to him is Capt. Kirk’s chair from the original “Star Trek” television series, along with a couple of Starfleet uniforms. Downstairs, there’s the 18-foot alien queen from “Aliens,” and the loader Sigourney Weaver’s character used to fight her. Hanging from the ceiling in another room is a spinner car from “Blade Runner.”
It’s enough to frustrate a science-fiction fan, particularly because of the glass walls that keep visitors from touching anything.
But it’s also a demonstration of the conundrum of a museum dedicated to literature. Some of the most intriguing concepts in science fiction have never been made into movies, so there are no props to show off.
For example, a copy of Larry Niven’s book “Ringworld” hanging on the wall never will have the impact of the double-jawed alien queen. “Ringworld,” which was never made into a movie, is about a man- made, ring-shaped planet that encircles a sun – an amazing work of science-based imagination.
Science fiction about complex issues can be tough to make into movies or display in a gallery, too. How would one portray Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”?
However, the museum’s founder, Paul Allen, and his impressive board of directors have collected just about everything they could to make science fiction a visual, visceral experience.
Walk into a basement gallery called “Fantastic Voyages,” and you’ll feel like you’re standing deep in the hold of a spaceship. A low rumble sounds like engines, and the floor gently vibrates. A window seems to look out on an active spaceport, with ships from sci- fi books and movies zooming about.
The museum’s mission is to inspire children and adults, said museum director Donna Shirley, an engineer who retired in 1998 as manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Exploration Project. She led the team that built the Sojourner Mars Rover, which landed on Mars in 1997.
“Our purpose is really to get them interested in reading, to get them interested in science, to get them interested in technology,” she said. “We want to replicate the ‘Harry Potter’ phenomenon.”
(J.K. Rowling’s books about Harry Potter inspired an enormous surge in children’s reading.)
The Science Fiction Museum is housed in a section of the Experience Music Project, the undulating, chrome-and-colored building at Seattle Center. The museum uses space once occupied by a gallery called “The Artists’ Journey” and a ride called “Funk Blast.” The exhibit was too expensive to maintain, Shirley said, and was shut down a couple of years ago.
Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder and one of the world’s richest men, is a longtime science-fiction collector. He considered using the EMP space to display his collection but decided to make it a museum. He donated $20 million to start it up.
Shirley and others say it’s the only full-blown, multimedia science-fiction museum in the United States and one of few in the world. It will house the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, now based in Kansas City. Authors who have been inducted are represented by elegant Lexan bricks engraved with their likenesses, plus interviews playing on screens throughout the museum.
Aside from the immaculate Hall of Fame, the museum is styled to emulate “Wreck Tech,” a trend in science fiction since 1977, when the broken-down, filthy Millennium Falcon debuted in “Star Wars.” Since then, spaceships and space stations, from the Nostromo in “Alien” to Star Trek’s “Deep Space Nine” have been battered, well- used creations.
Hallways in the museum are dark, unadorned; exhibits often look chipped or damaged.
Science-fiction fans from every generation should find something to coo over, from author Harlan Ellison’s typewriter to an elaborate sci-fi convention costume. In an armory, Barbarella’s crossbow hangs next to an “atomic disintegrator toy” from 1954, and nearby is a Klingon Bat’leth weapon smeared with fake blood from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
In a hallway in the “Fantastic Voyages” gallery, a replica of Robby the Robot argues gently with “The Robot” from “Lost in Space” (yes, the robot that said “Danger, Will Robinson!”) as replicas of robots from “Terminator 2,””RoboCop,””Star Wars” and a cylon from “Battlestar Galactica” wait nearby.
“You should recognize things from your youth, as well as from adulthood,” said Greg Bear, a Lynnwood science-fiction author who is chairman of the museum’s advisory board. “You see how much science fiction has permeated our culture. Science fiction has always been political, looking toward the future, looking toward change, anticipating change, criticizing change.”
The museum isn’t all movie memorabilia. Exhibits in the museum address science fiction that became science reality, such as cloning, and the exploration of Mars – Shirley’s favorite topic. She donated her half-sized model of the Sojourner and her Martian meteorite to the exhibit.
And science fiction often paralleled issues in society. Exhibits showcase books about people being taken over, such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Puppet Masters,” which were popular when the United States was gripped by fear of communism. Ursula K. Le Guin’s complex novels reflected the tumult of the Vietnam era.
Probably the most fun in the museum, though, are three view stations where futuristic science fiction comes to life.
At the spaceport window, spaceships fly by in, seemingly, three dimensions. There’s the Nostromo, and behind it Rama from Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama.” An X-wing fighter and TIE fighter from “Star Wars” zip past. The entire city of New York, encased in a dome, lifts off, a concept from James Blish’s book “Cities in Flight.”
Touch-screen monitorslet you pick any of the ships to learn more about them.
Around the corner, another enormous window shows a dark cityscape. Then a car floats by, spotlighting a man sleeping on a rooftop. It’s a scene out of “Blade Runner,” the influential 1982 movie. The view soon changes to “The Matrix,” and later, “The Jetsons.” They’re three views of future society – one a bit more lighthearted than the others.
And a small display in a corner has one of the most intriguing stops in the museum. A touch screen allows visitors to pick one of six planets from science fiction, including Arrakis from “Dune,” the living planet of “Solaris” by Stanislaw Lem and Hoth from “Star Wars.” A globe hanging above morphs into the planet the visitor has picked, and a voice explains its history and economy – as if we humans have been there, explored it and visit regularly.
Sci-fi fans should be pleased.
Shirley and Bear both said members of their advisory board, including Sir Arthur C. Clarke and other distinguished authors, rushed to answer their questions.
“It’s kind of a homecoming for a lot of important people,” Bear said.
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Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658
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If you go
What: Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame
Where: At the Experience Music Project, 325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle
When: Opens Friday. Ticket reservations required for opening day. Free opening ceremony at 10 a.m.; guests in costume encouraged. Also on opening day, at 11 a.m. National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” will be broadcast from the museum. At 1 p.m. authors Greg Bear, Octavia Butler, Gregory Benford, David Brin and artist Michael Whelan will sign autographs, and at 7 p.m. physicist Lawrence Krauss will talk about physics in “Star Trek.”
Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (hours may change in the fall)
Tickets: $12.95 adults; $8.95 seniors and youth 7-17; free for children 6 and younger. Tickets to both EMP and the Science Fiction Museum are $26.95 for adults and $19.96 for seniors and youth.
Reservations: 1-877-SCI-FICT or 206-724-3428
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What you’ll see
Some figures about the new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame
Size: 13,000 square feet
Cost: $20 million, contributed by Paul Allen
Advisory board: Includes authors Greg Bear, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Octavia Butler, Neal Stephenson, Jane Yolen, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison and directors James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
Artifacts: Include Klaatu’s spaceship from “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a skateboard from “Back to the Future,” a glass-domed forest from “Silent Running,” a stillsuit and sandworm hook from “Dune,” first-edition copies of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy and many other rare science-fiction books, and original sci-fi paintings by Chesley Bonestell, Michael Whelan and others