Almost right

To the launch and private view of the new exhibition at the British Library, ingeniously titled Out of This World. The atrium at the BL building was crowded with familiar faces. The catering staff were walking around with silver make-up on theirs. Proceedings were launched by a well-constructed speech from China Miéville, in which he emphasized the diverse nature of fantastic literature: the long period of time over which it has been written, the number of important women writers who have emerged, the contribution made by writers from non-white backgrounds and countries abroad. Deservedly cheered, Miéville’s speech was immediately followed by a promotional video that emphasized the important role played by American actors, television producers, UFOs and light sabres. No women writers – in fact, no writers of any kind. “Was it all in vain?” it asked at the end. Yes, mate, it was all in vain. China himself seemed unperturbed at the way his intelligent remarks had been sabotaged by this familiar and disconnected rubbish. However, down in the basement, where the main exhibition was mounted, we noticed the number of books on display, under glass but sensitively presented in an attempt to convey the history of the literature. Pity about the large model of the UFO apparently sucking a victim into its maw, the police callbox from Doctor Who, and a half-hearted attempt at a Martian fighting machine: you can’t help groaning inwardly at the sight of this unoriginal stuff, yet again, once more, dull and obvious and irrelevant, so much on the fringe of literature. Film and television science fiction has been the secondary, derivative activity: the work of writers, the publishing of books, is where the real work goes on, and has gone on for more than a century. One doesn’t wish to bite the hand that gives you a free glass of wine and sushi, but you can’t help feeling that the major literature repository in the country should understand the difference.