Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Babylon on Puget Sound

When I dreamt that I was back in Seattle a month ago, I didn’t know for sure that I would actually get there so soon. I knew I was going to California all right, but a side trip to the Pacific Northwest seemed unlikely. But, as fate would have it, a close friend and a dear auntie were stricken within days of each other and each was going through a long recuperation. Not only did a journey north become imperative but, because of various logistics of getting to the destinations, it made (at the time anyway) some sort of sense to travel by car. So the Missus and the Little Muchkin and I bundled ourselves into a car and proceeded to cover some 2,000 miles in a week.

Our return to Seattle after nearly two years seemed drenched in triumph. Maybe this was because we rolled into the city just after sunset on the Fourth of July. Having been warmed up by freeway-side fireworks displays from Tacoma to Tukwila, the grand finale was the massive “Fourth of Jul-Ivar” (if you’re not from Seattle, it’d take too much time to explain) fireworks display over Lake Union as we crossed a trembling Ship Canal Bridge. You can’t ask for a better “welcome home” than that! To add to the welcome, the city gave us one day of glorious sunshine and one day of even more glorious rain.

During a whirlwind pair of days, we visited my auntie and my cousins as well as a few friends, who demonstrated their flexibility since we had given them no warning we were coming. We had a meal in my very favorite Mexican restaurant and, of course, drank lots and lots of coffee. And, though no one who knows me will believe this was not planned, I managed to squeeze in one more visit that was completely unexpected. Left with a couple of hours free the second morning, the Missus asked what we could do to amuse the Little Munchkin. I brought us to Seattle Center so that she could visit the Children’s Museum and the Fun Forest.

As we were about to enter the Children’s Museum, the Missus said, “No sense both of us going in with her. Why don’t you visit that science fiction thing?” This is why I love this woman. For weeks I had been reading and hearing about the first ever Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. And, of course, it was killing me that it should be located in my old stomping ground after I was no longer there to enjoy it. I had seriously expected to wait years to be able to see it. Now, I was standing at its doorstep, waiting to buy a ticket.

The reason a Science Fiction Museum even exists is due to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who is definitely the coolest billionaire ever. While billionaires tend to invest their money in serious companies and traditional charities, Allen also does neat things. He’s the billionaire you call up when you have a problem and you really need divine intervention. Like when Seattle thought it was losing its football team, the Seahawks, he stepped in to buy the team, and all the people had to do was vote to spend a bunch of public money to build a big new stadium. He also owns the Portland Trailblazers, but he has best used his bucks for less jock-like pursuits. For example, when Seattle’s fabled Cinerama movie theater was in danger of being demolished, he bought it and gave it a major restoration. He has also helped to bankroll the SETI project, which looks for extraterrestrial life. And he sponsored the recent competition that resulted in the first private spacecraft to leave earth’s atmosphere. His other pet projects include an institute that is mapping the human brain and Project Halo, which aims to create an artificial intelligence that embodies all human knowledge.

Yet another creation of Allen’s is the Experience Music Project (EMP), a rock music museum (originally intended to be a Jimi Hendrix museum, until the Seattle-born musician’s survivors made that legally unfeasible) that sits near the base of the Space Needle. The building, designed by Frank Gehry, looks appropriately like a smashed guitar. Now, part of that building has been devoted to the Science Fiction Museum. While not completely exhaustive, it is a serious tribute to science fiction literature and a downright fun place to visit. It attempts to cover written, filmed and televised speculative fiction dating back to the days of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. The written literature is mostly covered by plaques and panels, but there are also lots of artifacts on display. Some are reproductions, and some are real props from movies and TV shows, notably the command chair that Capt. Kirk sat in during his less-than-five-year mission in the original Star Trek series. One amusing section on robots features Robbie from Forbidden Planet having an amusingly frustrating discourse with the robot from Lost in Space (“Danger, Will Robinson!”).

The museum attempts to divide the history of science fiction literature into periods which reflect the historical events of the time, e.g. the radiation-spawned monsters of the 1950s, which coincided with the development and testing of atomic bombs. This approach is interesting, although one gets the feeling that the organizers may have worked a little too hard at making the genre’s themes fit into their pigeonholes. On the fun side, the museum itself has the feel of a space ship in a Hollywood movie. At one point, I impulsively tried putting my hand into a hole under a “sensor” to see if it would actually open the cargo bay door. (My hand was stopped by invisible plexiglass.) Even more amusing was a set of instructions over a urinal in the men’s restroom, explaining how to operate the fixture in zero gravity.

Being a Babylon 5 devotee, I of course kept my eyes open for any references to my favorite science fiction TV series. I noticed only one in the museum itself. The Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari flashed by in a montrage on aliens or something on a TV screen. In a space between the Science Fiction Museum and the EMP, however, my search was rewarded. In an exhibit of bizarre costumes, mostly worn by rock musicians, there were two displays devoted to television. One had costumes worn by George Reeves on Superman and by Adam West and Burt Ward on Batman. The other had garb worn by Andreas Katsulas, Peter Jurasik and Mira Furlan as, respectively, ambassadors G’Kar, Londo Mollari and Delenn on B5. This alone was worth the $12.95 admission, even if strictly speaking you didn’t need an admission to go into that particular area.

We are home now in the west of Ireland, and hopefully my Seattle fix will last a good while. Here at least, I certainly don’t have to miss the Seattle climate. And I brought enough coffee home with me to last a good while.

-S.L., 15 July 2004

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