By Rachel Cooke
From Mr Spock to dinosaurs, from comics to costumes, this ambitious sci-fi exhibition is big on content, but where is the context?
The most brilliant definition of science fiction I know comes courtesy of the writer Brian Aldiss, who once described it as “hubris clobbered by nemesis”. At Into the Unknown, the Barbican’s ambitious new exploration of sci-fi’s vast realm, there is certainly hubris: the claims made for it – “unprecedented”, “genre-defying” – are nothing if not grand. But, alas, you’ll find no vengeful gods at work.
Ultimately, what clobbers the exhibition, a repository for some 800 images, books, comics, models and costumes, is the rather more prosaic conviction of its curator, the Swiss historian Patrick Gyger, that size trumps all. Charmed as I was to see, among other delights, the Spindrift supersonic transport miniature from the TV series Land of the Giants, I was struck by the way that it, and pretty much everything on display, was expected to speak for itself. Where was the historical background? What about those who have never seen Land of the Giants in all its 60s glory? (Its subversions, such as they are, are surely of a piece with that decade’s politics.) The goodies Gyger has gathered are undoubtedly piled high, but they’re so unmediated as to be almost meaningless at times. He has delivered the sci-fi equivalent of Supermarket Sweep.