Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California

NBCUniversal's Battlestar Galactica

March 3 through September 2, 2018

Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California will explore the history of science fiction in Southern California from the 1930s to the 1980s, and how it interacted with the advances of science, the changes in technology, and shifts in American society. Curated by Nick Smith, former president of Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the exhibition will bring together an unusual range of artifacts, fine and graphic arts, books, ephemera, and photographs.

Photograph of Space Patrol Display

From the comic strip space hero Buck Rogers in the 1930s to the dystopian depiction of Los Angeles in Blade Runner (1982), the parallel worlds, alternative universes, and culturally unique societies depicted in science fiction contrasted sharply with cultural and political norms of the day. Science fiction is often regarded as the literature of the imagination, but it was here in Southern California that the worlds of speculation, science, and society overlapped in ways that helped change the world.

Southern California ushered in the Rocket Age in 1936 with the first rocket tests in Pasadena's Arroyo Seco. The growth of the aeronautics industry in the area was closely paralleled by the growth of the creative science fiction community. Dreaming the Universe will examine visionary creators – Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Frank Kelly Freas, Syd Mead, Emil Petaja, and Edgar Rice Burroughs – and the books, fanzines, art, and media they created. Attention will also be given to the fans of science fiction, individuals such as Forrest Ackerman, as well as fan organizations.

Minolta camera ad by Syd Mead

Private collections and institutions from near and far have generously loaned material for the exhibition. For the first time ever, a group of paintings from the Korshak Collection, an East Coast-based private collection of American and European illustrations of imaginative literature, will travel to California. This loan features the work of legendary illustrators with ties to Southern California: Hannes Bok, Kelly Freas, and Edward Emshwiller. Neighboring institutions JPL, Carnegie Observatories, and Caltech have opened up their archives to PMH, with loans including pages from Dr. Charles Richter’s Star Trek fan book. Southern California’s rich television and motion picture history is represented by loans from Syd Mead, NBCUniversal, and Western Costume Company. These loans include costumes, props, and art from iconic productions such as Battlestar Galactica (1978/9), Planet of the Apes (1968), 2010 (1984), and a costume of “a strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with power and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” Rare and unusual material from other collections and organizations will make this exhibition a treat for all audiences.

Thank you to our exhibition sponsors: 

The William Hayward Pickering Memorial Fund & Archive

the Art Directors Guild


California Humanities logo

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.

Amazing Stories cover

Galactic Gallery Talks

For PMH Members only*

March 17, April 20, May 18, June 15, July 27, & August 24; 11:00 am

PMH Members are invited to explore the exhibition, Dreaming the Universe, with curator Nick Smith on these special one-hour tours. Learn more about the artifacts on display and hear out-of-this-world stories that only Smith could tell. *Tickets: Free. Each tour has limited space, and advanced reservation is required. Reservation link will be up soon.

*If you are not a Member, but would like to schedule a group tour, limited dates are available. To inquire about scheduling an exhibition tour, please contact us at 626.577.1660, ext. 26 or info@pasadenahistory.org.

Images: Galactica Landing Bay. Battlestar Galactica, 1978. Matte painting. Loan courtesy of NBCUniversal Archives & Collections; Travelling rocket ship based on hit 1950s TV series, Space Patrol, at the Market Basket grocery store, Pasadena, 1952. Photo by J. Allen Hawkins, Hawkins Collection (JAH7675); Art for Minolta camera ad (detail), circa 1980s, by Syd Mead. Gouache on board, 20 x 30”. Loan courtesy of Syd Mead; Cover of Amazing Stories, May 1929. Featuring the byline of Clare Winger Harris, first female author to publish under her own name. Loan courtesy of Nick Smith.