Orbital Operations, 10 September 2023

Brazen Blaze

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. I bring good news. You have lived to soon see it:

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The videogame I did a creative consultancy for earlier in the year apparently got announced this week. Here’s the announcement, which comes with art and video, and, um, here’s me:

It was actually a lot of fun. I hadn’t done videogame development in years, but this seemed sufficiently different to be worth rolling the dice on, and it was in fact the most fun I’ve had in that field since the days of HOSTILE WATERS. Lovely people, I’d work with them again any time.

It’s a VR game, and here’s the Steam page for it.

The most-often repeated piece of advice in visual storytelling is “show, don’t tell.” As I have railed before, this leads to the most egregious repeating moment in television: “You need to see this,” someone is told over a communications device, and then it cuts to that person standing with some other people looking at the thing they apparently need to see. This is because the writers have had “show, don’t tell” dinned into their heads.


Seriously, pick any bit of action tv, particularly streaming, and see if it happens in exactly that way. See how many times it happens. See how many times it happens in a single episode.

It’s a principle. Not a rule. Everyone else may treat it like a rule, but it’s not and you don’t have to.

There’s a bit in the old British show WAKING THE DEAD where crime scene manager Frankie tells prickly insane Detective Superintendent Boyd over a radio link, “Boyd, you need to see this.” And Boyd yells “Just bloody tell me!” Whoever wrote that is my comrade.

It slows things down. You need to choose slowing things down, not accepting it because you think there’s a rule that must be followed.

Like most things, show-don’t-tell is fine in its place. But it’s not connective tissue. It’s a bad end-of-scene gambit, it eats up useful time, it’s so over-used that it creates no anticipation or potential energy any more, and it’s not interesting. Images and words can strike sparks off each other with their frictions. The words can be telling a slightly different story than the image, and thereby enrich each other with meaning. If you want emotion, then emotion comes in the telling of something, not always the showing of it. Show don’t tell is a tool, not a rule - choose when to use it and you’ll surprise your audience.


I read somewhere, a few weeks back, that there is no longer a comics sales chart. Good. The old one was always wrong anyway. And, honestly, back in the day, people were obsessed with it. It did nobody any good, it made a lot of people crazy, and thinking about it too much gave you brain worms.

If you want to do something useful for the comics medium, start a magazine devoted to some decent review writers, art and craft focussed interviews, the history of the medium and some honest to god lit theory and practice. That would have more utility than knowing someone’s best guess at how much ROAD TO BUMHAIR-MAN FAMILY (AR FOIL VARIANT COVER Y) sold last month.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if comics were the only narrative medium to deliberately not offer a sales chart? A statement that it’s the work that matters, not the stats.

My friend James Callis has released a weird trailer of sorts for a forthcoming audiobook-like thing that he wrote and directed. If you zoom that image a bit, you’ll see a bunch of names from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. I kind of know the story of how that happened, but I’ll leave it to James to tell one day. But this is a fascinating sort-of trailer, and I am really looking forward to the whole thing. Go give it a listen.

I know James because we worked on CASTLEVANIA together and because he’s the lead of our forthcoming audio drama THE DEPARTMENT OF MIDNIGHT, which I wrote specifically for him.

Currently listening: Wishah و​ِ​ش​ا​ح by Youmna Saba - one track available now, and I’ve had it on repeat. It’s all voice, electronics, and a digitally enhanced and extended oud. Fascinating and beautiful sounds.

Rewatched all of the magnificent I CLAUDIUS, and I fell in, the other night, on a re-run of Michael Parkinson interviewing Jacob Bronowski, which was riveting. There’s a copy on YouTube, and it should be somewhere on BBC iPlayer right now. Bronowski, a revered figure in his time, was the writer and presenter of a series of TV documentaries called THE ASCENT OF MAN, framed by the writer as “a personal view.”

Imagine this: the most popular talk show in your country devotes an entire hour’s episode to interviewing only one person, a scientist and intellectual who just made a high-brow tv series about the development of society through its understanding of science. And the person, being asked relatively searching questions, is allowed to pause and think before answering. Nobody pokes or prods that person, nobody goes for laughs (although Bronowski himself gets a good one in), nobody tries to keep the audience hyped. Much of it is conducted in silence from the audience, in fact. It’s really worth an hour of your time.

Note: it was done in 1974 or ‘75, and Bronowski was an intelligent and progressive humanist who nonetheless only had access to the language of his time.

If you’re not aware of THE ASCENT OF MAN, I urge you to watch this famous 3.5 minute scene from it all the way through.

When we talk about the great rhetorical tv of the 1970s, we’re most often either talking about that scene or this one.

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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By the time you read this, I will hopefully be asleep, after a long and difficult week. But the sun still comes out, and when I rise, I will stand out in the light and enjoy being alive a little bit longer. I’d like it if you could do that too, just to remind yourselves that it’s good to be alive on Earth and that the alternatives are all kind of boring. See you next week.