Review: Normal by Warren Ellis

9780374534974“He was a futurist. They were all futurists. Everyone here gazed into the abyss for a living. Do it long enough, and the abyss would gaze back into you.” So writes Warren Ellis in his novella  — originally published as a digital short — Normal, a concise but immensely satisfying psychological thriller.

When futurist Adam Dearden suffers a nervous breakdown, he is taken to a secret hospital — the “Normal Head Research Station” — which is a recovery station for those whose minds have come apart as a consequence of their occupation. When you spend your life contemplating the direction of mankind — are we circling the drain or reaching for the stars? — you’re bound to unravel, and that’s precisely what’s happened to the patients at Normal. The futurists are themselves divided into distinct types, and their differences essentially boil down to those who’re optimists and those who’re pessimists; is the glass half full or half empty? Are we headed for catastrophe or greatness? Ellis’s text doesn’t provide an answer, but will certainly make you wonder…

After one a fellow patients disappears in impossible circumstances, the patients at Normal are advised that government officials are launching an investigation — which is something nobody wants. So Adam forms a necessary alliance with a section of his inmates in order to get to the bottom of this mystery: and the answer might just break him once and for all.

It’s rare for me to wish a book was longer — I’m always so quick to advise cuts and merges rather than more pages — but Ellis’s premise deserves more room to truly shine. Normal is a novella that’ll make you quiver, but really, it could’ve been something shook you to your core. It’s a blast while it lasts, and I suppose it’s always best to leave an audience wanting more rather than having them glancing at their watches, but with some expansion, Normal could’ve rivalled Ellis’s fantastic novel Gun Machine. Instead it’s a solid detour, and a fun sampling of the writer’s work. Bring on his next novel.

ISBN: 9780374534974
Format: Paperback (191mm x 127mm x 12mm)
Pages: 200
Imprint: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publish Date: 11-May-2015
Country of Publication: United States

What To Gift Part 1 – Converting Non-Booklovers with Batman

I love finding books under my Christmas tree but not everyone agrees. It is the sad fact of Christmas shopping even the most ardent bibliophile is occasionally forced to confront. Despite our extensive research into the best books and our loving efforts at picking out the perfect text, not everyone wants a book. In fact, for some people, a book is closer to the “soap on a rope” end of the gifting spectrum than a soap on a rope.

I know; they are scuppering your plans of ordering every Christmas present online at once and then spending until Christmas laughing at panicking shoppers. Books are also wonderfully easy to wrap – no awkward spiky or squishy bits here. People who don’t appreciate their booktitude are clearly delusional and wrong and should be forced – at gunpoint if necessary – to read until they damned well learn to enjoy it. You are preaching to the choir here, or would be if the choir wasn’t off book-shopping.

But the truth is that some people simply don’t enjoy reading novels and long texts and there is no point continuing to insist on gifting them with books, no matter how awesome, unless they need either kindling or doorstoppers. But if those people are movie fans, do not despair – you may be able to pick them up something that is bookshaped and available in bookstores, if not actually what you might traditionally think of as a book.

You just need to try a fresh approach – gifting a graphic novels. No, you don’t refer to these as comic books and they’re not just for kids. They are cinematic stories, usually with lush visuals, amazing effects and great characters – all the things that you would expect to find in great movie. Many of them have become great movies.  While everyone knows about the superheroes that made the leap to the big screen (Spiderman, Superman and Batman, oh my) you’ll find a lot of the plots of more cerebral movies come straight from the pages of a graphic novel.

Examples that recently made the transition to the big screen include Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Warren Ellis’s RED and Frank Miller’s 300 and Sin City. All “This. Is. CHRISTMAAAAAS!” jokes aside, 300 is stunning book about heroism and sacrifice, reimagining the battle in which 300 Spartan soldiers fought to hold back the entire Persian army. The series won five Eisner Awards, including Best Writer/Artist (Miller), and much like the movie, this is not one for kids. Also not for kids but a definite for the rebels, revolutionaries and Hunter S. Thompson fans in your life is Warren Ellis‘s Transmetropolitan.  (You can read the first issue of the comic here.) It follows the adventures of Spider Jerusalem, chain-smoking and swearing gonzo reporter of the future, as he battles corrupt politicians, general idiocy and society in general. (Some readers may find it a bit too lewd, crude and challenging. As a litmus test, if they find swearing offensive, this might be one best to leave out of their stocking.)

If you are dealing with either a younger reader, you might be better off going straight for the superhero novels – X-Men and Superman and Spidey. While there are many superhero graphic novels out there, you’ll find on reading them they are less “put on pants over tights and FIGHT CRIME” and more interested in what makes their characters tick.

This allows you the dual pleasure of insisting that this is a mature gift and allowing you to liven up Christmas dinner with philosophical discussions on who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman.

And the answer to that one is, of course, Batman. If you’re not clear why, you need to read more graphic novels. I suggest Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and then following up with Alex Ross’s stunningly beautiful Kingdom Come.

You can never have too much Batman. In fact, if anyone wants to buy me something for Christmas that isn’t a book – well, you know where to send any caped crusaders. I just have no idea how you are going to wrap him.