Listening to Warren Ellis’s Debut Novel

“The design is such that the sound of the book being opened onto a table has infrasonic content, too low for human hearing. The book briefly vibrates at eighteen hertz, which is the resonant frequency of the human eyeball. … It’s a book that forces you to read it.”

That bit of sci-fi product design is from Crooked Little Vein, the debut novel by longtime comics writer Warren Ellis (Planetary, Transmetropolitan, Fell, Desolation Jones). Given that Ellis’ blog ( regularly includes MP3s, often of the industrial-electronic variety, it’s no surprise that music has a solid place in his novel. It also features a woman who listens to Manhattan traffic the way Native Americans “listened for the future in the sound of horses,” an apparent radio-dial-surfing side reference to the Conet Project (“some weird broadcast of a woman doing nothing but reading numbers very slowly”), a government assault on a pirate radio station (“Pirate radio operations have been reclassified as Broadcast Terrorism”), and a pimp’s associate whose ringtone is Harold Faltermeyer’s Bevery Hills Cop ditty, “Axel F.”

Oh, and Ozzy Osbourne peeing on the Alamo. As that last reference might suggest, it’s a dirty little book, quite purposefully so. There’s a woman on my bus who seems to only read novels by people like Dorothy Sayers; she happened to peek over my shoulder during a sequence involving a sexual predilection for Godzilla — I don’t think we’ll be sharing a bench on the bus again any time soon. To say it’s a dirty book is an understatement. I continued reading it after I got off the bus, walking the last quarter mile to work and laughing out loud quite often — and I wondered if it is illegal to read this book near an elementary school. In Ellis’ paranoid near-future, no doubt, the airspace between a book and one’s brain is policed by the FCC.

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