Supergod PREVIEWS Essay By Warren Ellis


A superhuman is an alien life form. By definition. More than human means not human, not human anymore, not like us, something else. Our reaction to a superhuman in close proximity would be like our reaction to a spider: something so alien that it triggers a gut revulsion we have to train ourselves out of. Or, perhaps, our reaction to a serious schizophrenic. Schizophrenics smell different. They think different. You can see it in their eyes. They are Not Like You.

I remember the novelist Lisa Tuttle once saying on a TV show, “Every angel is terrifying.” Too perfect. Too alien. They don't think like us.

Black Summer was about superhumans who were too human. No Hero was about superhumans who were inhuman. Supergod is about superhumans who are no longer human at all, but something else. The third leg of a thematic trilogy if you like.

Supergod is the story of what an actual superhuman arms race might be like. It's a simple thing to imagine. Humans have been fashioning their own gods with their own hands since the dawn of our time on Earth. We can't help ourselves. Fertility figures brazen idols, vast chalk etchings, carvings, myths and legends, science fiction writers generating science fiction religions from whole cloth. It's not such a great leapt to conceive of the builders of nuclear weapons and particle accelerators turning their attention to the oldest of human pursuits. Dress it up as superhuman defense, as discovering the limits of the human body, as transhumanism and posthumanism. Stewart Brand once paraphrased Edward Leach: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” And, perhaps, there's still that little scratchy voice in the middle of the night: I don't want to be alone. I want there to be something bigger, something that moves in mysterious ways and wants only the best for us. And I will forgive it, the disgusting state of this world, and all the things in it that want to crush and kill me, and have faith that something incredible and invisible and unknowable will make things better. And so (in Supergod), just to make sure, I will build it and keep it by me. I will pretend it's a weapon, a defensive capability, a computing object or a construction machine — but really it is a Messiah.

But the Messiah, remember, is a very naughty boy.

The thing about building weapons is that there are always accidents. In Supergod, one of these creatures gets loose. And what it does is completely unpredictable, pretty much insane to a human perspective — because it's not human. Even if it's programmed to rescue you, it will not perform that task in a way you understand. These dreams of flying men who will save us from the corrupt and deadly world we live in — those are our dreams. We project human desires upon them. If they were real, they wouldn't think like that.

And that's why Supergod opens on a government scientist called Reddin, in a state of almost Lovecraftian mental imbalance, sitting on the Embankment of the Thames while London burns in the background, and thousands of corpses float down the river. London got off easy. You should see Mumbai.

Warren Ellis
Burning England
July 2009

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