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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The House of Elsewhere

Maison d'Ailleurs in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Pierre Versins was a French encyclopedist and scholar, and archivist.  He devoted his life to the study of "conjectures romanesques rationnelles" or "rational romanesque conjectures".

He amassed a collection of science fiction works and related memorabilia and wrote a major opus in the field, the Encyclopédie de l'utopie, des voyages extraordinaire et de la science-fiction.  In 1976 he donated his entire collection to the Swiss spa town of Yverdon-les-Bains with the provision that it be made available to the public.

The Maison d'Ailleurs (House of Elsewhere) is a place that humanoids and robots, among others, call home.  It holds two or three temporary exhibitions a year that explore themes such as space travel, alien life forms, futuristic cities, and lost and parallel worlds - the standard stuff of sci-fi.

It was originally located in a three-storytownhouse, but in 1991 it was moved to the middle of the city in a building that was once a prison built in 1806.  Further additions caused a new space to be built in an old casino, connected to the museum by a footbridge.  The new space houses workspaces for researchers, administrative offices, and an important collection.

In 2003 Jean-Michel Margot donated his extensive collection based on Jules Verne.  This contains some 20,000 documents, including rare items such as hand-written notes, posters from the end of the 19th century, and the complete collection of Les Voyages Extraordinaires.  This, "The Extraordinary Voyages", was the publishing title used for the novels and non-fictional work of Jules Verne.

Portrait of Jules Verne by Félix Nadar.

Verne was meticulous in his attention to detail, and part of the attraction of his work was the learning factor.  Readers learned something about a myriad of subjects - astronomy, biology, geology, oceanography, for example - and experienced the exotic locales and cultures of the world.  Because of this his works are often called "encyclopedic novels".

He is the most translated science fiction author in the world, and is the second most translated fiction author next to Agatha Christie.  Even though his works are outdated scientifically, he wrote with a sense of wonder that still enthralls readers. The collection of Les Voyages Extraordinaire was donated by the granddaughter of Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel.

A model of a "véhicule extraordinaire" built by JM Deschamps.

The Maison d'Ailleurs is the only museum of its kind.  It is public, non-profit, and a unique research center.  The museum is in collaboration with the European Space Agency, the University of Lausanne, the Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse, France, and several film festivals.  It has a large collection of pulp magazines, and the most important sci-fi image library in the world.

So, if you have some spare time, check out its archives - 70,000 documents, books, art, toys - some dating back to the 16th century.  Who knows what might inspire you there.  As the American computer scientist Alan Kay once said, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the website.

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