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From Verne to 'Alien', this exhibition charts sci-fi history

Movie props, models and concept art from classic sci-fi stories fill London's fascinating "Into the Unknown" exhibition.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In the glass case in front of me sits a yellowing typewritten screenplay entitled "Journey Beyond the Stars". On the front page, that name has been crossed out and someone has handwritten a new title: "2001: A Space Odyssey".

That original Arthur C Clarke script is one of the many and varied artefacts on display at "Into the Unknown", an exhibition currently running in London. The exhibition delves into the fascinating history of science fiction with original novels and artwork, movie props and costumes, and other cool stuff illustrating the many colourful worlds conjured by classic sci-fi.

The exhibition spans from proto-sci-fi like "Niels Klim's Underground Travels", first published in 1741, to the latest effects-driven blockbuster films. It begins with models of fantastical craft from the stories of HG Wells and Jules Verne, such as Captain Nemo's submarine Nautilus 1 and Robur's flying machine the Terror, and continues with art and models from legends like HR Giger and Ray Harryhausen. 

Different sections of the exhibition cover different strands of sci-fi, such as the imagined future of our cities and towns. Early twentieth century Russian postcards depict their vision of the future, while concept artwork from movies "Dark City" and "High Rise" make the architecture of the future part of the story. Gorgeous artwork and stunning CGI videos also envision dizzying urban megastructures and impossible architecture.

There's a chance to get up close and examine the detail in models, props and costumes like the icky biomechanical game console from "eXistenZ" and the dimensional portal machine from "Red Dwarf". There's a selection of unexpectedly tiny -- and yet richly detailed -- models, including several used by Ray Harryhausen for his groundbreaking stop-motion movie sequences.

Striking spacesuits from Star Trek, "Alien", "Sunshine" and  "Interstellar" sit alongside the creatures from "Independence Day", "Pitch Black" and "Species". The toothy head of a xenomorph from "Aliens" looms from the dark, as unsettling in real life as on screen. 

"Into the Unknown" runs at the Barbican centre in London until 1 September.

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