Against The Swirling Day

Orbital Operations for 2 June 2024

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. This glitched-out gif of a moment from WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES is kind of how I feel this week. How’re you?







Letters about the creative life by Warren Ellis, a writer from England. Was this forwarded to you? Subscribe.


📖 “For me, the act of writing is one of listening – when I write I never think it out in advance, I don’t plan anything, I proceed by listening.” Jon Fosse’s Nobel acceptance speeches, collected as A SILENT LANGUAGE (UK) (US)

🎞️ A restored version of THE SEASHELL AND THE CLERGYMAN (1928) by early female director Germaine Dulac, from a script by Antonin Artaud - Dulac may have been the first woman to have a a film banned by the British censors, because it was “so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.”

🎙️ I’ve been re-listening to my Natural Snow Buildings (and side projects Isengrind and TwinSisterMoon) records of late, including the limited edition tape box DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS. Which I have just discovered has also been released on digital, so you can listen to the whole marvellous six-hour ambient post-folk epic here.



Been a weird work week. PROJECT RED HOUSE fell over at the last hurdle: a friend told me that his people have a saying, “projects die at the oven’s door.” Happens all the time. Sometimes schedules and wants just don’t work out. At the same time, PROJECT NONESUCH came back to life, we are adding PROJECT BORLEY into the mix, I did some rush story consulting for an old friend, there are various other things floating around that I’m not attaching PROJECT names to because they are either a bit ethereal or they’re a year out from eventuating. Phoners with producers, processing of documents, creative pingpong with artists (close to a locked cover on PROJECT LOST SIERRA, which will be the first up in this tranche of new work) - suddenly everything is a bit of a glitched-out swirl. And I’m not averse to flashing lights and glitchy swirls, but everything seems to be happening at once and I’m having to adjust to a faster speed again.

Making myself eat fresh berries and almonds first thing, lean protein or fish with piles of vegetables and balsamic vinegar for lunch, cheese/apple/walnuts mid-afternoon, chicken and rice or potatoes at dinner (I’m one of those people who can’t cut carbs without falling over after a few days), nutritional powder oat-milk smoothie at night. It’s tedious, but I have a tendency to skip meals when I’m busy and then suddenly lose energy.

It’s not that #1000mphclub 2017-19 zone where I was eating painkillers for breakfast most mornings, but it is a lot of stuff happening in a few different fields, and up on deck right away are six big projects that are really fun, I’m really excited about, and are going to be really hard work. Plus a handful of joyful side gigs.

I am tired and I am behind and physically and mentally I haven’t felt this good in fifteen years. So I’m going in.

It’s probably just as well that it’s rained all year and I can’t get into the garden much.

And the day after I wrote all this, I got asked to do something else, so I’m shoehorning that one in too.

I know I said I wasn’t going to write here about new projects for a while, because they’re all on the slow boat, but I am compelled to note here for my own records that shit is getting a bit fucking weird. And fun.



Thomas Pynchon’s AGAINST THE DAY is a book that is almost impossible to finish. In many ways, it defeats the point of finishing it. It’s more than a thousand pages long, and each individual scene is pretty much the size of a novella. It’s a novel that you can dip into like an encyclopedia. It’s set between 1893 and World War I, and it came out in 2006. It’s in no way current. But I’m sitting down and writing this because it’s about everything. It might even be the defining novel of the 21st Century.

It is, as was much post-modernism, about settling the outstanding sociocultural business of the 20th Century. It was the first century bright and loud enough to make the mimetic novel’s tendency to want to tie up all loose ends into a joke. We live now in a century where the CTO of the CIA can proudly announce at a security conference that we can now know everything that happens everywhere in real time, but, as we have since discovered, being able to record everything is not the same as knowing and understanding everything. Every phone call in America is committed to storage for thirty days, but only the tiniest fraction are ever listened to by the state or anyone else. There are hundreds of characters in motion in AGAINST THE DAY. Even the mighty human swarm action of Wikipedia broke against the task of even tracking their action in chapters. In telling a story about the disconnected 20th Century, Pynchon’s omniscient view conjures the blare of the 21st, a world in which the number of people we can invest in and follow the lives of has been calculated by anthropologists. (It’s called the Dunbar Number. A hundred and fifty people.)

AGAINST THE DAY cycles through genres like a long-running television show entering its decadent phase. (And AGAINST THE DAY is certainly a decadent book.) There are sections written in the style of the weird boy’s-own adventures of the period, the “Edisonades” of young scientists romping through fantasy scenarios like demented Scouts. There’s a period detective story, featuring a PI who eats sub-toxic doses of dynamite in order to become immune to explosions. There’s a Western about anarchists, and a subplot about rare crystals that can split a person into two. Doubling is an important theme in the book, and sometimes I think that Pynchon is telling us that there is here: that that time is this time. For all its Zeppelins, Hollow Earth passages and psychics, there’s nothing more strange than the days we live in now.

The world of AGAINST THE DAY is as awash with scientific marvels as ours. Nikola Tesla even makes an appearance. A constant surges of wonders technological and mythical, just as ours: because we live in a world of myths too, the myths of other universes creating cold spots in the sky where they bump against ours, as in the theories of Laura Mersini-Houghton, and the ordinary technological marvels of satellites that speak to the slivers of glass in our pockets and the machines that print new human organs.

What I want to say about it is this: it’s a book about being on the brink. More so than CABARET, not least because CABARET has been defanged by the years and is now nothing more than a dumb receptacle for Weimar chic. CABARET is about being blind to the brink. AGAINST THE DAY casts the brink as an oncoming storm, the biggest one in history, the one that nobody could be prepared for. It’s the story of being in the eye of it. There were a few such eyes in the 20th Century. There will be none in the 21st, the era of what the tech community is pleased to call “disruption.” This is how we’re going to live from now on – surrounded by the swirl of strange and terrible weather, never quite knowing when the great black wall of it will shift and slam into us. AGAINST THE DAY will remain relevant, because it’s the picture of every minute of every day from now on. Amazing things, every single different kind of story we can imagine, and the altitude thrill of constantly being on the edge of bubbling fatal chaos.

AGAINST THE DAY is the double of the modern world. It’s the book we never want to finish.


 (Written in the mythic year of 2012 for EDICT magazine)




(Ignore the heart rate average - that’s from the Apple Watch I only wear for half the day)

The widget marked REUTERS is actually a stack - I can fidget-swipe through Reuters, Breaking News and Politico. Daily Art is hiding in a stack behind APOD. Alexa is behind Wikipedia.

The folder in the bottom left is COMMS - phone, email, messaging apps. The folder on the right is FUNCTION - settings, Chrome, Wikipanion, printer apps. The redacted black box is my banking app. Dumping twitchy stuff into folders so I have an extra step to get to them is an immense help.

Consider the marvel of picking up a handheld personal information device and seeing the weather radar. I love that. I have this thing nicely wrangled for usefulness right now.

You know how you’re not supposed to take your phone to bed at night? I do. It’s my alarm clock. It goes on Do Not Disturb and lays next to the bed untouched. I have a partner and a kid, and they’re both on Emergency Bypass, which cuts through the Do Not Disturb setting and rings the phone. If I’m home alone, I’ll set it to play music or a podcast before I put it down. Never ever ever open the phone in bed when it’s dark. Never scroll right before you try to sleep. I generally won’t touch the phone for an hour before I go up to bed.

An article I fell over a few months back: how actual famous people use (and don’t use) their phones.



WARRENELLIS.LTD is my personal notebook, updated daily. If you use a RSS reader, it generates a feed at .

Trying something new with the Morning Computer section this week. I wish it wasn’t so hard to create templates for WordPress posts.


📶 One of the best things on the internet is Jennifer Lucy Allan’s RUM MUSIC column at The Quietus.

📶 Troy Nixey’s magnificent short film LATCHKEY’S LAMENT

📶 I have a bookmark for Will Lord’s IG, and check this: an opalised glass knife.

This letter has been zapped to you via Beehiiv.

Relax and take a breath. It’s going to be okay in the end. They can take a while, but take it from me: the good moments do come back. I hope to be able to write to you again next week.


I’m represented by Angela Cheng Caplan at the Cheng Caplan Company, Joel VanderKloot at VanderKloot Law and David Hale Smith at Inkwell Management. Please add [email protected] to your email system’s address book or contacts and move this to your primary folder when you get a minute, thanks.