Orbital Operations

Orbital Operations for 20 August 2023

Can I ask you to do one thing for me right now? Please add [email protected] to your contact list or address book, and move this email from “promotions” or any other folder to “Primary.” Thank you.

And if you didn’t get last week’s letter, please have a look into your spam filter and drag it out to Primary if you find it.

My current guess is that last week’s letter to you had too many links in it, and triggered spam filters. I had a record number of spam reports last week, enough that the deliverability of future letters will be impacted. So, the more of you who do the above, the better the chance that everyone on the list will continue to get their letters.

So I’m going to do this week without any links and see what happens.

Personal catch-up: you may remember that my daughter’s partner was diagnosed with primary hyperparathyroidism after a long and worsening illness, and I ended up having to pay for what became a life-saving private hospital operation. The operation went well, and this week they were officially pronounced cured of hyperparathyroidism and discharged!

Weird side-note: their bones are re-growing. Visibly. Like, they’re getting adolescent growing pains, they’re getting taller and the tattoo on their arm has changed position.

Anyway. That’s one stress point gone for the moment. Only nine hundred and ninety nine to go.

Paul Kirchner, via 70s Sci-Fi Art

I was grubbing through my files and it seems that in 2014 I started to write something for Vulture about the Oliver Stone-directed film NATURAL BORN KILLERS. I evidently just left a fragment:

It was the sound of the guns that did it.

Guns in movies all pretty much have the same sound. A change in those sounds catches your attention. The clatter and pop of handguns and rifles is rendered as nothing compared to the entrance of Harry Callahan’s Magnum with its great flat POW in DIRTY HARRY. The guns in NATURAL BORN KILLERS have a grinding, mechanical sound, steel gears and hammers, before the explosion. These are the sounds of relentless murder machines.

If I could pick one thing that exemplified 1994, it would be NATURAL BORN KILLERS. It was a remarkably pure expression of the culture. It was about the things that everybody was thinking about. Not the least of which was the postmodern position and the awareness that the whole of 20th Century culture was fair game for the creative toolbox. The cultural memory was now dense enough that entire stories could be told using nothing but cultural memory.

This latter part was a notion that began for me with Stone’s JFK, and made it into my work in all kinds of ways in the late 90s and probably early 2000s, its last iteration probably being the “dream sequence” episode of NEXTWAVE that Stuart Immonen took to its ultimate level with his impersonations of Clowes, Pope, Mignola et al.

"Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea."

Guy Debord, 1967

Apparently I wrote this for someone in 2013, no idea who:

Revolutions don’t stop. Once begun, they continue to revolve. There somehow remains, against the will of history, a presumption that they spin around to a state of grace, a better position on the wheel. We fantasise this about politics, and in the digital space, in the creative world and within the engines of commerce. It’s rare that we consider the wild machinery of revolution and understand that disruption is a runaway process, and that eventually even the most powerful disrupters will themselves be disrupted. Only those actors crushed in the cogs of the process are remembered as “revolutionaries”. Those who meet success become the establishment, and are themselves targeted by the operations of the dreamstate of revolution.

Some years ago - 2019, maybe? - I did a thing for BBC Radio 6 Music where I was asked to present a list of tracks pertinent to my life and work and discuss them. I just found the original track listing in my files, along with some rough notes. Maybe you’d like to go and find them.


Where I got the title and tone of the book TRANSMETROPOLITAN from


(one of the first intimations that you could come where I come from, with these ideas in my head, and still get to make something with them)


And Billy’s here to say, you can be where you’re from and say what you want.


The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was very Important to me. To me, it all stills sounds like the future, the present and the past all at once, and it stands for inventing the future with the tools you have to hand.

 HEROES, David Bowie (album version)

Because it’s bold and it wears its heart on its sleeve, yes, but also because it’s careful, formal invention. The stepped mics, the guitar figures, a gateway for me both to Eno’s ambient music and to German experimental music.


For me, comics are percussion. You can do a whole journey with rhythm and tone.

 HOW MEN DIE IN THEIR SLEEP, Lydia Lunch & Lucy Hamilton

I can’t use any of Lydia Lunch’s spoken-word work on a Sunday afternoon, but this collaborative instrumental album captures a lot of the eeriness and the sadness in her spoken-word, I find, and her spoken word work was a fascination of mine.


Their first album was perfectly okay folky pop. And then, suddenly, they did something I’d never heard before – they took pop songs and turned them inside out so all you could hear were the guts. They found a way to make popular art raw and alien but you could still see the bones.

 THE VISUALIZATION, Phurpa (album Trowo Phurnag Ceremony)

I’m using this one to represent my long interest in musics from all over the place. It stands in for the idea that a writer should read widely if they want to be any good.

 SUNLIGHT HEAVEN, Julianna Barwick

(colour and light)

 BOLTS, Northern Structures

This is why I can’t live without music. I was stuck on a scene in my novel GUN MACHINE, and listening to Mary Anne Hobbs on the radio – she knows this story – and she played this, and all of a sudden I had the pace and shape of the scene I was trying to write. Music fixed the book.

 GREY AND GREEN, Felicia Atkinson 

This record was the recurring soundtrack to my novel NORMAL, and was often in my earbuds during a year when I was flying in and out of there, resting between periods of intense activity in LA.


This was a frequent go-to when writing CASTLEVANIA: for when you need the sound of the devil punching the world and the world beating the shit out of the devil. Yes, I know I can’t say “shit.”

 DEATH IS NOT THE END, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds


My name is Warren Ellis, and I’m a writer from England. These newsletters are about the work I do and the creative life I try to lead. I send them every Sunday to subscribers. Feel free to send your friends to orbitaloperations.beehiiv.com , where they can read the most recent letters and subscribe for their own.

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And I’m out. I hope you have a great week, do something nice for yourself, and remember to take a breath and just be where you are for five minutes, and that when you dream, you dream of a future you’d love to live in. See you next week, I hope.