Trip report: The Science Fiction Museum

Previous: Movie reviews | Picofarad #1 contents | Next: Social Calendar


You certainly can't miss the building. If you can see the base of the Space Needle, you can see the billowy edfice of the SF Museum and the Experience Music Project crouching beside it. The entrance is suitably futuristic, situated between big wavy metallic cliffs of building without a single sensible straight line in them. Just as Chris and I were making our way up the ramp, a museum employee appeared and asked if we had tickets, which turned out to be on sale at a booth hidden around the corner to the left.

Which in many ways sums up the whole museum: looks cool, but there are some bugs to work out. It may be all nifty and future-like, for instance, to keep the halls and galleries dim and only light the exhibits well, but this means that if you plan to check your watch, be sure you have one with a lighted dial. If you want to read the museum brochures along the way, bring a flashlight. Likewise, the video loops which accompany some of the displays are interesting to watch, but the sound travels well past their area of relevance, which means that whatever you try to watch, you'll have one or two others or some ambient music rattling away in the background.

The tour

From the entrance hall, you enter the museum proper at "Homeworld", and proceed more or less linearly through a series of themed galleries. The first thing you encounter in "Homeworld" is a great big spherical TV, running a collage of clips from various movies, serials and shows, perfectly situated to bring out that visceral response, "I gotta get me one of those to play with!" Around this hall, like most of the galleries, are display cases themed to various topics, such as Martian fiction, or "What if your best friend were an alien?", each containing a couple movie- or TV-related artifacts, and several books with brief descriptions thereof.

In a setting which is naturally going to lend itself to visually-oriented exhibits such as the movie props, it was heartening to see the amount of space given over to books. There are hundreds on display, and I made several additions to my list of stuff I need to read sometime. That, and the prominent spot given to fandom in "Homeworld", including the display of a masquerade costume which is one of the most spectacular-looking objects in the whole place, gave me a strong impression that the museum trying hard to be a good citizen of the sf community and wants to be seen doing this right.

Less easy to explain away or detect any attempt to alleviate is the national bias. I know it's inevitable, but it doesn't have to be as strong as it is. For instance, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy pops up several times, but it's almost the exclusive representative of British sf in all its forms, and the closest thing to a mention of anime is the display of a group of Mobile Suit Gundam toys.

There's not much in the way of interactivity, but one of the highlights is an exhibit of spaceships rendered in loving detail via computer graphics, complete with vital statistics and background. Star Wars is well represented here, but again, books are not excluded-- it includes Rama from Rendezvous With Rama and New York from Cities in Flight.

Another bit which sticks in my mind is the robot exhibit, where you can watch Robbie from Forbidden Planet and B9 from Space:1999 argue. Someone more familiar with the sources will have to tell you whether all the dialogue was actually spoken by these robots at some point, but it seemed plausible to me.

The stair at the end, though it's not immediately obvious, takes you back to the entrance hall, where you can stop by the touchscreens to take part in a visitor poll. The terminals may take a few seconds to respond to touches-- don't press the submit/skip button a second time when waiting, or it'll skip the next question, and there's no way to page backward.

The museum store is stocked mainly with merchandise for Star Trek, Star Wars, and Alien, but there is one shelf of books. I determined to buy a book to encourage them to stock more, and found one of the titles I'd just added to my reading list on the trip through the museum: The Last Man by Mary Shelley. Hey! Synergy!

The verdict

So, you ask, is it worth spending $12.95 per person? Strictly on the basis of the museum as it is now, no, I can't quite justify it. But if you can see it as an investment in a work in progress which is bound to get bigger and better, made by people who really, truly, want to get it right, then I strongly encourage you to go, and then share your thoughts with them. There's no way to leave detailed comments at the museum itself, but its Web site says that they'll be accepted at

Picofarad home