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Science Fiction Museum: Not much for kids

The idea of a science fiction (SF) museum is bound to pique the interest of kids of a certain age -- kids who are fascinated by the idea of aliens and space craft, the ones who read science fiction, or fans of science fiction movies and TV. Is Seattle's newest museum worth the cash you'll shell out to visit with the family?

Well, no. Most of the museum's exhibits seem aimed at pop culture fanatics and science fiction devotees -- people who will care about seeing a 1953 The War of the Worlds movie poster or costumes from the original Star Trek series. They are targeted to the general public, and especially not to children. The museum lacks the hands-on, interactive elements that would make it appealing to kids under 12: most exhibits are static displays of artifacts and memorabilia. Standing in front of a case and looking at stuff will only take kids so far; even many adults will find some of the displays puzzling at best and uninteresting at worst.

Visitors enter the museum via Homeworld, an exploration of "the building blocks of science fiction." The gallery looks great when you walk in. Fiber optic stars twinkle in a thick band near the ceiling, and a large globe-shaped screen continuously plays snippets of SF movies. There's nothing to do here except look, though, and most kids won't be interested in most of what there is to look at. There's an Ursula LeGuin first edition book, movie posters, fan letters and other communications, an exhibit that examines different conceptions of Mars, and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, a circular installation that lists the names of SF greats on clear plaques. I spent my childhood reading LeGuin and got a mild thrill from looking at The Left Hand of Darkness first edition (although books lose most of their power when they're behind glass), but my 9-year-old blew through the space in five minutes flat.

Downstairs, in the Fantastic Voyages exhibit, visitors can view a collection of weapons and costumes (including costumes worn on various movie sets) from movies and television. The Spacedock, a large screen that shows famous (or notorious) spacecraft through SF "history," dominates the space. Snag a touch screen: You'll be able to learn about the spacecraft and manipulate an image so you can see the ships from all sides. The setup looks impressive, but it doesn't really do anything, even though my son at first was hopeful that it would.

Move on to Amazing Planets and look for a continuously looping film, projected onto a large screen, that shows different sci-fi movie conceptions of the city of the future, from The Jetsons to The Matrix. There were several children staring slack-jawed at

the screen while we were there, and it looks great, but again, it's a passive, interaction-free experience. Them! is the last exhibit, a collection of robots and aliens. This may be the place kids gravitate toward if you bring them: there's a RoboCop costume, a T-800 Model 101 from Terminator 2, and the spectacular and scary Alien Queen from Aliens, full-size and positioned so you can stand directly in front of those toothy double jaws.

After spending an afternoon here, I came away glad that someone's collecting all of these artifacts, but not really interested in the way they were displayed. I saw plenty of younger kids in the museum, but most of them were racing around or following their parents; few were actually looking at the exhibits. If your child isn't precociously interested in science fiction, save your money and take a ride to the top of the Space Needle instead. If you go:

The Science Fiction Museum is located in the same building as Experience Music Project. Entry is at 5th and Broad.

Locations: 325 5th Ave. N., Seattle.
Phone: 206-724-3428
Summer hours (through Sept. 6): Daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Admission: (Adults) $12.95; (Seniors & Military w/ID) $8.95; (Youth) 7-17 $8.95, 6 & under free

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