In Normal, Warren Ellis (previously) sets a technothriller in a kind of rehab center for futurists and foresight specialists who've developed "abyss gaze" — a kind of special bleak depression that overtakes people who plug themselves into the digital world 24/7 in order to contemplate our precarious days to come.
Normal was written as four 50-page short stories, published in weekly installments (part one came out yesterday; you can preorder part two, part three and part four at $1.79 each) — they'll be collected between covers and published as a stand-alone novel in November by Farrar, Strauss, Giroux.
Ellis intends the work to be read in weekly installments on digital devices, though, and live the lives of the characters who are being driven mad "by the very technologies that prompted the characters' mental breakdowns."
"It became very apparent quite quickly that a lot of the people who work in futurism suffer from depression," he says. He first noticed it while talking to environmental forecasters, trying to save the world from climate change, and political strategists, working to predict the collapses of different nations. "A lot of those people end up sitting down with a bottle of Prozac and going to sleep, because it's miserable work that leads you to consider the worst-case scenario for everything," Ellis says.
In Normal, Ellis develops those two careers into different camps at the institution: foresight strategists, civil futurists who plan smart cities and try to offset the effects of climate change; and strategic forecasters, who help strategize drone warfare for corporate entities. When one patient disappears from the secure premises, leaving a pile of bugs in his wake, new patient Adam Dearden must bring together the two groups of futurists to investigate the mystery and fight against a common enemy.
But the story also deals with more common symptoms of tech addiction: Adam describes feeling tired as going into airplane mode, or people coming into focus as turning up a contrast control. At Normal Head, a remote forest with no digital access, futurists aren't just detoxing from their jobs—they're recovering from the dystopia of their over-reliance on technology.
Normal Book 1 [Warren Ellis/FSG]
Normal (Novel) [Warren Ellis/FSG]
Warren Ellis' Normal Brings Readers a Serialized Digital Dystopia [Charley Locke/Wired]