In Which I Conclude That You Have to Be Insane to Write as Brilliantly as Warren Ellis

2013-048 to 2013-049

Crooked Little Vein

Gun Machine

Warren Ellis

43717 14739231

I only know Warren Ellis from Transmetropolitan and it’s more than enough of an introduction. Spider Jerusalem is one of the most fucked up, entertaining, and intelligent characters I’ve ever had the good fortune to read. For that I will always love Mr. Ellis.

I don’t know if you follow him on Twitter and Instagram, but you should. It’s entertaining, to say the least, and sometimes it’s nice to have someone call you a mutated maggot so early in the morning (or afternoon here, because time zone differences and I don’t really understand them and zzzzz).

Anyway, on to the books.

I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary Chinese novels these past few weeks because I’m getting ready for school. Next semester I’ll be back to teach Culture and Society of China to a bunch of post-graduates. Rather than just lecturing, I figured I wanted them to do a bit of the heavy lifting. So: more readings and book reviews this time around. Which means I have to pull my own weight and read all the books before assigning them to students.

I’ve read a few of the novels on my list, like those by Ha Jin and Mo Yan. Generally, I’m not a fan, because they are all so bleak and depressing and just hopeless. This is why my grandfather left China, you know. So we wouldn’t all end up bleak and blah. (Okay, not really.)

So after reading Lisa See’s extensively sprawling melodrama Shanghai Girls I decided I needed a break and went straight for a flat out fun gumshoe novel. I was going to read Gun Machine first but decided against it when I saw I had Crooked Little Vein on my Kindle. Chronology — an unfortunate obsession of us history geeks.

So not to throw out spoilers or anything, but let me just say that if you want a fun, old school detective novel with a bit of the paranormal and futuristic technology thrown in, you can’t go wrong with Ellis’ novels. Both are incredibly fast-paced, funny, and just filled with balls-to-the-wall action (literally, in one of the scenes in Crooked Little Vein).

Of course there are plot holes. Of course. These are detective novels; you’re bound to find some clues or plot twists unreal. But there are two things that make these novels really work: (1) crazy imagination and (2) crazy writing.

If you’ve read Transmetropolitan or any of Ellis’ other works, then you know how he writes. There’s absurdism in his words and he tends to be quite extreme, whether he’s describing the villain or an ashtray. He doesn’t shy away from the weirdest twists and turns; in fact it’s likely he relishes them. But the operative word, really, is “crazy”. You cannot write the way Ellis does, and write the sort of stories he comes up with, unless you’re insane. Brilliantly insane.

More importantly, Ellis writes with immaculate insight, so much that you cannot read his words and not let them stick to your gut and stain your soul. It’s inevitable. The Walk (Transmetropolitan #32) is still one of the greatest things committed to paper, and even someone as politically apathetic as I was shook to the core.

You could dismiss Crooked Little Vein and Gun Machine as “light” reading, but you would be a fool to do so. Warren Ellis is insane, but he’s the perfect kind of insane writer to document this insane world.

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