Communion Of Dreams

‘Watch the skies, everywhere!”

That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.

It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.

So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?

Here’s the first:

First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

And here’s the second:

Welcome to the World, Drone-Killing Laser Cannon

Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.

The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.

* * *

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.


I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.

“Watch the skies!”, indeed.


Jim Downey

*As good an explanation as any.

Reflecting (on) reality.

Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi  or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.

Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.

I mentioned events in Boston the other day.  Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.

Almost five years ago I wrote this:

This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.

Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.

And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.

But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.

Yet …

… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.

Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.


Jim Downey




“Both sides think they can win.”

From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:

“Thanks, but I checked your file. You saw fighting during the Restoration. You can figure this stuff out.”

“Yeah, but those are old instincts. And what I learned was mostly just practical survival.”

“Worth its weight in gold.”

Jon smiled. “See you in the morning.”

* * * * * * *

Politically, I don’t fit into any neat little boxes. I tend to describe myself as “left-libertarian”, which is to say that I am generally left-of-center on a lot of social issues, but I also tend to think that the lives of people should be largely be their own to determine with minimal government or corporate intrusion.  Both government and business can be very great sources of good, but they can also both be great threats to the individual if unchecked, particularly if their power and interests are aligned.

What this means for me practically is that I tend to be in the center of the political spectrum, keeping a wary eye on everything. And since I like to stay informed, I tend to read more political blather than is probably good for my blood pressure. Combine that with my interests in firearms, and, well, let’s just say that I have seen an awful lot of extreme rhetoric on both sides of the current debate about gun control.

* * * * * * *

One of the interesting things about working on St. Cybi’s Well is that I have to keep in mind details of the larger story. Partly this means making sure the story of the current book meshes with the story of Communion of Dreams. But it also goes beyond that. It also means making sure that I set the stage for other books I might write someday.

One of those would be set during the “Restoration” — that period of time when a fractured, post-pandemic America is being again forged into a United States. As it says on the first page of Communion of Dreams:

The Commons had been borne of the fire-flu, with so few people left out in the great northern plains after it was finally all over that it was a relatively simple matter to just turn things back over to nature. Effectively, that happened a few short years after the flu swept around the globe. According to law, it was codified almost a decade later in the late Twenties, after the Restoration was complete and the country was once again whole — expanded, actually, to include what had been Canada, minus independent Quebec.

As part of this whole process, then, I’ve been thinking about what would lead to a splitting-up of the US. I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say that the fire-flu is only part of the explanation.

* * * * * * *

When people argue about gun control, one of the things you can bet on is that at some point a variation on the following will happen: First, one side will say that the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to allow for citizens to resist governmental tyranny. Then the other side will laugh and point out that Joe Gun Nut isn’t going to resist tanks and jets with his AR15. In response, the pro-RKBA side will likely point out that in both Iraq and Afghanistan local fighters managed to do a pretty good job in resisting the might of US & Allied forces for years. Then the argument will dissolve into disagreements over logistics, not knowing the local culture, corrupt indigenous military units, et cetera.  Laced through all of that will be those who hope just such a thing would come to pass, to finally resolve the issue and ‘show the other side’.

In these arguments, however, I think everyone is using the wrong examples. What would happen here isn’t what’s happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, with a cohesive military facing insurgents. It’d be like what’s happened in Syria: civil insurrection growing into civil war, with defections and confusion on all sides. From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

Is Syria still too strange a place, too foreign, for you to map comparisons? Well, then how about Europe, just 20 years ago?

Careful what you wish for.


Jim Downey

“They’re afraid.”

“Did you hear about the fire in Joplin?” asked my wife, as she walked into my office. We had just gotten back from a nice lunch with old friends who were in town on business.


“Yeah, this morning. A mosque burned to the ground. They had a smaller fire last month which was determined to be arson.”

* * * * * * *

Early yesterday morning I chided a friend on Facebook. She had posted that the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin was another example of hatred and ignorance. This is what I said: “Don’t jump to conclusions. This could have been some kind of domestic dispute or something completely unrelated to the appearance of the people at the temple. Wait until some actual news comes out.”

Well, when actual news *did* come out, it was clear that the perp had in the past embraced the White Supremacist / Neo-Nazi movement.

* * * * * * *

From the end of Chapter 9:

Jon thought he should clarify. “Jackie’s got the gist of it, but let me try and explain a little more completely. Sometime during the chaos of the post-flu, there were two marginal groups that got together. One was the heir of something called The Order, a reactionary offshoot of the old Aryan Nation.”

“Ah, neo-Nazis. Yes, I know them.”

“Thought so. The other group was a splinter of the radical environmental organization Earthfirst!, sort of like the far-left fringe of the Greens. They managed to create a hybrid belief system: that true adherence to God’s natural law would bring man back to a state of grace, suitable to be readmitted to the Garden of Eden. To promote this belief, they want to see a complete restoration of the Earth’s biosphere to a natural state, with humans having almost no environmental impact.”

As I’ve said before, the prequel I’m working on, St. Cybi’s Well, is set right at the time of the onset of the fire-flu.

Guess what groups are going to play a part in that story. Right.

* * * * * * *

“Yeah, this morning. A mosque burned to the ground. They had a smaller fire last month which was determined to be arson.”

I clicked open a news article on my computer, glanced through it.  I shook my head.

My wife read the article over my shoulder, asked: “First the shooting in Wisconsin, now this. Why do people have to pull crap like this?”

“They’re afraid.”


“Yeah. Of change. Of not being in control. Of things which are different. You know, the usual.”

“Yeah, but it’s so stupid,” she said almost to herself.

“True. And just because they’re afraid doesn’t mean we have to give in to them, give in to their fear.” I sighed. “But it may mean that we have to defend ourselves from that fear.”

Jim Downey

(The travelog I intended on posting today will be delayed. Sorry.)

Voila! The ZF-1.

Some of my readers here may not know it, but there’s another aspect of my writing life: I’m a regular contributor to And because of that I tend to keep an eye on what pops up on the site.

That scrutiny paid off with this delightful little item:

The Adam Savage Amazing ZF-1 Replica from “The Fifth Element” (VIDEO)

Adam Savage of Mythbusters is working on a perfect replica of the gun from the science fiction movie “The Fifth Element,” which stars Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman and little known actor by the name of Luke Perry.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the Zorg ZF-1 is the end-all, beat-all king of weapons. It’s an assault rifle complete with homing bullets, a rocket launcher, arrow shooters (with explosive and poisonous tips), a net launcher, a flame thrower and the “ice cube system” (freeze gas). To top it all off, it’s ambidextrous. Who wouldn’t want a toy like that?

There’s more, but the real treat is this video:

Have I mentioned recently that I love The Fifth Element? Serious geekin’ here.

Working on a second part to Sunday’s post. Probably have that tomorrow.

Jim Downey

OK, thanks.
December 9, 2011, 11:43 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns

(Cross posted from the BBTI blog.)

I had a bit of a temper tantrum the other day. I won’t apologize, because it was how I really felt. But I will say that a couple of things have happened which have helped me get past my grumpiness.

And those couple of things have been donations. Both of them were decided votes of confidence that our work on BBTI is valued, all our time and effort appreciated.

This may seem silly, because OF COURSE our site is appreciated. Except . . . well, I pretty regularly get emails or come across comments on forums which are complaints. Yup: complaints. That we didn’t test a particular ammo. Or that we’ve slighted some brand or model of firearm by not including it in our tests. Or that we haven’t put our data into this or that form of file so that people can just download it. Or that our data isn’t perfect – that we’ve made mistakes. Or that we haven’t conducted rifle cartridge tests. Et cetera.

It gets old. It gets a little demoralizing, to be honest. The sense of entitlement which some people have is pretty amazing – we’ve busted our asses, worked hard and incurred all the costs of conducting the tests as well as creating and hosting the data on our website, and people bitch because the data isn’t up to *their* standards or expectations. It is very much like we owe it to them to do exactly what they want, and right now.

I don’t mind the criticism. I don’t mind people pointing out where there are areas where we could improve our procedures or range of items tested. We fully recognize that there are more things we could do, ways we can make the data better. And we welcome suggestions on what particular improvements people would like to see – that helps us to make decisions about what is important enough to sink another big chunk of time, money and energy investigating. This isn’t a full-time job for us, after all.

So when I get a note from someone saying “thanks, and oh, have you thought about this…” I welcome it. When someone sends us a donation – of any size – that is a tangible statement that they think our efforts are worthy of supporting. And if someone does send a donation, along with this kind of message, it really means something:

I have used your website for the past two years as a reference tool, and I find the data available amazing. Thank you for putting all of that information together. I was able to donate $x.xx today and I hope the rest of your viewing public gets it and drops you a few dollars as well.

I am sure there is a tremendous personal expense involved in the guns and ammunition used, and I get that you use your personal guns.

Glocks are obviously absent from your data set. I get that you cannot test everything, however with the enormous amount of Glocks in the public, it would seem prudent to at least have one in each caliber and I am positive with your connections they could be provided to you for testing.

You can also just tell me to buzz off… 😉

Thanks again for the awesome data.

Now, *that* is how you make a suggestion which will be remembered.

So, thanks to those who have sent thanks, as well as the donations. It really does mean a lot.

Jim Downey

It’s Up!
December 1, 2011, 10:41 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, Science

The new Ballistics By The Inch site is now up and running! Bigger, Faster, And with More DATA! Take a look, spread the word, let us know if there are any glitches or problems.

Jim Downey

Season of persuasion.

Over the last week or so, I’ve tried to write this piece about a dozen times, only to give up and delete what I had come up with. I’m not sure whether this one will work or not.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s easy for whatever I say to only be seen as bitterness. And while I am a bit bitter, that’s not the reason for my writing.

* * * * * * *

Timing is everything.

The best ice cream in the world won’t sell worth a damn in the middle of a blizzard.

And so it is with writing.

I’ve been very frustrated with our inability to sell Her Final Year. I don’t think we’ve broken 30 sales yet. It’s depressing enough that I don’t even bother to check the sales figures these days. And it seems that nothing we do makes the slightest difference.

I thought that the timing for the book would be perfect. There’s been a slew of studies and warnings about the impending crunch of an aging population, and how that will require more care-givers. Organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association have been working hard to build awareness, create support mechanisms for care-providers and their charges.

But people don’t want to think about such things. The news of the day is depressing enough as it is, with little prospect for getting better anytime soon.

* * * * * * *

And it isn’t just that. I’ve noticed that increasingly, people are not in a mood for conversation. They’re in a mood for argument. Or just shouting at one another.

I was relieved a couple of years ago when Brent decided to shut down Unscrewing the Inscrutable. Because I had gotten tired of having the same old arguments time and again, frequently with the same people. No one was willing to change their mind, they just wanted to rehash the same words, endlessly.

The same was true of making a pro-2nd Amendment argument on the political blog Daily Kos. For years, I had been engaged, and it seemed to make a real difference – people would change their minds when presented with a cogent position, supported by facts and logic. But then earlier this year, the mood changed. And even trying to hold those conversations became pointless – no one would ever change their mind, no matter what.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in other venues, as well. My writing for is generally well received, but anything which is even the slightest challenge to the conventional wisdom or political alignment of the bulk of the readers tends to get less attention and support. If I write something which is ‘preaching to the choir’, people go nuts and love it.

* * * * * * *

And it isn’t just me, either. Others have noticed the same thing, though I’m not sure anyone has phrased it in quite the same terms.

I don’t think people want to be challenged at all. They want to hear familiar, soothing tones. They want to be told that they are right, and that the “other side” is wrong. They want to be certain that only they are being reasonable and open minded.

Now, this is usually the case to a greater or lesser extent. People always want to have their prejudices and biases affirmed. That is a human trait – one we all share, whether or not we like it or are willing to admit it.

But it has become even more strident of late. Politics in this country has been polarized for a while, and the rhetoric from all sides has been dire building to extreme. I get the sense that a kind of madness is developing, a mindless tribalism that shunts off all contrary data in favor of those things which serve the tribal identity.

Things change. I think the time to rend is coming.

Certainly, the season of persuasion is ending.

Jim Downey


Interesting observation: last week I set up two Twitter accounts, one for “HFYJim” to support the care-giving book, the other for “BBTIJim” for my gun-nut stuff. Since then I’ve been learning the ropes about the Twitter culture, getting established, figuring out who to ‘follow’ and gaining a few followers myself. As of this morning, both accounts had about the same number of followers (about a score).

Now, in any sort of social media like this, you’re going to get some amount of SPAM. It’s always interesting to see where, and how it manifests. Just recently, the new Her Final Year blog has started to get some comments which seem OK though generic on the surface but which are actually links to this or that scam website. That tells me that the blog has now started to show up in search engines enough to be something of a target. No big deal, it goes with the territory.

But in the world of Twitter, spam seems to manifest as bogus followers. Not sure why this would be beneficial, but that could just be because I have my computer set up to filter out all the advertising, flash, and pop-up crap from websites. Anyway, of the two accounts I set up at the same time on Twitter, guess which one had attracted a handful of bogus followers who were ostensibly attractive young women with links to ‘pictures’ in their profiles?

It wasn’t the gun-nut one.

Nope. It was the care-giving one. The one tied to AARP, a variety of different Alzheimer’s and hospice organizations, and which I selected to use to follow different news outlets and science bloggers, many of which have significant left-wing political overtones. Not the one tied to a number of firearms-related sites and bloggers, some of which also have a decidedly right-wing political stance.

Curious, that. Now, this is just a snapshot, and it may be that I’ll see the same thing happen with my BBTIJim profile as time goes on. But I thought it was interesting.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)

April 2, 2011, 10:28 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Alzheimer's, Ballistics, Guns, Health, Publishing, Writing stuff

I usually try to avoid posting things on April 1, since *I* don’t trust hardly anything I see online on April Fools. So I held off, other than the link to my article.

Anyway, some interesting things to report. First off, the numbers. March had 768 downloads of my complete novel, which means there’s been over 2,000 downloads so far this year, and some 31,000+ total. No, I have no idea when it will be actually published by Trapdoor, so don’t ask.

Hits to BBTI have slowed a bit – down to only 350,650 for March. That puts us at 5,759,535 total hits. Even with it slowing down, we should break 6 million total hits sometime before the end of this month.

Writing for has been fun, and seems to have gone well enough. The articles are being well received from what I can tell. I’ve been asked to start also doing ‘Editor Reviews’ of some handguns, and those will start to show up here any day now, if you are interested in such things.

I had another CAT scan this week, following up on the ongoing health issues. Preliminary report from the scan is that things are clear – no major problems show. Which is good – there’s nothing serious going on. But also somewhat frustrating, since it doesn’t show what is causing the lingering pain I feel in my ribs on my right chest. I see my doc next week to discuss things, but mostly I think it will be a matter of just dealing with the pain and getting on with life. Best guess is that it’s probably some kind of muscle/tendon damage that can’t completely heal because I keep breathing. And I’m not willing to stop doing so in the hope that the pain will go away.

But the real news is that yesterday we filed the paperwork with the Missouri Secretary of State to form “HFY Publishing, LLC.” Yeah, on April Fools Day. Seemed appropriate.

No, seriously, while this is a small and largely symbolic step, it was an important one. An even more important one is that I’ve now heard from all of the beta readers, and gotten some very valuable feedback. We (my co-author and I) need to expand the introductory material of the book, to better explain how and why the book is structured the way it is and how to use it to best advantage. We also need to tweak the layout of the book for clarity. Neither of these are major changes, and we should be able to get them sorted in the next week or so.

Well, that gets everything up to date, I think. Now time to go do some home repairs.

Jim Downey