Wired UK Columnist Warren Ellis: 'We're living in the last days of the Roman empire'
These are truly the last days. How else can you account for Britain being ruled by an unelected leader who is also Scottish? Who saw that coming when William Wallace was having his bowels hacked out and incinerated in front of him at Smithfield seven centuries ago? Bloody nobody. This is the problem with writing fiction in the early 21st century: the real world outdoes you for madness every day. You’d be overdoing it, as a fiction writer, if you had Congolese bushfighters eating their enemies’ flesh during an ebola outbreak… except that it’s happening as I write.
It’s a serious problem. A couple of years ago, I wrote a scene into an early part of a novel wherein the protagonist is faced with a group of middle-aged men who get together to have exotic sex with ostriches. That is, opposed to plain old vanilla sex with ostriches. It only took a few years before Swedish authorities found a group of middle-aged men who got together to have sex with a variety of animals. Wonderfully, when confronted, one of the zoophiles said the dog had forced him into it. Sometimes I suspect the real function of communications technology is to illustrate, frostily and nakedly, just how frightening the details of life on Earth are. There was a time when it would have been hard for a writer to discover that, in New York, 129 paramedics have been implicated in investigations of sexual assault inside ambulances, with side dishes of child porn. In fact, the easiest way for a writer to find that out in the past would have been to stand on a Manhattan street corner, fake a seizure and wait. With legs firmly crossed. Correctly tuned, the internet brings a staggering volume of detail about every moment on the planet right to my desk.
For someone who earns a living through consideration of outbreaks of The Future, it’s all useful information, but that’s all it is. For the parsing and condensation of that information into knowledge, it seems we still need the structure of print publishing, a form that insists on time to think, digest and present.