In Prismatica: Science Fiction Poetry Spanning the Spectrum, Elizabeth Barrette unabashedly tackles standard speculative tropes, such as faster than light travel, alien life, colonisation of distant planets, androids, and telepathy, head-on. The freshness of Elizabeth’s accessible prose ensures that such themes never feel hackneyed. Her skilful ability to approach familiar concepts from slightly different angles gives old ideas a new sheen. Occasionally, the reader is presented with that most speculative of perspectives, a non-human point-of-view.
Richly colourful and often wildly imaginative imagery adds welcome detail to Prismatica’s scenes of other worlds and far-off times. However, Elizabeth’s verse contains much more than wondrous images and new twists on old tropes; there is also a moral depth to her work. A few of the works, such as “Countdown”, warn of a bleak future, but many more hint of hopeful times ahead. A love of living things and an appreciation of the miracle of life, no matter what form life takes or where it may be found, runs throughout the collection. In one instance, Elizabeth elegantly answers the question of whether or not aliens have souls. In another, she stands the concept of intelligent design on its head, deftly displaying the superiority of evolved life over manufactured life.
Although speculative in nature, Elizabeth’s poetry explores universal realities. Her verse touches on the inevitable truth of science, the indomitable aspect of the human spirit, and the intertwined thrills and perils of space travel. In one work, we see scientists on various worlds suffering for revealing scientific truths, but we’re reminded that science will ultimately prevail. In another, we meet a resolute dreamer that finally makes it to the moon after decades of saying she would travel in space. In yet another, we witness a frozen teddy bear floating in space when a doomed ship full of refugees breaks up in flight.
The division into different colours (plus clear) is an interesting way to organize a collection that claims to span the spectrum, but such an organisation seems somewhat imperfectly followed in Prismatica. The very first poem is found all on its own, outside of any of the divisions. Plus, certain colours of the rainbow (orange, indigo, and violet) are absent entirely. The scientific side of my nature would have liked to have seen a more complete spanning of the visible spectrum.
All in all, I think Prismatica is literary enough to appeal to fans of literary poetry and speculative enough to appeal to fans of speculative literature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Elizabeth’s verse is both readable and poetic. It often contains intriguing imagery and thought-provoking moralities, and yet it is neither weighed down by too much description, nor dragged down by heavy-handed preaching. It engenders a sense of wonder and makes one think (and even smile on occasion), truly the mark of quality speculative poetry.