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Philip Zimmermann (2023)

MELT Philip Zimmermann (2023)

Melt is the second in a series of four books on climate change. Although it is primarily about sea-level rise due to climate change, it is also a conversation with two different generative artificial intelligence entities, ChatGPT 3.5 and DALL-E, both from OpenAI: one generates the text, the other the pictures. What results is an unsettling combination of wisdom from an artificial human creation talking into the void as the ice melts and sea levels rise.

{For an excellent discussion and deep read of Melt, please go to Robert Bolick's excellent UK-based website "Books on Books".}

The book is housed in a hinged metal case with a clear window, a tongue-in-cheek device protecting the book from water coming from melting ice. All of the “photos” of calving and melting icebergs were produced by using the generative AI app ‘DALL-E’, from OpenAI. (The exception is the flip book images of ice melting in a glass which were derived from a stop-motion video that was taken on a 114-degree day in Tucson Arizona.) The Robert Frost text, the rather bad fake “Charles Bukowski” poem, and almost all other text are from queries to ChatGPT 3.5, also an app from OpenAI, the generative AI text resource. I included the prompts as some of the text for the book. ChatGPT 3.5 was used since I started working on the book in December 2022, and ChatGPT 4 was not released until March of 2023.

The map images were scans of some cast-off University of Arizona Geography Department maps that Karen Zimmermann salvaged before they were thrown out.

The maps on the right side of each spread were meant to be a counterpoint to the images of ice and water on the left. I do not currently live near the ocean or any body of water, but we will all suffer from the effects of climate change, and our most direct change here in the southwest where I live will be heat and completely different from sea-level rise but in a way complementary and from the very same reasons. I wanted to have both worlds there on each spread, like two sides of the same coin.

The maps are all from very hot locations, Arizona, Mexico and parts of central Africa. I wasn’t so interested in the exact location but more in the patterns and cartographic marks. Most important was the progression of the way the landscape became visually overwhelmed by heat, getting redder and hotter incrementally as the book progresses and the ice melts on the opposite page of each spread.

I have used a number of time elements throughout, not just by using the flip book of the melting ice. The background map images get warmer and warmer as the book progresses, as I mentioned. On the far left is a scale showing the rise in sea level and the point at which each coastal city is overwhelmed, according to a Google-Generative AI beta-test module called SearchLabs. I assume that it is correct, although I know that AI is not always to be trusted.

Below the melting-ice flip book is a short flip-sequence with a snorkeler, who disappears as the flip-action progresses. I am a big aficionado of snorkelling, something that will disappear with sea-level rise since most shorelines (and fish and coral life) will all be completely overcome. On a recent trip to Costa Rica, we were scheduled to go out on a boat to do some snorkeling on a reef offshore. Because of shifting currents that were unusual for that time of the year, (and blamed on shifts caused by climate change,) the water was very cloudy and did not allow for snorkelling because of extremely low visibility.

The poem/song lyrics that run through some of the book, A Life on the Ocean Wave, was written first as a poem by an American, Epes Sargent, on the Battery in lower Manhattan in 1838, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. That social movement helped start the greenhouse effect that contributes to climate change. A British friend of Sargent’s wrote music to accompany the poem shortly after. It became famous later as the iconic Regimental March of His Majesty’s Royal Marines. It seemed to contribute a note of irony that is, I hope, not too overwhelming.

If you are interested in the production details, Melt was printed by one of the latest updated printing technologies, high-speed UV-cured inkjet. It was printed on a Komori Impremia IS29s digital press at Spectrum Printing in Tucson, Arizona. It is a new and improved version of that digital inkjet sheet-fed printing method that is not only very fast, but also light-fast, and uses stochastic imaging, which means there are no halftone dots. The finished prints rival or exceed the quality of high-quality offset lithography. The paper is Neenah Classic Crest, an archival sheet, using 80lb text for the text block and 100lb cover stock for the front and back cover. The folding, some of the foil-stamping, smyth-sewn binding, and corner rounding was by BindTech-Roswell in Phoenix, Arizona. The metal case was meant as symbolic protection from water coming from the rising seas, even though, of course, it would not really prevent the contents from getting soaked in seawater. Dimensions of the book are: 13 cm x 8.2 cm x 2.5 cm (5.125" x 3.25" x 1"). The 200-page self-covering smyth-sewn book was published in November 2023 in a numbered and signed edition of 175. ISBN:  978-1-63752-170-0.

The book is available from me directly, or Vamp & Tramp Booksellers in Birmingham AL, , (205) 824-2300 and photo-eye, in Santa Fé, NM, , (505) 988-5152.  You can also buy directly from me at CODEX 2024 Book Fair and Symposium in Oakland CA during the first week of February, 2024. The sale price is $150 USD.

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