Running from the 6th of October 2022 to the 4th of May 2023, Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination is a hugely ambitious audio-visual experience, situated in London’s Science Museum in South Kensington.
Visitors are invited to come and take a trip to the alien spaceship known as The Azimuth and meet its controlling AI called A.L.A.N.N. as she attempts to determine whether the human race is likely to survive – or worthy of survival. She plans to do this by examining our potential through the medium of science and science fiction.
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It’s a similar sort of experience to the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N event that was held outside the London ExCel centre in 2018. Visitors are sent through in groups after a “shuttle ride” with Pan-Galactic Starlines.
After a brief introduction you’re left to explore the ship with A.L.A.N.N. gently nudging you along and helping to add context to each display. Starting at the cargo bay and working through a bio-lab, computer core and more besides, each area follows a specific theme like genetic engineering, climate change, artificial intelligence and more.
Each section is filled with both props from sci-fi movies and TV shows, standing side by side by the real-world technologies and inventions they helped inspire. The film and show items on display include one of the golden space-suits from Sunshine, Nichelle Nichol’s uniform from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a replica of the “Big Chap” from Alien, a Dalek from Dr Who, a cryosleep bed from Prometheus and more. Real life items include Professor James Lovelock’s gas chromatograph, the first ever battery powered pacemaker, and even a metal urn retrieved from Hiroshima after the atomic bomb dropped.
There are videos to watch featuring scientists from many different fields and countries, as well as hands-on exhibits for kids (and their bigger kid parents!) to enjoy, such as getting the ship’s faster-than-light drive ready to go, or estimating the chances of us ever detecting intelligent life in the galaxy using the Drake equation.
There’s a lovely attention to detail in all the different parts of the exhibit, from the displays to the soundtrack, right down to the signage. Each section has signs in an alien language called Baux, which was specifically created just for the exhibition. Rather than just a random series of gibberish, the designers created a real language with its own specific syntax and typeface!
Alongside the exhibition, the museum will also be running a variety of sci-fi themed events, including hosting the Arthur C Clarke award, which celebrates the best in science fiction writing. And if that’s not enough then there’s even a rather nice hardback companion book which delves into an impressive level of detail and will no doubt satisfy both science and sci-fi fans alike.
Cost-wise, an adult ticket is £20 and children of seven and under get in free. Concessions are available, and timed slots apply. Travel-wise, it’s only a short walk from South Kensington underground, and the pedestrian subway tunnel takes you literally to the front door of the museum.
One slight concern is that a couple of parts of the exhibition are very narrow, which could easily lead to bottlenecks of people trying to get past. It’s also likely to be quite a loud experience. There’s the constant rumble of the Azimuth’s “engines”, the soundtracks for each section, videos playing, and A.L.A.N.N.’s video segments on constant loop. Those with small children, or anyone who struggles with loud noises and crowds, might want to bear this in mind before booking tickets. The museum notes that it has ear defenders available for use by visitors.
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This is a great exhibition. It’s obvious that the staff and creators have a massive amount of passion for this project and an impressive level of effort has gone into it. It’s well worth the time and money for anyone with even a passing interest in science-fiction, or the real-world impact these stories and films can have, and how they can inspire us to be better than we are.
It’s an exhibition filled with warnings about the darker side of science, and human nature, but ultimately it tries to reassure visitors that the future is what we make it, and that it doesn’t always need to end in a horrible dystopia. Instead, it tries to inspire hope, and leave visitors with the knowledge that we can all make the world a better place for ourselves and generations to come.
Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination is at the Science Museum, London, until 4th May 2023.