Communion Of Dreams


“Greetings from a fan.”

That’s how the email started. Here’s part of how it continued:

Just completed Communion Of Dreams, and was delighted with the story!  In fact, I sat with my Kindle, a good pipe and spent the time to read it front to back in one sitting.  Its been a long time since I found a story that captivated me like this, a joy to read and keep.  Thanks for the wonderful work, this is what good fiction is all about, a storyteller with a good tale and and time to enjoy the story in the telling.

It’s always good to hear from people, to get feedback. Particularly when they so obviously have such good taste and discerning judgment.  ;)

Isaac has arrived. I think already today we’ve had more rain than we’ve had in the previous two months, perhaps longer. Last I checked the forecast is for another 4″ or more over the course of the weekend.

No flooding yet. Not of either the weather nor the ideas variety.

That’s OK. These things arrive when they do, like kindly reviews and comments in the email.

Jim Downey



Waiting for it.

They say Isaac will be paying us a visit.

* * * * * * *

I’ve previously talked about the Drake Equation, and how new information from a host of sources is changing the calculus of expectation — expectation of what is waiting for us out in the universe.

Well, via Wired and BoingBoing, there’s a new fun graphical tool now available to explore the Drake Equation. Check it out:

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist?

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:

“But in any event, as Arthur Bailey said this morning ‘where are they?’ Where are the aliens? That’s what’s bothering me.”

* * * * * * *

They say Isaac will be paying us a visit.

I’m in a somewhat weird headspace right now. Maybe that’s the reason for it. We’re suffering such a drought that it seems almost surreal that there may be rain this weekend. And not just a little rain: current forecast models say between two and six inches, most of it in about a 24 hour period. That won’t break the drought, but it would cause flash floods.

Like I said, surreal.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking — and thinking hard — about the Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well. But all my thoughts seem to be random, chaotic. Nothing will quite ‘gel’, to use another reference from Communion of Dreams.

But when it does, I think there will be a flood.

Jim Downey



“The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy”

That’s the title of a NYT article a friend sent me. It’s long, more than a bit depressing, and probably something that every aspiring author should read.  More than that, it’s probably something that every book consumer should read. Because if you’re going by book reviews listed online, well, you might be reading nothing more than “artificially embellished reviews” in the words of one former business owner who brokered such reviews for authors.

Why do people do this? Money. From the article:

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

And why do authors seek such services? Same reason. Gaming the system to have a bunch of fake reviews posted helps to boost sales, building the dynamic which leads to a self-supporting “best seller.” People love the idea of being part of something successful. This is why marketers of all sorts seek to create “buzz” — that kind of attention is the Holy Grail of selling anything. Again, from the article:

One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.

So, what to do about it?

There’s no easy answer, for either a writer or a reader. Ideally, you should be able to read a review and tell whether the person actually read the book or not. But you can’t trust that. Believe me — I wrote advertising copy for several years after college and before grad school, and I got to the point where I could convince almost anyone that whatever product I was writing about was *FANTASTIC* whether or not I had ever even tried the product, let alone whether I liked it. Any competent writer could churn out ‘reviews’ for books they’ve never read by the dozens.

So, what then? Because reviews really do make a difference — having a solid body of honest reviews has helped others decide to give my books a try. That’s why I keep asking people to do them: it helps. A lot.

But what I think helps even more is word-of-mouth. Well, the internet equivalent of it, anyway. Which is people — real people — posting their thoughts/recommendations about a book on their favorite forum/blog/twitter/Facebook wall. I haven’t hit this mechanism nearly as much as I probably should since the initial launch of both Her Final Year and Communion of Dreams, but that’s because I hate bugging people.

But I’m going to swallow my pride and ask when it comes time to kick off the Kickstarter Project for St. Cybi’s Well that I keep mentioning. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that the Kickstarter will either succeed or fail according to how much promotional support it gets from people who have read Communion of Dreams.

So if you read that book, and enjoyed it, and would like to read another component in my over-arching story — be ready to help spread the word.

Thanks. In advance. There will be more tangible expressions of my appreciation coming soon.

Jim Downey

PS: Editing (Sept. 3) to add another link addressing this problem: RJ Ellory’s secret Amazon reviews anger rivals 



Have a shot of oxygen.

There are a lot of ways we die. Massive trauma. Heart failure. Diseases of the organs which cause other body systems to shut down. But one of the more common mechanisms of death is lack of oxygen in the blood, what is called hypoxemia in the medical community. Without adequate oxygen in your blood, your brain and other organs start to die at the cellular level within minutes (in most conditions).

Hypoxemia can be caused by many different things, including a wide range of diseases and a variety of trauma. But if you can keep the blood oxygenated, you can buy time to treat the underlying cause. In the case of someone who has drowned, for example, this can be as simple as CPR. In other cases a heart-lung machine can keep someone alive while awaiting a transplant.

The problem is that sometimes it is impossible to buy that time. Maybe CPR isn’t viable. Maybe you’re too far from a hospital for other immediate treatments. Maybe it’d just take too long to get someone stable. In which case, this might work:

n a new study, published online today in ScienceTranslational Medicine, he and colleagues report the development of microparticles filled with oxygen gas that can be injected directly into the bloodstream. The particles quickly dissolve, releasing the gas and keeping organs, such as the brain, from suffocating.

* * *

The microparticles are tiny bubbles whose surfaces are membranes already used clinically to administer chemotherapy drugs and ultrasound dyes. But while those microparticles release their contents slowly, Kheir and his collaborators designed oxygen-containing particles that would dissolve as soon as they hit the bloodstream. They then tested the microparticles in rabbits breathing air low in oxygen. Within seconds of receiving the microbubbles, the levels of oxygen in the rabbits’ blood rose from a dangerously low 70% to nearly 100% saturation, the ideal level.

Promising. Very promising. From the abstract of the paper:

We have developed an injectable foam suspension containing self-assembling, lipid-based microparticles encapsulating a core of pure oxygen gas for intravenous injection. Prototype suspensions were manufactured to contain between 50 and 90 ml of oxygen gas per deciliter of suspension. Particle size was polydisperse, with a mean particle diameter between 2 and 4 μm. When mixed with human blood ex vivo, oxygen transfer from 70 volume % microparticles was complete within 4 s.

As noted, this is based on very proven technology: liposomes. These lipid-bilayer artificial “cells” are commonly used to deliver drugs in the bloodstream, and they are very well understood. This new application changes the liposome construction so that it dissolves much more quickly, allowing the oxygen to infuse the bloodstream almost instantly.

It is currently in animal trials. But based on how well the technology is understood, and the potential benefit it offers for a wide variety of life-saving applications, we could easily see this approved for human trials in the near term, and available for deployment within a few years.

And I just may need to find a way to work it into the next book

Jim Downey



Admiration.

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

* * * * * * *

I remember July 20, 1969. As I’ve noted before:

I was at a Boy Scout camp outside of St. Louis when it happened. That night, we all sat around a big firepit, and tried to watch a small black and white portable television with bad reception as Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) E. Aldrin, Jr. made the first human steps onto the Lunar surface and spoke these words (links to audio file on Wikipedia):

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And the world was changed forever.

* * * * * * *

Death wins. We all know this. They knew it during the early years of our space program, and there were even contingency plans in the event of the death of the crew on the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong himself thought there was only about a 90% chance of his returning from that mission, as well as only a 50/50 chance that they would successfully land on the Moon (which he always considered the most important aspect of the mission).

But it is a risk which is worth taking.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday I got a note from someone who I had just met and spent some time with recently. Following that experience, they had gotten and read Communion of Dreams, and they wrote to tell me this:

I’ve finished Communion of Dreams. Sir, had I read it before I met you I feel certain that I’d have behaved differently in your presence.

Yesterday, after finding out about Neil Armstrong’s death, I spent the rest of the day thinking about the man, reading about him.

Probably the most telling thing is how he lived his life after retiring from NASA. As has been often cited (even by me – and again I recommend the very rare interview he gave last year ), the man was remarkably self-effacing. He didn’t take credit for being the first man to set foot on the Moon. He didn’t exploit the fame which had come to him unwanted. He could have easily cashed-in on his status, reaping riches for endorsements, becoming a permanent celebrity.

Instead, he joined a small university program as a professor of Aerospace Engineering.

Endorsements (of a very limited sort) and serving on the Board of Directors for several large corporations came later. But he still kept a very low profile, trying to live his life as much like a ‘normal’ person as he could.

Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? In a world where celebrity distorts everything — where even my modest accomplishment with one self-published novel would prompt someone to react differently to me — Neil Armstrong managed to live and die without it completely warping who he was.

I honor his place in history as the first man to step foot on the Moon. But I admire him much more for who he really was. That depth of character is what made him a hero.

Godspeed, commander.

Jim Downey



Another small step for a man.
August 25, 2012, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Apollo program, NASA, Neil Armstrong | Tags: , , , , , ,

Wow – Neil Armstrong has died.

I find that I am incredibly sad at this news. There isn’t much else to say.

Jim Downey

Image from xkcd, of course.



99.29%

I’ve written before (even recently) about the tree in the image at the top of this page. It’s locally known as the “Williamson Oak”, named after the family which owns the property where it grows. It is, simply, magnificent, and the oldest/largest such tree in the world.

And it is suffering from the drought which is having a devastating effect across the whole state and region:

The tree was starting to show signs of distress, Williamson said. “The leaves are beginning to curl up a little bit, and they have turned kind of brown. I think it has aborted a lot of the acorns. And the leaves turn upside down to keep from losing moisture.”

The ongoing drought didn’t get much worse in the past week, but things in Boone County and across the Midwest did not improve much either. According to the drought monitor report issued this morning, 99.29 percent of Missouri is in extreme drought or worse. The remainder of the state, a tiny sliver of the northwest, is only under a “severe” drought designation. More than one-third of the state, including most of Boone County, is designated as undergoing an “exceptional drought.”

Typically, the older a tree is, the deeper the roots it has. So older trees tend to fare better in severe droughts. And the Williamson Oak is in the Missouri River bottoms — the river’s natural flood plain, where ground water isn’t that far below the surface. In other words, this tree should have the best possible chance to survive this drought. Still, things are so bad that this was the image on our local paper’s front page last evening:

John Sam<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Williamson<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
releases<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
850 gallons<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of water at<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
the base<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of the<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
350-yearold<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
champion<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
bur oak<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
at McBaine<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Wednesday.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Six generations<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of his<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
family have<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
owned the<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
land since<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
the 1830s.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Williamson<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
plans<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
to release<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
roughly<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
1,600 gallons<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of water<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
around<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
the base<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
of the tree<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
each week<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
for the next<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
several<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
weeks.” /> <img src=
John Sam Williamson releases 850 gallons of water at the base of the 350-year old champion bur oak at McBaine Wednesday. Six generations of his family have owned the land since the 1830s. Williamson plans to release roughly 1,600 gallons of water around the base of the tree each week for the next several weeks.

Yeah, this drought is bad. The worst I’ve ever seen.

Jim Downey




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