Communion Of Dreams


“… and I feel fine.”*

I ‘put to bed’ Chapter Nine of St Cybi’s Well yesterday. Meaning that it is completed well enough that I can move on to the next chapter, with the expectation that there will likely be some slight-to-moderate revisions later as the rest of the book is written.

That’s the halfway point in the actual writing of the novel, though since I have a lot of the rest of the infrastructure of the book done, it means that I’m probably more like 70% done. Exciting.

And also a little … sobering. I’ve mentioned it before, but given the events of this book (which is the historical backdrop of Communion of Dreams), this book has an understandable darkness to it. Here’s a bit from the last page of Chapter Nine to show what I mean:

The Jeconiah protocols covered a range of possible emergency conditions. Some would just require all available crews to report to base. Some would accelerate planned shipments. Some would mean preselected VIPs would be transferred to the Moon under increased security.

But Program One meant immediate isolation of the shuttle launch facility under the strictest security possible. Soon the Israelis would be launching all available shuttles with emergency supplies, using only crew who were already in normal pre-flight quarantine. This was in an effort to isolate and protect the New Ma’abarot colonies from whatever was happening here. As far as the Lunar colonies were concerned, Earth was now quarantined. It was a failsafe protocol – probably an over-reaction, but one they were willing to chance. If things turned out to be not too bad here on Earth, the quarantine could be relaxed later.

 

Or, you know, not.

So yeah, dark. Especially when I read something like this, in  a very good article about human extinction:

Humans have a long history of using biology’s deadlier innovations for ill ends; we have proved especially adept at the weaponisation of microbes. In antiquity, we sent plagues into cities by catapulting corpses over fortified walls. Now we have more cunning Trojan horses. We have even stashed smallpox in blankets, disguising disease as a gift of good will. Still, these are crude techniques, primitive attempts to loose lethal organisms on our fellow man. In 1993, the death cult that gassed Tokyo’s subways flew to the African rainforest in order to acquire the Ebola virus, a tool it hoped to use to usher in Armageddon. In the future, even small, unsophisticated groups will be able to enhance pathogens, or invent them wholesale.

 

Sarin. Ebola. Gee, where have I heard those names recently? Oh, yeah.

Damn, sometimes I hate to be so right about things …

 

Jim Downey

*Yup.

 

 



Several things …

First, thanks again to one and all for helping to make my recent promotion a success! We did finish the weekend with just under 500 total downloads worldwide. Yay!

In addition, there’s a new review up over on Amazon. Here’s how it starts:

4.0 out of 5 stars A good story, and an excellent first novel.

This kept me interested until it was finally done.
For a first novel it was very good.
There were a couple of awkward sentences I had to re-read, but most books have that.
The plot was good, and different.

I am a bit amused that some people focus in on the “first novel” thing, and sometimes it seems that they feel like they can’t give a 5-star rating just on that basis. But perhaps they’re just trying to be nice in comments. If you have a chance, and haven’t yet done so, please consider posting your own review on Amazon (or elsewhere). Thanks!

There have been a couple of fairly scary pandemic stories in the news lately. One which has gotten a lot of attention is the Ebola outbreak, and how it has spread more than previous outbreaks. One which is even more frightening (to me) is word of an accidental anthrax exposure which went undetected for upwards of a week at a major supposedly secure research lab, the CDC bioterrorism facility in Atlanta. From one article:

Unfortunately, such scenarios are very real threats to not just lab workers but to the general population should a deadly contagion escape undetected the same way the CDC anthrax exposure remained undetected for possibly an entire week. That much time lapse for a deadly viral infection could prove devastating to the world population.

 

As it turns out, I am right at the point in St Cybi’s Well when first reports of the fireflu outbreak has hit the news. At first it is thought to be a Sarin gas attack at Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. From the book:

“Jay, I’m here at the Georgia International Convention Center, just west of the airport. Authorities have turned this into something of a command center for the developing crisis, since they have put the entire airport terminal on lock-down.” She was reporting from a large, open room. In the background there was a stage and podium, where a small knot of government officials were standing and taking turns addressing the crowd of reporters and film crews down on the floor in front of them. “As you can imagine, the situation here is very confused at present, with conflicting reports coming from the airport itself about how many people have been injured in the attack, when it likely happened, how it was detected, and what steps are being taken to protect the public. What is certain is that while this airport – one of the busiest in the world – always has a number of arriving and departing flights, that the attack came sometime late at night has meant that the number of victims is much smaller than it could have been. We’re due to receive an update on the situation at 3:00 AM local time, which is in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Back to you.”

 

Serendipity. Scary, scary serendipity.

Edited to add this tasty tidbit of news which broke just in the last hour:

Smallpox Virus Found in Unsecured NIH Lab

Scientists cleaning out an old laboratory on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., last week came across a startling discovery: Vials labeled “variola” – in other words, smallpox.

* * *

In a statement Tuesday, the agency said scientists did indeed find smallpox DNA in the vials. Scientists are now testing the sample to see whether any of the is still capable of causing disease. That testing will take two weeks.

The laboratory on the NIH campus had been transferred to the Food and Drug Administration in 1972. It was being cleaned out as the FDA was preparing to move that lab to its main campus.

 

Yeah baby!

 

Jim Downey



Yup. We’re all gonna die. Again.

News item of note:

A new report by WHO–its first to look at antimicrobial resistance, including antibiotic resistance, globally–reveals that this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance–when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections–is now a major threat to public health.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security. “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”

 

I thought I had mentioned it here previously, but a quick search didn’t turn up anything: I had originally considered the world-wide pandemic which sets the ‘history’ of Communion of Dreams as being entirely due to an antibiotic-resistant bug (probably the plague). But as I was going through and doing work on the early draft of the book, I decided to change that, since an informal survey among people indicated that it was too “far fetched.”  I didn’t think so — as far back as 15 – 20 years ago there were already indications that this was a real threat. But you can’t get too far out ahead of what people think is possible, even when writing Science Fiction, so I went with an influenza virus instead.

And speaking of which, time to get back to writing St Cybi’s Well

 

Jim Downey



Before & after.

Most of the book conservation work I do is pretty nondescript, just workmanlike. After all, the intent isn’t to draw attention to my work, but to preserve as much of the original character and structure of the book as I can.

But now and again I get to do some ‘pretty’. And it’s nice to come across those again later, particularly when for whatever reason I’m feeling a little down. It’s a pleasant boost to my self esteem. Such it was yesterday when I was browsing through the Adopt-a-book program at MU’s Special Collections, and saw this entry:

Adopt-a-Book > Book Detail

M.T.C. Epistolae familiares accuratius recognitae

Author: Cicero, Marcus Tullius.     Published: Venetiis : Apud Aldum et Andream Socerum, 1512

Description: Take apart and resew, saving the label where possible. New leather binding

Condition / repair needed: This codex was printed by the legendary Aldine Press. It was printed during the life of Aldus Manutius, the founder of the press. The most famous dolphin and anchor printer’s mark is seen on the title page.

Thank You to Donor:J. Schweitzer, R. Drake and M. Correale

 

I’ll explain later why it was that I was browsing the site (it was a good reason, but I don’t want to get into it just yet).

As for why I was feeling down … No special reason, as I mentioned yesterday. Getting over the touch of the flu I had early in the week. A touch of the winter blahs. The mild feeling that I get in the middle of any project that I have bitten off more than I can chew and that I’m going to fail spectacularly.

So it’s nice to see tangible evidence that I actually can do something well.

Remember, Communion of Dreams is available for free download in the Kindle edition today through Sunday.

 

Jim Downey



Three days in January.

As I mentioned the other day, we’re coming up on the 2nd anniversary for the publication of Communion of Dreams, which is this coming Sunday. So for three days — this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — you’ll be able to download the Kindle edition for free!

Otherwise … the writing continues. Unfortunately, so does the touch of flu I came down with late last Sunday … fortunately, it just seems to be a run-of-the-mill variety bug rather than the type I’m writing about in St. Cybi’s Well

 

Jim Downey

 

 



“It’s Philip K Dick’s world; we just live in it.”*

Speculation about what technological change can do to society is at the very heart of Science Fiction.

It also works pretty well for other cautionary tales:

We now know that the NSA is collecting location information en masse. As we’ve long said, location data is an extremely powerful set of information about people. To flesh out why that is true, here is the kind of future memo that we fear may someday soon be uncovered:

Sorry for the light posting the last few days; the latest viral thing going around managed to get more of a grip on my body than I would have liked. But the work on St. Cybi’s Well continues to go well.

 

Jim Downey

*From this comment on MetaFilter. The whole discussion is worth reading.



“You remember the spider that lived in a bush outside your window? Orange body, green legs.”

Of late, as I have been slowly getting over the rather nasty bout of parainfluenza I mentioned previously, shedding the more annoying and disgusting symptoms, I’ve also come to realize that just now I am pulling out of the depressive trough of one of my long-term bipolar cycles.  It wasn’t a particularly bad trough, and was somewhat mitigated by the success of the Kickstarter back in the fall. Nonetheless, it was there, as I can see in hindsight.

I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.

Which isn’t true, of course, but that was the emotional reality which I had been dealing with. The “narrative truth”, if you will. A term I borrow from a very interesting meditation by Oliver Sacks at the New York Review of Books website titled Speak, Memory. From the article:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

Let me repeat one bit of that: “Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves.”

I think this is at the very heart of why fiction has such power, and appeal. I also think that it explains the well-documented phenomenon of people believing things which are clearly and demonstratively false, if their facts come from a trusted source.

Little surprise that writers of fiction are aware of this very human trait, and have explored it in all manner of ways. I have a note here on my desk, a scrawl written on a scrap of paper some months ago as I was thinking through character motivations in St. Cybi’s Well, which says simply: “We take our truths from the people we trust.”

And here’s another example, from one of my favorite movies, exploring a favorite theme of Philip K. Dick’s:

 

That theme? The nature of reality.  And this is how the Sacks essay closes:

Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

In other words, that reality is a shared construct. A Communion of Dreams, if you will.

Time for me to get back to work.

 

Jim Downey



“Both sides think they can win.”

From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:

“Thanks, but I checked your file. You saw fighting during the Restoration. You can figure this stuff out.”

“Yeah, but those are old instincts. And what I learned was mostly just practical survival.”

“Worth its weight in gold.”

Jon smiled. “See you in the morning.”

* * * * * * *

Politically, I don’t fit into any neat little boxes. I tend to describe myself as “left-libertarian”, which is to say that I am generally left-of-center on a lot of social issues, but I also tend to think that the lives of people should be largely be their own to determine with minimal government or corporate intrusion.  Both government and business can be very great sources of good, but they can also both be great threats to the individual if unchecked, particularly if their power and interests are aligned.

What this means for me practically is that I tend to be in the center of the political spectrum, keeping a wary eye on everything. And since I like to stay informed, I tend to read more political blather than is probably good for my blood pressure. Combine that with my interests in firearms, and, well, let’s just say that I have seen an awful lot of extreme rhetoric on both sides of the current debate about gun control.

* * * * * * *

One of the interesting things about working on St. Cybi’s Well is that I have to keep in mind details of the larger story. Partly this means making sure the story of the current book meshes with the story of Communion of Dreams. But it also goes beyond that. It also means making sure that I set the stage for other books I might write someday.

One of those would be set during the “Restoration” — that period of time when a fractured, post-pandemic America is being again forged into a United States. As it says on the first page of Communion of Dreams:

The Commons had been borne of the fire-flu, with so few people left out in the great northern plains after it was finally all over that it was a relatively simple matter to just turn things back over to nature. Effectively, that happened a few short years after the flu swept around the globe. According to law, it was codified almost a decade later in the late Twenties, after the Restoration was complete and the country was once again whole — expanded, actually, to include what had been Canada, minus independent Quebec.

As part of this whole process, then, I’ve been thinking about what would lead to a splitting-up of the US. I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say that the fire-flu is only part of the explanation.

* * * * * * *

When people argue about gun control, one of the things you can bet on is that at some point a variation on the following will happen: First, one side will say that the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to allow for citizens to resist governmental tyranny. Then the other side will laugh and point out that Joe Gun Nut isn’t going to resist tanks and jets with his AR15. In response, the pro-RKBA side will likely point out that in both Iraq and Afghanistan local fighters managed to do a pretty good job in resisting the might of US & Allied forces for years. Then the argument will dissolve into disagreements over logistics, not knowing the local culture, corrupt indigenous military units, et cetera.  Laced through all of that will be those who hope just such a thing would come to pass, to finally resolve the issue and ‘show the other side’.

In these arguments, however, I think everyone is using the wrong examples. What would happen here isn’t what’s happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, with a cohesive military facing insurgents. It’d be like what’s happened in Syria: civil insurrection growing into civil war, with defections and confusion on all sides. From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

Is Syria still too strange a place, too foreign, for you to map comparisons? Well, then how about Europe, just 20 years ago?

Careful what you wish for.

 

Jim Downey



Not the lathe, but the scythe, of heaven.*

Nice timing. Not only is this essay an appropriate “looking forward” article for New Year’s Day, but it is a perfect expression of one aspect of the argument at the heart of both Communion of Dreams and St. Cybi’s Well: what do we make of our world, and how do we define our place in it?

Seriously, this sums up one of the major characters of SCW (who was only alluded to in CoD), and illustrates both the danger and the dilemma that character represents:

“Wilderness can be saved permanently,” claims Ted Kaczynski, “only by eliminating the technoindustrial system.” I am beginning to think that the neo-environmentalists may leave a deliciously ironic legacy: proving the Unabomber right.

Another excerpt:

I’m not sure I know the answer. But I know there is no going back to anything. And I know that we are not headed, now, toward convivial tools. We are not headed toward human-scale development. This culture is about superstores, not little shops; synthetic biology, not intentional community; brushcutters, not scythes. This is a culture that develops new life forms first and asks questions later; a species that is in the process of, in the words of the poet Robinson Jeffers, “break[ing] its legs on its own cleverness.”

What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.

Yeah, there’s a reason why the essay is titled “Dark Ecology.”

And in truth, it is a darkness which sometimes seeps into my own soul. As I said yesterday: “Poor Darnell.”

 

Jim Downey

*Reference, of course. Via MeFi.



It’s the End of the Year as we know it…

So, the WordPress Machine informs me that I’ve had a fairly busy year blogging here.

* * * * * * *

As I mentioned a while ago, earlier this month I had fallen prey to the nasty bit of cold virus going around.  Turned out that the damn thing was even more stubborn for my wife, who is still struggling with a hacking cough and various other annoying symptoms.  We’ve been keeping a close eye on it, watching for signs of secondary pneumonia, which would call for antibiotic intervention, but I think she’ll get past this on her own.

Which is good, because there really isn’t much we can do to fight a virus. In this sense, medical science is at about the same place in viral treatments as we were in dealing with bacterial infection 70 years ago:

In 1941, a rose killed a policeman.

Albert Alexander, a 43-year-old policeman in Oxford, England, was pruning his roses one fall day when a thorn scratched him at the corner of his mouth. The slight crevice it opened allowed harmless skin bacteria to slip into his body. At first, the scratch grew pink and tender. Over the course of several weeks, it slowly swelled. The bacteria turned from harmless to vicious, proliferating through his flesh. Alexander eventually had to be admitted to Radcliffe Hospital, the bacteria spreading across his face and into his lungs.

Alexander’s doctors tried treating him with sulfa drugs, the only treatment available at the time. The medicine failed, and as the infection worsened, they had to cut out one of his eyes. The bacteria started to infiltrate his bones. Death seemed inevitable.

* * * * * * *

You may not have heard much about it here, but the norovirus is causing all kinds of grief in the UK. Cases are up 83% over last year, and are estimated to have hit over a million people already. In the UK the norovirus is commonly called the “winter vomiting bug” whereas here we tend to call it “stomach flu”.  As miserable as it makes people feel, it’s usually not a life-threatening disease for otherwise healthy people, and the best thing to do is just ride it out.

Of course, public health authorities have taken steps to try and limit the spread of the disease into populations where the virus could be life-threatening, and a lot of hospitals have curtailed or eliminated visiting hours. Furthermore, appeals have been made to the public to not to go see their doctors or go to emergency rooms for routine cases of the norovirus, since there is little that can be done to treat the virus and this just contributes to the spread of the disease.

Still, people get scared when they get sick, even when they know that it is a fairly common bug that’s going around — and one that most people have had before and gotten over just fine. So they tend to swamp available medical services, overwhelming the health care system.

Just think about what would happen if it was a disease which wasn’t known. And one which was killing people so quickly that they’d drop over in the street on the way home from work.

* * * * * * *

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, since it is an integral plot point to St. Cybi’s Well.  This isn’t a spoiler, since the advent of the fire-flu is part of the ‘history’ of Communion of Dreams.

But it is something which has had me in a bit of a quandary this fall, as I’ve been working on writing St. Cybi’s Well.

Howso? Well, because I kept going back and forth on making one final decision: where to end the book.

See, I know how the *story* plays out — I’ve had that all sorted since I first worked up the background for Communion of Dreams. But in going to write St. Cybi’s Well, I needed to decide exactly where in the story that book would end. Which is to say, I needed to decide how much, if any, of the onset of the fire-flu would be included. Because I could set everything up and have the book actually finish at the onset of the fire-flu — after all, the reader would know what was about to happen. Why drag the reader through that horror?

* * * * * * *

A week or so ago I made my decision, and I’ve been chewing it over since then as I’ve been busy with other things, making sure that I was comfortable with what I have decided, and why. I’m not going to give you the details, but you can safely assume from what I’ve said in this post that at least some of the pandemic will be portrayed.

I decided this not because I have a desire to write about the horror (in spite of what I may have said previously) but rather because it is critical for character development of the main character.

Poor Darnell.

* * * * * * *

So, the WordPress Machine informs me that I’ve had a fairly busy year blogging here. 293 posts (this makes 294), which is a faster pace than in some years. Of course, I’ve had a lot of promotional stuff do to with the launch of Communion of Dreams last January and everything to support that through the year, not to mention the Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well.

And while I’ve cautioned that I won’t be writing quite as much here on the blog as I’m working on St. Cybi’s Well, well, it does make for a nice change of pace.

So thanks for being along for the ride this year. Together we can see how things go in 2013.

 

Jim Downey

 

 




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