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Alien Invasion at The Lightbox

War of the Worlds image © Chris McEwan 2013
H.G. Wells famously set the opening scenes of his classic book ‘War of the Worlds’ in Woking and the surrounding countryside. From 15 October 2013 until 19 January 2014, ‘Alien Invasion’ a free exhibition at The Lightbox gallery and museum in Woking, Surrey, will take the science fiction invasion theme back to its Surrey roots.

At the time Wells wrote ‘War of the Worlds’, he had been staying in Woking. While planning the book, Wells would ride his bicycle around Woking, planning which areas, landmarks and neighbours would be destroyed in the invasion. The exhibition features vintage bicycles in homage to the vehicle that helped Wells to plan his novel.

The exhibition will delve back into the origins of the story and explore the huge impact H.G. Wells and the ‘War of the Worlds’ still has on popular culture. Featuring alien robots, movie posters, bicycles, rare books, a Martian tripod, comics and hands-on activities, the exhibition will be family friendly while exploring one of the most popular genres in literature and film.

The exhibition is designed by guest Curator Hamish MacGillivray, whose life-long interest in science fiction has led to his own collection of memorabilia, part of which will feature in the exhibition. MacGillivray has said that while researching for the exhibition he was ‘surprised to discover that Surrey and not Hollywood is the homeland of the invasion science fiction genre’. As well as an in-depth knowledge of the subject, his 25 years of experience in museums has led to many invaluable contacts with other collectors such as the award winning illustrator Chris McEwan. Thanks to a generous loan, a large selection of Chris McEwan’s extensive collection of robots and ray guns will feature in the exhibition.

The exhibition will be split into three parts. The first section will look at the beginnings of science fiction and the theme of invasion. This will include exploring early invasion literature such as, ‘The Battle of Dorking’ a novella by Sir George Tomkyns Chesney and H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’. The middle section will explore the influence the early science fiction writers, predominantly Wells, had on science fiction as a whole, including popular culture, literature, comics, television, radio and films; from 50s science fiction to more recent films such as ‘Attack the Block’ which employ the invasion theme. Throughout the exhibition there will be interactive and family friendly games such as tripods and ladders, Space Invaders video game, ‘make an alien’ and the final section will also feature a giant Martian tripod and an original Dalek.

It has been argued that ‘The Battle of Dorking’, the precursor to invasion literature such as H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’; and in turn, Wells’ text  have heavily influenced the invasion theme in science fiction. ‘The Battle of Dorking’ was inspired by Sir Chesney’s fear that Britain had a lack of military organisation which made the country and it’s Empire vulnerable from attack. The novella predicts a battle in Dorking, Surrey, where British soldiers are unable to prevent a Prussian invasion.

Invasion is a fear that remains constant throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and H.G. Wells is the first to portray the theme in science fiction. While Jules Verne had been writing scientific romances that included men flying to Mars and the Moon, Wells reverses the exploration by having Martians land on Earth, notably in Woking, Surrey.

The influence of Wells and the invasion theme throughout science fiction
In 1938, Orson Welles produced a radio transmission of ‘War of the Worlds’ which sent America into panic. The public, on hearing the transmission, believed that America was in fact being invaded by aliens.  During the 50s, America was gripped by paranoia of communism. Many films during this time could be seen to represent an invading force, often aliens.

The theme of invading and destructive aliens, reminiscent of the Martians presented in ‘War of the Worlds’, continues to be present in popular culture. Films such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Attack the Block’ portray giant aliens that are on a sole mission to destroy humankind.

The exhibition aims to explore not only the invasion theme in science fiction, but also, what science fiction means to you. The final section will explore the fun side of science fiction. Visitors will be able to follow a trail of Martian footsteps to the giant ‘War of the Worlds’ inspired tripod which will preside over interactive Space Invaders and tripods and ladders. Children can get creative and use their inspiration from the exhibition to create their own versions of an alien.

Pictured: War of the Worlds image © Chris McEwan 2013

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