Communion Of Dreams

To get your Monday started off right.

You may recall the 2001 effort to get people to register their religion as “Jedi”. Like some of the other silliness at the turn of the century, it was mostly harmless.

Well, it seems that earlier this year a couple of brothers in Wales decided to take it a step further:

Force strong for new Jedi church

Two Star Wars-loving brothers planning a Jedi church hope it will be much nearer than a galaxy far, far away.

Barney and Daniel Jones want fellow devotees to be able to join them close to their home on Anglesey.

Barney, 26 – or Master Jonba Hehol – and Daniel, 21 – Master Morda Hehol – head the UK Church of the Jedi, in honour of the film’s good knights.

And you gotta give the guys credit – they know how to keep their name in the news:

Anglesey Jedi Church announces plans for Moon colony

AN ORDER of Holyhead Jedis has begun steps to colonise the moon.

The UK Church of the Jedi, run by brothers Daniel and Barney Jones, of Holyhead, are setting up a micro nation on the moon.

They have bought a plot of land on the moon and the order plan to have a capital city and appoint worthy Jedi to positions such as Head of Galactic Affairs and Country Ambassador.

Alas, with notoriety also comes occasional tragedy:

Star Wars comes to Holyhead as Darth Vader strikes back in Jedi’s back garden

A Star Wars fan got closer to his idols than he would perhaps have liked when he was attacked in his garden by Darth Vader.

Jedi Master Jonba Hehol – known to family and friends as Barney Jones, 36, of Holyhead – was giving a TV interview in his back garden for a documentary when a man, dressed in a black bin-bag and wearing Darth Vader’s trademark shiny black helmet, leapt over his garden fence.

Wielding a metal crutch – his lightsaber presumably being in for repairs – the Sith Lord proceeded to lay about his opponent, whose Jedi powers proved inadequate for the task of defending himself.

After besting Master Hehol in single combat, Vader, who The Sun reports was under the influence of alcohol, went on to assault the camera crew and a hairdresser.

It’s always something.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.  Cross posted to UTI.)

Crossing over.

[This post contains mild spoilers about Communion of Dreams, particularly chapter 5.]

As I’ve been doing some conservation work this morning, I’ve been listening again to the audio version of Communion, done by Scot Wilcox of OwnMade AudioBooks, and discussed previously. I just enjoy hearing his interpretation.

Anyway, at the end of chapter five, as the first team of researchers is about halfway to Titan to investigate the alien artifact which has been discovered there, the protagonist has an odd dream which is described in some detail. In the dream Jon (the protagonist) crosses a bridge, and there’s lots of symbolism which is important for how the rest of the book unfolds. For this reason, I worked fairly hard to get the description just right. Scot’s reading of the passage is great, and really brought that scene to life for me.

Which is fairly easy, because it is based on a real scene – a real bridge: this bridge on the campus of the University of Iowa, which I crossed often while in graduate school at the Iowa Center for the Book. And the fun thing about that bridge – which I used for my own purposes in the description in the novel – is that because of the way it is built, it has a kind of spring to it as you walk across.

I enjoy knowing from whence artists and authors draw their inspiration and imagery, and thought I would share this on the off chance that someone else might be curious . (If anyone has better images of the bridge, feel free to post them/a link in comments – those were the best I could find with a quick search, but they are very dated.)

Jim Downey

I can’t resist . . .
March 29, 2008, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Humor, Music, PZ Myers, Religion, Science, Society, YouTube

. . . cross-posting this item from UTI, even though I put it up there this morning and the thing is all over the web now. It’s just too damned funny. The version below is low-res; be sure to go to YouTube and click on the “view this in higher resolution” tab, then expand it to fill your monitor.

Jim D.


OK, just in case you haven’t seen this over at PZ’s or elsewhere, here’s a hilarious and brilliantly done satire:

It takes some deconstructing, but the consensus is that it is indeed pro-science/skepticism.

UPDATE: Here are the lyrics, and here is a brief bit on the ‘cast’ – kudos to both authors!

Jim Downey

Why bother?

There’s a good piece by Seth Shostak over at about the possible motivations an extra-terrestrial race might have for visiting our pale blue dot. (Shostak is one of the principals of the SETI Institute, and knows whereof he speaks when he addresses these kinds of issues.) First, he dismisses the usual SF plot devices of an alien race wanting our turf, our resources, or even our bodies:

Taking our cue from Tinseltown, I note that most cineplex sentients come to Earth either to solve some sort of ugly reproductive crisis or simply to take over the planet. The former doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. You can’t breed with creatures at the zoo, despite the fact that most of the base pairs in the inmates’ DNA are identical to yours (note that this is a biological incompatibility, and not just zoo regulations). The aliens, needless to say, will have a different biochemistry, and probably no DNA at all. Forget, if you can, the breeding experiments.

Taking over the planet would only make sense if there were something really special about our world. The best guess of the exoplanet specialists is that the number of Earth-size planets in our galaxy exceeds tens of billions. That doesn’t sound like our hunk of real estate is terribly privileged.

They won’t come here to mine our minerals, either. The entire universe is built of the same stuff, and while the solar system has a higher percentage of heavy elements than found in many stellar realms, it turns out that this is precisely the condition that seems to foster planet formation. In other words, ET’s own solar system will be similarly blessed with these useful materials. So why would they come here and incur multi-light-year transport charges?

Why, indeed? These various issues are ones which are discussed in the course of speculation about the alien artifact discovered in Communion of Dreams. And while I never actually reveal the motivations that aliens might have for having left the artifact on Titan in my novel, I do have thoughts on the subject (which might come out in a future sequel to Communion.)

Be that as it may, Shostak does go on to make a pretty good argument that if indeed there are a large number of technological civilizations out there, that they may just not consider us worth the trouble of contacting/visiting. Again, from the article:

Then again, there’s that last point: they just want to learn more about us. Well, perhaps so. Maybe that’s really what’s interesting about Homo sapiens. Not grabbing our habitat, saving our souls (or our environment), or subverting our industrial output — but assaying our culture. I’m willing to consider that even very advanced beings might find our culture mildly worthy of study.

Keep in mind that if they’re near enough to find us, that implies that there are many, many galactic societies (otherwise the distances between any two of them will be enormous). If there are lots of them, then we’re just another entry in a big book. Once again, not all that special. Kind of like another weird fish found in the Atlantic. I don’t expect mammoth expeditions to be sent our way.

It is a good point. I would counter, however, that we have seen plenty of evidence in our own history of people going to enormous trouble to bother to learn about seemingly trivial things. One only has to look at the difficulties encountered in sea-faring during the time of the great naturalists – people were willing to go to great expense, to risk great hardship and a fair chance of death just to add another entry into the botanical texts or to discover a new species. Even today we mount insanely expensive expeditions into the deep ocean just to expand our knowledge.

We have no evidence of extra-terrestrial life, let alone advance civilizations. Yet I think that you can make a fair case that any space-faring race which may exist must have some degree of curiosity – and that curiosity may alone be reason enough to come check out the new kids on the block, whatever the hurdles or cost.

Jim Downey

Annoying, yet exciting.

Gah. I am either having a relapse of the very stubborn flu that had me laid low last month, or am fighting some new bug with similar (yet still considerably less severe) symptoms. This is highly annoying.

So, I’m about to go take a nap. But first a couple of quick notes, and then a bit from Phil Plait’s blog about a recent discovery that is very exciting.

Note one: downloads of the .pdf of Communion of Dreams have crossed 8,200 and downloads of the audio version continue to climb as well. That’s exciting.

Note two: heard nothing yet from the agent I mentioned contacting the other day. No surprise – I expect that it will take a month or so to hear from them. But I needed something else to note.

Now, about the news from space . . .

I have written previously about the Cassini probe’s 10 year mission to Saturn, and how there have been a lot of great images and information coming back to scientists about that planet and its moons. Information that helps to confirm what we knew when I was first writing Communion (since most of the action of the book takes place on and around Titan.) But there is news which would potentially require me to revise the novel slightly – not about Titan, but about its sibling Enceladus. You may have heard something about this, but I’ll go to the Bad Astro Boy himself for the news:

Life’s cauldron may be bubbling underneath Enceladus

A few days ago I wrote about how the Cassini Saturn probe dove through water ice plumes erupting from the surface of the icy moon Enceladus. The pictures were incredible, but it may very well be that the other detectors got the big payoff.

They detected organic compounds in the plumes.

Now remember, organic molecules don’t necessarily mean life. What Cassini detected were heavy carbon-based molecules, including many that are the building blocks for making things like amino acids and other compounds necessary for life as we know it.

Edited to add: Carolyn Porco, imaging team leader for Cassini, says:

[…] it is now unambiguous that the jets emerging from the south polar fractures contain organic materials heavier than simple methane — acetylene, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, propane, etc. — making the sub-surface sources of Enceladus’ dramatic geological activity beyond doubt rich in astrobiologically interesting materials.

Whoa. I mean, *whoa* . Seriously. It ain’t life, nor even proof of life – but it is *damned exciting*.

Now, a nap.  All this excitement makes me tired.

Jim Downey

Wish me luck.
March 25, 2008, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Failure, Feedback, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

Well, there’s been another surge of interest in the book the last few days, and now there have been over 8,100 downloads of it.

As I told my wife on our morning walk today, saying “over eight thousand” sounds like a lot. I mean, it’s not just some kind of flash-in-the-pan interest thanks to one posting on a SF discussion forum or something. Over the last thirteen or so months, there has been a continued interest in the novel. And one of the most interesting things is that it largely seems to be due to word-of-mouth – I can only track about 1,200 downloads back to people visiting from other sites (and that is being generous in figuring that just because someone visits from a link on a site they decide to download the book.)

So, I decided to take a step I have been putting off for a long time: this morning I sent a query to a literary agency. In fact, I sent it to one of the agencies I had selected as being a good fit a year ago – they were one of only three who even bothered to respond to my query (of 9 or 10). And they turned me down, saying that they thought the book sounded interesting but were “insufficiently excited” about it. Here’s an excerpt from what I sent them today:

About a year ago, I contacted you concerning the possibility of representing me and my work. Your assistant at the time kindly declined on your behalf. But a lot has happened in the intervening year, and I would like you to reconsider. Given your long history working with science fiction authors, I still think that you are the agent for me.

My finished novel is discussed below. But first allow me to explain briefly why I think you may want to reconsider representing me.

When I set out to find an agent early last year, I also decided to put my novel online, available as a free download in .pdf form. Since then, over 8,000 people have downloaded the book. Some of this has been due to mention of the book in various forums, but that only accounts for about 15% of the downloads, according to my server statistics. The vast majority seems to have come about entirely because of word-of-mouth. And those numbers of downloads have continued to slowly grow. In the last week alone, almost 350 people have downloaded the book.

Shortly after posting the book online, I also started a related blog. The numbers there are not huge, but typically run about 100 visitors per day. Comments pertaining to the novel are almost uniformly very positive. Many people indicate that they are eager to buy the book in conventionally printed form. One person who produces audio books as a sideline was so enthusiastic about the book that he produced an unabridged audio version and made it freely available to me to use – this has just been added to my website in recent days.

Over the past year, as I was the primary care-provider for a family member with Alzheimer’s living here at home (culminating in her death last month), I also wrote about the experience of being a male care-giver for my blog. When I cross posted those entries to other forums, they always received a very enthusiastic response. That series of blog posts runs to about 40,000 words, and I am now planning on developing them into a book on the subject – a memoir, if you will.

So, we’ll see – see whether that is sufficient to entice them to represent me, or if I just get another rejection. Rejection hurts, kicks you right in the ego, there’s no doubt about it. But it is a necessary part of the process. And all of you who have downloaded the book, who have told others about it (and my blog), who have sent me comments and feedback – you all have made it easier to face the prospect of rejection. Thank you.

I’ll keep you posted. This is just the first step – in coming days, I will probably spend some time to select a couple of other agencies and contact them as well. We’ll see what happens.

Jim Downey

All done.

Well, late yesterday afternoon I finished listening to the audio production of Communion of Dreams. Wow. As I told Scot at OwnMade AudioBooks:

Finished the last disc this evening, before dinner. Was a little disappointed – you need to have a closing spiel like Jim Dale has for the HP books. Seriously. It will add a nice “professional touch”. If you want to tag something onto the end of the last MP3, we can swap it out on the website (about 30 people had downloaded the audio version as of last night – not bad for the first weekend!).

Anyway, you may remember that I worked in radio for a few years before going to grad school. So I had been giving some consideration to doing an audio version myself. I’m really glad I didn’t – you make it sound easy. And I know better.

Your production values are really good – only once in a while would I catch a little ‘canned’ quality, likely from getting a little off from the mic’s sweet spot. A better studio might help here, or better equipment, but it will be marginal. The different voices were pretty identifiable – and only now and again did some of the characterizations seem a little overdone.

In all honesty, for the most part I didn’t notice your reading – it was simply an audio interpretation of the book, and you got me engaged in the story. That’s about the best tribute I can offer.

I know that they’re big files – total of about 1.2 gigabytes. But seriously, download them and give ’em a try. Feel free to burn them to CDs to take on a long car trip or something. As I have mentioned, I find the interpretation that he brings to the work to be a really good additional layer of understanding. And besides, they’re free. If you were to download a comparable amount of music from I-Tunes, it’s cost hundreds of dollars. Such a bargain!

Jim Downey