In some respects, it’s hard to reconcile an interest in science fiction with a fascination with the past. Surely, the one should contradict the other? But for me the heyday of SciFi was the first half of the 20th Century, when enough had been discovered to open up the possibilities of what the future might offer, but not enough to reveal the grimy reality of trying to balance scientific progress with social and economic realities, which puts it right in our MidCentury period and so made the Barbican’s ‘Into the Unknown’ exhibition a must-see for us.

To be fair to the curators, I have to stress that the exhibition wasn’t rooted solely in the 50s and 60s where my heart lies, but nor was it a strictly chronological journey. Of course, the story couldn’t start without a dive into the worlds of Jules Verne and his compatriots, but we were quickly transported to a golden age of writing, illustration and film, full of exhibits that I would dearly love to have sneaked home, plus a few that I was delighted to find I’d already got! Strongly featured was the work of Ray Harryhausen, beloved of Mrs M for his work on the Jason and Argonauts film, and by me for his more traditional SciFi outings. Indeed, there can’t be much of the Harryhausen collection that isn’t in London at the moment, as we’d already stumbled across a display of his work, alongside those by whom he was influenced, at the Tate Britain (including one of Mrs M’s favourite fighting skeletons – in reality about Action Man sized).

There were multiple, mouth-watering displays of original books, magazines and comics, including many of the Astounding SF magazines that my Dad consumed avidly in the 50s as each new story by Isaac Asimov and the like appeared. Also featured were some wonderful bubblegum cards, with a full set of the 1962 set, quickly withdrawn after protests about their graphic violence, that Tim Burton copied slavishly to create the Mars Attacks movie (something we should have known, but which had managed to pass us by). It wasn’t all British and American, by any means, either – the Soviets did a very stylish line in depiction of a gleaming future when collectivism and Eastern bloc technology would deliver a communist utopia for all, and the work of the SciFi artists featured large.

And then, of course, there was the movie-related material. The Harryhausen stuff I’ve mentioned already, but there were items from Star Wars, Star Trek and a raft of other SciFi classics. Favourites for us included the original Spindrift model from ‘Land of the Giants’, the model from ‘Fantastic Voyage’, complete with a tiny Donald Pleasance in the dome, a 50s spacecraft crashing into a model Capitol Building and, best of all, the original robot from ‘Lost in Space’, complete with the signatures of the cast when they signed off after the final series. Now that I really would like to take home!
We caught the exhibition right at the end of its run, so it’s too late for me to post any of the details about it, but hopefully the gallery of photos (or at least those that turned out OK as I grappled with a wide range of lighting) will whet your appetite for the next time something like this arrives on our planet.