McFarlin’s Special Collections dazzles with its latest exhibit on science fiction, which offers a glimpse into the genre’s fun and sometimes silly past.
Robots. Laser guns. The myth that solely-female planets would welcome visiting men. “From Beyond the Unknown” features snapshots of the best and worst from science fiction of the decades past“From Beyond the Unknown,” a collection of science fiction work courtesy of TU alum Jack C.
Rae, is the newest showpiece in Special Collections at McFarlin Library. While getting in the room is a bit of a challenge — you have to be buzzed in the door after taking the elevator up to the fifth floor, then sign in and leave your bag in the locker room (no pens allowed with books old enough to get a senior citizen discount) — it’s well worth the trouble.
Rae was a World War II veteran, and his war diary lies in the first display case you see walking in. Next to it lies a collection of the Edgar Rice Burroughs “John Carter of Mars” series, one of the series that got Rae interested in sci-fi in his youth. In his words, displayed in the first bank of the collection upon entering the room: “Back in the 1940s and 1950s, my father used to challenge me on my reading of Science Fiction. His standard query went something like, ‘How can you read about these people going to the Moon or Mars? You know that will never happen.’ I took a degree of pleasure in 1969, in asking him what he thought about [that now] …”
Nestled into black cloth under glass cases, his collection traverses the journey from the 1920s to the 1960s. Cards are placed in each case, describing snippets of extra information (“Space operas,” for instance, are one of the “most enduring” genres, along with “extra sensory powers, alien contact, time police, and robots”). Each card has its own graphic. The informational texts have swirling galaxies, and the ones that outline new technologies are illustrated with a whimsical little rocket.
Every decade marks new arrivals to the popular imagination — the ‘20s introduced the first robot, traffic signals and the electric shaver; the 40s included cake mix, bar codes and the theory of holography. By the ‘50s, new to the world were power steering, solar cells, McDonald’s and fiber optics. The next decade saw the computer mouse, video discs and the artificial heart, as well as the first time humans walked on the moon.
The cases have cute cutouts as well, like the bright yellow and green cutout that might have been an astronaut or a particularly confused math teacher. Another case protects viewers from the slinking eldritch horror with tentacles for legs that walked over sand, had one glowing eye and looked like it would play fetch with you if you threw it a human skull. Is at an abomination or a misunderstood alien-dog? You decide!
The room is lined in books older than my grandmother and with twice as much to say. The cases outshine even these displays with their books with covers in bright yellows and reds, women in dynamic poses and men staring with wonder into space. It’s a peek into the imaginations of generations past that isn’t in history books or those dour pictures of the Great Depression. You can feel as much of the attention and care the curator took in creating the displays as you can feel the weight of dust and history in the room.