In Warren Ellis' New Thriller Normal, Preparing for Humanity's Downfall Has a Price: Your Sanity

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Think long enough about the future, where humanity is almost certainly doomed, and you might start going insane with despair. But what happens when your entire job is preparing for that future? In the latest techno-thriller novel by Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Planetary, Red, etc.) you go to the one place that can help: Normal.

Normal follows Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist who is checked into Normal Head, a facility that helps treat what becomes known as “Abyss Gaze”—a mental breakdown that starts developing in people who spend their lives looking to the future, looking for ways to avoid (or prepare for) humanity’s ever-approaching fate. But when a patient at Normal Head goes missing under bizarre circumstances, Adam finds himself thrust into a conspiracy that could change the very way people look at and interpret the past, present, and future of our species.

io9 is proud to debut an exclusive excerpt from Normal below. But that’s not all—Warren Ellis himself will be joining us for a live Q&A on io9 this Friday, November 18th, from 1-2:00 PM EST. [Update: This was originally set for Wednesday.] So start prepping your questions for him now! You can talk about the book, which will be released November 28; you could ask the legendary writer about his other work (including Nextwave, G.I. Joe: Resolute, The Authority, the list goes on); or maybe you just want to pick his brain about humanity’s impending doom, which seems to be sort of in the zeitgeist nowadays.


But you have a couple of days to think about that. For now, enjoy this excerpt from Warren Ellis’ Normal:


The room was very yellow. In a northern country, the color would have been called “sunshine yellow,” because they weren’t very sure what color sunshine really was. Adam supposed it could in fact have said “happy pus” on the tin. The walls had been painted within the year, the armchairs and sofas were relatively new, and the thick carpet had been both vacuumed and shampooed recently enough that he could still detect the scent of the soap.


Doctor Murgu was in substantially worse repair. A cut was delicately taped closed over her bushy right eyebrow, and a bruise on her left cheek was blooming like mandragora. She’d changed her white coat, but hadn’t had time to change the blouse underneath. The loop of blood spatter had been smeared and reduced by wet tissue paper, but not erased. She looked at her clipboard— Adam had yet to see a networked object here— and then up at him, straightening her back as she perched on the edge of the sofa and pulling up a smile from somewhere under what ever had happened to her earlier in the day.

“Adam,” she said. “Can I call you Adam?”

He just nodded. This is how the cycle went. Emotional incontinence, and then hyperfocused on the environment but drained of words. No sensory input/output. Human-shaped camera. Two facets of terminal panic, he supposed.


“I imagine the whole process of getting here has been both exhausting and confusing. So I’m going to start by telling you what’s been happening. You got very ill in Rotterdam, and your institute got in touch with us. We had you transported to Schiphol, which has a direct flight to Portland. We drove you straight here from PDX. Do you remember anything about Rotterdam?”

Adam shook his head. It was a bit of a lie. He knew he’d been at a conference about coveillance. Some happy solutionist idiot with banana- yellow glasses and hair like a startled badger talking about how watching the watchers makes for a balanced and benign social substrate. Yellow glasses like this yellow room. Yellow is supposed to make people feel good. He wanted to make people feel good about a surveillance arms race between the state and the populace. Adam remembered losing his temper. He didn’t remember much about what he said, except that it seemed to upset a lot of people.


He remembered beginning to cry afterward. He wasn’t sure where he was when it happened, but he figured it must have been a public space. He remembered hands, arms, being lifted.

“Okay,” she said, making a note with a propelling pencil. “Do you know how it started? Your illness. The thing that upset you?”


“Windhoek,” he said, almost choking on the word. “Namibia.”

“ Were you there during the riot?”

He nodded. Her pencil scratched across the paper. Without looking up from what seemed to be a very detailed note, she asked, “How are you sleeping?”


“I don’t even know,” he said. Her eyes snapped up. “I’m being honest,” he said. “I was given a lot of medication yesterday. I think it was yesterday.”

Doctor Murgu flicked the top sheet of paper on her clipboard up, skimmed the sheet below. “Yes. It looks like you had three separate episodes.”


Adam took a deep breath, pushing the bases of his thumbs into his eyes. “I am trying to be honest because I know that the more information you have, the better you’ll be able to help me, and I must need help because I’ve been shipped to Normal. That means I have to tell you that I’ve been seeing things that aren’t there and sometimes I’m not completely sure what’s real. Hell, I saw a man earlier by the trees here and I’m not sure he was there. Lela may have just been humoring me during a hallucination.”

“What man?”

“Dark hair, big heavy coat? I think he saw me looking at him and he walked into the forest.”


The doctor smiled. “It’s all right, Adam. I think you saw Mister Mansfield. He never takes that coat off .”

“He was really there?”

“He certainly was. As much as he ever is. He’s been here a few days, but we haven’t even been able to do his intake interview yet. He hates to be looked at, hides in that coat, won’t communicate, and spends most of his time wandering the grounds. I’m not sure anyone’s even seen him eat. So what I want you to understand from this, Adam, is that you are far from the most wounded person ever to enter Normal. And I note that you met Lela. Lela has issues with things like permission, and time. She’ll be a good friend, but I need you to carry with you the knowledge that everyone is here for the same reason, Adam.”


Adam shook his head. “Doctor, are you telling me not to trust anyone here because they’re crazy?”

“Absolutely,” she said. “ You’re all batshit.”

Adam looked at her with total focus. She smiled. He gave a sudden burst of laughter.


“There you are,” Doctor Murgu said.

It was like all the air rushed back into him. His chest filled and his heart started beating again. His skin stung.


She leaned forward, keeping the eye contact. “Adam, you’ve had a nervous breakdown. I know it’s been a tough couple of days. But you’re here now, and things start getting better for you right this minute. You’re going to have some bad moments, because your mind is wounded. But they are going to get less and less frequent. This is a safe place. No prying eyes, no pressure, no eaves-dropping, no agenda. You can start looking away from the abyss now.”

Even he was tired of crying again. It didn’t feel better. It was just exhausting and boring.


Excerpted from NORMAL by Warren Ellis, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Warren Ellis. All rights reserved.