The unforgettable voyage of Morpheus 11

Morpheus Biblionaut, at and by Travis Alber and William Gillespie, is electronic literature that makes use of a full multimedia experience to tell its story. It relies on music, images, movement, and words to convey its unique narrative of an astronaut sent off on a deep space mission. Morpheus Biblionaut begins with a dream about a post-apocalyptic Earth and then the astronaut begins to direct a plea to the last signal on Earth, telling his story and requesting a meeting when he finally lands on his home planet. The reader clicks through the story, never able to hit backspace so advancing should be done with care. An important visual aspect of the story is the screen which mimics a display panel on a spaceship and frequently shows stars rushing past in the window.

one of the opening screens in Morpheus Biblionaut

The very concept is full of interesting juxtapositions that make the reader curious- he’s an “american astronaut and poet”, the fifteen years/eight years difference. The music creates a heightened sense of tension, suspense, and the surreal. The window of surging stars is sometimes paired with a television screen that is used to show the spiky pulse of life, text, or a 3D image of a waiting room.

"this event horizon is the only line that might be said to separate past from future in these dreams i lived pre-lived re-lived my life"

This readout moves steadily as a main screen and later as the background to text.

Morpheus Biblionaut only gets weirder as the story progresses: the Earth has apparently gained a ring like Saturn’s instead of a moon; text or its authors are fixed; and time is “at least two dimensions.” The slowly rotating image of this new Earth promises a story full of strangeness and the reoccurring image of flowers budding giving off bubbles with images of books and the symbol for Pi only add to the unique science-fictional madness. In fact, the narrator himself professes that he cannot “discount the possibility” that he has gone insane.

the Earth our astronaut finally returns to

This astronaut recounts a compelling tale of his hardships in trying to beat out the competition for this mission and the difficulties of his isolated mission– he loses his wife because of the distance between them. A favorite moment of mine is the two clocks, both moving, one that shows the time in the ship- which is constant- and another showing Earth-time- which starts slowing down dramatically once his vessel, the titular Morpheus 11, reaches the fringes of our system and makes its way to the next. At one point, when he’s so far from Earth that communication is difficult, he notices that the world is changing. The latest newspaper from Earth now reads “US goes to war with China” and he searches his small, hand-picked library for Plato’s Republic only to find “Pluto’s Republic.” Shocking details like this draw the reader forward into this mad world as the music gets darker.

I could not stop reading this story. I had to know what happened and I ignored everything else for the entire time I was reading it- I don’t even know how long that was because I never looked away at the clock. The combination of sight, sound, and text create a world that allows immerses a reader in a strange new reality and creates a connection with the astronaut. Morpheus Biblionaut questions our concepts of the universe and time and literature in thought-provoking ways that keep the mind whirling even after the final lines of text.

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