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Tuesday 22 June 2004

Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame Opens in Seattle

On a sparkling day in Seattle, Washington, the first true SF museum in the world, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, opened Friday June 18, 2004.

The museum is the brainchild of billionaire Paul Allen, described by Forbes as the fifth richest man in the world. He had earlier built the Experience Music Project (EMP) museum in a building designed by Frank Gehry. The new museum covers 13,000 square feet of that building. The SF museum, which cost over $20 million to design, build, and stock, is another Allen present to the city of Seattle.

The raised platform for the opening set up outside the museum held various dignitaries including Greg Nickels, mayor of Seattle; Larry Phillips, head of the King County council; Virginia Hamilton, head of the Seattle Center; SF museum director Donna L. Shirley (in a flowing costume designed and made by Bjo Trimble); and founder Paul Allen, as well as a number of representatives of the advisory board including Advisory Chairman Greg Bear, Astrid Bear, Forrest J Ackerman, Robin Wayne Bailey, David Brin, Greg Benford, Charles N. Brown, Octavia E. Butler, Tim Kirk (who was also one of the main designers of the  

museum), Lawrence Krauss, Stanley Schmidt, Neal Stephenson, Bjo Trimble, Michael Whelan, and maybe others. Co-founder Jody Allen Patton, Steven Spielberg, Jeff Bezos, and others, who knew how hot it could get on the platform, were in the audience protected by sunhats, umbrellas, etc.

A huge green alien creature described as a flying saucer, a loathsome green worm, or an inflatable version of the museum logo — depending on where you were standing — crouched atop the Seattle Space Needle.

Councilor Larry Philips proclaimed Science Fiction Day in King County, but skipped most of the Whereases in order to thank Paul Allen and his sister Jody Allen Patton for all the things they had done for the city of Seattle. This was echoed by the head of the Seattle Center and by the Mayor, who also described his early reading of science fiction. Each of them commented on the aliens in the audience — the local costumers guild recruited by Astrid Anderson. They spent most of the week in character during the extended opening.

Paul Allen, usually reclusive, gave a fine speech on the importance of science fiction and its effect on his life (Locus Magazine hopes to reprint part of it in a future issue). Donna Shirley welcomed all to the new museum, and talked enthusiastically about science and science fiction. Then the various dignitaries pushed a bright red button on the stage, which ignited fireworks, steam, and an explosion of confetti, which spread all over, and the museum was suitably launched.

The actual museum, at 13,000 square feet, is fairly small, so in order to control the crowd, only about 100 people were let in at a time. By the afternoon, the wait was two and a half hours. The day also included a mass signing by various SF authors including Greg Benford, David Brin, Octavia Butler, and Greg Bear; the live broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday with various SF personalities; and a special science presentation by Lawrence Krauss.

Lucky for us, the opening had already been going on for several days, with a tour and dinner Tuesday, June 15, for the 500 museum members — those who laid out money in advance for an annual membership as charter subscribers; a breakfast tour for the travel industry/chamber of commerce on Wednesday morning; a VIP party and tour on Wednesday night; a science fiction fan tour and lunch on Thursday; and another tour for SF people on Thursday evening. As a member of the Advisory Board, I was able to attend all of these, as well as several ‘‘behind the scenes’’ tours with several of the designers. It was a wonderful experience, which will have to wait for next issue for me to describe, since I’m still suffering from sensory overload.

— C.N. Brown

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