Last week Warren Ellis’s serialized novella Normal wrapped up. It was an absolute blast, and one of the best things I’ve read all summer.
Serializing this story was really effective. Every chapter gave you a little bit more, kept on asking new questions, and ended with a need to find out more. I haven’t taken the time to sit down and read it all in one go, but I’d bet it works as a tight concise thriller. It’s only four chapters, and doesn’t wander very far.
Ellis quickly builds the world of Normal, a facility for futurists who have gone mad. It’s an asylum full of the rightfully paranoid, a perfect setting for a locked room mystery. A lot of exposition is needed at the start, but it’s all doled out by wonderfully setting the scene and introducing us to the ensemble.
It’s a perfect story to read in the summer of 2016. The whole election season has made me want to reread Ellis’s stupendous Transmetropolitian. But while Transmet’s political vigor feels very relevant to current events, it’s still a gonzo science fiction story set in a far future. The remarkable thing about Normal is that it’s set now, and all of the technological advances seems horrifyingly plausible, something that believably exists that we just haven’t heard about yet.
That uncertainty and fear is at the root of Normal’s broken futurists. The world is terrifying, so what is anyone one going to do about it? And if the world is terrifying now, it’s only going to be more so later on. So what is there to do?
Drink your juice, take your pills, try to live in the world? Or break apart, try to skip to the ending? But if that doesn’t work, if the machine of modernity is too big to allow early exits? I don’t know, and Ellis doesn’t give an answer.
But he is asking those questions, and facing those fears, and his characters aren’t giving up. They might be crazy, this world might have damaged them in remarkable ways, but they’re still trying to solve problems in their weird ways. That’s comforting on some level. Or at least I’m going to hold onto that.