Friday, May 09, 2008


Disaster Fiction and Freaky Angels

Warren Ellis and collaborator Paul Duffield are taking a week off from their ongoing webcomic, FreakAngels, to give Duffield a bit of a chance to catch up. In place of the five pages of serialized story we've been getting the last few months, Ellis offers up an interesting rumination on disaster fiction, and it's place in the British cultural landscape.
Disaster fiction is a British staple. There’s probably some kind of deep-rooted psychological reason for it. Maybe deep down we feel we need to be punished for the slave trade or something. Or, possibly, we react to the fact that we’re an almost completely earthquake-free, monsoon-free, hurricane-free, Ebola-free and rabies-free chunk of rock in a temperate zone. We imagine great natural (or unnatural) disasters because we’ll never actually experience them. Literary survivors’ guilt.
That's a really interesting and novel response to the question of the "cozy catastrophe" (and an interesting parallel to Chris Nakashima-Brown's thoughts on the subject).

As much as I love Ellis's (and Cassaday's) Planetary--and I love that book--his stuff the last few years has been fairly hit or miss for me. I really enjoyed the Apparat one-shots, loved Nextwave and liked quite a bit about newuniversal, but the William Gravel stuff lost me early on, and I was turned off of Fell within the first half-dozen issues. Ocean was an interesting but ultimately somewhat flawed story, and Desolation Jones just seemed too much a catalog of stylistic tics for me to fully engage with it.

FreakAngels, though.... FreakAngels is so good that I ache that I didn't think of it first. Here's the kernel of the idea, in Ellis's words:
One of the great touchstones of FREAKANGELS is, of course, the work of John Wyndham. The genesis of FA came from idle wondering, standing outside in my garden having a cigarette one night, what would have become of his Midwich Cuckoos if they’d been able to grow up into disaffected and confused twenty-one-year-olds.
Lensed through a post-global-climate-change flooded London, the very simple idea of the Midwich Cukoos as disaffected post-adolescents is a genius one, and brilliantly presented. And online for free, no less. It's a terrific science fiction serial, with new chapters appearing (almost) every week, and is highly recommended.

Chris, I agree with you about a lot of Ellis's post-Planetary material (and whatever happened to the supposed capper issue?). It just hasn't resonated with me and hooked me although he is always impressive.
The Planetary epilogue is ostensibly still somewhere over the horizon. I expect we'll get it sooner or later.

I'm interested to hear your take on FreakAngels, though, Stu, if you get a chance to check it out.
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