the planet of masks and decadent dilemmas

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the planet of masks and decadent dilemmas; a book art object, 5.75 x 8.75 inches. This title is completely invented (I can’t even remember what the original title was), and since the book is sealed, its contents are up to your imagination. I suspect there is some science fiction involved.

Two book art objects, lately (a book art object is a vintage book that I’ve sealed and repurposed as art). This second one is called PPPPPP.

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5 1/8 x 7 1/2 x 3/4 inches. I’m using a gel varnish these days that enhances colour and gives things a finish as smooth as glass.

I like creating book art objects. They travel anywhere and require no installation –– just a mantle or shelf or a corner of your cubicle. They are original, hand-made things in a world sick and brimming with just the opposite.

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wake up commander

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WAKE UP COMMANDER

About halfway to Mars, Helen found herself afraid. She found herself afraid in a cold, vivid way – a sudden and sharp shivering to match the hard darkness all around her. A violent start. To calm herself, she thought about where she was, where she’d been, where she was going. The vessel that held her. Even within the pitch blackness, she could sense the ship around her. The way it thrummed. She imagined the universe beyond. The twinkling infinite. Was it science or God?

AWAKE. Tiny lights came on along the edges of her pod. Only then did she realize that her sleep chamber was open and that she was sitting upright.

Shutting her eyes, she concentrated on her breathing, pushing it down, making it slow and even. She imagined the letters of the words, one after another: S-L-O-W. Then: E-V-E-N. Tall illuminated letters, gloaming pale yellow against their black background. A-W-A-K-E.

Why was she so afraid? Visualize the word, Helen. See the letters in your mind. F-E-A-R. They were only letters.

Somewhere in the ship something thumped and groaned.

Something lit up and blipped on the console across the room. Other little lights, too. She sat still, listening, trying to hear over the blood booming in her ears.

Why was she so afraid? A-F-R-A-I-D. She had signed on to something meant for only the bravest of the brave – the first manned mission to Mars. And she had not been afraid. She knew what the red hell was and she had not been afraid. She had not been afraid of the irradiated environment, the scarcity of water, the withering effects of low gravity on bone density and muscle strength, the death-dispensing atmosphere, everything a freeze-blasted wasteland, scathed by solar wind. And all that just the welcome committee, after a two-year journey of no return. None of it had phased her. Her only fear was over the selection, her fear of not being chosen. From thousands to hundreds to fifty to a dozen, five years of interviews and background and training and tests, and oh so many conversations about fear. FEAR. Visualize the word, Helen. Put the letters in your mind. FEAR. And still her last foothold on Earth had been to push up – and climb those stairs. She had always known what she had to do.

And somewhere closer in the ship something thumped and groaned.

More controls lit up and blipped on the console across the room. A screen suddenly fizzed and buzzed and stuttered into coherence. Into spinning letters and numbers. It was CONTROL.

Words appeared, like flickerings, one replacing the other with a soft but insistent ping. COMMANDER, it read.

COMMANDER   COMMANDER   COMMANDER   COMMANDER

COMMANDER WAKE UP   WAKE UP COMMANDER

WAKE UP COMMANDER

WAKE UP COMMANDER

Helen struggled to her feet. She felt her hand slap up over her mouth to stifle a hard moan. Pain wrapped itself into her hips and she could not straighten her back. Her deep-sleep cycle as commander was the shortest of the crew, two-weeks-one-week, but even this left her wracked and bent for at least a day after waking. Other crew, with longer cycles, would be crooked and stumbling for up to a week.

IMPORTANT NEWS   READ CAREFULLY COMMANDER

Another thump, more like a slumping against a wall, perhaps as close as the corridor outside her door.

CATASTROPHIC WEATHER WAR EVENT

CASCADING ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE IMMINENT

YOU ARE FINAL COMMAND

LAST COMMUNICATION

CHANNEL NOT SECURE

SLEEPER AGENT SUSPECTED AMONG CREW

PROPHESY FANATIC

WILL TERMINATE CREW AND MISSION

SECURE CREW

SECURE MISSION

GOOD LUCK

GOOD LUCK

The screen went blank. Helen closed her eyes. She imagined explosions on the earth’s surface as seen from space, the colours of an atmosphere on fire, then all the lights going out below. The shape of scorched continents. OUT.

She opened her eyes to find Waverly standing there, silhouetted in the doorway, head hanging to the side. He had the very straight arms and very straight legs that drunks often had, as they exaggerated the posture of standing. In his right hand he had a knife.

Now Helen understood why she’d been so afraid upon waking. Even as she’d isolated her air supply and sealed her sleeping pod, and the first suffocating waves of drowsiness had broken over her, the thought had crossed her mind that the poison she’d released across into the rest of the ventilation system might dissipate at different rates, especially into the other pods, and affect various crew according to the stage of their sleep cycle. So Waverly here, who’d been at the very beginning of his cycle, and was only half breathing in his sleep, was only about half dead.

Helen kicked him in the chest and watched him tumble over. He lay there on his back, staring up, breathing heavily, unable to move. She pried the knife from his hand.

You’re right, she said. The old ways are the best.

Behind her the message from CONTROL started up again. Ping ping ping.

She ignored it, stepped over Waverly, and continued up the hallway.

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zap!

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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.

myheromylovevaporizedx

slow

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.