Communion Of Dreams


“Thirty seconds to ignition.”

This is cool:

44 years ago, the entire nation watched as three men explored the unknown. Watch, listen, and relive the excitement of the Apollo 11 lunar landing as experienced minute-by-minute by the courageous crew of Apollo 11 and Mission Control.

Very cool.

 

Jim Downey



Touch and go.

OK, this project from NASA is pretty damned cool:

 

Phil Plait describes it:

This is not a special effects scene from a science fiction movie: This is real. It’s a video showing the Morpheus Project prototype vertical takeoff and lander doing its thing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Mar. 5, 2014 (and you absolutely want to make it full screen and turn the sound up to get the full effect).

 

Furthermore, it’s a completely autonomous system — onboard software — doing the take-off and landing.

Impressive.

 

Jim Downey



“…a carpet of shifting, building insects.”

From page 4 of Communion of Dreams:

They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.

Those microbots play a big role in the novel, being a factor in the plot. More importantly, they are a basic part of the tech I envision for the book, accelerating our technological recovery on Earth as well as our venture into space.

Well, guess what was on the news last night:

Robot Construction Workers Take Their Cues From Termites

“We’ve created this system of multiple independent robots that build things we ask for,” says [Justin] Werfel, “and they do it more like the way insects act than the way that robots normally act.”

The robots don’t look like termites. Instead, they look more like black, mechanical beetles, about 8 inches long. They have just a few on-board sensors that let them navigate around a work site set up in a lab.

* * *

“They build things that are much larger than themselves,” says Werfel. “They climb on what they are … building to get to higher places, and they coordinate what they are doing using a tool that termites use.

“Rather than talk to one another directly, they coordinate indirectly by changing their shared environment,” he explains. “So one puts down some material, another one comes along and reacts to that material, and uses that to help it decide later whether to put more material down.”

* * *

The vision is that, someday, swarms of robots could stack up sandbags to protect against flooding, or go to Mars and build living quarters for astronauts. That’s still a long way off. But this is a proof of principle study that construction robots can work together like termites, says Hod Lipson, an engineer at Cornell University who specializes in robotics.

I love it when stuff like this happens.

 

Jim Downey



One reality or t’other.

From Chapter 3 of Communion of Dreams:

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.

Of course, that is the reality of St. Cybi’s Well, not our own. In our reality, there’s been no fire-flu (at least yet), Stephen Hawking is still alive, and the laws of physics are still the same.

Well, maybe

Black holes are in crisis. Well, not them, but the people who think about them, theoretical physicists who try to understand the relationship between the two pillars of modern physics, general relativity and quantum physics. Judging from the current discussions, one of the two must go, at least in their present formulation. On January 22nd, Stephen Hawking posted a paper where he bluntly stated that black holes, in the sense of being objects that can trap light and everything else indefinitely, are no more. And that’s a big deal.

Sometimes I wonder what reality I am actually plugged into, since it seems that I keep getting leaks from the other one.

 

Jim Downey



Thinking about the unthinkable.*

Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s long been one of my favorite movies, even as a kid. Yeah, I was a strange kid. Don’t act like you’re surprised.

Anyway, Eric Schlosser has a good article in The New Yorker reflecting on how the movie, originally considered a farce, was actually frighteningly accurate. From the article:

A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.

 

“Detecting nuclear detonations” … hmm, where have I heard that phrase recently? Oh, yeah:

A Sound of Cosmic Thunder: Earth-Impacting Asteroid Heard by Nuke Detectors

On the second day of 2014, a small asteroid blew up high in Earth’s atmosphere. It was relatively harmless—the rock was only a couple of meters across, far too small to hit the ground or do any real damage—and it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean anyway.

What’s cool is that now we know for sure this is the case: Infrasound detectors designed to listen for nuclear bomb detonations actually heard the explosion from the impact and were able to pinpoint the location of the event to a few hundred kilometers east off the coast of Venezuela.

NASA put together a nice informative video explaining it:

 

Gee, it sure is a good thing nothing like that has ever hit the territory of the old USSR … er, oops.

And now that I’ve given you a nice dose of fright, let me make it up to you with a reminder that you can download Communion of Dreams (which has it all … game theory, nuclear exchanges, and more than a little of my old strangeness) for free today and tomorrow!

 

Jim Downey

*The title of one of Herman Kahn‘s books about nuclear war/deterrence, and where I think I was first exposed to the concepts behind game theory.  I’ve got Schlosser’s book Command and Control on my to-read list when the Kindle price comes down a bit.



Cue the mad scientist laugh …

This is a really interesting idea: that fundamental thermodynamic forces lead very naturally to the the beginning and evolution of life. From the start of the article:

Why does life exist?

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

It’s important to note that this is not in any way in conflict with current understanding of evolution — rather, as the article says: “England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations.”

Take a few minutes to read the article; it’s well written and non-technical but assumes a basic scientific understanding of both evolution and thermodynamics.

And if proven true, implies that the universe should be full of biological life as a manifestation of basic physical processes.

*Very* interesting, indeed.

 

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



As the years roll by …

Seven years ago I launched this blog. We’re now within 100 visits of breaking 100,000 total visits.

Two years ago today the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams was published. Since then, some 26,000 copies of it have been downloaded. I’ve honestly lost track of the total number. And that’s not counting the 35,000+ copies of the earlier .pdf version of the book which were downloaded. The paperback edition was released on January 26, 2012, and I consider that the “official publication date” – watch for a special promotion next week.

Today, I just tweaked my ‘author page‘ on Amazon to include this:

Are you a literary agent looking for new talent to represent? Consider this: the Kindle edition of “Communion of Dreams” has been downloaded more than 25,000 times. As I am working to complete the prequel “St. Cybi’s Well” I am also interested in seeking a conventional publishing contract to get print copies of both books into brick & mortar venues, and would welcome professional representation. Contact me.

Why the change? Well, when I started this blog it was with the intent of documenting my efforts to get Communion of Dreams published through a conventional publishing house, by contacting agents and submitting the book to numerous publishers directly. After years of fighting that fight, and getting oh-so-close several times, I decided to go ahead and self-publish the book. I don’t in any way regret that decision. I’m pleased with the response the book has gotten, from total downloads to reviews and ratings.

But I feel as though I have missed an opportunity. Specifically, by not having print copies of Communion of Dreams in bookstores and other traditional venues.  Publishing has changed, and bookstores are under huge market pressure, but people still buy paper & ink copies of books. Yes, I do have a “print-on-demand” edition of Communion of Dreams available, but that’s not the same thing as having it on display at your local bookstore or even at Walmart. The promotional tools available through Amazon for their print-on-demand books just aren’t comparable. So, yeah, I’d still like to see about connecting with a conventional publishing house, one which could fill in those gaps for me.

And for the folks who backed my Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well, this could also be a boon — I’d still do a private press run, and make accommodations for everyone.  Think how collectible hand-bound, limited-edition copies of a best selling author’s books would be.  :)

Anyway, who knows what will happen? I’m still faced with trying to get the attention of a good agent or publishing house. That’s a long, fairly random process, and there’s a very good chance that nothing will come of it. But at least now I have a demonstrated product and readership, and that has to help matters. We’ll see.

Happy Anniversary!

 

Jim Downey

 



Danger: Spoilers.

The following post contains spoilers regarding Communion of Dreams. In fact, it contains such spoilers that I’m going to put it after a break, so that you have to actually scroll down to see it. For anyone who hasn’t read Communion of Dreams, you’ve been warned.

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I’ve been asked many times what comes after the end of Communion of Dreams. The answer to that is tied up with questions of just exactly why there is a “barrier” around our solar system, which has been hiding any and all indications of extra-terrestrial life/intelligence/civilization from us.

Let’s just say that I have my own … ideas … on the subject. Which I may or may not someday explore/make public.  We’ll see.

But of the many possibilities, this is one very viable explanation. And it’s pretty well done:

 

Jim Downey

PS: The classic Gordon R. Dickson short “Danger—Human!” also deals with much the same idea.



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.




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