reading notes for Normal (1-4) by Warren Ellis
He was one of the generations who typed all day, and his handwriting had lost the fluency of daily practice. The note read, “You won't find me. I am returning to the cycle of nature while I still can. I don't want to see the end of the future. Tell my father I'm glad he has cancer. Goodbye.”
Inside the boundary of Normal Head Experimental Forest's thirteen thousand acres lay, over the bones of a ghost town called Normal Station, the Normal Head Research Station
She was somewhere deep in the basement of the Uncanny Valley of faux-human speech
“Bad case of abyss gaze,” he said. “You?”
Professional demarcation,“ she said. “Foresight strategists on this side. Nonprofits, charitable institutions, universities, design companies, the civil stuff. On the other side? Strategic forecasters. Global security groups, corporate think tanks, spook stuff. You know the score.”
counting off every single networked object on city street corners, like botanists identifying every single obscure poisonous plant in sight. Staring into the abyss of the future while being acutely aware of being watched by every device, every piece of street furniture and every strand of modern infrastructure.
“It's a real question. Some of our guests come in with a serious aversion to phones. They can be like a huge symbol of everything that's weighing on them? Someone told me once that it's hard to talk when you don't know how many people are listening. Like phones are half-trained demons always ready to betray you.”
He sat there for a little while, feeling like he was waiting for his ears to pop from the change in pressure. It came to him that he didn't even know where his cell phone was. He wasn't able to tend the eight different messaging apps on it. He couldn't clear the email from either of his accounts (one open to anyone, one that was nominally private but which suffered significant bleed-through from the other). No Twitter, no Instagram, none of the public-facing services he farmed hourly. No podcasts! He was subscribed to a hundred podcasts. He winced at the gigabyte load that would be waiting for him when he retrieved his phone and reached some signal. The news apps would spin and churn away, kicking out notifications until the phone's battery was sucked dry. His quant band was gone, he noticed: he wouldn't be tracking his steps, his blood oxygen, heart rate, local EF field activity, or the five other things it automagically quantified and uploaded and shared. Digitally, he would actually appear dead. A few of his services would send updates to social media daily. The weather report in his last recorded location would post[…]
He tended to personally dismiss “nature” as stuff that mostly rots and leaks, even as he made the right noises and faces to environmentalists and geoengineers.
There was so much silence. The quiet felt like a huge new country that he could wander around inside for years without ever meeting its coastlines. A silence the size of the sky.
She fixed him with a gaze that said that she had looked into the void and that she was really not impressed with it.
““Why do you keep saying ‘we’?”
“Because there is more than one sapient entity within this skin, of course. Are you an idiot?”
“We think you might be. We think you have never really listened to your internal voices. How can you never have heard their call? Only idiots are so insensible to the true sound of the body. Your voices are likely starved, anyway.””
You’re just like the others. You cannot hear the biome.
“Some ninety percent of this body is bacteria. Yours, too. Gut biome connects directly to the enteric nervous system, which runs a hundred million neurons that connect directly to the central nervous system, and controls most of the body’s supply of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that operates memory and learning. And all this is commanded by the biome. The gut records. The gut knows. Gut instinct? We always understood. We always knew that we just had to listen to the biome.”
‘The Audience’ was how people working in psyops habitually referred to the witnesses and targets of operations.
People who have tried to look into the future in order to try to save the world and have been driven insane by it
“They crossed the aisle, from Foresight Strategy to Strategic Forecast.
The entire space went deathly silent.”
Negation Risk Scenario Planning.
“Everyone looks a bit Cubist to me, these days, to be honest,”
““I’m from the land of helping make sure living in a city doesn’t kill you while you sit in a room in a city devising ways to kill people.”
“That’s awfully sweet. You have fun with that while I work with a team to arrange water security so you’re not drinking out of ditches while drawing your little maps.””
“Money. Whatever prehistoric goat-fiddler invented money invented the end of the world. Only the Romans understood what happened. They knew we created a thing like a god, and they gave it a name and a fucking temple. Juno Moneta, mate. ‘Moneta’ from ‘moneres,’ which is Latin for fucking warning. They said it.”
“Money,” Clough declaimed, “is the dark unknown god driving us all towards certain bloody doom. A giant formless thing from beyond space with a million genitals. It’s the thing in the horror films that you should not directly look at lest you go mad and all that bollocks. It’s crushed the world into new shapes and all we want to do is drink its dark milk because that is the nature of its horrible fucking magic
“KERS. Kinetic energy recovery system. We’ve been testing all kinds of versions in cities for generating electricity from people walking on sidewalks. This is just a totally miniaturized version, you can tell by that armature. This thing makes its own energy by walking. I mean, it’d run down in the end, but it could have months before you’d have to plug it into something.”
“People. You’re not crazy if there really are robot insects listening to every word you say.”
I used to be very important once. It was just that, after a while, nobody could stand the way I thought about things
The grim impetus of deep history that looks out of his eyes and tells him what to do.
“Adam searched for the word to describe the nostalgia for things you never knew. He was sure there was one, and that he’d once known it. Nostalgia for a word you once knew. Adam chuckled again, and forced the childproof lid off the plastic canister of pills.
Saudade? No, but it was similar.”
What was wrong with him, that he’d thought it was okay to live in a world without sleeve notes?
He hadn’t noticed, it seemed. Maybe everyone else had. Maybe everyone else saw that he had the fog of the abyss around his shoulders and kept their distance, and he really was just the last one to see it.
Sehnsucht. That was the word, wasn’t it? Unusually short for a German compound word with a complex meaning. Nostalgia for a distant country to which we have never been, but which nonetheless may be home. An intense yearning for a comforting alien perfection
a good futurist should know when to quit. A good futurist should know when the game is over, and bail out. The game he helped invent. What the hell else can you do, when there’s no future left to forecast and nothing to strategize for or against? A done deal. The end of history.
“There’s been a slow burn of unrest in Namibia for the last few years. A protester got shot dead the other summer. The elections that winter didn’t do much for it. High unemployment, lots of weird sociopolitical tensions. There’s a whole subsection of youth who were orphaned during their war for independence, and they weren’t being looked after by the state. The U.S. State Department calls it a ‘critical crime threat location,’ which always kind of stuck in my head as a great piece of, you know, official language.”
There was nothing of him. Just something moving around inside the space of him. And … he was fog
When you wish a man who isn’t there would go away, the last idea you want to entertain is that there are more like him. That’s what I couldn’t get out of my head in Windhoek and Rotterdam. Because if you’re going to make flights of micro-drones with fog camouflage so they can blend into urban street-level backgrounds at mid-distance, is Windhoek in Namibia the only place you’re ever going to fly them? There are foggy, rainy, cloudy, smoky cities all over the world. There are cities with narrower streets, more bends and curves, riddled with more alleyways and ratholes. If you’re working with projections and sprays and metamaterials, then it doesn’t even make sense to use human-shaped camouflage in most instances. If the man who wasn’t there was a test article, then I would bet you real money that the only test involved was the shape. No. Those things are going to be everywhere. Half-visible, half-autonomous, and networked.
“The thing about the future is that it keeps happening without you.”
Government is barely the tip of the iceberg now. Non-state actors, asymmetrical warfighters, skunkworks, security multinationals, who the hell knows. We lost the battle for our streets a long time ago. We gave them up. Worse: we gave up the ideas and data freely to the people who used them to take our streets from us
We’re now in a place, you see, where we will never again have a private conversation. We’re never really going to be alone again. We will never again be in a state where we believe that we’re not being watched. Some futurists talk about a thing called the Singularity, where accelerating progress in technology becomes a runaway effect. Like an ascending graph that suddenly becomes a vertical straight line. Think of a Surveillance Singularity. A condition you cannot go back from, because it’s become a runaway effect, like critical mass in a reactor.