Author, comics legend and uncanny futurist Warren Ellis has gifted us with his insight into your pressing questions about the coming days of tech, free speech, the music industry, space travel, which Earthbound species is most likely to have alien origins, and much, much more.
On what to leave behind
Andrew Harding asked: It's 2015 and the world is about to end. You, Warren Ellis, are allowed to choose just one piece of pop culture that will be left behind as a record of our civilization's existence for future alien explorers to uncover. What telling book/graphic novel/TV show/movie etc. would you want them to see so they could gain the best understanding, either figuratively or metaphorically, of who we were?
I would leave AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon. It's not necessarily perfect, as it doesn't, I think, encapsulate all of human civilisation — but it does a very good job, I think, of capturing our human drives. And it will also confuse the shit out of aliens as an added bonus.
Second choice: James Joyce's ULYSSES, just to see if you really could replicate Dublin down to the last brick from the book.
Romero Stokes asked: So, I've been following you for years. Comics and Prose. I've subscribed to every iteration of your newsletter, so I probably know the answer to this already, but: what writers/thinkers/creators/makers to you follow/read? What inspires you? Not where do you get your ideas from, but who energizes your cognitive batteries?
Tell my hosts here to ask me about this one day, because I don't really have time right now for the massive list this would require. Also, of course, it changes all the time. If you read my newsletters via orbitaloperations.com, you know I still listen to old Terence McKenna lectures, just because I like the way he frames ideas and clearly takes flight in his extemporaneous talks and starts making shit up. Wonderful storyteller. I will read or listen to any number of storytellers you perhaps wouldn't expect me to just for the way they tell stories and use language and timing. Garrison Keillor, for instance. Sometimes you hear him lose the audience as he goes deep into something and he never once loses his nerve before he gets to the turn in the road.
On future art
chanciusmaximus asked: I'm a struggling musician in an ever changing industry that's down right unfair to it's principle content creators (musicians). I was wondering where you see the future of music in the next 5-10 years.
Even worse than it is today. Sorry. Anyone here remember when "home taping was killing music"? They didn't see Spotify coming. Music As A Service was just another humiliating beating for musicians, and there will be more to come. The good news is that people are always, always working to find ways to make things better, as well, and gig ticket sales are still increasing by volume year-on-year.
blarneybox asked: What are the trees!? Where did they come from!? What are they here to do!? When is the next issue coming out!?
Mweyer asked: Re-Reading "Transmetropolitan," are you proud of how well you predicted today's media-heavy/message-light world or are you like Paddy Chayefsky with "Network" and hate how your satire has become fact?
I don't do predictions. I just took the media landscape of the time of writing and wrote it larger and just a tiny bit crazier. TRANSMET is probably more like looking in a slightly distorted rear-view mirror.
On our imperiled world
Fear Glas asked: The IPCCs Representative Concentration Pathways 2.6 and 4.5 both require the sequestration of billions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, even with deep cuts in emissions. If we go above RCP 4.5, we almost definitely face unmanageable climate disruption.
Given that we don't even produce food or mine iron ore on this scale, given that the scientists are telling us that any other form of geoengineering is unacceptably risky, and given that the growth in emissions shows no sign of slowing anywhere near sufficiently, how do you propose we do this? Otherwise, this discussion seems irrelevant, because we are frakked.
How about we stand on our hind legs and just fucking LEARN how to do it? I mean, the issue seems to be "well, we don't know how to do that, so we should just sit upon the floor and tell sad stories of when we could breathe." How about we do that thing that makes us great: stand up and say, "Well, shit, time we learned how to do that, right?"
Natalie asked: No one wants to confront the issue of Muslim Jihad without in the same breath utter false equivalences to what Christians did a thousand years ago, obscuring the nature of what is actually happening right now. And after the Charlie Hebdo murders brought out the inner coward of the free press in service of the Muslim apologists, I can't see the paradigm shift in our favor. My question is: In light of this, how does the future of free speech look?
Talking of false equivalences, you seem to equate free speech with speech you personally agree with, which is not how free speech works. I suspect we may not come to a point of agreement on the basic tenets and benchmarks of the question.
I Keep Forgetting My Key asked: Sometimes I think about drones and 3D printing and electronization of records and the relationship of these things to terrorism. Compared to a decade or two ago, it is now far more possible for an individual or small group to do things to harm and disrupt society and its institutions (including but not limited to the state) - plastic explosives aren't too hard to come by, so suddenly any random drone enthusiast can possess similar weapon for long-range targeted killing as the CIA. Could (ab)use of these and related technologies be what causes modern civilization (such as it is) to fall apart?
Here's the thing that always gives me trouble with this kind of question: at any point in history, you could swap those technologies out with any others. There was a time where ranged group longbow fire was a disruptive technology. Field cannon. Gas production. Name your own. There was a time where a working man could own a crossbow just as good as any the ruling elite had access to. And I have a feeling that the answer is, wait a few years, because in a few years the field cannon will make ranged longbow fire obsolete. Which is to say, no disruptive field technology takes us out — we just adapt and make scarier stuff. We are intelligent, self-reflective tool-using pursuit predators, and are essentially unkillable until the atmosphere turns black with our shit and chokes us out.
Matt Volk asked: What happens to society around the world if an EMP bomb explodes over the US? Over Germany?
An EMP big enough to cover the continental US? I put barbed wire around my garden and start whittling spearpoints. And I live in Britain. Same thing if one goes off over Germany, because I'm an hour away from Berlin by air and EMP bombs don't respect borders.
On future tech
SidewaysBorges asked: What do you think will be the next truly annoying tech fad? That is, any piece of tech (or tech-related activity) that while popular or trendy for a time is on reflection mindlessly inane or simply the cause of an inordinate amount of stupefying rage at said tech/activity.
Everyone's forgotten how we used to consider it rude when someone looked at their watch in a social situation. What do you think will happen when a critical number of people ostentatiously wear very expensive watches that blink and buzz and light up for their owners' attention?
AchtungHobo asked: How far away do you think we are from the singularity and would you transport your consciousness into a machine to live longer?
Ask me again when the latter technology is proven to be more than fantasy. I would transport myself to any number of places to live longer, but only if I know the trains are running.
Rogue_Nine asked: How far into the future would you say the creation of a system similar to the TransmetReservations is? I've found the idea of visiting a past culture as a reality fascinating since I first read Wild in the Country.
Experimental archaeology is a real thing. I have been to, for instance, the Anglo-Saxon village at West Stow. The Reservations are really just a state of serious money and time being put into experimental archaeological practise, which is something I'm obviously supportive of.
splendic asked: Is anybody truly prepared for just how intense the culture shock is going to be as VR and massively intricate server-side "gaming" environments explode over the next few years?
But are you prepared for the possibility that, for the second time, VR will just turn out to be some clunky shit that most people don't want? Are you ready to be treated like a Google Glass user because you get your entertainment from sticking an iPad on your face? Social embarrassment will murder almost anything.
On space, the
final screwed frontier
Darren Orf asked: My question is about space because who doesn't love space? Where do you see humanity in 100 (or however many) years as a spacefaring species, and how do you think we're going to get there?
"Or however many"? Shall we just pick a year? The year 10,191! The spice must flow!
Let's go with a hundred years out. No. We're all screwed and we're going to die on this rock. We're not going to be a spacefaring species because not enough people want it and our political structures aren't built for the long game. I hope I'm wrong about the Chinese in this latter aspect. I hope to all hell that the new microwave drives will make a liar out of me. But I don't think the sociopolitical impetus is there. The booster rockets aren't even there any more.
There remains the possibility of us riding out the next few hundred years before we all choke and burn to death as a remote-viewing species, finding faster ways to sling probes with better transmission facilities all over the solar system. Apparently the people at JPL are going to be given HoloLenses to play with, so I presume someone's already thinking about AR/VR streams from JPL servers connected to probes.
Best case scenario is that the Chinese, who have been assiduously emulating the US and USSR space programmes of the 60s/early 70s, go full-on and decide they need a nuclear rocket like NASA's abandoned NERVA programme. I just need one guy to say, fuck it, let's stick an exhaust cone on a five thousand megawatt nuclear reactor and see what happens.
I'm of the opinion, right now, that it all comes down to the drive system. Chemical rockets are the Kon-Tiki of crewed space travel. What is required is a drive that brings space travel down to sailing-ship timeframes. And I believe NASA closed its breakthrough propulsion physics research group.
Beatboxes asked: Which of the species which does, or did, live on Earth do you think we'll discover in the future was alien the entire time?
You heard it here first, folks. The truth is in your backyard.
Warren Ellis' next project, INJECTION, with Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, launches from Image Conics in May. That's the same month that his TREES with Jason Howard at Image returns for its second series. The future's looking bright from where we're sitting.
Now if you'll excuse us, staff writer Darren Orf and I are off to get matching "We're all screwed and we're going to die on this rock" tattoos engraved on our person.
Image: Dave Wachter for the Transmetropolitan Art Book