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Barnes & Noble.com: Your new DC Comics/Vertigo graphic novel, Orbiter, concerns an alternate future Earth where the space program has been halted for ten years due to the apparent loss of a space shuttle mission. What was your reaction when you heard about the recent Columbia shuttle tragedy?
Warren Ellis: Pretty much the same as everyone else. Stark bloody horror and deep sadness. It's impossible to be cynical about something like that. I think a lot of people had been expecting it for a while, but that doesn't make it any easier when it happens, and no one ever wants to be right about something like that.
And then, of course, the people who'd read Orbiter were emailing and phoning me. It's always a disturbing situation to be in, to have written a fiction that suddenly stands so close to the truth. It's happened to me before, and frankly it's no fun.
B&N.com: What do you think the future of the U.S. space program will be, in light of Columbia?
WE: I think the extent of the damage to the human space flight program in America isn't really yet known. There are too many question marks over both NASA's handling of the shuttle program and NASA's operation in general. The International Space Station, which has always been just begging to have the budget slashed out of it, as it really only exists to give the shuttle somewhere to go, is now on a skeleton crew serviced by Russian capsules. The clock's turning back.
Basically, I'm hoping that I'm not right, and that American human space flight isn't over.
B&N.com: You like to dabble in "alternate history," as you've done with the recent Ministry of Space series (which posits that the Brits got a hold of Von Braun, rather than the Americans). Do you read a lot of alternate history yourself?
WE: I don't, actually. I read a lot of history, but the only alternate history books I've read that I can think of right this second are Philip Dick's Man in the High Castle and Stephen Baxter's Voyage. There may be more, but that's all I've got right now. I guess I'd rather have the fun of monkeying with history myself than watching other people do it. I have a sister book to Ministry in early production for DC right now, kind of the flip side to it: American Space Force, utilizing lost innovations by scientists like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Townshend Brown to bring about Flash Gordon spaceships in an otherwise painfully real 1939 America...
B&N.com: Where did the concept of Planetary come from? Was it boredom with the typical comic book story?
WE: When I started working for American comics companies, I found I had to learn about superhero comics very quickly. The concept of Planetary came partly from desperately wanting to empty my head of all this research, and partly to show that the things that made the original superhero, pulp thriller, and early sci-fi concepts so wondrous and compelling have been lost through endless bloody repetition. I mean, there's no such thing as the "typical comic book story," just as there's no "typical" film or book, but it does kind of try to address one end of the spectrum and show why it's gotten so damn dull -- and why we were interested in that kind of story in the first place. Stripping the muck off diamonds, maybe.
B&N.com: What would your Transmetropolitan character Spider Jerusalem say about the current state of the real world?
WE: Something extremely rude involving sexual knowledge of farm animals. Because, really, Transmetropolitan was all about transposing elements of the real world into a fictional framework, where I could have a better look at it. Transmet is science fiction as social novel. Only with jokes about sexual knowledge of farm animals.
B&N.com: You're amazingly prolific. When do you do your writing?
WE: Well, constantly, really. It's not a job where you can just turn the power on and off. So I'm found most days in a pub with my handheld computer and a foldout keyboard and my morning energy drinks, and I'm still in the office at home at 3 a.m., because you have to work when the power's on….
B&N.com: Is there a classic comic book artist from the past whom you wish you could have worked with?
WE: Oh, so many. In particular, I wish I'd worked with Gil Kane, who was one of the early pioneers of graphic novels.
B&N.com: What future projects can our Barnes & Noble.com Warren Ellis fans look forward to?
WE: I've just signed the contracts for a new science fiction graphic novel at DC Vertigo. There should be several new collections out during the year, including my crime graphic novel Scars, and the penultimate Transmetropolitan collection will be out at the end of the year. I'm keeping busy.
Posted August 29, 2003
Posted May 28, 2003
The book is well printed and carefully bound, with an attractive cover. There is little text, so it is primarily a book of illustrations. Its theme is 'They Are Waiting For Us Out There,' which has often been seen in other formats. The new variant is that the world, grown weary of hoisting religeous artifacts and millionaire playboys into orbit, utterly lost its patience the day a newly launched shuttle just plain disappeared. Didn't explode, didn't crash, just vanished into thin air (or thin space). The story opens ten years later, when the shuttle comes crashing home, to a home which has pretty well run down and been abandoned to a colony of squatters. Some of the most inspiring panels of the whole book depict this boy who, having been sent out to dump the morning trash, climbs a sandbar overlooking the sea to admire the view. Unfortunately, this is the first glimpse of the returning spaceship, and what follows from then on is rather unpleasant, in many respects and on many levels. The book carries a caution that it is for mature readers, but the only reason that seems to be necessary is the liberal use of foul language by all and sundry. It may be appropriate for the overbearing military person, but otherwise it is unnecessary and only detracts from the story. In any event, the story is convoluted enough and gruesome enough that it is not for children. But in any event, the ship has come to rest and an investigation naturally ensues. A crew is rounded up, centering around a quartet of experts and enthusiasts, a theme which is again familiar from other contexts. Such alien technology as is revealed speaks of islands of stability in the chart of transuranic elements, a nice hidden-line drawing, and some algebraic formulas; gravity and black holes are lurking in the darkness! One hopes that the psychiatric cajolery which is used to start the returning pilot talking is more solidly based than the physics of the propulsion unit. Neverthelesss, he revives and takes the gang for a tour in his newly outfitted chariot. We breathlessly await the sequel: have they simply absconded with an expensive piece of government property, or is this truly the beginning of a new era. If they return, those takeoffs and landings are going to be pretty traumatic. As we await further plot development, we realize that the impact of any graphic novel depends heavily on the illustrator. Those who like the drawing style will find the story to have been greatly enhanced thereby, and will relish having bought the book. (Some of the art may be available separately.)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2003
Writer Warren Ellis and artist Colleen Doran have, in Orbiter, fashioned a timely tale that re-ignites the dreamer in all of us. If you ever followed the news reports of spaceflight, or if you ever just looked up to the night sky and wondered what's out there... this is the book for you. By its end you'll know how the story of manned spaceflight was supposed to turn out. Ellis has created a trio of characters who represent the hopes and dreams of those of us who followed the space program through its ups and downs - and who were shattered by the disasters that befell it. These characters find new meaning in their lives when the space shuttle Venture returns to Earth ten years late and they are tasked with finding out what happened to it. The answer may just be the most important in human history. Doran has responded to the story by providing some of her most startling artwork to date. Using a style full of stark contrasts, she gives a glimpse into a world which lost hope when it lost the Venture. It doesn't always work, but it is very appropriate for the story. Her figurework is exceptional, with characters recognisable from body language alone, and her full-page renditions of the wonders encountered by the Venture on its travels are stunning. The subtle colours from Dave Stewart help bring out the very best in the art. While I would have preferred the book to have just a few more pages to fully flesh out the characters and the situation, and to provide a slightly more gentle ending, overall this is a joy to read. It belongs on the shelf of everyone who ever had a passing interest in the subject of man in space - and even moreso on the shelves of those who don't...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 8, 2003
Writer Warren Ellis and artist Colleen Doran have fashioned a timely tale that will help re-ignite the dreamer that lurks in all of us. If you are interested in the subject of spaceflight, or if you ever just looked up to the night sky and wondered what's out there - this is the book for you. Ellis has created a trio of characters who represent the hopes and dreams of those of us who followed the space program through its ups and downs - and who were shattered by the disasters that befell it. These three find new meaning in their lives when the space shuttle Venture returns to Earth ten years late and they are presented with the task of finding out where it has been for all that time. The answer to that question might just be the most important in human history. The story unfolds at a breathtaking pace, but knows when to slow down to give reign to the emotions of those involved in solving the mystery. Ellis's terse, no nonsense writing style brings utter believability to the proceedings. Doran has responded to the script by providing some of her most startling artwork to date. Using a style full of stark contrasts, she gives a glimpse into a world which lost hope when it lost the Venture. It doesn't always work, but it is very appropriate for the story. Her figurework is exceptional, with characters recognisable from their body language alone; and her full-page renditions of the wonders encountered by the Venture on its travels are stunning. The subtle colours from Dave Stewart help bring out the very best in the art. While I would have preferred the book to have a few more pages to more fully flesh out the characters and the situation, overall this graphic novel is a joy to read. It belongs on the shelf of everyone who ever had a passing interest in the subject of man in space - and perhaps even moreso on the shelves of those who don't...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2003
I've seen an advance set of page proofs from ORBITER and recommend this without any reservations whatsoever. Beautifully packaged, from its elegant dust jacket to the interior color pages, this Warren Ellis (writer)-Colleen Doran (artist) collaboration shines: Both are space enthusiasts who endorse the subtext of the book -- that space is our destiny, that we will go to the stars because it is in our hearts. An original graphic novel, the art by Colleen Doran -- penciled and inked by her -- is complemented by exquisite coloring. The overall effect is visually stunning: Splash pages and double pages with art of the space shuttle itself are striking. Ms. Doran has obviously done her research and homework on this book, because the details are dead-on: from side shots of a Huey helicopter to balletic shots of the space shuttle in space, the graphic storytelling -- the panel from panel progressions -- tell the story in a fluid manner. In the works for a year, this book may seem inappropriately timed, but I would disagree: The timeless message that mankind is headed to the stars bears repeating at a time when some people's visions are cast downward, ignoring the beckoning stars. An original graphic novel, this team of Ellis & Doran has done what I would have liked to see NASA do: Use popular culture, especially comics, as a way of reaching out to new generations of young readers, the space enthusiasts whose sense of wonder will be rekindled along with their imaginations with imaginatively rich literary-artistic fare such as this.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.