Communion Of Dreams


That’s … disturbing.

Sometimes the future just plain creeps me out. Like when watching this:

Certainly isn’t a Nexus 6, that’s for damned sure.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi.



Get lucky.

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” — Lefty Gomez

* * * * * * *

In a fairly soul-baring piece by Emily Gould about the reality of struggling to be an ostensibly ‘successful’ writer, this should give even the most optimistic person pause:

In 2008 I sold a book-in-progress for $200,000 ($170,000 after commission, to be paid in four installments), which still seems to me like a lot of money. At the time, though, it seemed infinite. The resulting book—a “paperback original,” as they’re called—has sold around 8,000 copies, which is about a fifth of what it needed to sell not to be considered a flop. This essentially guarantees that no one will ever pay me that kind of money to write a book again.

 

* * * * * * *

In a discussion over on MetaFilter, successful Science Fiction author Charlie Stross had some thoughts on the above-cited essay. Here’s an excerpt from his comment:

In 2001 I had a gigantic stroke of good luck: I acquired a [good] literary agent and sold my first novel. It was about the tenth novel or novel-shaped-thing I’d written since 1990, on my own time. The advance was, eventually, $15,000 for US rights (a good first book advance in SF/F) and £3500 for UK rights. Note that a new novelist can’t get follow-on book contracts until their first book has proven itself in print — to justify the advance money the new contract will cost the publisher — so I had to keep up the freelance journalism for a few more years.

 

* * * * * * *

“A gigantic stroke of good luck.”

But Stross is a good writer, right? I mean, doesn’t he deserve his success and popularity? The meritocracy of the marketplace and all that?

Perhaps. From an NPR story the other day:

Several years ago, Princeton professor Matthew Salganik started thinking about success, specifically about how much of success should be attributed to the inherent qualities of the successful thing itself, and how much was just chance. For some essentially random reason, a group of people decided that the thing in question was really good and their attention attracted more attention until there was a herd of people who believed that it was special mostly because all the other people believed that it was, but the successful thing wasn’t in fact that special.

Salganik came up with a clever experiment, one which allowed a large number of teenagers (30,000) access to several dozen songs by promising but as yet unsigned bands. The way the experiment ran created 9 different iterations of ‘reality’, to see whether the same song would become the most popular one in each test run. They didn’t. In fact, the results were wildly divergent:

“For example, we had this song ‘Lock Down’ by the band 52 Metro,” Salganik says. “In one world this song came in first; in another world it came in 40th out of 48th. And this was exactly the same song. It’s just in these different worlds, history evolved slightly different. There were differences in the beginnings, and then the process of social influence and cumulative advantage sort of magnified those small, random initial differences.”

Now obviously there are many different things that have an impact on success and failure — money, race and a laundry list of other things — and after this work, which one person in the field described as a seminal paper, Salganik went on to do similar studies with parallel worlds that suggest that quality does have at least a limited role. It is hard to make things of very poor quality succeed — though after you meet a basic standard of quality, what becomes a huge hit and what doesn’t is essentially a matter of chance.

 

* * * * * * *

Another comment a little after Stross’s in that MeFi discussion offered a different perspective that’s worth considering:

Emily Gould’s example is crucial because she is the primary example of a writer who had succeeded. She did everything she was supposed to do: came to NYC, produced a ton of successful content for a big brand website, then continued on her own to create a huge internet presence, and then branched out into conventional media (the NYT piece) and eventually a six-figure book deal. If you think of the thousands of writers who are racking up credit card debt writing for free or almost on free all those websites we read every day, they are trying to become Emily Gould. Regardless of what they might think of her work itself, that’s the approximate career path they’re trying to follow.

So when people are glibly like, “Oh, she lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, there’s your problem,” what they’re saying is: the pinnacle of this career is one in which you will never be able to afford to live on your own, never mind have kids or financial stability or even a regular writing paycheck, the end. And that should really give us pause.

Because, sure, you can say “She should never have come to New York, she should always have kept a full time job in a different profession, etc. etc.” But to work for Gawker, she had to come to New York. To gain the kind of name recognition she has, she had to work full time posting and networking and Tweeting and, basically, working for free. And when her book failed, it didn’t fail because it was “bad” – because she wrote, in the book, the exact same way she wrote online. For better or for worse, that was what people liked. The real, applicable lesson is that the book failed because the people who read her stuff online didn’t care enough to pay for it in print.

 

* * * * * * *

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” — Lefty Gomez

I used to think that this was wrong. In fact I was quite confident that my intelligence, hard work, and focus could overcome any barrier. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things.

But I’ve seen too much life to still believe that. Yeah, I’d rather be lucky than good.

Back to work.

 

Jim Downey



Music of the spheres, music to my ears.

Overnight, this blog hit 100,000 visits. Rah. Go, me.

 

* * *

Remember the old notion of the ‘music of the spheres‘? It wasn’t really about actual music you could hear, but more a philosophical/mathematical concept about the relationships within different aspects of reality. I make some oblique references to it in Communion of Dreams, and it’s a safe bet that you’ll see some similar references in St. Cybi’s Well.

Anyway, here’s something kinda-sorta tangentially related, insofar as it is a musical interpretation of traveling through our solar system, using data collected from the two Voyager spacecraft:

The sound of space: Voyager provides music from solar system and beyond

It’s a surprisingly nice little duet.

 

* * *

Persistence, I realized, was not the end goal. It was the actual game.

I had all the chances in the world to quit this game. Any rational person probably would have. Poverty, unemployment, crazy relationships, chronic illness, an imploding publisher… I could have quit. I could have said, “Fuck this noise.”

But after raging around on the internet or drinking a bottle of wine or taking a long bike ride, I came back to the keyboard. Always. I always came back.

Most people don’t.

I don’t blame them.

An excerpt from a really excellent, really honest assessment of what it means to be a fiction writer in this day and age. The author, Kameron Hurley, also participates in a discussion of the essay/topic on MetaFilter.

She’s had more success than I have, but my own experiences and conclusions are not that different.

 

* * *

A friend of mine who does a couple of podcasts had some fun recording an ad for Communion of Dreams. You can download/listen to the MP3 of it here. And if you’re into firearms at all, you should check out his podcasts.

 

* * *

Overnight, this blog hit 100,000 visits. Rah. Go, me.

That sounds a little more cynical, a little more bitter than I mean it to. Though I have certainly gone through both cynicism and bitterness many times, and expect that I will again.

But not now. Now, I’m … weary. For a variety of very human reasons. Reasons we all share, now and again.

But in spite of the weariness, I push on. As I mentioned in a comment the other day, writing/promotion these days is more akin to guerrilla warfare than anything.

And speaking of which, remember: tomorrow through Sunday is my two-year anniversary promotion. The Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams will be free to download for all three days. Spread the word — be part of my little guerrilla force.

Thanks.

 

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.



Limits of perception.

From the beginning of Chapter 18 of Communion of Dreams:

“But there’s something else going on. Perhaps I was being too hasty in considering this to be just a four-dimensional problem.”

“Sorry? You lost me there,” said Jon.

Gish ignored him, his attention turning in on itself. “Yes. Clearly there’s a proximity effect. Perhaps anyone who touches the artifact becomes somehow connected to the outer surface of the bubble.”

“Wait, you mean that the artifact is some kind of doorway to another dimension?”

Gish looked at Jon, annoyed. “What? Doorway? No, just that the surface of the isolation field may not conform to our simple space-time geometry.”

Not too surprising that Robert Gish was aware of this recent theory, since he’s some 39 years in our future:

A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.

“This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.

The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. Interactions that were previously calculated with mathematical formulas thousands of terms long can now be described by computing the volume of the corresponding jewel-like “amplituhedron,” which yields an equivalent one-term expression.

It’s an absolutely fascinating article & theory, and deserves consideration: that many of the observational problems with quantum mechanics may be due to our limited perspective from this space-time, just as our perspective from one reference point gave rise to the notion that there is something which could be considered a “universal time” — a notion which a certain Mr. Einstein dealt with.

Which, while all the math is completely beyond me, makes a certain amount of intuitive sense from the history of science. Which is: the slow progression of realization that none of our privileged positions are true. That the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth. That humankind isn’t different from all the other animals. That our perception of time isn’t the only one. So why should this set of spacial dimensions be the basis for reality?

Which is why I felt comfortable coming up with the “theoretical discovery” at the heart of Communion of Dreams, as discussed in this passage from Chapter 3:

Apparent Gravity was the third major application of the theories set forth in Hawking’s Conundrum, the great opus of Stephen Hawking which was not published until after his death in the earlier part of the century. He hadn’t released the work because evidently even he couldn’t really believe that it made any sense. It was, essentially, both too simple and too complex. And since he had died just shortly before the Fire-flu, with the chaos that brought, there had been a lag in his theory being fully understood and starting to be applied.

But it did account for all the established data, including much of the stuff that seemed valid but didn’t fit inside the previous paradigms. Using his theories, scientists and engineers learned that the structure of space itself could be manipulated. The first major application led to practical, safe, and efficient fusion power. Rather than forcing high-energy particles together, the forces keeping them apart were just removed. Or, more accurately, the manifestation of space between them was inverted. It took very little energy, was easy to control, but only worked in a very localized fashion.

And just for fun, here’s a little hint from my work on St. Cybi’s Well: there’s a character in there who has something of the perspective of the people working on the “amplituhedron theory” and applies it in his own way to explain the dark matter/dark energy problem. Well, it amuses me, anyway.

And I should get back to work on that.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi and elsewhere. The MeFi link has a lot of other links in both the post and the following discussion, if you would like more information and … perspective. ;)

Oh, and this seems entirely appropriate – start at 35 seconds:



Traces of the fire.

The words we read are just traces of the fire burning in the mind of another.

This is lovely:

Sorry for the quick posts. Lots of interesting things happening. I should have more to share on all of that next week.

 

Jim Downey

*Via MeFi, where there are more good links related to this artist.



Spinning wheels.*

Gorgeous:

The Rose

The spinning vortex of Saturn’s north polar storm resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage in this false-color image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second).

A fascinating short video and full explanation can be found on NASA’s site:

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn’s north pole.

In high-resolution pictures and video, scientists see the hurricane’s eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph(150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon.

Very cool. If I ever have reason to revise Communion of Dreams, I would certainly include reference to The Rose since most everything happens on and around Titan.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course. Via MeFi.

 



All mixed up.

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

* * * * * * *

Our vet was here (yes, he only does house-calls) this week for the critters’ annual check-up and shots. We started with our oldest cat, who is 13 this year.

After going through his routine, sitting on our kitchen floor still holding the cat, he looked up at me and said: “Not bad for a body designed by nature to last just three or four years.”

* * * * * * *

There was recently a bit of a flap over the appropriateness/quality of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, prompted by a new stage production of the play.  I’m not a Shakespeare scholar, but I know this sort of thing pops up from time to time, due to changing societal norms about marriage, sex, and violence. This paragraph from the linked article sums up the current qualms:

Romeo and Juliet itself hasn’t aged well. The story follows Juliet Capulet, who is 13 when she meets Romeo Montague at a party, falls head over heels in love with him, and marries him within a day of meeting him. Romeo’s age isn’t specified in the play, but the quickness with which he throws over a former flame for Juliet doesn’t suggest a particularly mature man. Maybe this works on the page, when we’re not forced to watch actors and actresses who are clearly in their 20s and 30s behave like early teenagers. But the effect is embarrassing and unsettling for today’s theater audiences, perhaps already fretting over suspended adolescence and stunted millenials.

* * * * * * *

It was a rough week in Boston. To say the least.

And, like much of the rest of the nation, I was distracted almost to the point of obsession by the latest developments in the news, and how it all played out. Part of that distraction manifested in following discussions on several sites, including one of my favorites, MetaFilter. Which is where, last night after the second suspect was captured, there was a sentiment expressed which I found to be curious and challenging. This sentiment:

I won’t feel bad for feeling bad for this kid. And while he is legally an adult, I think back to when I was 19, and I sure as shit wasn’t making adult decisions then. YMMV. He did something unspeakably horrible, yes, but, he is still a human being. Maybe they were psychopaths, but we don’t know yet why this happened. Right now, this was a senseless act of violence, and I want to know why this happened. I want to know the motive that led to a friend of mine holing up in his basement two houses away in Watertown while this shit went down. I cannot rationalize this, but I also grew up in a peaceful suburb, and not, you know, a wartorn Soviet nation. If I believed that people were just born evil, I don’t think I could survive in this world. Again, YMMV, but compassion is helping me cope with this.
posted by Ruki at 8:01 PM on April 19

And a bit later, this one (an excerpt):

This young man was once someone’s cute 8 year-old. Somehow, somewhere, that adorable hope that we see in every 8 year-old was replaced with something sinister, and he made terrible decisions that caused death and pain. And now, even if he’s only given life in prison, his life is OVER.

I am sad that a life that had such potential has gone so badly awry. I am sad that his mother, who surely had great hopes and dreams for her children, is seeing those dreams shattered, is dealing with the grief and maybe even guilt of both of her sons turning to violence and terrorism.

Maybe it’s because my sons are so close to him in age. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, grieving that a young person has thrown his life away without really understanding the consequences of doing so. I don’t know. But I hurt for everyone involved – the people who died, the people who were wounded, the elder brother who should have known better, and this 19 year-old kid who had the world at his feet. It sucks all around, and I don’t know what else to do except feel great sorrow over the entire situation.
posted by MissySedai at 8:29 PM on April 19

* * * * * * *

From the closing paragraph of the Romeo and Juliet article:

But beyond that, the vision of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths uniting their families is an adolescent fantasy of death solving all problems, a “won’t they miss me when I’m gone” pout. There’s a reason that, in the best modern riff on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Maria lives after Tony’s death to shame the Sharks and the Jets, her survival a seal on the truce between them. Dying is easy. Living to survive the consequences of your actions and to do the actual work of reconciliation is the hard part.

* * * * * * *

“You guys grow ‘em long,” continued our vet, as he released the old cat. “The last one lived to what, 19?”

“I think so. We’ve been lucky.”

* * * * * * *

It’s been a confused Spring. The redbuds are just coming into color, while the Bradford pears are in full bloom and the magnolia trees are already shedding their petals. That’s all mixed up.

Soon I’ll have the garden tilled. Just yesterday I placed my annual order for pepper plants, which will be delivered in a couple of weeks. That’s still too early to plant them, but I’ll be able to ‘harden them off’ in the shelter of the carport until the latter part of May. Then they’ll have a much better chance of thriving in my garden. I’ll do what I can, but at some point they’re on their own.

 

Jim Downey

 



I can see clearly now … *

OK, the neuroscience behind this is beyond me — hell, the actual process of creating these sample is as well — but the effect is pretty clear, and the implications for research are very exciting:

The process can also be used for organs other than the brain. Very cool.

 

Jim Downey

Via MeFi. *Of course.



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

 




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