DEEP MAP PILOTS 3: by Eliza Gauger & Warren Ellis

June 29th, 2012 | deep map pilots

JINJING makes the jump from Titan to Enceladus the same way, no matter what their relative positions might be on launch day. She’ll make her approach trajectory for Enceladus while she’s on the other side of Saturn from it. Enceladus is in the E Ring, the one furthest out from the planet. So Jinjing gets to spend a whole half-orbit skipping across the top of the E ring. It’s a glittering ghost road three hundred thousand kilometers wide. There’s not a children’s story, nursery rhyme or fairy tale that ever competed with riding a road of diamond dust to a moon where stations drift across a wide warm underground sea. Sometimes Jinjing laughs out loud, at the thought of having grown up into a life that no childhood dream was ever big enough to capture.

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DEEP MAP PILOTS: A Series Of Five Pictures From Words

[process: I wrote five flash fictions for Eliza Gauger to produce a piece of accompanying art for each. The idea was to produce five little portraits of women in space, in art and words.]

Art © Eliza Gauger 2012. Words © Warren Ellis 2012

Money Isn’t Real: remarks for the Greg Palast event, 26 June 2012

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 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.


June 24th, 2012 | stuff2012



That was pretty unfair of me.  But I watched the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s new show, THE NEWSROOM, the other day, and it really did strike me as STUDIO 60: Phase Two.

Some wags have suggested that I actually mean SPORTS NIGHT: Phase Four, but I don’t think that’s true. SPORTS NIGHT flirted with the ethics of reportage, but in a more personal way.  WEST WING was a paean to public service, but much more of a complete statement, despite Sorkin taking off at the end of the fourth season.

But STUDIO 60… using the backstage workings of a live comedy tv show to address both the trouble that American tv is in, and the trouble that American culture is in.  Sorkin got cut short on that show, and, quite clearly, never got to say everything he wanted to say.  And, perhaps, it wasn’t the best vehicle for delivering all the stuff that’s currently in his system.

And now, THE NEWSROOM: a vehicle for fully expressing everything he wanted to talk about in STUDIO 60, but in a more culturally “heavyweight” setting.  At least notionally.  And if you liked STUDIO 60, or wanted to see what more he had to say after that show’s cancellation, you’ll have a pretty good time with THE NEWSROOM.  It’s, obviously, a consummately craftsmanlike piece of television writing, and if you liked the casting and the gags on SPORTS NIGHT and STUDIO 60, you’ll probably like THE NEWSROOM just fine.

It opens, as STUDIO 60 did, with an elder man (in this instance, the protagonist, newsreader Will McAvoy) losing his shit in public in the mode of Peter Finch in NETWORK, the rant about how the culture is terrible being the engine of the show.  But there’s something a little different in this.  In talking about how ill-informed the American public is, McAvoy summons the memory of “great men” who told it like it was, Murrow and Cronkite.  Not great journalists.  Not even great newscasters.  Great Men.

That was the first of three things that really leapt out at me during this show.  The second was at the end, when I discovered that this show is actually set a couple of years ago, and what it’s positioned to do is illustrate how the American news media should have covered a string of real-life events.  It’s actually an alternate history.

(I’m reminded suddenly of a comment I made after I read the script, to the effect that the show was a televisual fantasy exploring the idea of whether or not Jeremy Paxman could get work in America.)

The third was all over the show, and is related to the first.  It doesn’t like women very much.  The female lead, Mackenzie, while described by someone else as having scars from covering Shiite protests and the like (but it’s Great Men who do the great work and Christiane Amanpour was certainly never on the ground for the siege of Sarajevo), is first described to us by two Great Men as both untrustworthy and some kind of fainting ninny whom they have to bring home from the world and fan until she revives.  The question that sets off McAvoy’s rant comes from a blonde student whom McAvoy also calls a “sorority girl” once or twice during the bit.

(I’m not counting as cruelty the fact that the gifted Alison Pill seems essentially cast as a stand-in for Janel Moloney – just the way her character is treated — but I thought it was a shame that we don’t really get to see the fire and bite she can produce.)

(I also don’t want to get into the frankly stupid interview Aaron Sorkin gave to Sarah Nicole Prickett, in which he is reported as addressing her with “Listen here, Internet girl…” This is too long already.  But read it.  It speaks quite directly to the tone of the show.)

But I wanted this to be a brief note, not a lecture or a drone strike, so let me just circle around to the first thing again.  That this is a show about A Great Man (or, if you like, as others have styled it, A Great White Man) allowing a team of women and less-than-classically-masculine men aid him in his crusade to Fix TV Journalism, Fix Reportage and Fix America.  In an alternate world, where, in the pilot episode, the work of many many journalists across the world is condensed into an hour’s placing of phone calls from the newsroom.  Sure, it’s fiction, there’s license, I get that, I do it all the time (TRANSMETROPOLITAN is nothing but a fantasia of journalism)… it’s just lousy coincidence that I’m currently reading a book about the BP oil spill that forms the news event of the pilot episode, a book which illustrates how much is still not commonly known about that event even today.  Hindsight lets Sorkin cheat (and I’m not going to spoil the big cheat for you, but you’ll know it when you see it and it’s a cynical “must invent shit to compress events for drama” cheat), and, unfortunately, that and the obvious triumphal applause at the end of the bit are going to give a lot of people clubs to beat him with.

And those aren’t the clubs that I think may well put THE NEWSROOM to death.  A death I take no pleasure in, because I loved THE WEST WING and I like living in a world where Aaron Sorkin is writing for television.  I think it would be really nice if, over the course of the run, Aaron Sorkin learned some things about how journalism happens and put them into the show.  I take no issue with the pilot episode’s lack of nuance, or the fact that it’s a polemic.

But, as a middle-aged white man, I take issue with the notion that it takes a Great White Man to fix the culture, and that shitting on every woman in the room to do it is just quirky, grumpy collateral damage.  I’m pretty sure that’s been tried, over here in the real world.  And here we are.

The British Humanist Association

June 21st, 2012 | daybook

If you click over here, you’ll see a list of the Association’s Distinguished Supporters, and quickly conclude that I have no business being in that company.

The BHA’s goals are fairly simple:

We want a world where everyone lives cooperatively on the basis of shared human values, respect for human rights, and concern for future generations.

We want non-religious people to be confident in living ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.

We campaign for a secular state, challenge religious privilege, and promote equal treatment in law and policy of everyone regardless of religion or belief.

These are goals I’m proud to be associated with.  Going forward, this means I may doing a few personal appearances in connection with BHA events, and speaking in my role as a supporter every now and then.

I’m not going to make lots of sales pitches, but if the BHA interests you, they like it if I tell you that you can join.  I believe the perks include the legal rights to behead sorcerers and put false messiahs to the torch, but I may possibly have just made that up.  Also Richard Dawkins will send you a pair of his used underpants.

(I took that photo at Great Brampton House the other week.  The Millers appear fond of their lawn art.  Also I probably made up the bit about underpants too.)

BHA on Twitter: @BHAhumanists

What Is The Legal Status Of The Weather?

June 20th, 2012 | daybook

People often laughingly ask why the English are so preoccupied with the weather.  Elaine Stritch once famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in England, wait a minute.”  If you lived somewhere where it’s been raining for the last nine months or so, you’d have an interest in it.  Also, of course, once every five or six years, it rains for a whole year, and then things get difficult.

This question occurred to me on the way to Under Tomorrow’s Sky in Eindhoven.  Being English, and given the above, the sky is therefore of some interest to me. So much so that it was right at the top of my list.

Yes, my handwriting is terrible.  Also, I was writing that in the back of a car.  Shut up.

In the early Nineties, I had family in Cornwall, and would take the coach to visit them.  Two things to note about the coach ride to Cornwall.  One, there was always a cheer when the coach crossed the county border into Cornwall.  Two, it was a sarcastic cheer, because the rain always started when the coach crossed the county border into Cornwall.  My family lived in a large Cornish town. And I recall once arriving to some chaos, because the rain had been so steady, for so long, that it had finally invaded the telephone network, and killed every phone in a twenty mile radius.  And there were neighbours relying on their phones – this is before the days of the ubiquitous mobile phone, remember – for things like emergency medical services.

We’re not even talking about major Katrina-like events here.  We’re talking about your basic constant shitty weather killing people by subtracted urban support services.

The city can be seen as a machine for living in, and one of its mechanisms is this: if I live in the city, an ambulance is fifteen minutes away, but if I live in the country, it’s fifty minutes away.  Corrections to those numbers, like traffic density and stresses on the health provider, apply to both, but the simple fact is that the hospitals are in the big towns and cities, and the closer you are to the hospitals the better your chances are.

Until the weather drowns the comms system or the land you’re on starts to slip due to a year’s worth of saturation or your town just ends up underwater.

I paraphrased Bruce Sterling’s bit, while I was on my feet at the gig: the cities will be filled with old people who are afraid of the sky.

But I recalled something else.  Since the 1960s, Russia has been guaranteeing good weather for its Red Square parades and state holidays by controlling the weather.  Here in England, in fact, it’s long been held that the Russians have pushed their rain this way.  No-one ever called them on it, of course, because they were entirely capable of sending things larger and harder than rain through the air towards us instead.  Also, obviously, we’re paranoid about rain.

What is the international legality of that?  I mean, if you could exert serious control over weather. Is there a legal framework for saving your cities from destructive weather by pushing that weather somewhere else?  What’s the right of response if you find yourself suddenly deluged by the rainfall that nature had originally aimed at a city that couldn’t take it?  Saving Wales by chucking eight feet of water at Ireland?

What is the legal status of the weather?

Something Rachel Armstrong said at Under Tomorrow’s Sky: Nature wants to smash us.  Until we get out the bleach.  Which I love, but I don’t know whether it’s possible to uncreate weather, what the long-term results of that would be, and if the short-term results simply involve that weather happening to someone else.  Which brings up the big questions should a protocol be evolved to deal with the actual Katrina-level events, which would constitute batting an event with the payload of a small nuclear device over someone else’s fence, with some uncertainty as to whether or not it’s been defused.

Or, worse: knowing it hasn’t been defused.

I have a lot of questions.  They feel like questions that may need answering by a lot of people in the near future.


I’m on Twitter as @warrenellis. Rachel Armstrong is at @livingarchitect.  Bruce has a private account at @bruces.