Communion Of Dreams

Another reason.

I mentioned meeting Ben Bova at the Heinlein Centennial a couple years back, and how I was impressed by his grace and humanity in how he dealt with both me and Frederik Pohl.

And I just found out that I have another reason to respect him: his support for the Bill of Rights, and specifically for the 2nd Amendment. I’m not too surprised, given some of the things he has written, but to see him weigh in on this topic specifically is quite enjoyable.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)

That is *so* weird.

I discovered a couple of years ago that someone had created a Wikipedia entry for me.  It was weird to stumble across that when I was looking for something else (I no longer remember what).  Particularly since it seemed that the initial entry was made by someone for whom English was not a native tongue, and who only had some of their facts right.  In other words, it wasn’t a friend who did it, laying the foundation for some kind of joke on me.  My wife and I cleaned up the language a bit, got the facts corrected, expanded the entry to include stuff which had been missed.

But it is still a weird feeling.

And something similar happened again today.

This morning, I was doing my routine check on the stats for the download of Communion of Dreams, and saw that there had been another of the periodic spikes.  As I have mentioned previously, when this happens I will sometimes check to see if there is a referring site where a link to the novel has been posted.  I’m just curious as to how word of the book spreads, and whether someone has some commentary or criticism that I should know about.  And this morning in the ‘referring’ stats was a link to a Wiki page titled “Titan in fiction“, explained by this simple single sentence:

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It has a substantial atmosphere and is the most Earth-like satellite in the Solar System, making it a popular science fiction setting.

And there, next-to-last in the ‘Literature’ section, just two entries after Ben Bova’s novel Titan, was this:

Communion of Dreams (2007), a novel by Jim Downey. An alien artifact is discovered on Titan that has strange effects on anyone who observes it.

I could quibble with the description, but I won’t.  I’m too weirded-out by seeing it.  With almost 10,000 downloads of the book, it is unsurprising that someone who has read it would think to add links in Wikipedia about it.  Unsurprising, that is, unless you’re the one it happens to.

I do not have ‘false modesty’.  I’ve got an ego, as any of my friends will attest, and I’m not afraid of a bit of self promotion.  But in the face of repeated rejections from publishers and agents, it is more than a little odd to see that Communion is slowly creeping into the culture this way.  It’s just plain weird – a touch of dissonance.

Well, anyway.  As always, if anyone knows of places where Communion has been recommended, and now I suppose where it has been linked in another context, please let me know.

Jim Downey

Ben Bova

If I published 4 books a year, for the next 25 years, I’d have accomplished in my 74 years what Ben Bova has accomplished in his life so far.

Yeah, it reminds me of that line from the short-lived series Crusade: “Whenever I get to feeling too proud of my accomplishments, I remind myself that when Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for six years.”

Bova is a legend in Science Fiction. Justifiably so. But he’s more than that. He’s a decent human being.

I say that for two reasons, both observed up close at the Heinlein Centennial. The first is summed up nicely by the James D. Miles quote which I have long appreciated:

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

During the Centennial, I was waiting for a friend at a rendezvous point before going off for some lunch. The session I had attended had wrapped up early, so I was just standing there in an entrance hall, minding my own business. From one of the adjacent corridors came a distinguished gent, walking towards me. As he got closer, I recognized him. It was Ben Bova.

He came up to me, peered down at my Centennial badge, and quietly introduced himself. There was no implication that I should be impressed or honored – he was just one guy introducing himself to another stranger who happened to be in the same place at the same time. A part of me, experienced with countless hours of public relations, took note and admired how smoothly and genuinely he did this. The other part of me tried not to stammer too much in response to his queries and comments. We chatted for a few minutes, him telling me that his flight up from Florida had been delayed, asking me why I was attending, et cetera, and then the person he had been waiting for came up (I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot recall his name . . . he was another ‘V.I.P.’ who knew Bova evidently as an old friend). Bova introduced us like I had been his old army buddy. We all chatted for a minute or two. My friend ML came up. Bova took the initiative of introducing himself and his friend to her. Then he glanced at his watch, and said to his friend, “Well, I suppose it’s time I should get in there.” With a smile to us, he asked, “Will you be joining us?”

My friend glanced at me as he turned to go. I nodded, said quietly, “Um, let’s roll with this.”

We followed a few paces to one of the empty meeting rooms. Just inside the door Bova and his friend stopped, Ben looking around somewhat confused.

“Um, perhaps you’re still on Eastern Time? There isn’t anything scheduled during the lunch break . . .” I volunteered.

“Ah, right you are,” he said, somewhat chagrined.

“You’re welcome to join us, we were just about to go get some lunch.” (Hey, lunch with Ben Bova? How cool would that be?)

“Oh, thanks, I really should go get checked in. I just got off the shuttle, and thought I was going to be late getting to this session.”

We (ML and I) slipped out, Bova said goodbye to his friend, and the three of us went one direction, Bova off towards the reception area for the hotel in the other.

Now, that was the first insight. And I concede that it could well have all been just a highly-polished act by an author long experienced with dealing with fans at Cons and whatnot. But the next bit provided the other reason for my assessment.

ML and I had our lunch, and I returned to the room where Ben Bova had thought that he was to be participating. I had planned on going to that session anyway, since the other speaker was Frederik Pohl, and the topic was “Editors in Transition,” about the early days of SF publishing.

And here’s the second thing. I haven’t a nice little quote at hand, but I can assure you that it is true: you can also tell a great deal about someone by how they treat the elderly, particularly if that elderly person is suffering some form of diminished capacity.

Frederik Pohl, to my eye, is still as sharp as a tack. But he’s pushing 90, has had some health issues, and is getting a little forgetful . . . nothing that should come as any kind of a surprise in someone that age. As the full-time care-giver of someone who has Alzheimer’s at 90, I can honestly say that there is no reason to think that he suffers from any kind of dementia or mental deterioration. He’s just evidencing the normal traits of age, and even that very mildly indeed.

The thing is, watching Ben Bova interact with Fred Pohl during the hour long free-wheeling discussion of ‘the good old days,’ I saw another side of Ben Bova that most people probably don’t. There was the usual deference and respect, but there was also a genuine warmth, what I would characterize as perhaps even a kind of love. It’s the sort of thing that allows a person to smile quietly and let slide an error or mistaken memory without the need to correct it or even bring it to the attention of the older person. It is, in my experience, a deep reverence borne of long understanding of another, and reflects that person’s own self-confidence and self-understanding. I didn’t know it until I started to do the background research for this post, but Ben Bova has long experience with the martial arts, and that was the quietude I recognized in him.

I did see more of Ben Bova in the course of the weekend – his giving autographs, accepting awards, making little presentations, interacting with friends and fans. I didn’t attempt to claim any more of his time or attention – no reason to be a nuisance. He had been very generous with me already in that regard. And besides, I’d seen enough to understand some things about him which I deeply respect.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

The Gala

Take a look at a map of the US. Let your eye more or less gravitate to the center. Chances are, what you’re looking at isn’t too far from Kansas City. Now, notice just how far this is from an ocean.

So, why the hell were most of the entrees at the buffet supper for the Gala at the Heinlein Centennial some kind of seafood? That was the question that everyone at my table wanted to know.

And since I live in this part of the country (about 2 hours from KC), I was the designated spokesman. What I told them was that a) it’s likely that the hotel providing the catering made the decision about the offerings, and the organizers just chose from a list, b) that seafood was likely chosen to ‘show off’ a bit, and c) besides, there are these things called airplanes, which can (and do) bring fresh seafood to even us uncultured louts in the Midwest.

Nah, the entrees were fine. What was actually a much greater concern to me was that for some reason, they had exactly ONE chocolate cake on the dessert table. And that was the *only* chocolate dessert. Huh? At a SF convention? I’ve not been to many, but my experience with other SF and Fantasy fans would lead me to believe that they’ve got a higher-then-usual appreciation for chocolate. Lord knows I sure do. But I got no cake that night.

Anyway, there was a reason why the Centennial was held in the middle of the nation. A fairly good reason, too: Robert A. Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri, about an hour south of KC, and he spent a lot of his early years in Kansas City. Other places can (and do) claim him as one of their own, but KC was as logical a place as any to host the event. It was kind of fun to see the sign on the local SF club table which read “Join the same Science Fiction club that Robert Heinlein joined!” Fun stuff.

The Gala dinner was supposed to be dressy, and most people complied. (There were almost no people in costume all weekend, btw – another way in which this event differed from the Cons I’ve attended.) My friend ML and I joined a table full of charming chaps (well, of course they were being charming to her. Any straight male should be. And many are.) I had kicked in the ‘extrovert’ program, and was being outgoing to the point where one of the other people at the table asked me if I was the designated ‘celebrety’ who had been assigned to the table. Um, no. I dialed down the gregariousness a bit.

Dinner over, we left the round tables at the back of the hall and moved to row seating at the front. It was time for the Gala presentations and entertainment.

This comprised lots of various and sundry awards – Centennial writing awards, SFRA awards, John W. Cambell Award ( later I’ll tell how Ben Bova, this year’s winner for his novel Titan, came up and introduced himself to me…a particular thrill, since I have most of the action in Communion of Dreams take place on the surface and in orbit around that moon. OK, update – the story of that is told here.).

There were also speeches honoring and remembering Robert A. Heinlein, naturally enough. And then Peter Diamandis‘ brilliant, inspiring presentation about how he considered Heinlein to have written not just visionary fiction, but had actually mapped out a functional business plan with The Man Who Sold the Moon. Diamandis said his dream, his goal, was to be there to welcome NASA back to the Moon when the Constellation Program vehicle arrives. This brought a standing ovation and cheers.

The featured remembrance of Heinlein was provided by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, via pre-recorded message from his home in Sri Lanka. It was touching, all the more so for the evidence of Clarke’s own failing health.

Following were more presentations and performances, including information about the Stardance Project, a duet by Spider and Jeanne Robinson, an impromptu rendition of The Green Hills of Earth (the filk song popular in the SF community, drawn from Heinlein’s story of the same name), and finally ending with a screening of J. Neil Schulman‘s new offbeat movie Lady Magdalene’s. I decided to skip the last, but ML told me later that it was fun in a very silly sort of way.

There’s an excellent collection of images from the evening to be found here on the Midamerican Fan Photo Archive. I love people who know how to use a camera – a skill I never acquired.

Jim Downey