Monday, 30 May 2011

Out of This World - British Library

The Out of This World exhibition is a celebration of science fiction, running at the British Library from 20th May to 25th September. It is free to enjoy, and there are many associated seminars and discussions scheduled as well as the exhibition itself.

Yesterday Tom Hunter of Arthur C Clarke Award fame invited tweet peeps to join him at the exhibition for an afternoon of science fiction geekery.

A nice little group of us showed up and I was thrilled to make the acquaintance of Sakura (better known as chasingbawa). We spent a little bit of time chatting about Malazan and I might have frothed at the mouth about the coolness of Anomander Rake.

The exhibition is described as: "Science Fiction But Not As You Know It". This has given carte blanche for the exhibition to include such diverse authors as Terry Pratchett, Margaret Atwood, Lauren Beukes and Philip Pullman. I wouldn't class all of these authors as science fiction, by any means, but I do like that the exhibition is trying to open the casual readers' eyes to the idea that science fiction is much more than space ships and aliens.

There was a nod to multimedia, with some interviews, TV shows and music extracts to peruse as well as the plentiful manuscripts and books on show - but, as you'll expect, my very favourite parts of the exhibition were those manuscripts and books.

I adored the fact that we could see the actual first draft manuscripts of books such as Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman:

Being able to see the crossings out and the clear development of ideas is absolutely fascinating!

There was also a TREMENDOUS letter from George Orwell to his publisher:

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Fred,

You will have had my wire by now, and if anything crossed your mind I dare say I shall have had a return wire from you by the time this goes off. I shall finish the book, D.V., early in November, and I am rather flinching from the job of typing it, because it is a very awkward thing to do in bed, where I still have to spend half the time. Also there will have to be carbon copies, a thing which always fidgets me, and the book is fearfully long, I should think well over 100,000 words, possibly 125,000. I can't send it away because it is an unbelievably bad MS and no one could make head or tail of it without explanation. On the other hand a skilled typist under my eye could do it easily enough. If you can think of anybody who would be willing to come, I will send money for the journey and full instructions. I think we could make her quite comfortable. There is always plenty to eat and I will see that she has a comfortable warm place to work in.

I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied. I first thought of it in 1943. I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB. I haven't definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.

I have just had Sartre's book on antisemitism, which you published, to review. I think Sartre is a bag of wind and I am going to give him a good boot.

How tremendously cool is that letter? I love it more than I can say, especially the fact that he vacillated so between the two titles. Do you think it would have been such a seminal work with the title The Last Man in Europe?

Around the exhibition, which was carved loosely into areas including Alien Worlds, Virtual Worlds, and The End of the World, there were some wonderful quotes from scientists, authors and social commentators such as this one below:

I felt that the exhibition was beautifully laid out and exceptionally interesting, although there was a limited amount for younger children. Of the exhibits and fun bits and pieces for them, my favourite was this - I might have played a little too much with it:

My own little alien is now a permanent fixture in the exhibition!

I was also thoroughly entertained by the idea that the Bronte sisters were complete geeks, and wrote the first example of fan fiction:

I really loved the Out of This World exhibition - it was interesting, geeky and full of great facts. I sincerely hope that visitors to the exhibition will be encouraged to pick up works of literature that they might have thus far avoided.

Also, GREAT location! Unbelievably, this was my first visit to the British Library and being surrounded by all those BOOKS was a simply delicious feeling.

After the high brow facts and the great literary discussions, it was onto a pub where David Monteith and I proceeded to create the shortlived #pornbooktitles hashtag which caused great hilarity for a while. And I wasn't even drunk *shamefaced*

Since this was a Tweet Up, I now urge you to promptly follow:

@EwaSR @ThermobaricTom @DavidMonteith @ClarkeAward @chasingbawa @loudmouthman @chriszombieblog @mermaid99 @sennydreadful @boxroom @soylentsimon

And DEFINITELY make time to visit the Out of this World exhibition at the British Library!


  1. Really like the sound of this. If time permits, I will drop in there this week to take a look.

  2. I remember being fascinated by the Pulman draft, when I visited the place a few years ago.

  3. Damn me living in the dark wilds of Wales! The exhibition sounds awesome! Love the little alien you made too, hehe.

  4. That was an amazing exhibition. I'll have to go back and spend more time perusing again, of course, since I managed to miss Orwell's letter. Nice write-up, Amanda!

  5. We're definitely going to visit this exhibition when we visit :-D