Communion Of Dreams


All bound together.

Today’s excerpt from St Cybi’s Well. The scene takes place at Gumfreston Church, outside Tenby:

He glanced up the way to the parking lot beyond the wall. His was still the only car there. Then he turned and followed the walkway further down the hill, past the church building. Partway down the hill a modern bench sat amongst the ancient graves, overlooking the secluded little niche containing the group of three wells. They were all clustered together, with fairly recent fieldstone platforms and walk around them.

Darnell went down directly, paused just before the first of the three. There were simple little white crosses painted onto some football-sized rocks beside the path. Small ribbons and bells were tied to trees and bushes nearby. On some of the rocks, and on the edges of the platforms, were the burnt-ends of candles. Clearly, this was still a place of pilgrimage.

He stepped onto the narrow platform, and once again could feel that strumming, that flowing energy he had felt in St David’s. Some yards away, sheltering the site from the outside world, were thick curtains of vines, still full leafed and deep green from summer, draping down from massive ancient trees. This added to the sense of the place being somewhat apart, special.

He knelt down, reached his hand to the surface of the first well. It bubbled slightly, but was otherwise clear and without a strong odor. He could feel a brightness, a clear sparkling energy to it.

The middle spring was slightly cloudy, with a ruddy kind of moss all along the bottom and sides of the pool and the little stream which left from it. Placing his hand lightly on the surface, he could feel a deeper, somewhat darker energy. Not darker in a negative sense, but one of earthiness, like the rich loam of a well-cared-for garden.

The third and lower spring had some element of that ruddiness to it, but it also had a distinct aroma of sulfur – distinct, but not overpowering. Touching the surface of that pool Darnell felt what could almost have been heat, though the water was still cool to the touch. Rather, it was as though the energy was intense, as if it were coming from a fire.

Kneeling there, reaching down, it almost felt like praying. He smiled to himself, and got up. Going back up the path, he sat on the bench overlooking the wells, and considered them.

Brightness, sparkling, as in the air. Richness, as the loam of the earth. Intense, as in fire. All bound together with water, flowing and mingling.

Little wonder this site was still on the pilgrim’s path.

 

Jim Downey



It’s a Mil-Tech SF future; we’re just living in it.

Yeah, it’s cool and all, but I can’t be the only one who looked at the news about Google X’s Drone Program

A zipping comes across the sky.

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap.

… and thinks “generation 1.0 Hunter-seeker“, right? I mean, this basically jumps from needing a large military drone to having a backpack assassination tool. Why worry about collateral damage with a missile when you can just drop a cigarette-pack lump of high explosive in someone’s lap, using a cell phone and facial-recognition software to make sure of your specific target?

Or how I look at the self-driving car and think “hmm, add a Ma Deuce and/or 30mm cannon, and you’ve a small autonomous tank”.

Yeah, OK, perhaps I’m just too cynical. But human nature being what it is, you’ve gotta think that there was a reason why DARPA has been behind the development of these technologies …

 

Jim Downey

 



“I’m here to challenge assumptions of normal…”

This piece by Kameron Hurley is quite good. It’s about using fiction to shape expectations and open imaginations. Here’s a good excerpt:

Even our nonfiction perpetuates this idea that the way we are today is the way we’ve always been, or will ever be. I saw my first few episodes of Cosmos this week, a show I probably would have interrogated less before I started untangling the stories we tell ourselves are history. As with every other depiction of “early humans” this one showed a recognizable, to us, family group: women holding children, a couple men out hunting, maybe grandma off to one side. They looked like the limited family groups we knew from popular media, instead of the likely far more complicated ones that they moved in during their time: four women and two men stripping a carcass, two men out gathering, an old man watching after the children, two old women tending the fire. The truth is that every archaeologist and historian is limited by their own present in interpreting the future. So when Americans and Europeans talk about early humans, they don’t talk so much about early humans in Africa, even if that’s where we all came from. When we talk about early humans, they’re always hairy, pelt-wearing pale folks hacking out a living on some ice sheet. The men are always out hunting (like good 1950’s office workers!) while women stay in camp to dawdle babies on their knees. In fact, small family groups like these could not afford truly specialized roles until the advent of agriculture. Before that, folks needed to work together even more closely to survive — every member pulled their weight, whether that was looking after young children, gathering food, or herding some big mammal off a cliff and stripping it for meat.

 

Couldn’t agree more. In fact, here’s a passage from Chapter 2 of Communion of Dreams, and this element was built into that book for precisely the reasons she discusses:

Down at the end of a cul-de-sac was his family’s residence. A couple of the large, old homes which were built in the ‘90’s served as the bookends of the compound, with additional structures between and behind them forming an open triangle. Group families of various configurations had become the norm in the few decades since the flu. Almost everyone who survived the flu was left infertile, even the very young, and the children who were born were themselves likely to be infertile. Children had become critically important, treasured above all else. Group families formed naturally as a way of raising more children in a secure environment, with shared responsibility. Those adults who were fertile came to be cherished and protected by the others. Couples still tended to pair-bond, as in Jon’s family, but formed a small collective, or extended family structure. In some ways it was an older form of the family, a survival strategy from deep in mankind’s racial memory.

 

And, unsurprisingly, even this fairly tame variation on what a ‘family’ is has gotten criticism from some reviewers.

Anyway, Hurley’s piece isn’t very long, and is well worth the read.

 

Jim Downey

 



Almost.

I keep forgetting to watch Jodorowsky’s Dune … about the movie adaptation which was almost made.  This item from Open Culture will give you a taste of what it might have been like:

Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

A decade before David Lynch’s flawed but visually brilliant adaptation of Dune hit the silver screen (see our post on that from Monday), another cinematic visionary tried to turn Frank Herbert’s cult book into a movie. And it would have been a mind-bogglingly grand epic.

 

And be sure to check out the still images. Great stuff, and would have made one hell of a Science Fiction movie. Perhaps a completely *bonkers* one, but nonetheless …

 

Jim Downey

 



Original 1480 binding.

Been a little while since I did a book conservation post. So let’s have some fun.

Recently I had this item come in for some minor work:  Summa contra gentiles by Thomas Aquinas, printed in Venice in 1480. That makes it an incunabula, one of the relatively rare books published before 1501 (in this case, just a quarter century or so after the Gutenberg Bible).  Even more noteworthy, this book is still in its original binding. And that binding is in remarkably good condition.

Here’s a pic of the outside of the binding:

Full front

Lovely. And an excellent example of bindings of that period. That’s the front cover, a nice very deep red (almost a dark brown to the eye) in goatskin. What I love is the way the binder used fairly simple tools to create an elaborate cover design. Here’s a detail:

Front detail

And the hardware is wonderful, too. Here’s a detail of the front clasp hardware:

Front hardware

That clasp was designed to receive a simple hook attached to a leather strap mounted on the back, here:

Rear hardware

Also, take note of the delightful small brass strip mounted on the corners:

Front corner

There’s a similar strip mounted to the bottom (called the “tail” in bookbinding) edge of the covers, near the spine of the book on both the front and rear. That protects the cover from excessive wear when the book would be resting in a lectern or something similar for reading (books in this time period were usually shelved on their side):

Rear bottom edge

Cool, eh? But the real treasure of this binding was revealed when I removed the (probably) 19th century endpapers which had been added. Under that was the original structure of the book, showing both the original boards (probably quarter-sawn oak) as well as the way the supporting strips of alum-tawed goatskin of the sewing structure was laced into those boards. Here’s an overview:

Interior full

And here’s a detail showing how the supporting strips were lain within a small channel carved into the wooden board covers, and then pinned in place using a softer wood or (in this case) other leather:

Interior mounting

But equally cool is a detail shot showing the simplicity of how the leather cover comes around the corner of the board:

Interior board detail

Lastly, here’s a little detail from one sheet inside:

Interior vellum

It’s a little hard to tell what it is you’re seeing there, so let me explain. The darker strip is the outside edge of a piece of vellum which has been adhered to the spine of the text block. This was added *before* the supporting strips of alum-tawed goatskin were laced into the wooden covers, and just serves to help protect the exposed sewing thread.

So, there you have it: a perfect example of late 15th century binding. Just like all the history books (and book conservation training) says it should be, but exposed by me today for the first time in probably 200 years or so.

Fun stuff. Have I mentioned recently how cool my job is?

 

Jim Downey

 



The ideas I get …

News item on NPR this afternoon:

Ebola In The Skies? How The Virus Made It To West Africa

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the most explosive in history. One reason the virus spread so fast is that West Africa was blindsided. Ebola had never erupted in people anywhere close to West Africa before.

The type of Ebola causing the outbreak — called Zaire — is the deadliest strain. Until this year, it had been seen only in Central Africa, about 2,500 miles away. That’s about the distance between Boston and San Francisco.

 

How did it get there?

Disease ecologist says scientists don’t know for sure. But they have a top theory: The virus spread through bats.

Many signs point to bats as the main source of Ebola. Scientists have found Ebola antibodies in bat species that are widespread throughout Africa. The virus infects and replicates inside bats, but it doesn’t kill the animals. So bats can easily spread Ebola.

And bats get around. Some can migrate hundreds, even thousands of miles.

 

Combine that with the item I posted about earlier … and my mind went in a very odd direction as I was doing some routine work in the bindery this afternoon: what if …

… what if a few years ago someone with some limited precognitive ability (either technological or psychic) was able to foresee an Ebola epidemic which made it to the US and then was spread by our native bat population?

And then what if they decided to do something to stop that epidemic before it ever happened … by decimating the bat population?

Yeah, sometimes the ideas I get kinda scare even me.

 

Jim Downey



It’s not just the initial disease.

Sorry for my absence here — I’ve been very busy with a another big project, one which I can’t discuss publicly just yet. But soon.

Without wanting to buy-into the complete panic in some corners about Ebola, here are a couple of very sober articles to consider, which are less about the actual disease and more about what such a pandemic does to the society it hits:

Looters Attack Liberia Ebola Quarantine Center, Patients Under Observation Return Home

Battling the deadly outbreak of Ebola in Liberia has been a mammoth task for the country’s government and international aid agencies. Over the weekend combating the virus’ spread got even harder when a quarantine center in Monrovia was attacked, and 17 patients being monitored for possible infection fled the medical facility. The Liberian government initially said all of the patients had been relocated to another facility after the West Point health center was looted on Saturday, but later admitted that 17 patients had gone “back into their communities,” the BBC reports.

 

And this one from last week:

You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola

Attention, World: You just don’t get it.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?

Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.

 

And from that second article, more to my point:

I myself have received emails from physicians in these countries, describing the complete collapse of all non-Ebola care, from unassisted deliveries to untended auto accident injuries. People aren’t just dying of the virus, but from every imaginable medical issue a system of care usually faces.

 

That’s the thing — a pandemic is bad enough in its own right, when a disease such as Ebola has a mortality of more than 50% under the best conditions.  Consider how much worse the impact will be once the overall public health system collapses due to the death of doctors and nurses, when deliveries can’t be made to restock supplies, when whole cities are quarantined, when people begin to really panic.

That is the horror of a true global pandemic. Like the one in St Cybi’s Well.

Cheery thought, eh?

 

Jim Downey

PS: Two other unrelated things I want to mention. The first is thanks to all who participated in Helping Cassandra – you made a real difference. And the second is just to link to a blog post about some black powder shooting I did this past weekend with some very fun historical guns.

 

 

 




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