You can never tell when you make up something what will happen with it. You never know whether or not it will come true.
The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame appropriately stands in the shadow of Seattle’s futuristic landmark, the Space Needle. Set in a multicolored, globular Frank Gehry-designed building that looks like a cut-up guitar (a “ridiculous . . . monstrosity of postmodern architecture” is another writer’s take), it shares the space with the Experience Music Project, a museum for rock and roll music. The odd juxtaposition of the two museums is actually quite simple: science fiction and Jimi Hendrix’s music were the two boyhood loves of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who is the primary funder of both. Founded in 2004, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is dedicated to exploring the history of science fiction and how it shapes our culture, politics, and philosophy. While the Experience Music Project next door has the guitars used by Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley, and Kurt Cobain, the Science Fiction Museum rocks just as hard. Displayed in the museum are such artifacts as Captain Kirk’s command chair from Star Trek, the alien queen from Aliens, Darth Vader’s helmet from The Empire Strikes Back, Neal Stephenson’s handwritten manuscript for the Baroque Cycle trilogy, and the pistol used by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. The museum also runs a kids’ program, including a “summer camp on Mars,” as well as a happy hour for the adults, with three-dollar beers on tap. It is easy to think of the Museum and Hall of Fame as only some sort of “Pantheon of Nerds” (what my editor jokingly called it), as science fiction may well be the ultimate of geekdom. Perhaps no one puts it better than Chuck Klosterman, who once wrote that admitting you like science fiction was “like admitting that you masturbate two times a day, or that your favorite band was They Might Be Giants.” And yet science fiction is undeniably popular. The earliest science fiction was by storied writers such as Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein was first published in 1818, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose story “The Birthmark” wrestled with plastic surgery before plastic was even invented. Today, roughly 10 percent of all books are in the science fiction and fantasy genres. This does not even count major authors like Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy, who write “techno-thrillers” that are science fiction in all but name. Science fiction has thrived even more in modern media forms. Six of the top-ten-grossing movies of all time are science fiction, led by the original Star Wars (inexplicably still behind Titanic in total sales). On TV, many of the most popular and influential shows of all time, from The Twilight Zone to Lost, have been science fiction. An entire cable network, the Sci Fi Channel, is exclusively devoted to the genre. For
such a geeky topic, it is doing quite well, ranking in the top ten of all basic cable networks. Science fiction is more than just popular; it is also incredibly influential, to an extent that is often surprising. Time and again, science fiction makes its presence felt in real-world technology, war, and politics. At iRobot, for example, the robotics research group described how their team motto was a tossup between “making science fiction reality” and “practical science fiction” (they couldn’t yet decide which they liked better). Science fiction references and ideas also make frequent appearances on the military side, coming up in almost any meeting on new military technologies or how to use them. Even Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (that is, the man in charge of the entire U.S. military), proudly described how the navy’s “Professional Reading” program, which he helped develop to guide his sailors, includes the science fiction novels Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game.
WHAT IS SCIENCE FICTION?