Communion Of Dreams


Duuun dun duuun dun …*

I can’t help but hear the Jaws theme when I read something like this:

But this is all great news for astronomers: KKs 3 is a relic, so isolated and old it probably hasn’t changed much in a long, long time. Studying it is like having a time machine to study the ancient Universe. And we think that, billions of years ago, collisions between small galaxies like KKs 3 are what built up much larger galaxies. We know that the Milky Way is currently eating a few other small galaxies, so we can study those events and compare them to what we see in KKs 3 to learn more about how this process may have occurred so far in the past.

There’s a thought for you — galaxies as living entities, with the big ones as predators hunting smaller ones …

400 downloads of Communion of Dreams so far this weekend! The Kindle edition remains free through today, if you know someone who might like to have it.

 

Jim Downey

*Credit here, though it has been pretty widely transcribed that way in the last 40 years.

 



What’s in a name?

Excerpt:

“This is my well. Of course I know what the well may provide.”

“Your well?”

She nodded. “My well.”

“You’re … Anne? St Anne?”

“No,” she said. “I’m Annis. This is my well. My place.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Finish the cup.”

He looked down into the mug he was holding. “I …”

“Finish the cup. It will help.”  Her voice was still light and pleasant, but now there was a commanding power behind her words. “It will help.”

Darnell closed his eyes, downed the cup.

When he opened his eyes again, the woman was no where to be seen.

It’s a fun place, one I would like to visit.

 

Jim Downey



“All our futures tend to be made up out of bits and pieces of our present.”

A very insightful essay into the role which speculative fiction played in the Victorian era, and how it is still echoed in our fiction today:  Future perfect Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere – how the Victorians invented the future

Here’s an excerpt, but the whole thing is very much worth reading:

It’s easy to pick and choose when reading this sort of future history from the privileged vantage point of now – to celebrate the predictive hits and snigger at the misses (Wells thought air travel would never catch on, for example); but what’s still striking throughout these books is Wells’s insistence that particular technologies (such as the railways) generated particular sorts of society, and that when those technologies were replaced (as railways would be by what he called the ‘motor truck’ and the ‘motor carriage’), society would need replacing also.

It makes sense to read much contemporary futurism in this way too: as a new efflorescence of this Victorian tradition. Until a few years ago, I would have said that this way of using technology to imagine the future was irrecoverably dead, since it depended on our inheritance of a Victorian optimism, expressed as faith in progress and improvement as realisable individual and collective goals. That optimism was still there in the science fiction of Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, but it fizzled out in the 1960s and ’70s. More recently, we’ve been watching the future in the deadly Terminator franchise, rather than in hopeful film such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The coupling of technological progress and social evolution that the Victorians inaugurated and took for granted no longer seemed appealing.

 

I think this is very much why many people find that Communion of Dreams seems to fit in so well with the style of SF from the 1950s and 60s — in spite of being set in a post-apocalyptic world, there is an … optimism … and a sense of wonder which runs through it (which was very deliberate on my part). As noted in a recent Amazon review*:

James Downey has created a novel that compares favorably with the old masters of science fiction.
Our universe would be a better place were it more like the one he has imagined and written about so eloquently.

Anyway, go read the Aeon essay by Iwan Rhys Morus (who happens to be a professor at Aberystwyth University in Wales — no, I did not make this up).

 

Jim Downey

*Oh, there’s another new review up I haven’t mentioned.



Two visions.

This wonderful vision of the human future has been making the rounds recently, and I had to share it:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

A somewhat more … cautionary … vision of what the future could hold can be found in this:

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down in 1986, creating a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone that has been almost completely devoid of human interference for decades. Now you can take a tour, courtesy of a camera-carrying drone.

 

Mutually exclusive? Apocalypse versus brave new worlds?

I think not. In fact, the Communion of Dreams/St Cybi’s Well ‘universe’ contains both. If I ever decide to write them, I have books set in the 2020s, about 15 years following the fire-flu pandemic, and in the 2030s in the Israeli colonies on the Moon. In the first the world will feel much like what’s seen in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And in the second I’ve envisioned how the 1/6th Earth-normal gravity would allow for playing something very much like Quiddich on small personal flyers in large domed stadiums.

It’s important to remember that the future isn’t either/or. It’s even more important to remember that we will have a role in creating that future, for good or ill.

 

Jim Downey



Dementia: the game.

OK, a bit flip, there. Sorry. This actually sounds like a really interesting game, and the people who are involved with it seem to understand about the limitations inherent in it:

Ether One: The Video Game That Tries to Simulate Dementia

Ether One, a first-person puzzle game made by a six-person team at White Paper Games, in Manchester, England, is about the slow dissolution of the brain. The game casts the player as an employee of a futuristic memory-retrieval company called the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine. Your job is to dive into the mind of Jean Thompson, a sixty-nine-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, and retrieve a series of lost memories. Using scans of the woman’s brain, the Ether Institute reconstructs 3-D simulations of what remains of her memory. Players must reassemble the story of her life using the oddly alien artifacts (the symbolic significance and basic operation of which remain a mystery) left behind in the fraying simulation of her past home and work places.

* * *

Ether One is built around a central control room from which players access the four main areas of Jean’s past—a seaside town in England, an industrial mine, a processing factory, and a lighthouse overlooking the ocean. Each area is filled with hundreds of tchotchkes, mementos, and mundanities that could hold some long-forgotten significance. Players are asked to “collect” the memories and are limited to carrying only one object at a time. At any point in the gameplay, they can instantaneously teleport back to the control room, which is lined with empty shelves to hold anything they collect. As a player, you’re never sure what’s important and what isn’t, so the system encourages you to take everything.

This hoarding is repaid with periodic puzzles, such as a door with a numeric lock whose code can be found on the bottom of a previously collected mug. As the game progresses, these puzzles increase in complexity, as does the array of random objects filling the shelves. The collection gradually overwhelms the player’s ability to remember just where all of these things came from and why they seemed important enough to retrieve. Why did I bring this plate all the way back here? Whose hat is this supposed to be again? It’s a tidy simulation of the cognitive degradation of dementia.

The author of the piece, , has first-hand experience with a family member who suffered with dementia. Here’s his concluding insight about Ether One:

Playing Ether One, I can’t say I felt any new illuminations about the disease. Most of the things I watched my grandmother go through were missing in its simulation, but I was reminded of the helplessness I felt. After solving the first few puzzles in Ether One, I realized that I’d been storing way too many items back in the hub world. It reminded me of my grandmother’s stuffed bookshelves in her nursing home room—old books, half-used perfume bottles, porcelain ferrets, a piece of Bohemian glass I’d given her once—we’d kept as much as we could when she moved in, trying to guess what might mean something to her and what might be lost for good. If video games indulge in a fantasy of objects—swords, spaceships, and the like—it’s one that’s hard to translate into a room filled with forgotten things. In Ether One, I found that the distance between these seemingly incompatible worlds lessened just a little. Even though I couldn’t quite forget myself inside its artifice, it was comforting to have the space to try.

May be worth checking out.

Also worth checking out: the Kindle edition of Her Final Year will be available for free download next week, from Monday through Wednesday.

Jim Downey



Spinning wheels, got to go ’round.*

The reviews have been mixed, but one aspect of the new movie Interstellar is pretty cool: the rendering of the black hole depicted in the movie.  Even moreso since it is as scientifically accurate as possible, based on close collaboration with noted astrophysicist Kip Thorne:

Still, no one knew exactly what a black hole would look like until they actually built one. Light, temporarily trapped around the black hole, produced an unexpectedly complex fingerprint pattern near the black hole’s shadow. And the glowing accretion disk appeared above the black hole, below the black hole, and in front of it. “I never expected that,” Thorne says. “Eugénie just did the simulations and said, ‘Hey, this is what I got.’ It was just amazing.”

In the end, Nolan got elegant images that advance the story. Thorne got a movie that teaches a mass audience some real, accurate science. But he also got something he didn’t expect: a scientific discovery. “This is our observational data,” he says of the movie’s visualizations. “That’s the way nature behaves. Period.” Thorne says he can get at least two published articles out of it.

The video is remarkable. Seriously. Go watch it.

And in a nice bit of serendipity, there’s another fantastic bit of astrophysics in the news just now: actual images of planetary genesis from ALMA. Check it out:

A new image from ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, reveals extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around a young star. ALMA’s new high-resolution capabilities were achieved by spacing the antennas up to 15 kilometers apart [1]. This new result represents an enormous step forward in the understanding of how protoplanetary discs develop and how planets form.

ALMA has obtained its most detailed image yet showing the structure of the disc around HL Tau [2], a million-year-old Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Taurus. The image exceeds all expectations and reveals a series of concentric and bright rings, separated by gaps.

 

That’s not computer-rendered theory. That’s an actual image, showing the formation of planets around this very young star.

Wow.

 

Jim Downey

*Naturally.



The Fort.

An excerpt I thought I would share. I had been planning on the current chapter being titled “Maen-Du Well”, but have decided instead on going with “Y Gaer”, which is just the Welsh name for “The Fort” — this fort, actually. The following happens there in the ruins:

A path led around past the buildings, then into a fair-sized rectangular terrace, the remnants of the Roman walls still clear and exposed in places. And the western and southern gate foundations were still surprisingly intact, from what he could see even at a distance of a hundred meters or so. He decided to cross the grounds of the old fort, go directly to the south gate.

As he approached the south boundary, he saw a man sitting on the gatehouse foundation, looking across the river. An old man, his aged leather rucksack on the wall ruins next to him. Eleazar didn’t look back, didn’t say anything as Darnell entered the small fenced-in area which protected the ruins from grazing sheep. He just looked out across the valley, until Darnell sat down beside him on the sun-warmed stone. “I thought I might find you here.”

Eleazar smiled. He pointed down the slope. “It was a good posting. The old road used to run just there, between us and the river.”

“You make it sound as though you were actually here,” said Darnell.

Eleazar shrugged. “For a while. It was good to get back to Britannia, and my passage was with a cavalry unit, part of which wound up here.”

Darnell studied the man. For a while, Eleazar just continued to look out over the small river valley. Then he turned, and considered Darnell in return. “You’re looking for miracles. Are you so surprised to see evidence of one?”

 

Jim Downey




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