Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Pictures from an Expedition": Barbarella on Mars

With the new John Carter of Mars painting by esteemed artists Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell conjuring up images of Barbarella, it is worth recalling this foreboding passage from “Pictures from an Expedition” (2003), a short story by Alex Irvine in which character Jami "Barbarella" Salter ends up voluntarily marooning herself on Mars:
Some interplanetary sex symbol, she kidded herself. Running to the john every hour. But she was due to make the crew’s daily media dispatch today, and she didn’t want to be drumming her feet on the deck in front of the time-delayed pupils of Earth. The PR hacks at Gates had told her that her dispatches drew ratings fifty percent better than any other crew member’s, and even though she knew this was just a temporary skewing of the audience composition toward young, male, and horny, she had come to feel an odd sort of duty to live up to the standard that had been set for her. So she washed her hair when it was her day to dispatch, and touched a little makeup here and there. Katherine and Debbie kidded her about it, but they knew the score, and Jami thought they were a little grateful that she
was taking the pressure off them.

Said gratitude did not prevent them from nicknaming her Barbarella, though.

All in a day’s work, when the day was spent working for the largest private space venture in the history of humankind. They were seventy-five million kilometers from Earth, and the time delay was now almost four minutes each way. The lag hung between
Argos I and Earth as much as the distance itself. Every time they spoke to friends or family or (more often) media, it felt more and more like they were speaking to the silence and less like any real human beings existed on the other side of the commlink.

She had written those words down in a leather-bound journal she was keeping: speaking to the silence. It had been hard not to write them again. And again.

Barbarella is not coping, she said to herself.
"Pictures from an Expedition" was first published in the September 2003 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It was reprinted in Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (2005), an anthology edited by Gordon Van Gelder.

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