The Voyager Record
The Voyager Record
by Anthony Michael Morena
Rose Metal Press, 2016
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
Reading The Voyager Record, by Anthony Michael Morena, is like taking a voyage through space and time. It’s an account of the Golden Record—a gathering of representative audio and visual images—sent off on Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977, a collaborative project of Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, NASA, and the United Nations. It contains world music, a sound collage, greetings in 55 languages, plus whalesong, speeches by UN delegates, and 118 (or more!) images to help aliens understand our world. Thanks to Carl Sagan, the Voyager could last for “billions” (and billions?) of years!
As with the Pioneer spacecrafts before them, Voyagers 1 & 2 must exit the solar system, continuing the mission of possible contact without the ability to send messages back to us. And so Morena’s Voyager Record constitutes a gorgeous and funny speculative message back on its own. This written record appears in short prose segments—some factual, some fictional, some personal—that call to each other, echo and translate each other, and question each other. In a cyclical kind of way, they say “hello” back to the 55 greetings, here in 2016 and beyond.
The Voyager Record shows the great care taken to make the actual Golden Record, a wonderful mixtape of Earth—albeit in the six weeks Sagan was given to make it—and Morena takes care to offer us as well the various mishaps and discrepancies in the making of both the Pioneer and Voyager messages to aliens. Morena’s sources include the book Murmurs of Earth, and in the Notes at the back we learn where and how he got his own copy of that.
Morena’s Record also includes many references to popular culture—not just the music he might add to the Golden Record, were it to be sent now, but also movies and television influenced by Voyager. I was happy to see Star Trek, Star Wars, Starman, Contact, and even a particular episode of West Wing. What about Close Encounters of the Third Kind? And, alas, “Hip hop still hadn’t left the South Bronx when Voyager took off from Earth.”
There is no “hello” in Esperanto on the Golden Record, but Morena reports that the “UN delegate from Australia read a part of his speech in the universal language.” Glad to hear it. Maybe there’s still hope, then, of “becoming a single global civilization,” as President Jimmy Carter describes us on Voyager, dubbed “America’s greatest Ex-President” by Morena. Indeed.
There is poetry here, and humor, poignancy, philosophy, plenty of science and reportage, and great beauty. A kind of silence enclosed me as I read, a peace. I felt Voyager rotate, at Sagan’s request, in Morena’s account, and I looked back at Earth, a small dot, as Voyager left the solar system….
Here’s an example of the (philosophical) beauty:
The essential difference between a robotic mission like Voyager and a crewed mission is the difference between a linear narrative and a cyclical one. We want people to come back to the circling world, like a record, so we can start again. From scratch. A cycle’s humanity is its finality: it has to end somewhere, it has to begin again. Voyager, on the other hand, may never stop.
Balancing this gentle statement about Voyager’s destiny, Morena also imagines its demise in a variety of darkly comic and ironic ways, first via “space junk scavengers traveling the interstellar medium for scrap.” Echoing a “Carter-form malaise,” Morena sees the possibility of the Voyager record being an “epitaph chiseled on our planetary tombstone, the Ozymandias face staring up from the sand.” He cites literature even if the Golden Record doesn’t, much. According to Morena, “Voyager provides woefully little we would want potential aliens to think of as the literary product of planet Earth.” But Morena makes up for that in his own literary product, The Voyager Record. So, if they ever visit, let’s hope the aliens find this!
Anthony Michael Morena at EIL
(excerpts from The Voyager Record)
Anthony Michael Morena in Love/Anti-Love at EIL
(another excerpt, in a different context!)
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