This is a case of not only what you know, but who you know and when you know it.
I know Michael Swanwick and I’m a Dragonstairs Press regular, carrying their chapbooks through Lame Excuse Books. For a while now I’ve heard both Michael and his wife/Dragonstairs proprietor Marianne Porter talk about the Universe Box project, which was not only going to be an ultra-limited edition book, but also a weirdo art assemblage/fetish object.
They finally announced the details on August 3: at precisely noon EDT (11 AM CDT) on Saturday, August 6, 2016, they would be offering up 10 Universe Boxes (out of a total run of 13) on a first come, first serve basis on the Dragonstairs website. Which is how I came to be sitting at my computer, hitting the refresh button on the Dragonstair Press page, until the purchase button finally appeared right after the appointed time. I was evidently the first person to snag one, and all 10 copies sold out in three and a half minutes.
Here’s the Dragonstair description:
Universe Boxes is a collaborative project by Michael Swanwick and Marianne Porter. The boxes were assembled over several years by Porter, and the novelette was written by Swanwick.
The project has four distinct elements:
Each box is an actual cigar box, lined with astronomical charts and photomoechanicals of paleontological art. (Please note: the boxes have been carefully cleaned, bicarbonate of soda-ed, aired out, and Febreezed, but they originally held real tobacco.)
The exterior of each box has a Dragonstairs Press return address sticker and appropriate rubber-stamp-canceled postage for the item to go through the mail. (Out of concern for the contents, the Universe Boxes will be padded and shipped in larger boxes.) When each is sold, an address sticker with its purchaser’s name and address will be added. The whole will then be tied up with string.
A variety of objects have been included in each. Every box has a hand-bound signed copy of Universe Box by Michael Swanwick and a vaccine created by Marianne Porter (more on these below).
Contents of one box, identified as Coma Bernices/Pleistocene include:
red gem coral Corallium sp.
postal reply coupon
vintage German glass taxidermy eyes
Plus, of course, the vaccine and book. Some of the above items are common to all boxes but most are not. The contents of each box are unique to it.
Packing material consists of early drafts of the included story, run through a shredder.
Universe Box is a previously-unpublished 10,500 word fantasy dealing with cosmic powers, giraffe wranglers, the purpose of existence, and the most boring young man in all the universe. Physically, it is a stab-bound book with decorative paper covers, roughly six inches by four inches, issued in an edition of thirteen plus one printer’s proof. The books are all autographed by Michael Swanwick and a contents list is autographed by both the author and the publisher.
One vaccine is included per box. These are individual works of art by Marianne Porter, consisting of a glass serum bottle (2 cm x 4.5 cm) filled with specifics “against what ails you.” The bottle is sealed with a rubber stopper and topped with a crimped aluminum cap. It can be opened, but once opened cannot be resealed. The contents of each vaccine are unique to it. The one included in Coma Bernices/Pleistocene, for example, contains human hair, an agate bead, and wire.
The vaccines are part of a larger series, none of which have previously been made available for purchase.
And here’s my listing for it:
Swanwick, Michael and Marianne Porter. Universe Box. Dragonstairs Press, 2016. First edition “hardback” (oblong stiff stab-bound/side-sewn boards, no spine binding, with bead), a Fine copy, sans dust jacket, as issued, in a Fine decorated traycase (i.e., an old cigar box) with several art assemblage pieces included, one of only 13 copies (of which only 10 were available for sale), of which this particular copy (the first one sold) is labeled “Draco/Recent.” Art objects included in the particular box include:
Other things listed on the sheet are pasted to the inside surfaces of the box.
Outside of the box, address blurred out. Since the box came with the purchaser’s name and addressed affixed to the box with a label, I guess future librarians will officially refer to this as the “Codex Person” copy…
Universe Box opened.
With the content spread out to photograph.
A closer look at the objects included.
With the included cards spread out.
Everything again, with cards spread out.
The book itself.
Inside the book.
And here’s Swanwick himself with an unboxing video: