Communion Of Dreams


A process of discovery.

Got a couple of new reviews of Communion of Dreams over the weekend. Both are short enough to just post the whole thing. Here’s the first:

4.0 out of 5 starsHard to believe this is a first novel…, January 3, 2015
By Paula Jean

Well plotted with disparate characterizations. Avoids science fiction cliches by and large. An interesting yarn with lots of good new ideas, thought provoking, and moves right along. Makes you want more. Bravo, Mr. Downey.

If you look through many of the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, this is a fairly common comment: people are surprised that this is my first novel. I suppose that makes sense, since that information is right there on the ‘About the author’ section on Amazon and at the end of the book.

But the thing is, I’m not at all new to writing. And I’m not a young man. I’m 56, and have been writing fairly steadily since at least middle school. Essays. Short stories. Criticism. Advertising copy. Opinion pieces. Reviews. Memoir. Travelogues. Meditations. Instruction. Easily more than a million words — hell, I’ve written almost that many for this blog alone. So, probably a couple million words. As André Aciman says in this video (about the 2:00 mark):

I’ve written in all kinds of genres. And I’d like to think that most everything I do is governed by one idea, which is that you are after something that is quite difficult to articulate. And so most of the writing process is sort of prowling around this center, that you don’t see, but that the writing process will unveil and unearth for you.

It’s a way of discovering things. About the world. About people. About yourself.

And nowhere is this more obvious than in longform fiction. Communion helped me uncover a lot. St Cybi’s Well is helping me discover a lot more. I think that is why both books have taken such a long time to write, to work through. That process of unveiling (which is a major metaphor throughout Communion) is difficult, demanding, and never entirely done. You keep digging, keep whittling away, looking for a glimpse of the truth.

Speaking of whittling away, here’s the second review from this weekend:

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant surprise, January 4, 2015
By Amazon Customer

Excellent story. Well written, well-plotted. The dialogue and scene-setting is sparse, almost minimal, but that allows one to appreciate the plot that much more.

Happy New Year. Time for me to get back to work digging, digging, digging this Well.

 

Jim Downey

Via MetaFilter.



Sights and insights.

A mix of little things, playing catch-up for the last couple of weeks …

Why catch-up? Well, this might explain why I took a break for a while there.

And we’re off …

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First thing, thanks to all who downloaded Communion of Dreams over the weekend, or helped to spread the word about it. There were a total of 693 downloads worldwide — and that includes various European portals, as well as Canada, India, and Japan! Pretty cool.

For those who have gotten the book, once you have a chance to read it please take a few moments to review it on Amazon or elsewhere – it really does help, and as I am finishing up writing St Cybi’s Well the feedback is most welcome.

Because, yeah:

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A long, but quite good, read about the value of the ISS: 5,200 Days in Space

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And a fun bit of perspective from xkcd about getting there:

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Some great images from one of the sites I’ve mentioned here before: Pentre Ifan

Petre Ifan is a haunting burial stack that stands in a verdant Welsh field as one of the most complete and dramatic stone dolmens still found anywhere on the planet.

* * *

Wow.

X-rays stream off the sun

Go see the full size image and explanation of the science. Worth it.

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An excellent read by an old and dear friend: There’s an App for That: Cancer in the Modern Age

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And another excellent read, all in all. But this paragraph is so painfully true:

“Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.”

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Any others to add? The 10 Sci-Fi Films That Defined 2014

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Of course, reading is always better for you: Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’

See? I’m actually making you SMARTER! Keep that in mind when you write a review, will ya?

* * *

And that’s enough for now. I need to get back to my “strange and solitary activity”.

 

Jim Downey



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.

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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




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