Can We Talk? - Communicating in the Science Fiction Universe

June 20, 2018 | TPL Staff

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We invite you to Can We Talk?, a new exhibit at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy which explores the compelling subject of communicating in the science fiction universe. From recent messages sent by earthlings into space to an investigation of the various means of communication through mind and body (including language, telepathy, music, and dance), you will find out that you are not alone in your quest to connect with the universe.

Discover fiction published in science fiction magazines, pamphlets and books, dating from 1928 to 2018.

The exhibit is on through September 15, 2018, and is open during the regular opening hours of the Merril Collection: Monday to Friday 10-6, Saturday 9-5.

It's free and all are welcome!

Here's a preview of some of the material on exhibit:

Is Anyone Out There?

Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record

In 1977, two phonograph records were included aboard both Voyager spacecrafts launched to study the outer solar system. The records contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. They are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans who may find them.

The collection of images includes many photographs and diagrams both in black and white, and color. The first images are of scientific interest, showing mathematical and physical quantities, the solar system and its planets, DNA, and human anatomy and reproduction. Pictures are not only of humanity, but also of animals, insects, plants and landscapes. Images of humanity depict a broad range of cultures. They show food, architecture, and humans in portraits as well as going about their day-to-day lives. Many pictures include indications of scales of time, size, or mass. Some images contain indications of chemical composition. All measures used on the pictures are defined in the first few images using physical references that are likely to be consistent anywhere in the universe.

Communication as Resistance

A First Dictionary and Grammar of Laadan

Láadan is a language devised for women, to express the world and perceptions of women.

Suzette Haden Elgin (born Patricia Anne Wilkins, November 18, 1936 - January 27, 2015) was an American science fiction author and linguist. She is considered an important figure in the field of science fiction constructed languages.

If You Could Read My Mind

Mind of My Mind

For 4,000 years, the Nubian Doro has been attempting to build a new race of men through a programme of controlled breeding. One of his chosen disciples and daughter, Mary, is possessed of a telepathic power that allows her to regenerate the mutilated discards of Doro’s eugenics.

Talk to the Animals


As a future Earth teeters on the brink of nuclear holocaust, dolphins surround and destroy a nuclear submarine. Cetologist Dr. John Pearson struggles to communicate and understand as these mammals plunge humanity into a crisis which spreads from the oceans into Earth orbit, and beyond.

We Come in Peace/or Not


In New Mexico, monitoring devices pick up signals coming from fifty light-years away, headed toward Earth. We are about to meet our neighbours.

Music: The Universal Language 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
After an accidental encounter with otherworldly vessels, an ordinary man follows a series of psychic clues to the first scheduled meeting between representatives of Earth and visitors from the cosmos.

Dance with Me: Body Language 


Sara Drummond was a gifted dancer and a brilliant choreographer, but could not pursue her dream of dancing on the Earth, so she went to space, creating a new art form in three dimensions. Then the aliens arrived, and there was only one way to prove that the human race deserved not just to survive, but to reach the stars. The only hope was Shara, with her stardance. 

The Power of Words

  A Clockwork Orange

In a future England, Alex and his “Droogs” get high at the Korova Milkbar before embarking on "a little of the old ultraviolence." Jailed for his crimes, Alex submits to behavior modification techniques to earn his freedom, which leads him to become a victim of his former victims.

The book is narrated using many words of an argot which Burgess invented called Nadsat. It is a mix of modified Slavic words, Russian, and cockney rhyming slang.

No One Understands Me 

Al Azif (The Necronomicon)

This is a fictional grimoire (a textbook of magic), supposedly written by the character Abdul Alhazred. The work purports to contain an account of the Old Ones, mysterious beings in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, a shared world series of stories in which other authors also participated. Many readers have believed it to be a real work, with booksellers and librarians receiving numerous requests for it; pranksters have listed it in rare book catalogues, and a student smuggled a card for it into the Yale University Library's card catalog.


Hope to see you there!

With thanks to Suzanne Ariss-Ryan, Annette Mocek and Kim Hull