The Lead-time of Perceptions Just Seconds Ahead by Jesse Hilson

YOU ALIVE HOME YET? Daniel Beauregard. Schism Neuronics, 2021. Unpaginated.

Schism Neuronics is a kind of property of Schism, which is a mysterious press about which I know little except their logo is partially composed of a guillotine H and an “i” which is a body separated from its head. What very little I have seen of their output has an alien quality to it; not necessarily alien in the sense of the rippling black HR Giger creature that stalks the Nostromo in the 1979 sci fi horror film — although there are resonances: the epigraph leading the book off, about making mistakes in life, is attributed to “Ripley’s Cat.” Is it philosophical wisdom from Jonesy?

No, I mean alien like some kind of wholly other intelligence that runs an laser-scan vulnerability audit of you from somewhere deep inside the book, perhaps even unpleasantly so. The list of other books from both Schism and Schism Neuronics somehow seems forbidden, the latter apparently a digital repository of auxiliary works from which my copy of You Alive Home Yet? was printed. I got the feeling, more so than other books acquired via Amazon POD, that books from Schism Neuronics are like torpedos laying in wait in some derelict craft’s magazine, called into service via distant transponder down conveyor belts to be loaded and fired, carrying biological weapons in a horrifying galactic war.

But what about the book? you ask. Well, sci fi simile-morphology while facile is fitting since, of the three sections comprising this collection of poetry, two seem to definitely take place in the zero-gravity sterile environments of a space craft in orbit far into the future. It’s not science fiction, not exactly, although a type of narrative can be loosely pieced together. Forget about Battlestar Galactica or Dune. This is poetry of the beyond that carefully deploys language effects and achieves heights of odd beauty and vividness that just happen to come in a setting profuse with life-tubes, spacesuits, computer programs, warning klaxons, etc. 

The first section is called “In Stasis” and it introduces this space orbit locale in a fashion I want to call “world-building lite.” Why is it lite? Because it is not made of overpoweringly dense and thorough waves of detail to get you to suspend disbelief and buy into a speculative fictional world as you might find in a novel. It does go in that direction, but remember this is poetry so there is an sparse economy and tactical carefulness to the language passages, the off-world vocabulary. But “lite” does not equal shallow. You have to sink or swim in the zero-gee environment, learn for yourself where the buttons and trapdoors are, and Beauregard doesn’t exactly hold your hand, or at least in a way that is reassuring or guiding. Characters such as Metal Rat and a feminine being called Language float in and out of the periphery,  dutifully executing tasks essential for survival. 

The second section, “Anatomizing Uncanny Alley,” seems to take place on Earth, in a city that bears some resemblance to Earth cities, until you look closer and see that while gravity might pertain, other laws of physics, laws of narration, and laws of writing have been bent like a segmented accordion straw for sipping ethylene glycol. This section is made up of eighteen descriptive paragraphs of what I’ll call prose poetry, with recurring characters and places having to do with “the Alley.” It’s hard to convey the directions this section, which might have been my favorite, goes in: you can only say “strange” or”odd” or “otherworldly” so many ways before you must contend with the dreamy, idiosyncratic, immersive decision-making of the writer that is all its own.

Here, from one of the paragraphs:

“…We checked into a hotel room full of lights of different colors, made to resemble black snowflakes. They were flashing and going round. Someone far off screamed to use the amulet. We found a bundle of hair and teeth tied around our neck (is this it?). The mini bar opened. It was filled with tiny figurines of the undead resembling people from our past. On three everybody was supposed to open their eyes but I opened mine early. The room remained the same—the lights different colors, brighter, reflecting off the yellowed newspaper covering the windows.”

To me, so much is said by the early opening of the eyes before the proscribed count of three is given. It’s a handy sort of metonymic or substitution for the poetry Beauregard pulls off: the seeing something no one else can, or not yet. The leadtime of the perceptions is just seconds ahead of anyone else, but crucially of the future.

The third section is called “You Alive Home Yet?” and it is a return to the space-bound environment of the first section. Lore and acronyms from the other sections return, Metal Rat and Language and others materialize, sewing the book up into a unity which is wonky and oddly reassuring. A review can’t do justice to the lyricism and poetry of the writing that would be easy for someone declaring “I don’t like sci fi poetry” to dismiss with a narrow POV. Such people would sadly miss evocatively human passages like: “What a Rilke it is to be a million miles out of nowhere, punching holes through paper darks again.”

I would risk life and limb by dipping into the Petri dish byproducts of publishers Schism and Schism Neuronics again. This collection of Beauregard’s is a gorgeous, intelligent first contact emerging from a body of edgy, apparently malevolent writing which lurks in the far-flung reaches of new literature of the Internet.

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