Communion Of Dreams


You can’t tell a book …

So, a week or so ago I linked to a new review of Communion of Dreams which was very positive overall. But the reviewer made a comment which echoes things some other people have said:

Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).

Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.

But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in  new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).

Jim Downey

PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.



“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

 

 



“Flexible, stretchable electronics could launch cyborg era.”

From page one of Communion of Dreams:

>click<
>click<
With a slight sigh, he lightly pressed the small wafer under the skin between his left ear and jaw. He spoke out loud, though his voice was just above a whisper. “What do you want, Seth?”

And then closing that scene on page two:

>click<
He paused there at the railing, right hand manipulating the thin-film controls under the skin on the back of his left hand. Looking out over the herd of slowly moving animals, a see-through display came up before him. Nothing new on the nets. So, whatever the emergency was, it wasn’t public knowledge yet. He turned, opened the door to the station, and stepped inside.

Remember, Communion of Dreams is set in 2052 (albeit after major societal disruptions would have messed with the pace of technological development). Looks like we might get to this point a lot sooner. From a Science News article titled “Beginnings of Bionic: Flexible, stretchable electronics could launch cyborg era“:

McAlpine belongs to a growing pack of tech-savvy scientists figuring out how to merge the rigid, brittle materials of conventional electronics with the soft, curving surfaces of human tissues. Their goal: To create products that have the high performance of silicon wafers — the crystalline material used in computer chips — while still moving with the body.

* * *

In the last two years, another team, led by Zhenan Bao of Stanford University, has been working toward making stretchy, artificial skins from rubber and carbon nanotubes. The skins will feel like the real thing to the touch — and they will have a sense of touch too, electronically detecting changes in strain and pressure from a stretch or a pinch.

* * *

“We went from a computer that fit in a room, to a computer that goes on your desk, to a computer that can go in your pocket,” McAlpine says. Joining computers to the body, he says, is “the next logical step.”

Indeed, I’m reasonably sure such technology will become widespread. All the trends are already in place indicating so.

Unless some … thing … happens to either prevent or reverse such a trend. Those who have read Communion of Dreams will know what I’m alluding to, and I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book. Heh.

Jim Downey

 



Its a start.

The description of Communion of Dreams on both the back of the book and on the website/Amazon is this:

The year is 2052, and the human race is still struggling to recover from a massive pandemic flu some 40 years previously.  When an independent prospector on Saturn’s moon Titan discovers an alien artifact, assumptions that we are alone in the universe are called into question.  Knowing that news of such a discovery could prompt chaos on Earth, a small team is sent to investigate and hopefully manage the situation.  What they find is that there’s more to human history, and human abilities, than any of them ever imagined.  And that they will need all those insights, and all those abilities, to face the greatest threat yet to human survival.

It was pretty easy to come up with that. It was written well after the fact, after all. The book had been done for years, worked over and tweaked endlessly.

Well, as I am getting things set to do the Kickstarter project to allow me to concentrate on writing St. Cybi’s Well, one of the components we have to get into place is setting up a website for it. To do that I needed to have the same sort of short description of that book as the one above for Communion of Dreams. But St. Cybi’s Well *isn’t* done yet. Far from it. I have a lot of ideas/thoughts/scenes for it, accumulated over the last nine years. I basically know what the book is going to be, but the story and the characters will evolve as I write. Nonetheless, I had to come up with a description.

This is what I came up with. See what you think:

Darnell Sidwell had a problem. Well, two, actually. One was the onset of an eye disease which threatened to end his career as a shuttle pilot for the Israeli Lunar Transfer, to the so-called New Ma’abarot colonies. That brought him to Wales, where his sister operated a spiritual healing center – a last, absurd hope for a man who didn’t believe in miracles.

The other problem was a small matter of a murder. His. But he didn’t know about that yet. Just as he didn’t know that the whole world was about to be plunged into the fire-flu.

It’s a start.

Jim Downey

 



The other 90% of you.

Your body has something on the order of 10 trillion individual cells. But surprisingly, it has nine or ten times that number of microorganisms which it hosts in some capacity or another, many of which we have co-evolved with and which seem to be critical to our long health. While these microorganisms are typically much smaller than human body cells, in one very real sense, “you” is actually only about 10% “you.”

These microorganisms have a substantial impact on how your body digests food. On whether you can resist various kinds of infection or develop any of a range of auto-immune diseases. Perhaps even on your mood and risk assessment.

Would it therefore be any kind of a surprise at all if doing something to change the “mix” of these microorganisms had an impact on you?

Hell, it’d be a surprise if it didn’t.

Almost all of us know what happens when you have to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic: usually some degree of diarrhea and intestinal discomfort. And in the last decade or two it has become commonplace for people to seek out some variety of probiotics, frequently in the form of live yogurt, as a way to replenish gut flora following antibiotic treatment. I do it myself.

So, extending that idea a bit, researchers are now investigating whether part of the slow-moving plague of obesity can be due to the changes created in the human-hosted microorganisms:

Early use of antibiotics linked to obesity, research finds

The use of antibiotics in young children might lead to a higher risk of obesity, and two new studies, one on mice and one on humans, conclude that changes of the intestinal bacteria caused by antibiotics could be responsible.

Taken together, the New York University researchers conclude that it might be necessary to broaden our concept of the causes of obesity and urge more caution in using antibiotics. Both studies focus on the early age, because that is when obesity begins, the scientists say.

As I’ve noted previously:

In Communion I have a post-pandemic society, one which is recovering from a massive disruption caused by a flu virus which caused rapid death in a large percentage of the population. But the reality of what we’re dealing with might be even more insidious.

More insidious in this case because we have done it to ourselves.

And perhaps not even with direct antibiotic treatment to deal with some kind of life-threatening infection. Consider that it is still a widespread practice to boost livestock weight gain through the use of antibiotics, and that leaves a residue of antibiotics in the meat. If it boosts weight gain in feed animals, why wouldn’t it do the same to us?

I’ve said before that there has been some kind of change to the way our bodies absorb nutrients in the last 40 or 50 years, and that that is behind the global rise in obesity. Previously there were indications that it might be due to some kind of virus. Or an immune response to the germaphobia of the 20th century. But maybe it is more directly our own damned fault, and we’ve traded the ability to defeat infections for a different kind of health risk.

Jim Downey



Details, details.

From the first page of Chapter 17:

“Sorry.” She looked over at him, the dread in her eye replaced by something else. “The 1918 flu was recreated in the early part of this century, as there was a growing concern about Avian flu. The scientists at the time discovered that the prevailing form of Avian Flu, the H5N1 virus, was surprisingly related to the 1918 pandemic virus. Almost identical RNA structure, similar DNA.”

“But you say this one is different.”

“Yeah. Ignis was such a nasty bug because it spread by aerosol, but it also had a very short incubation period, just a couple of days. Then the disease itself was very swift, and victims died within hours of onset. Like it was all time- compressed, hyper-virulent. This is one of the reasons that people thought then, and still debate now, whether it was a weaponized version of Avian flu.”

From yesterday’s All Things Considered:

Anyone and everyone can now look in the journal Science and read about how to make lab-altered bird flu viruses that have been at the center of a controversy that’s raged for months.

But in the eyes of some critics, the details of these experiments are effectively the recipe for a dangerous flu pandemic.

The H5N1 bird flu virus isn’t normally contagious between people, but these mutants most likely are. They were created with the best of intentions by a lab that’s trying to understand how flu viruses might change in the wild and start spreading in humans.

But as word of the experiments got out, scary headlines warned of a “doomsday” virus and a “super-flu.” Scientists, public health officials and security experts debated what to do in closed-door meetings, as others made their arguments in op-eds and at public meetings.

Remember when the “fire-flu” (Latin name: Ignis) was supposed to happen?

Yeah, 2012.

Draw your own conclusions.

Jim Downey



Spoiler.

A small confession: I’ve never been ‘into’ Zombies. Not with the first wave of movies back when I was a kid. Not with the small revival when I was in college and then grad school. And certainly not with the whole Zombie craze of the last few years. Yes, I understand what it is all about, and the important things it says about our society, the human condition, and the stories it can tell. But it’s just not my cuppa.

This, however, is brilliant and very effectively done:

{applause} Now, *that’s* how to have a whole new twist on the genre. {/applause}

Jim Downey



I . . . see . . . things.
March 10, 2012, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Pandemic, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Writing stuff

Unsurprisingly, I have been thinking a lot about St. Cybi’s Well, the prequel to Communion of Dreams I have had simmering for some years. I say ‘unsurprisingly’ because more than a few folks have been asking what the next book will be and when it will be available. Some quotes from the Amazon reviews to illustrate this point:

“I’m looking forward to his next book.”

“The worst thing about buying this book is now I’m waiting for a sequel!”

“I hope Downey will return to this alternate future history and tell us more about the deeds and dreams of the people who live there.”

* * * * * * *

He got down to the main street, turned left and continued. On his side of the street were some small office buildings, then the large city park he’d noticed on the drive in. Then he came to the long, tall wall. Pausing for a moment, he pulled the uniPod out of his satchel, removed the wireless earpiece and pushed it into his left ear. Then he fiddled with the uni, tapping a series of commands on the screen, until the machine found the local hotspot and downloaded the audio tour.

“The park wall, just in front of you, was part of the effort of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, to rehabilitate the old castle grounds in the late 19th century. As you move along the wall, you will see it is adorned with totems of various animals in a realistic depiction, climbing over the wall as though to escape. This was The Lord Bute’s response to being denied the creation of a zoo in this park by the city fathers at the time. As you move along the wall you’ll soon see the looming Clock Tower, a favorite of the Lord Bute. Working with his architect, the renown yet whimsical William Burges, the two men sought to bring to life a bit of what they thought the middle ages should have been.

“This is the casual tour guide. More detailed descriptions and an in-depth discussion of any and all topics related to this site are available. Just select the level of information you require.”

That’s an excerpt from Chapter 1 of St. Cybi’s Well. The book is set in 2012, the protagonist is Darnell Sidwell (the “he” in the above excerpt), and concerns the onset of the fire-flu. Obviously, all of this is part of the ‘backstory’ for Communion of Dreams.

Seems pretty straight-forward, right? Tech feels good for the present day. Why did I choose the term “uniPod” though? Just to get around Apple’s trademark or something?

Nope. It’s because I wrote that on November 29, 2005. I know that because of the “date modified” info in the WordPerfect file.

The iPad was introduced in April, 2010.

* * * * * * *

A friend posted this comment to his Facebook wall yesterday:

I’ve been thinking about So-and-so’s post and subsequent thread the other day regarding the inarguable expansion of militias. Living here in Paradise Lost, it’s sometimes easy to lose sense of the prevailing winds of sentiment sweeping across the American landscape elsewhere. But it’s apparent that there are a lot of pissed-off people on both sides of the ideological fence and that each faction is seemingly preparing itself for more – and ever escalating – confrontations. And so I have to ask: Do you think we’re heading for a civil war? (And yes, I am being serious)

I sent him a link to this blog post from two years ago: Playing with fire.

And from page one 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. Hard to believe that was more than twenty years ago.

* * * * * * *

This is from the end of Chapter 9 in Communion of Dreams:

Jon thought he should clarify. “Jackie’s got the gist of it, but let me try and explain a little more completely. Sometime during the chaos of the post-flu, there were two marginal groups that got together. One was the heir of something called The Order, a reactionary offshoot of the old Aryan Nation.”

“Ah, neo-Nazis. Yes, I know them.”

“Thought so. The other group was a splinter of the radical environmental organization Earthfirst!, sort of like the far-left fringe of the Greens. They managed to create a hybrid belief system: that true adherence to God’s natural law would bring man back to a state of grace, suitable to be readmitted to the Garden of Eden. To promote this belief, they want to see a complete restoration of the Earth’s biosphere to a natural state, with humans having almost no environmental impact.”

Via a MetaFilter thread I came across this morning, a link to this movie: END:CIV

In a quote promoting the film on that website:

“In END:CIV, Franklin López does a refreshingly thorough and well packaged job of laying out the inherently self-destructive nature of westernized civilization and the ineptitude of peaceful reform. Using Derrick Jensen’s Endgame as a lose framework, López not only identifies root causes of systemic oppression and exploitation, but also exposes the deceptive nature of reformism and green-washing, instead spotlighting examples of indigenous resistance and the Earth Liberation Front. By the end of the film, passionate viewers will no longer just be questioning not whether western civilization is justified, but what they themselves can do to help bring it down.”

-Leslie James Pickering
Former spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front

* * * * * * *

I write about this not to tout my prophetic abilities. No, just to illustrate that for anyone who is paying close attention to both technological and sociological trends, certain things seem to be pretty obvious. As I told the Tribune:

“I’ve tried to anchor the world of 2052 firmly in what our world today is really like, but extending trends we have seen operate in the last 40 years,” he said. “Toss in a few wildcard events, some unexpected discoveries, and then cross your fingers.

“And to a certain extent, this is why I don’t really think of ‘Communion of Dreams’ as a typical ‘science fiction’ book — it is solidly grounded in known science and built from the reality around us,” he added. “The people in it are all real people, not unlike folks you know or would find in any mainstream novel. In this sense, it is just another work of fiction, though one which is a bit more speculative.”

Oh, and to say that pretty much everything I had written six or seven years ago as background material for St. Cybi’s Well has to be thrown out. The fictional world I came up with for 2012 has, largely, come into being. Or seems to be pretty damned close to happening just as I foresaw. Granted, there hasn’t been a theocratic regime come to power in the US – but can you honestly look at the current Republican rhetoric and not say that we’re close to that?

Gods, I just hope I’m not right about the onset of the pandemic flu . . .

Jim Downey




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