Friday, July 20, 2007

Not Quite Mecca

Anna and I just got back from our vacation on the west coast. We did plenty of camping, sightseeing, eating, etc on our way from San Fransisco to Vancouver. One of our stops was in Seattle at the Science-Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. The three-or-so year old museum shares a building with some kind of music experience project something-or-other that seemed to be a giant Hendrix memorabilia clearinghouse. It's pretty obvious that the Sci-Fi museum is young and still in the early stages of developing and diversifying its collection, but we were able to see some pretty neat displays.

The museum starts you off in a cluttered room hosting a number of displays that give various overviews of the media genre. The Hall of Fame contained all of the satisfying names of writers, directors, and artists, but was, again obviously a very young display. They were still inducting the Gene Roddenberries and the Ridley Scotts. The sci-fi and history display was equally predictable and young feeling. The display had parallel timelines showing historical/scientific/cultural events and events specific to science fiction. While the display tried to draw connections between, say, the Cold War and Orson Wells' War of the Worlds radio fiasco, the timelines were not mapped on to each other well and both lacked satisfying explanations. Still a work in progress.

What I really dug about the museum were the constant nods to fandom. Many of the costumes on display were created for and worn at conventions by fans. The museum also had video loops of various sci-fi celebrities describing their experiences at conventions, both as fans and as personalities. The underlying message of these displays tended to be that the genre exists only because of its rampant fans. Certainly its us fans who pay to visit the museum, and who declare our favorite books and movies to be somehow fundamentally different from the rest of speculative fiction. We also love to hear about how wonderful we are and how much our idols think we rule. Nice marketing work.

I was also into a display that presented science fiction as a number of different "what if . . ." to be explored. It listed some relatively popular stories and boiled them down to a simple question. Wells' "The Time Machine" became "What if a man went to the future and got stranded?" Pretty neat, and it seems to work well enough and it's fun to figure out the questions for various other stories.

My school is letting me teach a sci-fi class spring semester of this year and I am trying to figure out a way of using this idea of boiling down to "What if . . ."s as the introductory ideas to the course. I haven't completely worked it out yet, but I was thinking I could also have the students think of what concessions the audience must allow the writer to make for the story to work. In Star Wars, we have to believe that the events happen long ago and far away, even though most of the characters are human. We also have to believe in some sort of Force that works like magic, but can be explained using science. This might be a nice way of getting students to start picking apart some of the stories and try to get to the meat of what they are actually saying to the audience. Something to think about over the next few months.

Check out the links on the Wikipedia page that I posted under Electronic Reading List. Most are pretty neat.

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