June, 2004

Seattle: The Crucible of Imagination

by George Takei

SEATTLE - Imagination is that wondrous medium that propels us into the future of human society - into marvels of science, technology, and human affairs. Within the laws of science, imagination has produced wonders undreamed of. Within the disciplines of technology, imagination has transformed the world. Within all the complexities of human nature, imagination has created a civil society.

Yet, there is the imagination that still pushes at limitations. That is the imagination that drives beyond boundaries into the realm of science fiction. Freed from constraints, this imagination then truly enters the sphere of exploration. It investigates relevant issues with greater clarity. It gains deeper insights, a larger awareness. It expresses our greatest hopes as well as our darkest fears. This is the imagination that takes us into the land of science fiction. I found this land, alive and vibrant, in Seattle, Washington.

The landmark symbol of Seattle is the still futuristic-looking floating disk in the sky called the Space Needle. Seattle is the home of Microsoft and Boeing. Science and imagination are at the foundation of this city's economy. So it is eminently fitting that Seattle celebrates science fiction. And it was celebrated in exuberant style with the opening of the fabulous, new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame on June 16, 2004.

Nichelle Nichols and I were invited as guests to the gala opening night party of the spectacular museum. Located at the foot of the Space Needle, the building was designed by the award-winning architect, Frank Gehry. We were driven right up to the entrance - and I was taken aback! The building looked like a pile of shiny, multi-colored shards and bent pieces of a space ship crash. I felt like we were entering a stunningly glamorous disaster area. I know that imagination involves daring, the taking of risks - and this looked like a risk that failed. Risks and failures are a part of science fiction. I love the architecture of Frank Gehry's new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. It is a dazzling monument to imagination. I don't think the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle is one of his successes.

But the content of the museum was stunning in the most extraordinary way. It brims with sci-fi wonders. The galleries are filled with the history of science fiction: first edition books by legends, rare tomes such as Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451," and H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine." There are film and television artifacts - models, costumes, props and posters - from "Blade Runner," "Planet of the Apes," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "ET," and many others. There are imaginative original artworks illustrating visions of the future, art that dates back to the late 1800s. And, of course, there are one-of-a-kind memorabilia from our "Star Trek." There is Captain Kirk's Command Chair, which has its own interesting history in which I played a small part. The set of the television U.S.S. Enterprise had been donated to my alma mater, the UCLA film department. It was used for a few student film projects and then, neglectfully allowed to dry and age in the hot southern Californian sun. A staff carpenter, a secret Trek fan, decided to "rescue" it by taking it home and storing it in his garage. Sadly, he died shortly after. Years later, just by happenstance, I shared a table with his widow at a charity fund raising dinner. She told me of "this old Star Trek chair" her husband left her in the garage that she didn't know what to do with. I informed her of a Beverly Hills auction house that was preparing a Sci-Fi collectors' sale. She checked into it and had the chair's authenticity verified. It was the genuine article. So the Captain's Chair was auctioned off and sold - at a handsome price - to Paul Allen, one of the billionaire founders of Microsoft and the Founder of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. It is now on display as a part of the museum's permanent collection. Nichelle and I had the honor of validating the "Star Trek" exhibit by autographing a model of the Starship Enterprise. I felt further honored by being featured in two of the museum's video commentaries that run continuously as a part of the exhibit.

The opening night party was great fun - food, music, and dear, but rarely seen friends. It was great visiting with John and Bjo Trimble, the dedicated Star Trek fans who launched a crazy campaign to save a faltering television sci-fi show and ultimately succeeded. They called it the "Star Trek Lives" campaign. Forrest Ackerman, the legendary sci-fi collector was there, now reduced by age to a wheelchair. But age cannot wither, nor time diminish, this man's enthusiasm and delight in people and the fans of this imaginative genre. We talked of the time, years ago, when he opened up his astoundingly vast collection to me for a private showing. It was a grand night of nostalgic reminiscences about the future.

The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is a tribute, not only to science fiction, but to the imagination that sets the goals for the human future. This museum cherishes and preserves that history of imagination and its achievements and, at the same time, inspires the imagination of the young minds of the future. In the shiny wreckage of a venturesome architectural vision resides the new home of future-oriented imagination.

Seattle, at the same time, has opened a fantastically imaginative architectural success. Its new Seattle Central Library is a stunningly innovative structure that works as smoothly and as silently as a machine and looks as fun and colorful as a staggered stack of giant books. As visually arresting as the zigzag levels are, they also are organized in a most rational arrangement. The reading rooms jut out to capture the most natural light for better reading and energy conservation while the book storage levels are "stacked" centrally for easy access on a ramped grade. The children's book department is on the street level with the auditorium and meeting rooms in the windowless hill side. This achievement of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas is a new world landmark that further anchors Seattle as the city of imagination and creativity. What a great place to be poised to launch into the future.





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