Warren Ellis's Blog
March 26, 2014
Thomas Pynchon’s AGAINST THE DAY is a book that is almost impossible to finish. In many ways, it defeats the point of finishing it. It’s more than a thousand pages long, and each individual scene is pretty much the size of a novella. It’s a novel that you can dip into like an encyclopedia. It’s set between 1893 and World War I, and it came out in 2006. It’s in no way current. But I’m sitting down and writing this because it’s about everything. It might even be the defining novel of the 21st Century.
It is, as was much post-modernism, about settling the outstanding sociocultural business of the 20th Century. It was the first century bright and loud enough to make the mimetic novel’s tendency to want to tie up all loose ends into a joke. We live now in a century where the CTO of the CIA can proudly announce at a security conference that we can now know everything that happens everywhere in real time, but, as we have since discovered, being able to record everything is not the same as knowing and understanding everything. Every phone call in America is committed to storage for thirty days, but only the tiniest fraction are ever listened to by the state or anyone else. There are hundreds of characters in motion in AGAINST THE DAY. Even the mighty human swarm action of Wikipedia broke against the task of even tracking their action in chapters. In telling a story about the disconnected 20th Century, Pynchon’s omniscient view conjures the blare of the 21st, a world in which the number of people we can invest in and follow the lives of has been calculated by anthropologists. (It’s called the Dunbar Number. A hundred and fifty people.)
AGAINST THE DAY cycles through genres like a long-running television show entering its decadent phase. (And AGAINST THE DAY is certainly a decadent book.) There are sections written in the style of the weird boy’s-own adventures of the period, the “Edisonades” of young scientists romping through fantasy scenarios like demented Scouts. There’s a period detective story, featuring a PI who eats sub-toxic doses of dynamite in order to become immune to explosions. There’s a Western about anarchists, and a subplot about rare crystals that can split a person into two. Doubling is an important theme in the book, and sometimes I think that Pynchon is telling us that there is here: that that time is this time. For all its Zeppelins, Hollow Earth passages and psychics, there’s nothing more strange than the days we live in now.
The world of AGAINST THE DAY is as awash with scientific marvels as ours. Nikola Tesla even makes an appearance. A constant surges of wonders technological and mythical, just as ours: because we live in a world of myths too, the myths of other universes creating cold spots in the sky where they bump against ours, as in the theories of Laura Mersini-Houghton, and the ordinary technological marvels of satellites that speak to the slivers of glass in our pockets and the machines that print new human organs.
What I want to say about it is this: it’s a book about being on the brink. More so than CABARET, not least because CABARET has been defanged by the years and is now nothing more than a dumb receptacle for Weimar chic. CABARET is about being blind to the brink. AGAINST THE DAY casts the brink as an oncoming storm, the biggest one in history, the one that nobody could be prepared for. It’s the story of being in the eye of it. There were a few such eyes in the 20th Century. There will be none in the 21st, the era of what the tech community is pleased to call “disruption.” This is how we’re going to live from now on – surrounded by the swirl of strange and terrible weather, never quite knowing when the great black wall of it will shift and slam into us. AGAINST THE DAY will remain relevant, because it’s the picture of every minute of every day from now on. Amazing things, every single different kind of story we can imagine, and the altitude thrill of constantly being on the edge of bubbling fatal chaos.
AGAINST THE DAY is the double of the modern world. It’s the book we never want to finish.
Anab Jain’s “Design For The New Normal (Revisited)”
March 19, 2014
This is a thing I’ve been following since last year. Willow Brugh has just taken a shot at simplifying it for stupid people like me.
Some friends of mine have been advocating for this rad thing called IndieWeb. It’s a way of regaining control of your information, data, and profile online. This is my first pass at explaining what it is they’re up to.
I post it here both because it’s interesting and because I have a strong urge to use it as the basis for developing this site in the future. This will involve depressing and time-consuming stuff like moving the site hosting and learning how WordPress works under the bonnet a little more. This site will never be the full eight-posts-a-day churn that it once was — curation blogging is probably best served on a socially connected system like Tumblr in any case — but when I do write new material for public view, I intend that most if not all of it be for a site I own. I don’t think we should be writing new material for stack algorithms to chew on and digest for ad technologies. (Unless that’s the specific intent.)
Anyway. Here’s what we’re talking about, when we talk about IndieWeb.
On The Constant Moment: The Future Of Photography
All I Want To Be Is A GIF
GUEST INFORMANT: Julian Simpson, Writer/Director
March 18, 2014
March 17, 2014
Hello. I’ve been reading cookbooks.
There’s a certain kind of cookbook that you — or at least I — can read like it’s fiction. Science fiction, even. I was talking with Janice Wang, a researcher at MIT Media Lab, about this at South By the other day. (That was a really interesting visit, by the way.) She was trying to put together a thing about food in science fiction, and having a little trouble finding too much about food culture in sf. And all I could think of was the three cookbooks I’d gotten recently, written by chefs from NOMA. NOMA is a Nordic restaurant dedicated to reinventing hyperlocal, firmly seasonal foodstuffs with Science. And science is still the best poetic fiction there is.
The NOMA Leaf Broth requires fallen autumn leaves of two different vintages: the current year and the year before. They employ car parks full of dehydrators to smash plants down to a perfect powdered essence. Moss is a regular ingredient. Centrifuges and frozen gasses. All the foods are found within a certain radius around the NOMA location. It is near impossible to prepare many of the meals outside that area or without their lab. But that’s not the point.
These are books intended to make you think again about where you live. They serve the essential journalistic element of social fiction: this is where I think I am today and this is what I think it looks like. And then they apply technologies entirely unexpected in the culinary context — like their forebears, people like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria — to try and make us reconsider the possibilities inherent in our current context. Cookbooks of the Science Fiction Condition. Take your eyes off the rear view mirror for a second and see people using Mad Scientist shit to make dinner.
(Taken from the top of my most recent newsletter post. Subscribe at http://www.orbitaloperations.com )
GONE VIRAL: A New T-Shirt
TREES By Warren Ellis & Jason Howard, From Image Comics
SCIENCE GANGSTER Tshirt Reissue
March 5, 2014
March 3, 2014
A little while ago, my friend Wil Wheaton was kind enough to read my short story DEAD PIG COLLECTOR, and my publisher, FSG, was kind enough to publish it via Macmillan Audio and Audible. This here should be the Amazon link.
The original ebook is still doing well in the Kindle Singles charts. I’m still very fond of the story. You can find it here.
February 25, 2014
Launching this May, a new science fiction comics serial by myself and Jason Howard, entitled TREES, will be published by Image Comics.
(If longtime readers were wondering what happened to the SCATTERLANDS experiment? We got involved with this instead. Basically, we had so much fun doing SCATTERLANDS that we wondered what a full series together would look like, and then it took over.)
I’m working on the end of issue 4 right now, while Jason has just wrapped issue 3. We expect to have six issues in the can by the end of May, when issue 1 is published. Final order cut-off for comics stores on issue 1 is May 5.
All contact and PR is being handled through Image Comics at this time. Here’s their contacts page.
Below, the solicitation text for issue 1.
Ten years after they landed. All over the world. And they did nothing, standing on the surface of the Earth like trees, exerting their silent pressure on the world, as if there were no-one here and nothing under foot. Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe, but that they did not recognise us as intelligent or alive. Beginning a new science fiction graphic novel by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard.
February 10, 2014
From myself and Rich Stevens, a new t-shirt for those of you with internet toxicity. We hope you like it. Purchase page is over here, at the Doctor Whisky store.
January 18, 2014
I appear to have killed another laptop. I seem to beat them to death — and I’m using Lenovos, which are supposed to be road-warrior machines — every year or so. This one lasted eighteen months before throwing a BSOD and refusing to start Windows, insisting that a patch was preventing the system from… well, doing anything, really.
I’m flying out to LA in a week, and I have three critical jobs to complete before I go. Waiting until the Lenovo gets fixed – or, more likely, waiting for a new machine to arrive and then mounting the dead laptop’s hard drive as an XD so I can get some files off it — is not an option.
I’m writing this on the Chromebook Pixel I was given, which is a beautiful and highly productivity-oriented machine with a few key omissions by design. Like, I can’t run Audacity on it. So, there’ll be no more SPEKTRMODULE podcasts until I get to the X1 Carbon I keep at Undisclosed Rural Location, and I don’t arrive there until February.
I can write like the wind on this thing, though. A few scripts are going to arrive somewhat odd-looking, because I’m writing in Google Drive without the formatting and macros I have access to in OpenOffice (which is still where I write my scripts, saving in RTF, which Drive also has a few issues with). But, between Drive, Gmail, Dropbox and Jungle Disk, the only files I don’t have access to right now are decidedly non-critical. (And I should be able to edit that one critical half-written RTF file on the iPad using Textilus.)
Also, of course, I’m not writing this post in Windows Live Writer like usual, so god knows how it’s going to look. Not that I write here much any more. But I wanted to mark the passing of [DEEPBLACK], the Lenovo Ideapad I beat to death in eighteen months. You served me well, giant creaky plastic black thing. If only you could have waited until I could more easily afford to replace your stupid dead ass.
ORBITAL OPERATIONS: A New Newsletter
SPEKTRMODULE: Podcast 30 – Not Waking
January 4, 2014
37 minutes and 49 seconds
If you don’t know what you’re looking at: SPEKTRMODULE is a podcast of haunted, ambient and sleepy music I compile for my own amusement.
A minor one to begin the new year, the new run, and to remind myself how I do this.
Please tell other people about this podcast for sleepy people if you like it. We are #SPEKTRMODULE.
2. “IT DOESNT MATTER”� - Dionysus (album: UNEXPECTED PATH)
3. “FIELDS OF DUST”� - Echo Planar (EP: LOW FREQUENCIES)
4. “Heaven’s Fire” - Narita Mamoru (album: Music for Butoh Dance Improvisation)
5. "Asteroid Taproom”� – Neil Campbell (album: Boomerang is Love)
6. “Annealing Oceans of Venetian Potions pt i” - Alabaster Falcons (album: Alabaster Falcons)
7. “2-Cavatina”� – Larry Lake (album: CAPAC Musical Portrait QC-1287)
8. “a rose for the white witch” - Stag Hare (album: Spirit Canoes)