Communion Of Dreams


No, Seth would never do *THAT*.

I should be working in the bindery. Really.

But I came in here to send an email, then paused to check MetaFilter, and saw something which scared me. Something not exactly safe for work.

So of course, I had to share.

Welcome to the future:

That’s the business end of a, um, male sex toy.

Yeah.

And if that isn’t scary enough, here’s this bit from the actual tech article:

It also occurs to me that as amazing an experience as it is, it might be even better, in a purely physical sense, if I was given full control over it – maybe even just a series of different patterns like most girls’ vibrators have. I bring the idea up with RealTouch Director of Sales, Scott Rinaldo, and he tells me that a plan to open-source the development of third party apps is already up and running.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Jim Downey

 



Scraping by.

I’ve been entirely preoccupied with a big book conservation project which landed in my lap unexpectedly and needed attention right away (and trying to keep work going on St. Cybi’s Well), but a news item I saw the other day has been kicking around in my head. Er, so to speak. It’s the notion that the quality of dental hygiene & health in the modern era is *much* worse than it was before the advent of civilization. Here’s a good passage from one of the better articles which sums this up:

Our mouths are now a gentrified shadow of their former selves. And as Carl Zimmer described earlier this week, ecosystems with an impoverished web of species are more vulnerable to parasites. He was writing about frogs and lakes, but the same is true of bacteria and mouths. The narrow range of microbes in industrialised gobs are more vulnerable to invasions by species that cause disease, cavities, and other dental problems.  “As an ecosystem, it has lost resilience,” says Cooper. “It basically became a permanent disease state.”

Of course, current thinking is that this is due to a fairly radical change in diet between the two time periods, with our reliance now on domesticated grain crops.

But I know the real reason:

“He had a nutty theory that early man had been shortlived, but impervious to disease. Something about being able to trace back mutation clues to some proto-genes that suggested a powerful ability to heal.” Jackie frowned.

Yeah, that’s from almost the end of Communion of Dreams. And is a topic we’ll revisit in the prequel.

Hehehehehehehe.

 

Jim Downey



Not brick by brick.

A number of friends and others have asked me how the writing is going on St. Cybi’s Well. It’s a natural question, but it’s a little hard to explain. Here’s the gist of what I have been telling people:

Using the Scrivener software, it really is a different process than what writing Communion of Dreams was like. It’s less linear. But it’s more balanced & comprehensive. Let’s put it this way – I have components now done in all 19 chapters of the book (plus the prelude). Some of it is just landscape descriptions, drawn from my previous travelogues. Some of it is character sketches. Or specific scenes. Or notes about something which needs to happen.  It’s different. It feels more productive. But it’s kinda hard to explain.

This morning, after I got up at 3:00 for physiological needs, as I was trying to get back to sleep I was thinking more about this (well, and thinking through some scenes for the book — I do a lot of that in the middle of the night), and I came up with a couple of analogies which may help non-writers understand what the different processes are like.

First is constructing a building. Writing Communion, the metaphor would be that I picked a nice location for my building, leveled the ground, poured a concrete pad of sufficient size, and then started building a brick wall on one corner, working my way around the entire pad brick by brick as I went, making determinations as to locations of doors and windows and whatnot according to a rough plan I had in my head.  Once the exterior wall was completed, I put a roof on it, then proceeded to do much the same process inside the building for interior walls and all that, using the mostly set exterior as a hard limit to what could be done internally.

With St. Cybi’s Well, the metaphor would be that I went to an architect/engineer, and did all the design and layout of the building in advance. Before a single footing was dug, or materials ordered, I knew pretty exactly how I wanted the entire thing to look. Then once all that was sorted, the actual construction was done entirely differently. Footings were dug, concrete poured. Then a steel framework was put in place for both the interior and exterior walls, and roof trusses positioned. Once this internal skeleton was finished, then I would start to put up sheathing material for the walls and roof, proceeding to finished surfaces.

See the difference? One feels almost organic, and makes sense to the outside observer from the very start. The other feels a little more arcane or artificial, and it isn’t obvious what the finished product will look like until well into the building process.

OK, let’s try another metaphor: art. Specifically, painting.

Some artists work in a way which seems natural and obvious. They pick a subject, usually do some rough sketches on their canvas to help get all the elements sorted out & proportioned. Then they’ll start to apply pigment according to their particular style or technique. Some of which may be a little hard to understand for a casual observer, but the basic process makes sense — you can see the different aspects emerging organically.

But there are artists who work in a completely different way. They have a concept in their head, and will proceed to do a series of fairly random strokes of paint. Each stroke is crucial, each one in the perfect place, but the end result isn’t clear to the observer until the final moments, when the last few elements are done and suddenly the artist’s vision breaks through. Like this:

 

Now, don’t try to over-think these analogies, or to take them too literally. They’re just intended to help illuminate some of the differences in process between this current novel, and the last one.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work on my building.

 

Jim Downey



Honor thy mentor.

This item from the Getty on making illuminated manuscripts is making the rounds among my friends who are into things medieval.  It’s relatively short, quite good, and covers the basics nicely.

But I particularly wanted to share it because when it gets to the bookbinding part (at about 4:30) it shows my bookbinding mentor, the late Bill Anthony, doing the work.

Bill was one hell of a craftsman, and a better bookbinder than I’ll ever be. No, that’s not false humility — I’m now just a few years younger than Bill was when he participated in making this video. But at that point in his life he had been a bookbinder for more than 40 years. I’d have to continue to work at it full time for at least another 20 years to have the same time in harness. And since I’m distracted by writing and other things, well, it’d probably take another 40 years to even have a chance to achieve the same level of proficiency. But that’s OK — I’m happy with the choices I’ve made, and the things I have accomplished (and still hope to accomplish).

Anyway, I wanted to share this.

 

Jim Downey



In search of the lost cords.*

So, a couple of things to share this morning …

One, the decision has been made: we’ll be going with a design for the leather bindings which includes raised cords on the spine. In terms of the response I got from people, it wasn’t even much of a competition — “cords” were the favorite almost 10 to 1.

But that doesn’t mean that the book has to have an old look. Not at all. I’m playing around with some design ideas which will incorporate the cords, but which will feel more modern. Watch for some preliminary posts on that in a couple weeks.

Two, if you are expecting to get a leather-bound copy of Communion of Dreams, but haven’t yet told me of your color preferences, do so soon. Further, if you didn’t get a confirmation response from me acknowledging your choices, then please contact me again. Because I had something of a book conservation emergency drop into my lap 10 days ago, things have been delayed a bit — but I’ll still be ordering leather and starting on those bindings before the end of the month. Please don’t delay.

And three, there’s a new review up on Amazon you might want to check out. Here’s an excerpt:

this book is very well worth your time if you love classic sci-fi. i would say that so far it is a combination of arthur c. clarke, isaac asimov, and a little stephen king. not too shabby for an unknown author. not sure if this is a series, and don’t want to ruin anything for myself by finding spoilers in reading others’ reviews. i’ll finish this book first. that may be soon- already lost most of a night’s sleep reading it. this is an original alternative universe, populated by humans and their robots, being created here; that is why it reminds me of asimov.

As always, I invite you to produce your own review, rate the book or other reviews, or just leave a comment in any reviews which particularly engage you. And you don’t have to do so only on Amazon — if you participate in another venue where such a review or recommendation would be appropriate, the help is always appreciated.

One final note: yup, the writing is proceeding apace. More on that later.

 

Jim Downey

*Always did like that album: 

 



Updating PT Barnum.

OK, granted, it probably wasn’t P.T. Barnum who uttered the famous phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  But if I titled this post “Updating David Hannum” almost no one would have recognized the name.

Anyway.

While I think the maxim still holds true, I think that it could be updated to reflect current usage more accurately.  Sure, there are still some “suckers” around — people who are ignorant or unsophisticated generally, or who have just enough larceny in their soul to tempt them to take risks they should know better than take (“you can’t cheat an honest man”) — but the kind of ignorance or unsophistication which existed in Barnum’s time is fairly uncommon now.

With one major exception: people who are suckers because they’re scared.

Fear short-circuits our decision making abilities, particularly if you’re not aware of what it can do and trained to recognize and counteract it. Unfortunately, even though plenty of people are aware of what effect it can have, most folks aren’t very good at recognizing when it is working on them, nor what to do to negate the effect. To borrow a phrase, we’re “little brains”:

Bob Diamond: Being from Earth, as you are, and using as little of your brain as you do, your life has pretty much been devoted to dealing with fear.
Daniel Miller: It has?
Bob Diamond: Well everybody on Earth deals with fear – that’s what little brains do.
Bob Diamond: …Fear is like a giant fog. It sits on your brain and blocks everything – real feelings, true happiness, real joy. They can’t get through that fog. But you lift it, and buddy, you’re in for the ride of your life.
Daniel Miller: God… my three percent is swimming.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Partly because it is a major component of the ‘background’ of St. Cybi’s Well  (you’ll see) but also because of the 10-year anniversary retrospective of the start of the Iraq War. A war which I think most people in the U.S. will now agree was sold to the public more on the basis of fear than objective evidence. Whether or not those who did the selling were also acting out of fear I leave for others to argue.

And because I’ve been thinking a lot about how fear is used in this way, I’ve been seeing more and more examples of how that is done. Just this morning I came across a very good article about personal cyber security which was a perfect example of fear-based reporting. Yeah, sure, the article raises legitimate concerns, and ones which each of us should address, but the overall tone (and response by many people) is one of fear. And this kind of thing is done routinely by news outlets; there’s always some new cancer-causing food scare, or story about child predators, or a report on how fragile the economy/environment/whatever is. And all of this is used to sell us something. Sometimes it’s just page clicks. Sometimes it’s newspapers. Sometimes it’s Home Security systems. Sometimes it’s guns. Sometimes it’s a war.

And we buy it. Because we’re suckers. Because we’re “little brains.” Because we’re afraid.

So, back to updating David Hannum, er, I mean P.T. Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Personally, I like “There’s a little brain born every minute” but it requires too much context for people to understand. Defending Your Life wasn’t *that* popular.

How about “There’s a sheep born every minute”, then?

I think that works pretty well. Conveys the timidity of a somewhat panicked animal, one which is used for the benefit of others. “Sheeple” is already a common slang term. And it references the classic SF novel by John Brunner. Which really isn’t important for a generic cultural maxim, but amuses me.

Yeah, definitely: “There’s a sheep born every minute.”

 

Jim Downey



“It is late, and things are not getting better.”

What I’ve been up to:

20130307_114657

 

Maybe it doesn’t look like much. But basically that right there is the framework for St. Cybi’s Well, laid out in graphic form, showing most of the pertinent locations with each tied to notes as well as personal travelogues from my visits. If you care to spend the time looking at the details, you can glean a number of clues about the book.

But it isn’t worth over-thinking. Not for you. For me, over-thinking all of this is absolutely critical. Because it allows me to work out all the details of the book, to layer meaning over reality, to sort logical relationships and spiritual insights.

Yeah, there’s a hell of a lot of work, right there. And now that it is done, the nuts & bolts of the rest of the writing should go much easier.

 

Jim Downey



It’s exploitation.

Nine years ago, as I was in the process of closing down my gallery of fine art, I wrote the following in response to a query from a local restaurant owner who was looking to offer our artists the “exposure” of hanging their art on her walls:

Having free art to hang on your walls in order to entice people is a great idea.  It would be the same thing as getting local musicians to come perform during all your hours of operation for no pay, with the excuse that they’re getting “exposure” and can put out a tip jar or maybe schedule paying gigs – and you won’t even ask for a percentage of the cut!  Such a deal!  Or to get it out of the realm of the arts, what would you call an employer who “allowed” workers to slave away for no compensation other than the chance to sell their services to some other potential employer when they were noticed for how well and hard they worked?  And what do you think that would do for the level of wages in the community?

Folks, this is exploitation, nothing more.  It’s using artists for your own personal gain.

I suppose I should have had the prescience to see the coming storm of internships, but back then I wasn’t as cynical as I am now.

Because the truth of the matter is that this sort of thing has almost become routine. Companies hold “competitions” for new logos and other graphic design needs, with the hook that winning such a competition will give the designer “exposure” and a chance to *maybe* do some other actual paid work for the company later. The Huffington Post was built on a model of not paying for content from most of their writers, but rather providing them an outlet for “exposure.” It’s become such a routine practice for online publications to ask for free content that best-selling author John Scalzi posted a bit of a rant back in December about the requests he gets.

Well, two days ago veteran journalist and multiple-award winner Nate Thayer got a query from the Atlantic Magazine to re-purpose a longer article he had published elsewhere. Thayer was open to the query, right up to the point where the Global Editor said that they wouldn’t pay for the piece, but rather it would be good for Thayer because of the “exposure”. Thayer blogged about it, including his email correspondence back and forth with the editor so that the entire horror show unfolds before your eyes. Thayer’s basic reaction is best summed up by this passage:

I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts.

The whole thing has gotten a fair amount of attention online, and generated a lot of fairly predictable discussion.  Including taking Thayer to task for publishing the emails as well as his audacity at taking umbrage at being asked to provide his work for free.

My reaction to this is best summed up in Scalzi’s two final points in his rant:

9. If this is your cue to complain about how this makes me an asshole, ask me if I care. Go on, ask!

10. But now that you mention it, saying “fuck you, pay me,” to you does not make me (or anyone else from whom you are hoping to extract actual work from without pay) the asshole in this scenario. It makes me the guy responding to the asshole, in a manner befitting the moment.

Bingo.

It’s one thing to be asked to contribute work to some charity. Or to participate in writing for a blog or website which (intentionally) isn’t generating income for the owners. It’s another matter altogether to be asked to give away your work (creative or non) to benefit a for-profit business. That’s called exploitation.

And calling it exploitation doesn’t make you the bad guy.

 

Jim Downey

 



An excerpt.

No, not from St. Cybi’s Well.  Not exactly, anyway. Rather, from a travelogue I wrote following my 2006 trip to Wales. This is how I describe the small chapel of Pennant Melangell, which is the site where a lot of the book will be based:

The shrine is to St. Melangell, supposedly one of the earliest such shrines in northern Europe.  It’s been nicely restored, using new local materials to recreate missing pieces, but in such a fashion as to be clear what is old and what is new.  Yeah, that’s the professional book conservator talking there – I appreciate good craftsmanship when I see it.  Evidently the shrine had been pitched (literally) into a local ditch during the Reformation, but was (much) later recovered, then even later properly restored.

The rest of the chapel is stunning, though in an honest and simple way.  It has seen multiple alterations and revisions in the last 800 years (big surprise), but still maintains a sense of what it is all about.  And what it is all about is grace.  No, not in the strictly Christian sense of the term, but in something older, something deeper . . . dare I say in the sense the early Christians wanted to appropriate?

Here we get into what I was talking about when I said that this trip was partly a spiritual quest.  The Celts had notions of holiness tied up with location, of ‘thin’ places where the boundaries between this reality and the other side came together.  You’ll frequently find a river, stream, or spring at such a location.  The whole valley of the Tanat has that feeling to it, but it seems to be particularly strong here, where the young river wraps itself around the church grounds.  The rough circle of the churchyard is bounded by a coarse wall, more like an earthwork than anything.  More importantly, while the wall is higher than either the interior or the exterior ground, the interior is on a slight rise, a slight dome with the chapel at the apex.  It’s almost like it is a lens of earth, focusing spiritual energy.  And that Big Damned Yew tree?  It isn’t the only one.  There are several others of almost the same age at other points on the wall, the anchors of the lens, both to the earth and to the sky.

So, go.  If you make it to Wales, and have an afternoon or a morning to spare, go.  In the coming travelogues I will have other places you might want to visit, each one special in its own way.  But go to Pennant Melangell.  Make a donation of a few pounds if you can spare ‘em.  Avowed atheist that I am, I now carry a wallet with a religious inscription that I got at Pennant Melangell, from the self-service/honor system selection of items in the office.  And yes, I even paid for it.

Just thought I would share that passage. Trust me, you’ll see a lot more about this place over the coming year.

 

Jim Downey



How about a little game?

OK, that last post kinda churned around in my head a bit, reminded me of something else having to do with robotics.

I didn’t post anything about this a week ago when it made the rounds, but check it out:

The ability to toss a pole back and forth like that, while flying, is pretty cool. And I bet if they can do that, then tossing a ball back and forth would also be possible — if not now, then in the very near future.

So, what I want to know is:  when is someone going to come up with an honest-to-God game of “Quadrocopter Quidditch”? Should be eminently doable.

 

Jim Downey




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