October 24th, 2012 | Work
I’m down with a horrible case of the Man-Flu today, and don’t have it in me for writing a decent piece (that isn’t AAARG SOB WOE BE NICE TO ME I HAVE MAN-FLU YOU SCUM). But I’ve been dredging and annotating the site for a bit of a redesign, and have assembled these links to the texts of talks I’ve given. Maybe there’s something there you haven’t read before.
HOW TO SEE THE FUTURE (Improving Reality)
MONEY ISN’T REAL (introducing Greg Palast)
THE NEAR FUTURE OF POP (BERG Tomorrow’s World)
STORIES, DRINKING AND THE WORLD (Toronto)
COMICS AND TIME (Dundee University)
A clip from the mechanical of the GUN MACHINE cover. Which I’m probably not supposed to show you, but still.
This was the post at Publishers Marketplace:
Author of RED, CROOKED LITTLE VEIN and forthcoming GUN MACHINE, Warren Ellis’s SPIRIT TRACKS, about the future of the city, the ghosts that haunt it and the science-fiction condition we live in, to Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus, by Lydia Wills at Lydia Wills (world English).
That’s Farrar, Straus & Giroux, an incredibly impressive publishing house with an incredibly impressive list. Lydia’s an absolute miracle worker.
So… this is happening. I am writing a serious non-fiction book for a serious non-fiction list. Which is kind of strange, isn’t it? As I said a few weeks ago, the career’s gone in an odd direction again over the last few years. Sometimes I wonder if people will look back over my CV and ask themselves what the hell I thought I was doing.
I start this book next year, after I finish the current novel. It may or may not have the same title when it’s announced as going on the publication schedule. Really looking forward to working with Sean McDonald, who’s edited some of my favourite non-fiction over the last several years, including Steven Johnson’s magnificent GHOST MAP.
I’m a novelist and a non-fiction author now. Strange days.
September 7th, 2012 | Work
This is the raw text of the keynote I gave at Improving Reality on Thursday. Thanks again to Honor and her crew for being so wonderful, and for so kindly inviting me.
HOW TO SEE THE FUTURE
The concept of calling an event Improving Reality is one of those great science fiction ideas. Twenty five years ago, you’d have gone right along with the story that, in 2012, people will come to a tech-centric town to talk about how to improve reality. Being able to locally adjust the brightness of the sky. Why wouldn’t you? That’s the stuff of the consensus future, right there. The stories we agree upon. Like how in old science fiction stories Venus was always a “green hell” of alien jungle, and Mars was always an exotic red desert crisscrossed by canals.
In reality, of course, Venus is a high-pressure shithole that we’re technologically a thousand years away from being able to walk on, and there’s bugger all on Mars. Welcome to JG Ballard’s future, fast becoming a consensus of its own, wherein the future is intrinsically banal. It is, essentially, the sensible position to take right now.
A writer called Ventakesh Rao recently used the term “manufactured normalcy” to describe this. The idea is that things are designed to activate a psychological predisposition to believe that we’re in a static and dull continuous present. Atemporality, considered to be the condition of the early 21st century. Of course Venus isn’t a green hell – that would be too interesting, right? Of course things like Google Glass and Google Gloves look like props from ill-received science fiction film and tv from the 90s and 2000’s. Of course getting on a plane to jump halfway across the planet isn’t a wildly different experience from getting on a train from London to Scotland in the 1920s – aside from the radiation and groping.
We hold up iPhones and, if we’re relatively conscious of history, we point out that this is an amazing device that contains a live map of the world and the biggest libraries imaginable and that it’s an absolute paradigm shift in personal communication and empowerment. And then some knob says that it looks like something from Star Trek Next Generation, and then someone else says that it doesn’t even look as cool as Captain Kirk’s communicator in the original and then someone else says no but you can buy a case for it to make it look like one and you’re off to the manufactured normalcy races, where nobody wins because everyone goes to fucking sleep.
And reality does not get improved, does it?
But I’ll suggest to you something. The theories of atemporality and manufactured normalcy and zero history can be short-circuited by just one thing.
Ballardian banality comes from not getting the future that we were promised, or getting it too late to make the promised difference.
This is because we look at the present day through a rear-view mirror. This is something Marshall McLuhan said back in the Sixties, when the world was in the grip of authentic-seeming future narratives. He said, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
He went on to say this, in 1969, the year of the crewed Moon landing: “Because of the invisibility of any environment during the period of its innovation, man is only consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it; in other words, an environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new environment; thus we are always one step behind in our view of the world. The present is always invisible because it’s environmental and saturates the whole field of attention so overwhelmingly; thus everyone is alive in an earlier day.”
Three years earlier, Philip K Dick wrote a book called Now Wait For Last Year.
Let me try this on you:
The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. Mars has a big, puffy atmosphere, taller than ours, but there’s barely anything to it at that level. 30 Pascals of pressure, which is what we get in an industrial vacuum furnace here on Earth. You may as well be in space. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space.
That’s actually got a bit more going for it, as an idea, than exotic red deserts and canals. Imagine living in a Martian culture for a moment, where this thing is a presence in the existence of an entire sentient species. A mountain that you cannot see the top of, because it’s a small world and the summit wraps behind the horizon. Imagine settlements creeping up the side of Olympus Mons. Imagine battles fought over sections of slope. Generations upon generations of explorers dying further and further up its height, technologies iterated and expended upon being able to walk to within leaping distance of orbital space. Manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.
Now imagine a world where space travel to other worlds is an antique curiosity. Imagine reading the words “vintage space.” Can you even consider being part of a culture that could go to space and then stopped?
If the future is dead, then today we must summon it and learn how to see it properly.
You can’t see the present properly through the rear view mirror. It’s in front of you. It’s right here.
There are six people living in space right now. There are people printing prototypes of human organs, and people printing nanowire tissue that will bond with human flesh and the human electrical system.
We’ve photographed the shadow of a single atom. We’ve got robot legs controlled by brainwaves. Explorers have just stood in the deepest unsubmerged place in the world, a cave more than two kilometres under Abkhazia. NASA are getting ready to launch three satellites the size of coffee mugs, that will be controllable by mobile phone apps.
Here’s another angle on vintage space: Voyager 1 is more than 11 billion miles away, and it’s run off 64K of computing power and an eight-track tape deck.
In the last ten years, we’ve discovered two previously unknown species of human. We can film eruptions on the surface of the sun, landings on Mars and even landings on Titan. Is all of this very boring to you? Because all this is happening right now, in this moment. Check the time on your phone, because this is the present time and these things are happening. The most basic mobile phone is in fact a communications devices that shames all of science fiction, all the wrist radios and handheld communicators. Captain Kirk had to tune his fucking communicator and it couldn’t text or take a photo that he could stick a nice Polaroid filter on. Science fiction didn’t see the mobile phone coming. It certainly didn’t see the glowing glass windows many of us carry now, where we make amazing things happen by pointing at it with our fingers like goddamn wizards.
That, by the way, is what Steve Jobs meant when he said that iPads were magical. The central metaphor is magic. And perhaps magic seems an odd thing to bring up here, but magic and fiction are deeply entangled, and you are all now present at a séance for the future. We are summoning it into the present. It’s here right now. It’s in the room with us. We live in the future. We live in the Science Fiction Condition, where we can see under atoms and across the world and across the methane lakes of Titan.
Use the rear view mirror for its true purpose. If I were sitting next to you twenty-five years ago, and you heard a phone ring, and I took out a bar of glass and said, sorry, my phone just told me it’s got new video of a solar flare, you’d have me sectioned in a flash. Use the rear view mirror to imagine telling someone just twenty five years ago about GPS. This is the last generation in the Western world that will ever be lost. LifeStraws. Synthetic biology. Genetic sequencing. SARS was genetically sequenced within 48 hours of its identification. I’m not even touching the web, wifi, mobile broadband, cloud computing, electronic cigarettes…
Understand that our present time is the furthest thing from banality. Reality as we know it is exploding with novelty every day. Not all of it’s good. It’s a strange and not entirely comfortable time to be alive. But I want you to feel the future as present in the room. I want you to understand, before you start the day here, that the invisible thing in the room is the felt presence of living in future time, not in the years behind us.
To be a futurist, in pursuit of improving reality, is not to have your face continually turned upstream, waiting for the future to come. To improve reality is to clearly see where you are, and then wonder how to make that better.
Act like you live in the Science Fiction Condition. Act like you can do magic and hold séances for the future and build a brightness control for the sky.
Act like you live in a place where you could walk into space if you wanted. Think big. And then make it better.
© Warren Ellis 2012 All Rights Reserved etc etc
August 9th, 2012 | Work
The news popped yesterday evening, while I was at dinner. This is one of the things I’ve been working on for the last few months, and it eventually all happened last week (and then I took a long weekend to rest). Deadline.com has the press release: Fox Buys Thriller From Chernin’s Company Based On Upcoming Warren Ellis Novel.
Basically, this happened: Chernin Entertainment (in the form of a relentless and charming lady called Lauren Stein) bought GUN MACHINE pre-emptively, sight unseen, half a year before its publication.
Then we went looking for a showrunner, which we found in the body of Dario Scardapane. I went with Dario because he got the themes of the book immediately. Dario, with me mostly just sort of getting in his way, came up with a take on the book as a series. We got in a room with Fox Broadcasting (who partly arrived in the form of Jon Wax, an acquaintance and supporter) and told them what we wanted to do. And the next day I got a phone call telling me that we had successfully fooled Fox into buying it for development.
It’s important to note at this point that I take the credit for none of this. This is down to Dario, and Lauren Stein and Katherine Pope, and my agent Angela Cheng Caplan and my patient lawyer George Davis of Nelson Davis Wetzstein. And I have to take this opportunity to thank all of them. Particularly Angela and George, who save me from myself on a regular basis. Also, Lydia Wills, without whom none of this would have happened at all, and John Schoenfelder and Michael Pietsch for believing in the book at the start.
There have, of course, been a lot of jokes about Fox cancelling their series. I loved PROFIT, and I, too, would have liked to have seen that second season of HOUSE. Anyway. It’s all the luck of the draw, and I’d rather be in this position than not.
As I learned on GLOBAL FREQUENCY way back when, tv is a series of hurdles, and nothing’s a locked deal even when you’re actually out in the world shooting the thing. There are no guarantees in television, just like any other commercial creative art. But we’re in good shape at this point. Dario and I are talking a lot and agreeing on stuff. Next up, Dario writes the script, with me sitting on his shoulder screeching. Actually, trying not to screech, because if you don’t want your book adapted, you shouldn’t sell anyone the right to adapt it. At this point, though, I’m pretty involved in the adaptation, and having fun.
All of which is pretty good for a book that hasn’t been published yet.
(At a later date I’ll assemble links for other bookstore services.)
June 27th, 2012 | Work
This is what I said at the launch for Greg’s VULTURE’S PICNIC book at ULU last night, more or less. I believe Greg’s team got audio, and may put that up on gregpalast.com later. Please bear in mind that I was hopped up on massive painkiller loads when I wrote this. Thanks to all that attended – we had a full house – to Oliver for organising, and Anna for running the stage.
I’m a writer of fiction. It’s fair to wonder why I’m here. I’m the last person who should be standing here talking about a book about real tragedies and economics. I come from a world where even the signposts are fictional. Follow the white rabbit. Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. And a more recent one, from forty years ago, the fictional direction given by a mysterious man to an eager journalist: follow the money.
Economics is an artform. It’s the art of the invisible. Money is fictional.
The folding cash in your pocket isn’t real. Look at it. It’s a promissory note. “I promise to pay the bearer.” It’s a little story, a fiction that claims your cash can be redeemed for the equivalent in goods or gold. But it won’t be, because there isn’t enough gold to go around. So you’re told that your cash is “legal tender,” which means that everyone agrees to pretend it’s like money. If everyone in this room went to The Bank Of England tomorrow and said “I would like you to redeem all my cash for gold, right here, in my hand” I guarantee you that you all would see some perfect expressions of stark fucking terror.
It’s not real. Cash has never been real. It’s a stand-in, a fiction, a symbol that denotes money. Money that you never see. There was a time when money was sea shells, cowries. That’s how we counted money once. Then written notes, then printed notes. Then telegraphy, when money was dots and dashes, and then telephone calls. Teletypes and tickers. Into the age of the computer, money as datastreams that got faster and wider, leading to latency realty where financial houses sought to place their computers in physical positions that would allow them to shave nanoseconds off their exchanges of invisible money in some weird digital feng shui, until algorithmic trading began and not only did we not see the money any more, but we can barely even see what’s moving the money, and now we have people talking about strange floating computer islands to beat latency issues and even, just a few weeks ago, people planning to build a neutrino cannon on the other side of the world that actually beams financial events through the centre of the planet itself at lightspeed.
Neutrinos are subatomic units that are currently believed to be their own antiparticle. Or, to put it another way, they are both there and not there at the same time. Just like your cash. Just like fiction: a real thing that never happened. Money is an idea.
But I don’t want to make it sound small. Because it’s really not. Money is one of those few ideas that pervades the matter of the planet. One of those few bits of fiction that, if it turns its back on you, can kill you stone dead.
It’s a big story to tell. A big idea. And to get to grips with it, what you need is someone who understands it, to explain all its strange invisible edges. Someone who uses the tools of writing to tell the truth. A journalist. I’m here for the same reason you’re here. Because it’s important to have someone around who can crawl back out of the rabbit hole with reports from that other world that are accessible and informed. We’re lucky enough to know someone like that. I know a journalist whose truth-telling has left a trail of fire halfway across the world. And we’re launching his new book here tonight. And I want to stop talking now, so we can listen to Greg Palast talk some more.
May 25th, 2012 | Work
I just heard that FREAKANGELS won Favourite Webcomic for the second time at this year’s Eagle Awards.
Anna Petterson, as is now traditional, is looking after it and pouring alcohol on it.
May 8th, 2012 | Work
I released this yesterday evening to the MACHINE VISION subscribers. Here it is, the cover to GUN MACHINE, as designed by Keith Hayes:
(Get it a bit bigger here, especially if you can’t quite make out what the "gun" is made of.)
The hardcovers are now up for pre-order at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, I’ve seen. I will disseminate other links (Kindle, other distribs, etc) as I see them. Someone on Twitter found these last night, I haven’t been furnished the purchase link list yet.
April 19th, 2012 | Work
Tomorrow afternoon my time, I begin a new email newsletter. It’s been two years since I closed down my previous, longrunning email thing Bad Signal. And this isn’t going to be the same as that. This will be a roughly weekly blast, and mostly about work — the forthcoming novel GUN MACHINE, and the one after that, and other projects as they develop. It’ll also be a download of whatever’s in my head that isn’t short enough for Twitter and not coherent enough to appear here. And about writing, and writers. And, really, whatever else is on my mind when I sit down to do it.
The first one goes out tomorrow. We’ve opened the sign-up system today. It’s at this link, or, if you scroll around this page a bit, in the right-hand menu bar.
The MACHINE VISION service is provided through the kindness of Mulholland Books.
I hope you’ll give it a go. Thanks.
April 11th, 2012 | Work
His next project, he said, would be another independently produced Web series, to be distributed free, created with the writer Warren Ellis and called “Wastelanders,” which Mr. Whedon jokingly described as “Glengarry Timecop.”
Calling it “a drama about people who save the world and how unbelievably unhappy they are,” Mr. Whedon worried — up to a point — that its rougher edges could alienate even his dedicated fans.
“It’s very dark and very grown-up,” he said. “But it’s the next thing that I want to say…”
March 16th, 2012 | Work
It finally just broke on Deadline. My old friend Tim Miller, a VFX genius (mostly recently lauded for the credits sequence he shot for GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), has signed to direct GRAVEL for Legendary Pictures, based on the GRAVEL books I created, as published by Avatar Press.
Note that this film has writers who aren’t me. I can’t say a lot more than that without giving some stuff away, but some of you will remember that the original plan was for me to write this film. Plans changed and expanded, and I was working on other things both announced and rumoured during the initial process on this film. My relationship with Legendary has grown since we made the initial deal a couple of years ago. All is good.
And I’ve known Tim for years. This is basically the best news.
Anyway, this is the end of what’s been a fairly demented day, so I’m just leaving this here, and saying that I’m happy, and will doubtless expand on it all at a later date.
March 12th, 2012 | Work
A year ago, Mike Avon Oeming and I started talking about a new comic. And then we both got busy with other things.
We’re still picking at it. I need to rethink the middle sequence. The thing kind of expanded beyond its original parameters. But progress is happening, slowly. Like this:
March 12th, 2012 | Work
A new bag, brought to you by Ariana, who is just as capable of accidentally revealing signs of deep-seated mental illness as I am.
It can be found, in various different forms, at our store of miscellaneous crap that we’ve been filling over the years. We hope it at least makes you smile.
February 1st, 2012 | Work
Recorded at a cafe in Hackney for London Fields Radio a few weeks back, me and Laurie basically jabbering away for several hour while the estimable Joe Stannard tries to get a word in edgeways:
January 27th, 2012 | Work
At VICE’s Motherboard blog, I’m interviewed by Abraham Riesman about space travel and the somewhat confused recent claims of Speaker Gingrich.
Well, let’s start with the “51st State” bit that’s being bandied about. Speaker Gingrich knows as well as the next political mammal that the Outer Space Treaty forbids any one nation from claiming sovereignty over the moon. So, not so much with the 51st State crap…