Monday, April 07, 2014

Switchblade Honey - 2003

Over the life of this blog, I'm probably going to end up talking about everything Warren Ellis has ever written, but I wanted to start with one of the gems that a lot of people don't often see - the 2003 graphic novel "Switchblade Honey."

"Switchblade Honey" is a standalone story that has no relation to anything else, and sprang forth, as Ellis tells it in his introduction, as a side effect of his friendship with Patrick Stewart. I won't spoil the wonderful anecdote that he tells in the intro, but the part I will tell you is that he eventually decides he wants to write a sci-fi story where someone like Ray Winstone was the captain. Winstone isn't well known here, despite appearing in high profile films like "Sexy Beast" and "The Departed," but in England, he's known for playing a real force of nature. So Ellis set out to take all the conventions of Star Trek and mainstream sci-fi spaceship stories around that time and spin them utterly on their head.

At some point in the future, the human species has gone interstellar. They end up meeting the Chasta, and they make an utterly horrible first impression. So the Chasta decide to wipe humanity out of existence. They're working their way backwards towards Earth, killing every human along the way on their path to the homeworld. And they're encircled our solar system, boxing us in as they press forward.

Since all conventional thinking has failed, the remnants of humanity decide to think way outside of the box - they get a disgraced captain, John Ryder, give him a one-of-a-kind prototype ship they aren't even sure fully works, let him pick a crew of fuck-ups and criminals, and set him loose. If they can't be the army, they can be the guerrilla fighters. And they don't have any support at all. Even their own people won't recognize them. They are the absolute last ditch effort of a species desperate not to be wiped out - us.

It's a rogue's story, but rogues on the side of angels. Ryder and his crew are troublemakers of the highest order, but they're doing what they think is right, because they don't want to be the only five humans left alive. There's some sense of expectation, to try and save the species, even if a lot of it isn't worth saving. (Suffice to say, the Chasta's dim view of humanity isn't entirely unwarranted.) But some of it is, and that's enough. That has to be enough.

We'll talk more about Ellis again  later, as he's written a number of things that I utterly adore and not enough of you have read. I picked this one today because it's obscure enough that a lot of Ellis fans haven't probably read it, and those of you who haven't read anything of Ellis at all will have a nice self-contained piece that won't run you an arm and a leg, and doesn't trail off in the middle. The trademark things of Ellis are mad-cap characters (check) and razor-sharp dialogue (check), and you'll find them in spades here.  Perhaps the only downer about this particular book is that it's black-and-white, as I think having color would've helped the entire piece, but hey, it's a book about space, and space does have a lot of black.

No comments: