Close Encounters: Sci-fi exhibit launched at Experience Music Project

The country's first science-fiction museum is opening on June 18 in the Experience Music Project museum, and the 13,000 square feet of exhibit space is chock full of eye candy for sci-fi fans of all ages.

Headed up by former NASA scientist Donna Shirley, the $20 million Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is the brainchild of billionaire and inveterate sci-fi fan Paul Allen, and about half of the exhibits come from his own personal collection of memorabilia, Shirley said.

Having a science-fiction exhibit in a museum originally dedicated to popular music might seem to represent mission drift, something that NASA itself has been accused of, but that's not the case, according to Shirley.

That's because popular music and science fiction are both rooted in pop culture, she said. "Rock music is really about sociology," Shirley said of a force she compared to science fiction in its effect on social change. " '1984' was just as controversial for its time as hip-hop music," she noted, for example.

Shirley also said it was a myth that scientists as a group don't care for science fiction, adding that there are a lot of sci-fi nuts at NASA. "It fueled our of interest in space," she explained.

To be sure, some of NASA's projects over the years have resembled plots from sci-fi stories. Shirley was intimately connected to some of them, including heading up NASA's Sojourner project that sent a Rover to Mars for the first time.

In fact, her half-scale model of the Rover is part of the exhibit. "I paid a lot of money for that," she said of the only working model in the world.

But Shirley and Allen aren't the only people who have loaned the sci-fi museum what EMP staffers like to refer to as "artifacts" for the exhibit. Allen has put Capt. Kirk's command chair from the '60s television series "Star Trek" on exhibit - and no, visitors can't sit in it.

But the largest pieces - the power loader and the Alien Queen from the film "Aliens" - are on loan from director James Cameron and 21st Century Fox. Shirley said filmmaker Steven Spielberg has lent the museum several pieces from his movies: a model of E.T., a model of the mother ship in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," as well as a dinosaur model used to animate "Jurassic Park."

The exhibits are set up in several sections. Among them is "Fantastic Voyages," which features a computer-animated film of a space dock that is visited by ships that appear in more than 20 films. They include Dr. Zarkov's spark-spitting ship from "Flash Gordon," the Enterprise from "Star Trek" and the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars."

"Fantastic Voyages" also offers up an arsenal of sci-fi weapons, from phasers to Barbarella's crossbow, along with a globe that displays planets such as Arakis from the "Dune" series.

"Brave New Worlds" includes filmed segments of the cityscape in "Bladerunner," "The Matrix" and "The Jetsons." Another section called "Them" offers up a smorgasbord of manufactured creatures that include Robbie the Robot and the bare-bones version of the Terminator creature.

Gort, the giant robot from "The Day the Earth Stood Still," stands sentinel in a lounge section meant to recall the famous bar scene in "Star Wars," and the mask of the creature in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film "Predator" grins with feral charm.

The history of science fiction is laid out in the exhibit, and a sizable collection of science-fiction paintings, posters and pulp magazine artwork is included as well.

There is also another section called the "Hall of Fame" that features science-fiction writers, movie-makers and artists of renown. "The Hall of Fame will continue to grow every year," said Paige Prill, spokeswoman for both the EMP and the sci-fi museums.

Visually, the Hall of Fame isn't much to look at. Faces of the notable contributors are etched into glass, but the exhibit has its place in the museum, Prill said. "There has to be creators," she noted.

Prolific, award-winning sci-fi author and Lynnwood resident Greg Bear is chair of the museum's 33-member advisory board, and he is clearly pumped by the exhibit's opening. "Everything is old-home week for me," he said. "I know these people."

Indeed, one of his friends is Ray Bradbury, who is also on the advisory board. Also on the board are: Bear's wife and sci-fi author Astrid Anderson Bear; founder Jeff Bezos; the dean of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke; film-makers George Lucas, Cameron and Spielberg; well-known author Harlan Ellison and physicist Freeman Dyson.

Bear conceded that science fiction was not well-regarded in the past, achieving almost the same trashy reputation as pulp fiction. That's still true, he said, but only in "the wrong part of town, like the New York Times book reviews."

The EMP building is a perfect venue for a science-fiction museum, according to Bear. "Seattle is a huge sci-fi town," he said. Bear also said there is a strong link between an interest in sci-fi and an interest in science, a connection that ties into the educational aspects of the exhibit.

"We're giving teachers a venue," he said of plans to set up programs involving instruction in the art of writing science fiction.

Existing EMP staff were transferred to the sci-fi museum, and the museum is being marketed both nationally and internationally, according to spokeswoman Prill.

Shirley, who managed teams of scientist before she retired from NASA in 1998, is impressed with the staff's work. "The team is as high a quality as I've ever worked with," she said.

Entrance to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame costs $8.95-$12.95, with children younger than 6 getting in free. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week during the summer.

Space Cadet Russ Zabel can be reached at or by phone at 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]