Science Fiction as a Literary Genre

'El Anacronópete’Credit: British Library Board

The British Library's exhibition, Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it, features classic sc-fi texts ranging from early manuscripts, such as True History, by Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD), to works by contemporary writers, Cory Doctorow and China Miéville. The exhibition also investigates many works of speculative fiction that we may not think of as being science fiction, such as Audrey Niffeneggers' The Time-Traveler's Wife and George Orwell's 1984. The installation is enhanced by audio-visual materials and multi-media inter-active displays.

Out of this World... explores the many visions of the future presented in science fiction literature. As we read this literature now it seems very old fashioned, but will our ideas seem just as old fashioned to readers in the centuries to come?

The exhibition asks a number of questions: What does it mean to be human? Are we alone in the universe? How do we define reality? Does the perfect world actually exist? What are we doing to our world? In attempting to address these questions, guest-curator, Andy Sawyer, (Director of Science Fiction Studies MA, at the University of Liverpool), draws on the British Library's comprehensive stock of hand-written texts, books, comics, posters, music manuscripts and recordings.

Visitors to the exhibition will explore Future worlds, Alien Worlds, Virtual Worlds, The End of the World and The Perfect World.

Highlights of the Exhibition

The exhibition showcases Arthur C Clarke's Prelude to Space; H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds; Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Thomas More's Utopia, as well the stories known as the Glass Town Federation created by Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë.

Also on display is a hand-written page from John Wyndham's The Kraken Awakes showing an alternative ending for the US Ballentine edition of his novel. The exhibition showcases a number of posters, such as The Martians from H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, as drawn by Alvim-Correa in the Belgian edition, La Guerre des mondes, Brussels, 1906.

Also on show are magazine covers, such as Science Wonder Stories (1930), by the Viennese-born Frank Rudolph Paul, illustrator of US pulp magazines. Another highlight is the cover of E. Gaspar's El Anacronópete (1887) showing the earliest-known depiction of a time machine.

Programme of Public Events

To accompany the exhibition the British Library will lay on a varied programme of events including workshops, discussions and performances. These events will feature writers such as China Miéville, Iain M Banks, David Lodge, Stephen Baxter; Audrey Niffenegger, Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss. Musicians, including Nona Hendryx and George Clinton, will show the influence of this genre on their extravagant stage shows and albums. The timetable also includes concerts featuring Global Communication and The Radio Science Orchestra.

Exhibition Catalogue and Audio CD

To add to the visitor experience, the British Library has published a 144-page catalogue and an audio CD. The book is written by fantasy literature expert Mike Ashley. It tells the story of science fiction over the last two thousands years. It is available in both hardback (ISBN 978 0 7123 5831 6) and paperback (ISBN 978 0 7123 5835 4), at £27.95 and £16.95 respectively.
The CD runs for 73 minutes and features discussions involving major writers such as Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Doris Lessing and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. They address a number of questions relating to the genre. For example: what is science fiction? Should writers be commenting on the present, or should they predict the future? More importantly: are they under-valued when compared to literary novelists? Available from the British Library, the CD is priced at £10.16 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5113 3).

Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it will be on show until 25th September 2011. Further details are available from the British Library.


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