Communion Of Dreams

So, these three guys walk into a panel discussion…

Over the next week or so I’ll be writing a lot about some of the things I saw/heard/experienced at the Heinlein Centennial this past weekend. It was a fantastic, and for me, transformative experience, which will play out in interesting ways for some time, I think. Here on CommunionBlog I will be posting everything I write, some of which will be also posted on UTI and dKos). This will not be in any kind of order, and this first item was in fact just about the last thing that happened over the weekend.

Jim D


I went to the Heinlein Centennial for a lot of reasons. Robert A. Heinlein was one of the ‘Big Three’ SF authors of the 20th century. His work had a profound effect on me in my early years, and still informs much of my world view. There was going to be a large component to the Centennial devoted to private space ventures, with leaders in the field there talking about the work they were doing and what was on the horizon. There were going to be any number of other top-notch SF writers in attendance. And it would provide me the opportunity to do some networking, in promotion of my own writing.

I am not much of a fanboy. I’ve only attended a few SF conventions – I’m not real big on large crowds, and the time period of my life when most people get plugged into that world I was busy doing something else which entirely preoccupied my time and energy. By the early ’90s I was busy (and broke) starting a business, then re-inventing that business in ’96, then closing that business in ’04. Since then I’ve been largely devoted to caring for my Mother-in-law, as noted in my brief bio on the left.

Anyway, while I knew the routine and what to expect from such an event, I was a bit of an outsider, a noob. On the other hand, because of some of my other life experience, I can usually pull off having a ‘presence’ – of looking like someone who is a little more established, a little more experienced, a little more than just a noob. (More on that later.) But the truth is, I had been largely fighting out of my weight class for three days, bluffing my way into discussions, handing out cards for my novel, et cetera – and was pretty much exhausted from it all.

So, the last panel discussion I decided to attend yesterday was on a topic of interest to me, but somewhat outside my main areas of knowledge, and I went intending on just keeping my fool mouth shut and listening (I’m keeping all the details vague for a reason). The three panelists came in, got started with introductions, a brief statement on the topic, and so forth. I’d seen a couple of them in other panel discussions, and had some idea of what to expect. Then one of them made some silly statements about his new-agey religious beliefs that didn’t really pertain to the subject, but he thought they did, about how the soul exists outside of the physical body, et cetera.

One of the other panelists, an academic with established cred on the subject, an author with a number of highly-regarded books to his name, got up and nicely, but very energetically and with considerable verve, tore Mr. New-Age a new asshole and shoved all the crap he’d been spewing back into it. It was a thing of beauty to behold, and I sat there thinking “cool – this guy’s a rationalist, in addition to his other credentials”.

The panel discussion proceeded, returning to the topic at hand, and everyone had a good time. Mr. New-Age didn’t seem to mind the slam-dunk he’d suffered, probably because it was done with such artistry, and the contributions of the other panel member and the audience kept things lively and interesting. I kept my mouth shut, but the fellow who’d shut down the nonesense made a comment about something that made me think he might be open to reading my book. When all was wrapped up, and the room was emptying, the panelists gathering together their things, I stepped up to the table, said something to the Rationalist, and handed him my card. As is usual in such situations, he made nice noises about thanking me, said he’d check it out if he had a chance, and I turned to go.

As I did so, I heard an exclamation behind me: “You’re Jim Downey!” (The business cards I’d had printed up say ‘James Downey’.)


I turned to see what the hell caused that. Mr. Rationalist looked like he’d just been handed a big fat check, standing there, my card in hand, looking from me to it and back again with a huge grin on his face. “You’re Jim Downey!”

He thrust his hand across the table at me. “I’m a raging atheist – I read Unscrewing the Inscrutable all the time!! In fact, you’re the reason I’m here! I read the post you put up a couple months back about the Heinlein Centennial, and so I contacted the organizers and told them I wanted to participate! Wow!”

I was gobsmacked. Bumfuzzled. (And if you’ve never had your bum fuzzled, you don’t know what you’re missing.) I’m sure I stood there like an idiot as he continued: “Oh, here, let me…”

He reached over to his bag and pulled out his latest book. Inscibed it to me. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to run and catch the shuttle to the airport, so I can make my flight…I really wish we had time for a drink or something…”


Mr. Rationalist, I wish I could convey to you what an astonishing experience that was. (Actually, I dropped him a note and told him that I was going to be posting this, and invited him to come by and contribute – but I don’t “out” someone without expressed permission.) As I mentioned, I was weary from fighting the good fight all weekend, having a phenomenal time, but also very much feeling like I was completely outclassed by all the brilliant engineers, entrepreneurs, academics, and writers. To have one such panel member even recognize me based on my ramblings here, let alone to be so enthusiastic and gracious about it – well, it was a shot of rejuvenation juice which would make Lazarus Long jump for joy. Thank you.

Jim Downey

UPDATE: and in comments: Mr. Rationalist has dropped me a note and said it was OK to ID him: Richard Hanley, Assoc. Prof of Philosophy at U. Delaware, and author of South Park and Philosophy: Bigger, Longer, and More Penetrating and The Metaphysics of Star Trek among others. I mean, how cool is that?


(Cross-posted, with tweaks, from UTI.)

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Glad you had such a good time. People were really having way too much fun to feel intimidated.

Listen, one of our very distinguished guests was afraid to introduce himself to another of our distinguished guests because he felt the other was such a great man. One of our fans dragged him over, saying “Oh no,you have to come meet him.”

If you write to me, you can have the names in private.


Comment by Tina Black

Wonderful! And I did just hear from “Mr. Rationalist”, who gave his permission to be outed: Richard Hanley, Assoc. Prof of Philosophy at U. Delaware, and author of South Park and Philosophy: Bigger, Longer, and More Penetrating and The Metaphysics of Star Trek among others. I mean, how cool is that?

Jim Downey

Comment by Communion of Dreams

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