TThe subtitle of the impressive Science Museum exhibit is very accurate. It’s set up as a spaceflight, where you line up to board an interplanetary vehicle and are guided through the bowels of a ship by a speaking boss on screen. But it only takes you to the “edge” of fantasy in that it lets you immerse yourself in the fantastic worlds of science fiction without really diving into.
He wants the show to be so interesting that he refuses to get involved in its subject matter, in case he’s doing it to our poor heads. Science fiction is as old as modern science, if not older: What were Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for flying machines if not medieval science fiction? Cyrano de Bergerac, in the age of Isaac Newton, wrote a space fiction titled A Voyage to the Moon. By the 19th century, the genre was coined by Mary Shelley and her successors. All we’ve got from this history are two books by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells in a glass case, along with an incredibly familiar image from Georges Millier’s film A Journey to the Moon. Later, you can see Boris Karloff’s voluminous ripped suit from Bride of Frankenstein.
There is no opportunity to take a deeper look into the nature of science fiction without losing sight. There’s a majestic model of the creature from Alien, whose body is an unsettling complex of organic and mineral elements, with growths from its head shaped like sperm whale spermaceti – but you’ve seen the movie Ridley Scott and his minions, right? What may be more enduring is an exploration of how this picture of alien life was based on the surreal science-fiction art of HR Giger, and how he pioneered the idea of ”biomechanical” hybrid organisms. There is no such luck.
A lot of effort has been put into the design, and the galleries are an afterthought. A model for the USS Corporation? seriously? They don’t even go to the next generation – maybe Picard and Data are high up. It is touching to see the late Nichelle NicholsUhura costume. But fans of any particular franchise will find that their favorite is frustratingly shallow. Do you prefer Star Wars over Star Trek? If so, you might want to get it a bit more than a Darth Vader helmet.
This assumption of complete naivety is annoying. Am I unfair to a family friendly fair? However, as Stephen Moffat argued when he was The Doctor of the Show, it’s adults who get confused by complex science fiction. Kids love it. Unfortunately, this show resembles the era of Chris Chipnall who equally patronizes all ages. The premise that we are on a large spaceship piloted by a super-intelligent alien takes on a good human appearance, but it is done without acknowledging that we have absorbed not only science fiction with breast milk, but a parody of it as well. If anything from the ship reminds me of Red Dwarf, the face that appears on the screen is like a gormless Holly computer.
The inspiration obviously comes from escape rooms and immersive experiences, but of course he doesn’t have the cast and influences budget to make this work. In the final analysis, you’re in a museum, not Comic-Con. As a pop theatre, it’s very slow and clumsy. As a show, it’s dark.
Where the result is better is a fresh look at contemporary technology. Cyborgs have become a reality. The curators suggest that advances in prosthetics and other electronic body parts are changing human nature itself, making science fiction a living reality. Social media star Tele Luke discusses her high-tech hands and argues that we’re stepping into a robot utopia. These are wonderful things, a refreshingly optimistic antidote to horrific dread.
One of the many interactive exhibits allows you to experience a “real” version of Star Trek’s torsion engine that, in theory, might operate using massive mass to distort spacetime. You don’t move, space and time move. And at the end of this journey, you find yourself on the observation deck of the spaceship, looking down at our fragile Earth.
However, nothing here takes you back to the golden age of sci-fi writing, nor is there an attempt to introduce Asimov, Clarke, Le Guin or Ballard – even though their books are in the gift shop. This tradition deserves a more ambitious and careful study. Instead, we find out that there is a Marvel character called Iron Man. He played in a series of films by Robert Downey Jr. Did you never know that? Well, this could be the science fiction fair for you.