SF at the BL

Yesterday, as Twitter followers will know, I spent the morning at a press conference at the British Library. This summer they are putting on a major free exhibition called “Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it”. You can see their press release here.

The title is a bit cheesy, but there is a reason for it. The BL people have noticed that they have a lot of books that look like science fiction to them but which often get described as “not science fiction” by people who want to enforce ghetto boundaries. The exhibition takes aim at this silliness by presenting a broad view of science fiction, taking in authors such as Thomas More, Mary Shelley, Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell as well as HG Wells, Phil Dick, Sir Arthur and a lot of contemporary authors.

The exhibition is sponsored by Discovery who will be showing a number of science fact and fiction shows over the summer to coincide with the event. The Science Fiction Foundation has been closely involved with providing material, and Andy Sawyer of Liverpool University is the guest curator. People such as John Clute have provided a number of books from their private libraries (and I have an interview with Clute discussing this which will appear in Salon Futura before the exhibition opens).

Which reminds me, dates: May 20th – September 25th.

In addition there will be a number of special events featuring cool people. Here’s the list so far:

  • China Miéville (20 May);
  • Iain M Banks (31 May);
  • David Lodge and Stephen Baxter (8 June);
  • Audrey Niffenegger (10 June);
  • Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss (21 June)

And the one I really want to see but have already committed to be elsewhere that day:

Musicians George Clinton and Nona Hendryx will talk about the science fiction influences on their lavish stage shows and albums, and a remarkable night of futuristic music on 17 June will see The Radio Science Orchestra and Global Communication perform live at the Library.

Of course, this being the British Library, pride of place will go to many wonderful old books, some of which I was lucky enough to see yesterday. I am particularly fond of Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638) in which our hero, Domingo Gonsales, takes flight in a strange contraption drawn by geese. Godwin, a graduate of Christchurch, Oxford, held the posts of Bishop of Llandaff and Bishop of Hereford during life. In the book he states he is basing his story on Copernican principles and manages a reasonable guess at the idea of gravity well before Newton worked it all out. Goose-powered space ships might seem quaint to us, but Godwin is clearly a kindred spirit to the likes of Asimov and Clarke.

There’s load of other seriously cool old stuff as well. Hopefully a fair few of you will be able to get to see it.

Twitter followers may have noticed that the presentation yesterday focused almost exclusively on male authors, Shelley being the only woman mentioned. There were also no women presenters featured in Discovery’s trailer. For the really old stuff this is understandable, but that’s no reason to apply the same filters today. The BL people have assured us that there will be some women authors featured in the exhibition (see Niffenegger above, for example). However, next time I get told that an event can’t be sexist because while all of the people out front getting the glory are men, most of the people labouring behind the scenes to make it happen are women, I think I shall hit someone.

4 thoughts on “SF at the BL

  1. That sounds great. Don’t think I’ll get to visit the BL, worst luck.
    Thank you for posting about it. As you will know from a number of the panels I’ve schedule in the past I am very interested in the topic of the exhibition.

  2. Fair assessment I thought of the BL press briefing. Might add that there were further contributions from people involved in the SFF. Roger Robinson is loaning a range of photos; and Mike Ashley wrote the book of the exhibition, Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It. He was invited to the launch, but neither he nor the book were mentioned.
    Self-plug: am also on the panel mentioned with Mike Moorcock and Brian Aldiss. But I’m an Old Hat in London; far more exciting will be the presence of Norman Spinrad.
    Women in the exhibition: the 45 books being borrowed from my collection come from about a century of publication, starting at a time when few women were publishing sf in book form. But of that total, 11 are in fact by women. Which does not a summer make, but suggests a lot better balance than the launch made it appear.

Comments are closed.