WARREN ELLIS LTD Articles.
I finally saw The Milky Way in late 2017. A bit of it. I’d never seen it before — never actually seen that many stars at one time before. The night after that, I saw the Northern Lights for the first time. Well, a bit. It was white, and dilute. But clearly there. The others in my party had seen them the night before. I’d gone to sleep early and missed them. The photos the next day were luminous, electric green curtains. What I saw was more like smoke. It was still riveting.
Nobody in my party could believe that I’d never seen the Milky Way before.
I might have been able to photograph it. But I decided not to try.
The reaction to seeing something extraordinary is always to try and photograph it. Not least because a photograph will always last longer than memory, and will in fact trigger the deeper experiential record of memory. But, sometimes? I almost missed the moment of my daughter’s graduation because the phone camera’s focus weirded out at the last second. Sometimes, the right thing to do is to not take the picture.
Why bother trying to photograph the Milky Way when I can just lay on my back in a Norwegian forest at night and stare at it until it fills my eyes?
Sometimes, you don’t take the photo. You just live it.
A dystopia is a speculative situation where the absolute minority of people habitually experience hope and joy. Embedded in every piece of dystopian fiction is utopian thinking – the speculative condition where the absolute majority of people habitually experience hope and joy.
Commercial dramatic fiction requires tension between two poles. It requires stakes, change, a goal to advance towards. Conflict. Dystopian fiction is almost never actually about the dystopia itself (although writing dystopia is good, crunchy stuff with lots of detail to relish in the authorship). Dystopian fiction is almost always about the utopian reach that’s suppressed by the situation.
(*There are exceptions to every rule and statement do not @ me)
The request for more hopeful, optimistic and utopian thinking in popular drama comes around every few years. Utopias run up against the structures and strictures of popular drama. It’s hard to tell a conventional drama story when, um, everything is awesome.
(Unhappily for everybody, a utopia, as a perfected human condition, is a static society, and static societies are dystopias.)
Dystopia is one of those parts of speculative fiction that function as early-warning systems for bad sociocultural weather, a function I’ve talked about at length elsewhere. Dystopia is also about the fight for a better world. Every well-written dystopia is, unlike most other forms of drama, already always about hope.
I don’t think HG Wells and Raymond Chandler ever met. I don’t know that they would have had a lot to say to each other if they did. Perhaps Wells might have gloweringly reprimanded Chandler for being mean about his friend AA Milne’s detective novel. Or perhaps he might have asked for a go on Chandler’s wife, I don’t know. But I like to imagine that an interlocuter bringing them together – perhaps in 1940, Wells’ twilight and Chandler’s emergence – would have explained why they should talk.
It was HG Wells, in large part, who made science fiction into social fiction. You can trace back the roots of that movement to Mary Shelley and beyond, but it was Wells who both concretised it and gave it common currency. Science fiction is nominally about the novum, the new thing that disrupts the world of the story. But THE INVISIBLE MAN is not about an invisibility process, just as THE TIME MACHINE is not really about a time machine. The great Wells fireworks were novels about the human condition, the sociopolitical space and the way Wells saw life being lived.
In crime fiction, of course, the story is nominally about the crime: the disruptive event introduced into the world of the story. But THE BIG SLEEP isn’t about a murder, and FAREWELL MY LOVELY isn’t about a missing person. Chandler’s great leap – and of course there were antecedents and even peers, but it’s Chandler who is indelible – was to make crime fiction fully an expression of social fiction.
These became the dual tracks upon which our mediation of the 20th Century ran. Science fiction and crime fiction contextualised, explored and reported on rapidly changing and expanding modern conditions. And they did it in ways that spoke to the felt experiences of our lives, to our hopes and our fears, in ways that other fictions, or even other reportage, couldn’t approach. Science fiction and crime fiction explained to us where we really are, and where we might be going.
According to a story in the local paper, an independent data company has established that, post Bank Holiday and everyone coming to town to go to the beach, the Southend R number is 1.6, as opposed to the official number of 0.6 for the East of England. (I think our local R was still around 3 in April.)
My travel Kindle (yes, I have two Kindles, one for the bedroom and one for my shoulder bag) lives in the office now. I’m buying more books on Kindle today. As I’ve said before, the joys of the Kindle are 1) that I don’t fill my already overstuffed little house with more books 2) I can carry a library in my hand. Having two Kindle Paperwhites is a terrible indulgence, but it’s not like I fly around on private jets or anything.
So I’m buying books. And the Amazon recommendations system – and yes, Amazon ecology, bad for things, I know, but see above about small house and also listen I’m paying real money that I know reaches writers in some form in the end because I are one — seems to think I’m extremely interested in grief. To the extent that it feels like Amazon’s version of that Facebook experiment to see if it can make people clinically depressed. Oh, you like books from Fitzcarraldo? Here are just the ones that specifically use the word “grief” in their descriptions. You’ve bought Booker Prize winners? Here are recent Booker-nominated works that mention the word “grief” in the top paragraph. You like science fiction books? These are our suggestions for you, please note that they are all about grief.
Three months in. I’ve gained about eighty pounds and aged a hundred more years. As I noted in the newsletter yesterday, I’m trying to check out of the news scroll as much as I can. The news from America is obviously particularly awful right now. (And, correct, “the UK is not innocent.”) As an old white guy from five thousand miles away, any comment I share is, frankly, probably in bad taste and a lot less useful than quietly donating and carefully checking in with people. My distant voice, unfairly charged as it is with privilege and advantage and reach, is not the voice that needs to be heard right now.
The death figures here will go up tomorrow, because Monday’s number is always under-reported. Lockdown has eased just a tiny bit — not enough to make any difference to me — and with the R number still hovering under 1, will probably not stay in that position for long. I walked out to pick up something from the corner shop earlier, and the streets around here seem to be returning to normal. The only other masked people I saw were a young Indian couple, walking down the street with their masked little boy in a pushchair. I smiled, and then remembered to nod and lift my shades too, because smiles tend not to transmit through masks unless you’re looking for it and have eyes to read.
My brain, at this point, is pretty much useless, and everything is ten times harder than it used to be. But, over the last few days, I’ve been hearing local stories of people getting sectioned, suicide attempts and the like. So I’m going to quit whining and log out of everything on the internet and get on with my shit.
Probably another six weeks of this to go. Time to open the last bottle of wine.
Bon mot from Geoff Manaugh today, as he too notes the passing of Beyond The Beyond:
“… the pull of regular blogging—the urgency of it, the personal routine and daily discipline of writing online, the sense of audience, the faith that other people out there share these interests—has changed dramatically with the new internet, today’s cramped and disappointing version of online life that is now nothing but reaction GIFs and Donald Trump.
“I remember hearing a story once when I was a kid about a guy who crashed his car out on a remote country road somewhere. He got pinned in place somehow, unable to move or call for help; his car’s tape deck was the kind that would auto-flip to the other side of the tape, play through to the end, then flip back over and do it all over again, in an endless loop. The guy allegedly spent like seven hours pinned in his still-running car, listening to Wham! the entire time, over and over and over again, with no way to turn it off. That’s what the internet feels like now, only it’s not George Michael, it’s Donald J. Trump and the Hydroxychloroquine Cure, and it’s enough to make anyone quit blogging.”
Poking at SoundCloud in between clearing things off my screen. Wow, I haven’t looked at that in a while. I used to check my Stream page every morning to see what was new, and I guess I fell out of that habit. And, it turns out, haven’t updated my follows or profile in forever. I really need to clear that out soon, at the same time as I clear out my twitter lists, for the day when the internet has something to talk about that isn’t The Current Thing.
I keep a very basic wordpress.com instance that is a log of many of my actions on the web – pinned links, likes, posts and reposts, that sort of thing. When I like a track on SoundCloud, the track embeds in that simple instance, a playable element in the trail of clicks the site collects. This more sophisticated and advanced WordPress hosting system arranged by WordPress Special Circumstances resists a lot of that jerry-rigged automation: I suspect simply because it is more secure. This bugged me a little at first. And then it made me realise that it’s not a bad thing. It makes me have to think and act a little bit more in order to put things into this log. I’m leaning into it.
Not as much, of course, as my companions on the Isles of Blogging who do well-considered weeknotes or carefully constructed daily-ish single posts. Because I’m me, and because somebody has to show those people how to not do it. But blasting out a trail of my half-awake clicks is, I suspect, not how to do it any more. Going full-channel requires someone to act as a director of programming, after all.
Now I just need a programming guide. Radio Times.
My brain is an officially useless handful of wet shit. I’ve written about 400 words today, not counting emails. Went for a short walk to pick some stuff up — I don’t recall the last time I took a long walk for anything, and I’m not sure I even could any more — and the roads were full of cars, and the pavements were full of dogwalkers and alcoholics. All through this thing, the only people you’d reliably see outside are the street drinkers. Once a week, we all go outside to clap for the NHS (we live next door to a nurse, and there are NHS workers neat the end of the street, so it’s not necessarily that performative, remote thing for us), and neighbours we’ve never spoken to before wave and yell “See you next week!”
My daughter and her partner, over in Brighton, have been buying brewing equipment on my Amazon account and are about to begin bubbling up god knows what kind of fatal alcoholic nightmares in their new place. We haven’t seen them since my birthday in February. I suspect we may not see them until August or September. I was supposed to be in LA for a job this autumn, a month-long consulting gig in a room. That is being, how you say, adjusted.
I’m working on adjusting to the adjustment, again. And running out of red wine, again.
So my WordPress iOS app is now set to post to the category timestamp by default. I take a photo, load it into a new WordPress post on the app (which takes an extra tap these days, as I have to select the “image” block), and press Send. Not quite seamless, not quite fast enough, but it does the job of sending an “I’m alive” signal into the ether first thing in the day. The image doesn’t crosspost to Twitter any more, which, again, is not ideal for my purposes. But, if that doesn’t get fixed or worked around, then I guess Twitter doesn’t want me crossposting images from WordPress to Twitter any more, and that’s a clear enough signal that my distancing from social media displeases social media and I should just fuck off for good.
This is actually kind of interesting to me. Facebook long ago began depreciating posts that don’t originate from inside Facebook, making sure fewer people see them. If Twitter is now reaching the point where it only wants you to see images that are posted from inside Twitter… well, that’s an interesting corner to turn, isn’t it?
With work dropping out of 1000mphclub speeds and giving me a little space to think, I turn again to this blogchain. Because, as a commercial writer, I need some kind of regular pulse on the internets, but, as a fair facsimile of a human being, I need to live in my own private way and outside social media. And LTD is the ongoing development of a personal solution to these issues.
Interesting post on WPtavern by Justin Tadlock:
“More than anything, I want personal websites to be more personal.
“We’re still in a somewhat frustrating transitional period where WordPress is not even halfway to becoming the platform that it will be. We are still beholden to our themes, though less so than before.
“Whether it is a digital garden, a plain ol’ blog, or some new thing we do not have a term for yet, we will all be able to put our unique spin on our personal spaces. It is part of the web that we lost in the last couple of decades with the emergence of the CMS. “
(Note that I’m bolding quotes now because I don’t like the blockquote style on this theme and haven’t had the time to figure out how to rewrite it yet.)
While I personally like the chronological timeline, he also makes the point that a personal site doesn’t have to be that, which may be a useful thought for someone out there who hasn’t gone full wiki directory (hello, Kicks Condor, I can see you).
I realise, of course, that nobody anywhere wants to look at photos of my food. But it does help me remember to eat. Personal log, right? Off I go into the tall weeds of the internet, never to be seen again…
In another month, I’ll have enough wall space to break out another whiteboard and do some visual planning on how this space works. It will not look like the picture on this blog post, which hurts me to look at.