Unique sci-fi museum ready for launch

Cue "Thus Spake Zarathustra." Paul Allen's monolithic new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which was to be previewed by the media for the first time today, is sending out tendrils to fans at the long-running Norwescon science-fiction convention this weekend.

The zillionaire philanthropist who named a company Vulcan has put Captain Kirk's chair from "Star Trek" and other rarities from his personal collection alongside high-tech interactive exhibits in the estimated $20 million facility, which will open to humans in mid-June.

Ray guns. First editions of books such as "The Time Machine." Darth Vader's helmet. They're in the first-of-its-species museum that will occupy 13,000 square feet in the "blue potato" portion of Allen's Experience Music Project building at Seattle Center.

"He loves to collect the things that he loves," said museum director Donna Shirley, a former project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who headed the (real) Mars Exploration Program. "He has a wonderful collection of artifacts and things like first editions, and when he decided that he wanted to put them on display was when they were taking the 'Artist's Journey' out of EMP. The exhibit kind of grew into a whole museum."

You won't be able to sit in Kirk's chair or fire the phasers; they'll be protected by force fields or other devices. But some interactive exhibits would make any "Amazing Stories" pulp writer take note. They'll include a Hall of Fame wall with great writers' images etched into glass bricks, accompanied by video footage of each; and a 12-foot "Spacedock" screen that gives viewers a window view from a space station.

Some visitors may arch an eyebrow over the fact that the Science Fiction Museum (SFM) will charge a separate admission from EMP that houses it. You'll be able to buy tickets for just one or the other, or a joint ticket. Shirley said prices have not been set, but the fee for the nonprofit SFM — which occupies about 10 percent of the building — will be "considerably less" than EMP's $19.95 adult charge.

In January, EMP laid off more than one-third of its workers. Shirley's plans to keep attracting visitors include educational programs, refreshing the exhibits and maybe most important, reaching out to local science-fiction buffs. The Northwest is reputed to have a strong concentration of them because of its many technology workers and the annual Norwescon.

Attendees at that convention got a preview of the museum last year, and they'll get more at the 27th annual event, which runs today through Sunday and is expected to draw 2,800 people. "People are extremely anxious and waiting for it," said Norwescon's programming director, Ali Grieve.

Even though the museum's contents have been under fairly tight wraps, Grieve said fans are confident it won't be lame because of the stellar names on its advisory panel, including writers Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. The world's first science-fiction museum also confers some respectability on a genre whose influence is more pervasive than its mainstream recognition.

"This is a big deal. It's promoting science fiction. It's also promoting education," Grieve said. "Science fiction over the years has gotten a bad rap, but there's so much more to it, and I think the museum is going to show all aspects to it."

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Science-fiction convention

The annual Norwescon runs today through Sunday at Doubletree Hotel Seattle Airport. The Science Fiction Museum will host a social there tomorrow and a panel discussion Saturday. Details, www.norwescon.org