Filed under: Alzheimer's, Art, Blade Runner, Connections, Depression, Failure, Flu, General Musings, Health, Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Science, Science Fiction, Scientific American, Society, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Alzheimer's, art, bipolar, Blade Runner, blogging, care-giving, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, health, Her Final Year, hospice, jim downey, John Bourke, Kickstarter, memoir, memory, New York Review of Books, Oliver Sacks, parainfluenza, Philip K. Dick, reality, science, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, video, writing, www youtube
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.
Filed under: Art, Arthur C. Clarke, Artificial Intelligence, Blade Runner, Brave New World, Connections, Expert systems, Feedback, General Musings, Humor, movies, Music, NPR, Predictions, Psychic abilities, Religion, Ridley Scott, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A.I., Arthur C. Clarke, artificial intelligence, Blade Runner, blogging, Christoph Bartneck, Clifford Nass, Communion of Dreams, deva, Expert, feedback, HAL, humor, jim downey, movies, music, NPR, predictions, reviews, Ridley Scott, science, Science Fiction, Seth, Siri, St. Cybi's Well, technology, Vangelis, video, writing, www youtube
One of the things I’ve been a little bit surprised by has been just how many people have volunteered to me (or in reviews) just how much they like the ‘Experts’ in Communion of Dreams, and in particular how much of a favorite character Seth becomes to them in the course of the novel.
I don’t mean I’m surprised by how much people like the Experts, and particularly Seth. Hell, I intended the Experts to be likeable. I mean that this is something which people find remarkable enough to, well, remark on it.
That’s because humans tend to anthropomorphize just about everything. Our pets. Our cars. Our tools. Even nature. It’s one of the basic ways that we make sense of the world, as can be seen in religious and spiritual beliefs. Long before Siri there was HAL, and inasmuch as Communion of Dreams is an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey I knew that Seth would resonate as a ‘real person’.*
So this morning I was amused to hear a story on NPR about how giving computers/robots more human characteristics tends to cause humans to develop a greater sense of empathy and socialization with them. Amused, but not surprised. From the article:
Many people have studied machine-human relations, and at this point it’s clear that without realizing it, we often treat the machines around us like social beings.
* * *
What the study demonstrated was that people do in fact obey the rule of reciprocity when it comes to computers. When the first computer was helpful to people, they helped it way more on the boring task than the other computer in the room. They reciprocated.
* * *
“The relationship is profoundly social,” he says. “The human brain is built so that when given the slightest hint that something is even vaguely social, or vaguely human — in this case, it was just answering questions; it didn’t have a face on the screen, it didn’t have a voice — but given the slightest hint of humanness, people will respond with an enormous array of social responses including, in this case, reciprocating and retaliating.”
On the NPR website version of the story there’s also this delightful video showing what happens when a robot with cat/human characteristics begs a research subject to not switch it off:
Interesting. But again, unsurprising. Consider the whole sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL is shut down — a powerful and poignant part of the movie. And referenced at the end of the video above.
Lastly, I laughed out loud once the story was over on NPR, and the transitional bit of music started up. Why? Because it was an instrumental work by the artist Vangelis, composed as the Love Theme from the movie Blade Runner.
Filed under: Architecture, Art, Connections, Italy, Predictions, Preparedness, Religion, Ridley Scott, Travel, Writing stuff | Tags: Baiae, blogging, Caligula, Campbell, Communion of Dreams, Italy, jim downey, literature, Marcus Aurelius, mythology, Naples, predictions, Prometheus, promotion, Roman, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing
Thursday morning (July 19) I spent time catching up on notes about the trip so far. At least that was the excuse I used to hide a while, spending time alone. Oh, the group was great, and everyone continued to be very easy to get along with and welcoming. But I had been spending much more time with people than I was used to, and my “extrovert batteries” were worn out. Furthermore, the rough & tumble of Naples just left me mildly depressed and feeling entirely unenthusiastic for the day’s outing.
Which, of course, set the stage for something completely remarkable to happen …
* * * * * * *
Following the morning workshop, then lunch, we loaded into the bus and headed for Baiae.
Baia Castle is your fairly typical 15th century European castle. But it offers some great views of the Bay of Naples:
One small note: you may recall having heard that the Roman Emperor Caligula once commanded that a pontoon bridge be built spanning the Gulf of Baiae, supposedly so that he could ride a horse across it and fulfill some prophecy. Well, that evidently actually happened, and said bridge crossed that middle image – going from the shore below the castle across to the port area on the left side of that picture, a distance of more than 3 miles.
The upper portion of the museum is a collection of Greek-inspired sculptural and architectural elements. But it was downstairs that I experienced something of an epiphany.
* * * * * * *
An apology to those who are just reading these travelogues for a bit of info about this portion of Italy. Because I’m going to talk about my fiction writing for a moment. If you haven’t read my current novel and have no interest in it or the prequel I am currently working on, feel free to skip this section.
This will also contain possible “spoilers” for both novels, as well as a bit of a reveal of the smoke & mirrors behind writing a novel. You’ve been warned.
As those who have read Communion of Dreams know, there are a number of scenes which pertain to one character’s dream-visions. Which, it turns out, are drawn from the dream-visions of another character in the book.
Those scenes are choc-a-block full of imagery which references Campbell’s monomyth ideas. Having them play out, be transferred, from one character to another within a dream-vision was a little bit of meta-synecdoche on my part, and was obviously meant to reference both the title of the book as well as what happens in the course of the story.
OK, that’s easy enough. Now, the prequel I have been thinking about and working on (by fits and starts) for the last several years is titled St. Cybi’s Well, and the time of the novel is today (though on a slightly different timeline/reality than our own). And the main character for that book is one of the characters mentioned just above. He is, in fact, the character from whom the dream-visions are drawn. That has been my plan all along.
What has also been my plan, but which I hadn’t quite been able to sort out how to accomplish, was that in St. Cybi’s Well much of the story will revolve around *how* this character came to have those dream-visions in the first place. This is further complicated by the fact that I don’t necessarily want the character to realize the full import of what he experiences within the context of the story – the reader should be able to draw out conclusions which the character wouldn’t, especially if the reader had already read Communion of Dreams.
OK, got all that? So, here’s what I experienced at Baia Castle: the revelation that the classical sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology could themselves be the conduit for the dream-visions. I got this by walking through the collection – not just walking through it, but by seeing the juxtaposition of different sculptures within the somewhat under-lit and under-stated layout of the museum.
See, like in most of the museums we had visited, the climate control there was non-existent. And whether in order to keep down temps a bit, or just to save money on electricity, the only lighting throughout the space was from windows along one side of the building. And the layout of the building was a series of almost cave-like ‘bunkers’ – rooms which were kinda long & narrow with a relatively low ceiling, and done up in neutral grey tones.
It was perfect. And in a moment my mind made the leap to imagery for St. Cybi’s Well. Because, like many of the different ‘holy wells’ in Wales, it dates back to the middle of the 6th century – not that long after the fall of Rome. And, in fact, the spread of Christianity to the Celtic lands was part of the cultural transference which took place. It’d be easy to tweak the history just a bit to include ‘lost’ sculpture & myth.
I felt in that moment the same way I feel now: like laughing maniacally.
* * * * * * *
We now return you to your regularly-scheduled travelogue.
The sculptural collection at Baia Castle was pretty remarkable in several regards. Here are a few of the more striking images:
* * * * * * *
Our next stop was the huge Roman bath/resort complex at Baiae.
Prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this had been one of the premier places for the rich and powerful to gather and relax. Because of the hydro-thermal springs, Roman engineers were able to construct an elaborate complex which offered naturally hot mineral waters. Avoiding the need to run furnaces meant that the whole thing was cleaner and could be scaled *way*up from what was typical. As a result, at the height of the complex it was some 6 stories high along the hillside, and spanned 3 or 4 modern city blocks. Here are some images to give a sense of the size and luxuriousness of the complex:
* * * * * * *
Following our visit to the Roman baths, we ventured to see how more modern Italians enjoy the seaside: we went to the beach.
Now, beaches in Italy are different than most of the beaches I’ve been to here in the U.S. Not that I’ve spent much time at beaches in the U.S. in the last twenty years.
Anyway, modern Italian beaches are highly commoditized. You pay for entrance. You pay for a reserved parcel of beach, which comes with an umbrella. You pay for a chair or chaise lounge. It is less like going to a beach than it is like going to Disneyland.
You can see this from a pic I took from Baia Castle, looking down:
And here’s what it looks like from ground level (at a different beach):
But what the hell. A few hours at the beach was something a lot of people enjoy, and the bulk of the group was happy with the arrangement. Most of them donned swimming suits and even got a bit wet.
Me? No thanks. I burst into flame when exposed to direct sun. And I’m not exactly in what you might call “beach condition”. I was perfectly happy to park at the bar with a couple other people and enjoy some cold beer.
Besides, I wanted to mull over the revelation I’d had earlier. Such moments are rare, and not to be wasted.
Filed under: A.P.O.D., Astronomy, movies, NASA, Ridley Scott, Science, Science Fiction, Space | Tags: jim downey, movies, NASA, photography, Prometheus, reviews, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, space, technology, video
(Yes, I intentionally misspelled those words. Here – go watch this stunning transit of Venus and stop bothering me.)
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Blade Runner, Failure, Feedback, Health, Hospice, Kindle, Marketing, movies, Promotion, Publishing, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Society, XCOR | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, banking, blogging, care-giving, direct publishing, free, health, hospice, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, memoir, Mother's Day, reviews, Science Fiction, TSA, writing
A couple weeks ago I quipped that I was thankful for the TSA, because they are always good fodder for a blog post when things were otherwise slow. Well, likewise, I’m glad that the big multinational banks are around to put my own mistakes in some perspective:
JPMORGAN, widely considered the best run of all the large banks in America, if not the world, on May 10th provided the kind of news that has become all too common in the financial industry: a $2 billion charge for errant trades. The markets responded within seconds of the opening on May 11th, sending Morgan’s share price down 9%, and its value by $14 billion. Late on May 11th, Standard & Poor’s announced it was downgrading the outlook for the company, and Fitch knocked down its ratings.
* * *
The bluntest criticism of Morgan’s failure came from the bank’s own chief executive, Jamie Dimon. He said the losses were the result of self-inflicted “sloppiness”, “poor judgment” and “stupidity”, for which “we are accountable”.
And the news this morning is that a number of the executives involved in the losses have ‘retired’. No, not in the Blade Runner sense. But in the sense that they’ll not be drawing a salary of more than a million bucks a month. Though I imagine that these people have more than a bit of savings and contractual retirement income to cushion the blow.
Yesterday’s Kindle promotion for Communion of Dreams wasn’t a huge mistake, but it also wasn’t a stunning success. A total of 1,571 copies of the book were downloaded. Chances are it wasn’t what was needed to kick us up to the next orbital level, but neither did it crash & burn.
What *was* surprising was that our care-giving memoir Her Final Year proved to be very successful, with a total of 3,112 downloads. Wow.
I find it hard to explain just how happy this makes me. As I had noted previously, I was very disappointed with the response to Her Final Year. Only recently have I come to understand that it was about more than just simple sales.
See, I have been very pleased with the response to Communion of Dreams. The sales are nice, and the income helps. The reviews and ratings are rewarding. But what really makes me happy is that the book has found an audience, a home in people’s lives, a place in their imaginations.
That Her Final Year hadn’t found such a home was what bugged me. Because I have a lot of faith in the book. Faith that it can help others, if they would just read the damned thing. But that faith had been betrayed by my inability to get any attention for the book. Or, rather, I felt like I had betrayed my faith – and the book – by my inability to promote it.
Now, just because 3,112 people downloaded the book yesterday that doesn’t mean that the book will be read. But it sure as hell is a lot more likely that it’ll be read than just having the thing sit forgotten on Amazon’s servers. We’ll just have to see.
But no longer do I feel like I have betrayed the promise of the book. That gives me a happiness, and a hope, which I haven’t felt for a long time.
(Cross posted to the HFY blog.)
Filed under: Marketing, movies, Music, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Society, tech, Violence, YouTube
So, anyone and everyone (well, in the “Love movies/science fiction/spectacles” crowd) spent much of the last couple of days talking about the new Prometheus trailer. This one:
At the time I write this, some 3,894,928 people have viewed said trailer on YouTube. And little wonder that it has so many people talking – it’s just about perfect for a blockbuster Hollywood spectacle, with massive explosions, plenty of violence and special effects, and a soundtrack that’ll make your ears bleed.
But you know, I’d rather see this movie:
Yeah, that’s also a trailer for Prometheus. But it’s the UK trailer. It’s slower paced. More emphasis on telling a story. Literally quieter. The first explosion doesn’t show up until about 3/4 into the trailer.
Interesting difference in marketing. Using the same tech, many of the same clips/images from the movie (well, as much as you can depend on any trailer to use actual clips from the movie), even mostly the same music, the UK trailer manages to create a substantially different mood.
Like I said, I know which movie I’d rather see. And I know which crew I would rather see turn Communion of Dreams into a movie.
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Via Topless Robot.
Filed under: Blade Runner, Guns, Marketing, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction
One of my most popular blog posts is this one: Model 2019 Detective Special
Well, you still have a few hours to get one of these, just $10 plus shipping:
Why yes, I have ordered one already.
Filed under: Blade Runner, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, YouTube
Sharing this just because it is so completely insane:
And the long sequence of her dancing with the snake reminded me very much of the ‘Miss Salomé and the snake’ scene in Blade Runner. Given the rest of the futuristic theme of this clip, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that it provided the inspiration for Ridley Scott twenty years later. It’d be interesting to find out. Maybe if Scott winds up doing the film adaptation of Communion of Dreams . . .
Filed under: Art, Blade Runner, movies, Philip K. Dick, Predictions, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, tech
My, my, my. Hit the mother lode: Future Noir.
Just one of the gems there is the Blade Runner Sketchbook.
Less than 8 years to go.
Filed under: Blade Runner, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, Travel
As friends and long-term readers know, I’m a big fan of Blade Runner. This independent homage to the movie is brilliant:
Enjoy. I hope to have the first installment of stories from our NZ trip here later today.