Ever wondered how close science-fiction is to real science? Here’s the answer

An AI guide talks visitors through the themes of the exhibition - Eddie Mulholland
An AI guide talks visitors through the themes of the exhibition - Eddie Mulholland

It was high time that the Science Museum paid tribute to the power of science fiction. After all, we might have been living in a very different world, had early encounters with the likes of Star Trek not prompted so many viewers to take an interest in STEM subjects. It’s fortunate, then, that the Museum pays its dues handsomely with this whizzy new exhibition.

You arrive in a departure lounge, complete with clocks telling you the time on Kronos, Solaris and Tatooine, before you find yourself in the interior of a spaceship designed with all the panache of Ridley Scott. It houses exhibits ranging from a first edition of Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon to a life-size Dalek. (Alas, no sofa is provided to hide behind.)

An AI guide talks you through the themes of the exhibition while offering philosophical commentary on humanity: “You hope technology will save you – but fear it will replace you…” And there are beautiful replicas of film robots ranging from Gort to Robby. But it’s genuine props, battered and battle-scarred, such as Darth Vader’s helmet, that will give your inner geek the biggest thrill.

The influence of sci-fi on real science is a constant motif. The pioneering pacemaker made by Earl Bakken in 1958 is exhibited alongside costumes and stills from the Frankenstein movies that inspired him. Trekkies will be beside themselves at seeing the actual uniform worn by Nichelle Nichols as Lt Uhura – but it takes on a surprisingly moving significance when placed next to a display about Mae C Jemison, who was inspired to follow in the character’s footsteps and became the first black woman to go into space. A film exhibit about 16-year-old amputee Tilly Lockey, who has Iron Man-style bionic arms, is similarly uplifting.

Children will enjoy the interactive elements here, such as the test to find out “what percentage cyborg you are”. Perhaps an attempt to keep Science Fiction family-friendly explains the cursory descriptions attached to some exhibits: surely true sci-fi fans would welcome a deeper dive into trivia? But there’s still plenty to keep you entranced.

The final section looks at how “science-fictional” thinking may be the answer to preserving humankind in the teeth of climate chaos. The highlight is Planet City, an art installation-cum-thought experiment by Liam Young, which takes the form of a detailed model of a megacity capable of housing the entire human population. Let’s hope that in the cities of the future, they remember to make room for museums – especially ones with such lovingly curated exhibitions as this.

Until May 4 2023. Tickets: 033 0058 0058; sciencemuseum.org.uk