I love the art of pulp science fiction –– the whole mash-up of comic/heroic plus camp science plus cheap horror plus gulping drama. There is nothing subtle or even remotely serious about this stuff; it’s all high-voltage spectacle in the cheapest sense, where the spacesuits are always costumes and the costumes always bulge and the entire universe will be obliterated if the insane robot pulls that lever.
At the same time, there’s something harmlessly endearing about it (that you really can’t say about pulp detective stories, because being garroted or pushed down a flight of stairs is infinitely less amusing then getting zapped by lasers or tumbling into a black hole). Anyway, all of this was on my mind as I came up with the short piece I’m taking to writing group tonight.
In increments, like a dial clicking, slowly, the scientist decided to seduce the poet down the hall. For the scientist, who studied time, and specifically slow time, how it is conceived and experienced and ultimately judged, this was a decision with its own weight and dimension and gravity, its own steady propulsive power, an internally whirring cosmos with no regard for satellite considerations like age or attractiveness or logistical impossibilities. Also, he liked her hair. For the poet, who made no money from her poetry, and so worked as a technician in Lab 17, just down the hall, the seduction felt like nothing, just the unwanted attentions of another unwanted man, quick smiles in the corridor and repeated eye contact in the lunch room, and so time felt the same, or normal, no faster or no slower. Her poetry was about science fiction and specifically retro or pulp science fiction, and relied heavily on barbarian space queens and memory-erasing lasers. I really enjoyed this, wrote the scientist, on a photocopy of the poet’s work (a haiku called Zap!), before sliding it, slowly and deliberately, into the mail slot for Lab 17 (he’d spent an entire day in the periodicals room of the university library, looking through sticky, never-opened journal after sticky, never-opened journal for some sample of the poet’s work, millions of dust motes released into his lungs, onto his skin, and the next day his memory of that reference room, all brown carpets and hard plastic chairs, was sticky but also languid, as if some impetus was curdling within him). Thanks! the poet responded, quickly, in one cursive word across a sticky note, which she attached to the scientist’s mail slot. The scientist folded the sticky note into the pocket of his lab coat, like some kind of receipt, as he waited for the poet in the lunch room that day. But she did not come. And she did not come the next day either, or the day after that, instead eating lunch in Lab 17, sitting by the window, looking out over the formless snowy fields while trying to resolve a rhyming poem called my hero, my love, vaporized. And after the third day the scientist knew he could not knock on the door to her lab, he understood time to that degree, at least, and so he went back to work, feeling that much older.