The Museum of Science Fiction has no home. It doesn’t reside in any building and exists only in the minds of those who believe in its purpose. What purpose you ask? To celebrate Science Fiction and all it entails; which is much more than ray-guns, spaceships, aliens, and robots. Its about fellowship and shared interests.
The Museum is, at its present state, a mere consortium of like-minded individuals. They meet and discuss science fiction in its various forms and the impact it’s had on their lives. On a recent frigid-wintry night, I decided to join them.
The Museum’s “More Than Human Holiday” event was held in the back of Comet Ping Pong. I entered the brew haven-pizza parlor excitedly. Aromas of mozzarella, pepperoni, pineapple, and Pabst Blue Ribbon wafted through the air. I walked through the venue dodging ping pong balls, aimed specifically at me, because my head looks like a paddle. One hit me. Ten points. I found the event.
In the very back, behind a drawn curtain, was a group of writers and Sci-Fi enthusiasts, huddling while speaking in hushed tones. The show was about to kick off. Everyone was here for one purpose: to honor the legendary Theodore Sturgeon; the acclaimed Sci-Fi writer and author of the books More Than Human, The Dreaming Jewels, and Venus Plus X.
He also coined Spock’s famous line, “Live long and prosper.”
The crowd seemed pretty excited. A silence settled in the room. And a Baltimore writer took the stage to read Sturgeon’s story, “The Hurkle is A Happy Beast,” about a blue kitten-creature, a Hurkle, on a planet with an orange moon. The audience sighed and laughed and sighed. The story kept going and going. Finally, it ended. I didn’t follow most of it.
It was time for local writers to grace the mic with their original works. An image was projected on the brick-wall behind the speaking podium, where the first reader was headed.
The painting was done by Bonaia Rosado and was called “Tween.” It showed a pale-faced, melting figure staring widely against the backdrop of space. It was both beautiful and eerie.
The local writers continued to take turns at the podium. Some of them were experienced novelists. Others were reading for the first time and spoke nervously. The stories ranged from microscopic civilizations, inspired by Sturgeon’s short story “Microcosmic God,” to stories of astronauts marooned on alien planets as death reared its ugly head.
Phrases like “Lithium Nitrate Trihydrate” were peppered awkwardly into the readings. Some speakers slipped in and out of British accents for some reason. A short, seven-minute, video was shown of Arnold Schwarzenegger, albeit a heavily distorted Arnold Schwarzenegger, flexing and posing. Psychedelic music played alongside the video, to accompany the whirling images, which were meant to be an analogy to the Gods of Olympus. It was inspired by one of Sturgeon’s short stories, “Godbody.”
Ping pong balls continued to roll into the backroom and clink down the stairs. Unbridled glee was heard from behind the curtains as patrons yelled about beer pong and getting drunk and buying more rounds. Meanwhile, a world away, the Science Fiction room was congested and quiet.
More readers read and surveyed the room while saying “viewport” and smiling. A middle-aged man, an engineer, prefaced his reading by saying he was not a writer. I thought his short story was the best of them all, so, I silently disagreed. The final reader, an art critic, screamed, “I am Heinrich Schliemann and my Troy is Reston, Virginia!”
The audience laughed. Somebody shattered a glass on accident. The event was over. Audience members began to disperse, milling around the woman sweeping up the broken glass. I approached some of the writers with my notebook, to congratulate them, and to ask more about their personal stories.
I introduced myself to the engineer “non-writer” first, who happily told me he’d been reading Sturgeon since he was a child. He’d find Sturgeon’s books in flea markets for twenty-five cents per. He said the stories ring as true for him now as they did then. Maybe, he pondered, even more powerfully so. He’d like to write a novel of his own someday, he tells me, after he retires of course.
Two of the other writers, with forthcoming and previously published novels, said they were married and met in a Star Trek fanfiction message board. They write together. They proofread together. They adore Sturgeon together. To them, his works are as influential in their humanism as they are in their escapism.
The other writers seemed to agree. One of the writers, a youngish, bearded man, said he’d never heard of Sturgeon before the event. When prodded for information, he kept messing up the name of the story which supposedly inspired his own story; the story which he read. Scores of others said they were just huge fans. They loved Sturgeon’s offbeat prose and the way he spun words to make the most fantastical situations seem real.
Sturgeon is famously quoted as saying “ninety percent of everything is crap,” about writing in general in every genre. I wonder what he’d think of the stories read at an event in his honor? Who’s to say? What I can safely assume is, he’d probably enjoy the pizza.
By Jamie Benedi