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It’s perhaps the most iconic piece of furniture in the galaxy: Captain Kirk’s command chair. And now the macho Naugahyde throne of the USS Enterprise is beaming back from the farthest reaches of space to give us a glimpse of the future — or at least, the future as we used to imagine it.
“There’s a little bit of nostalgia for the future that didn’t happen,” says Brooks Peck, the curator of “Icons of Science Fiction,” an extensive permanent exhibition opening this month at Seattle’s Frank Gehry-designed EMP Museum. “It’s strange that science fiction can be nostalgic, but it is.”
Although the “Lost in Space” robot and the Star Wars Death Star haven’t arrived yet, Lieutenant Uhura’s mod uniform from “Star Trek” is already on display, for the first time ever, along with her uncomfortable-looking earpiece. There’s Yoda’s walking stick, Darth Vader’s light saber, a Dalek from “Doctor Who,” Neo’s trench coat from The Matrix Reloaded — even animation cels from “The Powerpuff Girls” — all organized around some of sci-fi’s more popular “what if” questions: What if we were enslaved by robots? What if we could explore the stars? What if we could design our children?
The world might not have turned out the way we thought, Peck says, but that’s not to say that the reality isn’t just as interesting. Many of the items in the exhibit come from the collection of EMP founder Paul Allen, who as co-founder of Microsoft is someone who obviously played a major role in how our future ultimately did unfold.
“There are two computers in this room that are more powerful than anything on ‘Star Trek,’” Peck says, nodding toward a pair of cellphones. “The future is just different than we expected.” — JON MARCUS
ILLUSTRATIONS BY PETER OUMANSKI