Out of this World: Last Day / Gift Shop

One of the things that the British Library does fairly well is providing a decent range of things to buy in conjunction with a given major exhibit.  Thanks to Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as You Know It, for the last several months, the British Library has been selling a good range of science fiction novels and criticism; “Destruction of Earth” magnets; War of the Worlds tote bags and posters; and lots of posters of mostly out-of-copyright science fiction illustrations and book covers.

There’s Mike Ashley’s book which accompanies the show, but the same name, and, from the BL venture The Spoken Word, CDs of interviews with modern science fiction authors and H.G. Wells.

There was also, to my surprise, a postcard of the cover art for an early Rondò Veneziano album, an album not otherwise represented anywhere in the show as far as I noticed. Rondò Veneziano was a group I discovered by wandering into a shop in the late ’80s, being struck by the baroque-electronica-rock music playing, and asking what it was.  For years afterward, I would buy their cassettes whenever I ran across them. I ended up with 12-15 albums, but only realized this week, after running across that postcard, that they’d gone on to do around 70 (!) albums in total so far.

The ’80s cover art of Venezia 2000 shows a pair of humanoid robots, dressed up in baroque finery, playing their stringed instruments in a gondola while an entirely unfamiliar, presumably futuristic Venice, overshadows them across the waves. It was absolutely in keeping with the range of old predictive prints and books on display in the exhibit. If you like old future predictions and don’t already know it, you should be reading the blog Paleofuture.

Today is the very last day to catch Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as You Know It at the British Library.  It’s open until 17:00.

Out of this World: Two Days Left / A Signal from Mars

Inamongst all the books in display cases in Out of this World: Science Fiction but Not As You Know It at the British Library were things which which were not books: K-9, a space ship crashing into the wall, works of science fictional art work blown up to a large scale, snippets from movies and documents, and a fairly large number of headphones.

Listening to pieces of music or interviews takes several minutes at a time. It’s a commitment which the majority of visitors to the exhibit didn’t make. And so they missed out how things like a recording of the original Dr. Who theme song; an excerpt from an experimental music/voice album called Return to the Centre of the Earth (1999); and a 1910 recording of John Lacalle’s band playing Raymond Taylor’s tune, “A Signal from Mars”, set next to its sheet music.

If you have the time today or tomorrow to see the exhibit before it closes, you can listen to these yourself. If not, here’s the John Lacalle band playing “A Signal from Mars”; and a modern piano cover of it.

It’s fascinating to think of this as founding science-fictional in its time, and how much our conception of science fictional music has changed since then.

Out of this World: Three Days Left / El Anacronópete

I made it back to Out of this World at the British Library for a last look yesterday. The room was relatively crowded, enough so that there were plenty of cases I skipped and came back to when space became available.

The one I had to check on more than once before I could come back, thus seeing it toward the very end of my time in the show, was Enrique Gaspar’s 1887 story, “El Anacronópete”, collected in Novelas. The reason the book as garnering so much attention is because it’s the oldest known story involving a time machine. The BBC posted a fairly extensive article on the story and its translation back in April.

It is forthcoming in English for the first time in 2012 from Wesleyan University Press as The Time Ship: A Chrononautical Journey, translated by Yolanda Molina-Gavilan and Andrea L Bell. In the meantime, those of you who read Spanish can download a digitized version here.

Good to see so many people at the show!

Out of this World: Science Fiction but Not As You Know It is available to see for free for three more days, including day, at the British Library.

Out of this World: Four Days Left / Frankenstein

Until I started reading up for my short presentation on Lucian and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the “Science Fiction and Religion” panel* at Bradford the other weekend, I had no idea that Shelley had notably revised the text between its first 1818 edition and the better-known 1831 edition.

Small, frequent amendations and revisions** altered the text’s focus towards a much greater concern with Christianity, in particular, giving Victor Frankenstein a greater religious consciousness. Frankenstein, in the later text, refers at various points to a guardian angel, and to an angel of destruction leading him on. Although these need not necessarily have come at the cost of sacrificing descriptions of Frankenstein’s scientific practice, they have, such as a youthful scene in which he experiments with electricity, cut from the later version. Even the references to historical practices of natural magic are revised, in order to cast them in a more negative light.

I was conscious that there were many versions of Frankenstein simply because it has been memorably reworked in film numerous times over the years. I hadn’t realized how much the focus of the story was adjusted in Mary Shelley’s own revisions as well.

Some edition of Frankenstein (offhand, I cannot tell you which one!) is currently on display at the British Library as part of the Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It exhibition. You have four days left, including today until 18:00, to see it.

*  See also the contents of the talk which Una McCormack gave, on sf and religion in Dr Who and Star Trek, for the same panel.

** I used the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the 1818 text with its list of changes by Marilyn Butler in Appendix B.

Out of this World: Five Days Left / More’s Utopia

What I love most about Thomas More’s Lucian-inspired (among other sources) text Utopia isn’t the descriptive text, the building of a somewhat egalitarian community, the observations on crafts, the framing narrative, or its dual-purpose as satire. It’s all of the visual world-building which it, in turn, inspired.

There are earlier maps of imaginary places, although I love the ones made for Utopia, this one from 1516this one from 1518 edition, or these later ones. (The 1518 Ambrosius Holbein edition is available online for browsing in its entirety. See also this selection of eighteenth-century illustrations of Utopia.)

But I know of no earlier instance of an alphabet being developed for a fictional world. Either More, or his friend Peter Giles, developed it for the book. You can see the full version of his Utopian alphabet and a sample use of it on the British Library’s website. And, if you really like fictional languages, the alphabet is even available to download as a True Type Font.

Utopia is on display currently at the British Library as part of its Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It show which is available, for free, until this Sunday. The library is open until 18:00 today.

Out of this World: Six Days Left / Lucian of Samosata

Lucian is sometimes referred to as the first author of a journey to the moon. It’s not true on either count. He wrote two, not one, moon journey tales; and his work includes just the oldest surviving moon journeys, not the oldest per se. He himself mentions older ones.

Lucian lived in the second century CE and, among his other accomplishments, was a prolific writer. Eighty or so of his works survive, including the Icaromenippus and his better-known moon journey, The True History. Not only is The True History a longer and more wide-ranging work, but it was to later help inspire More’s Utopia and Gulliver’s Travels, among other things.

Out of this World: Science Fiction but Not as You Know It includes a 1647 Dutch edition of The True History.  The image from it released as part of the publicity packet for the show is of an action-packed moment in the plot, the people of the Moon and the people of the Sun at war for the right to colonize the Morning Star. Their aerial battle is fought on an enormous battlefield woven by enormous spiders (each much bigger than the Cyclades islands), and the warriors, many of them half-food, half-creature, attack in a fraught, prolonged combat sequence. Note the cabbages, the lethal radish, and, in the lower-left, the Millet-shooter.

Both The True History and the Icaromenippus are highly readable and fairly short. At Tony Keen‘s recommendation, I used the Oxford World Classics edition, Lucian: Selected Dialogues, translated by C.D.N. Costa (2005).

Out of this World: Science Fiction but Not as You Know It, curated by Andy Sawyer, traces science fiction from Lucian to Lauren Beukes. There are six days left, including today, in which to catch it (for free) at the British Library. Today, the library is open until 20:00, so if you work in central London, you may even be able to drop by after work to see it.

Out of this World Countdown

Here in London, it’s been a fantastic summer of science fictional events at the British Library, thanks to the show Out of this World: Science Fiction but Not as You Know It; but it’s not over yet.

After today, there are still six days left in which to go to the British Library and see the (free!) show.

There is still one more scheduled event remaining in conjunction with it, on J.G. Ballard, this Friday.

I’m planning on going back one more time. And just in case you’ve been thinking about it, haven’t gotten around to it, live vaguely in or around London or will be passing through in time…. I’m planning on posting something on science fiction history each day for the remaining six days of the show as a reminder that the show is still on.

Also, conveniently, this takes advantage of recent reading I did in preparation for the British Science Festival’s panel on “Science Fiction and Religion”.

The good news is that major shows in London on inspirations for science fiction and fantasy won’t be stopping when Out of this World closes, since John Martin: Apocalypse at the Tate opens on Wednesday.

Out of this World at the British Library

The British Library will be hosting an exhibition this summer on the history of science fiction. The show runs from Fri 20 May to Sun 25 September.

The initial schedule of events has been posted – more will be added. Note that most require an admission fee. There are some very good looking events on the agenda. In particular, note that the author, Audrey Niffenegger, of this month’s book-for-discussion, The Time Traveler’s Wife, will be talking on Friday, 10 June, with Stephen Baxter about time travel. Her latest book, The Night Bookmobile, was recently published, but it is still her first which clearly dominates what she is associated with.