Communion Of Dreams


Bits & pieces.

A number of unrelated items which I thought I’d share …

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Astronomers Find Ancient Earth-Sized Planets in Our Galactic Backyard

Astronomers have announced what may be the most interesting exoplanet discovery yet made: five planets, all smaller than Earth, orbiting a very ancient star. And I do mean ancient: Its age is estimated to be more than 11 billion years old, far older than the Sun. These are old, old planets!

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Perhaps you see the problem. If planets like Earth formed 11 billion years ago, and happened to form at the right distance for more clement conditions on the surface, life could have arisen long enough ago and started building spaceships long before the Earth even formed! They’d have planted their flags on every Earth-sized habitable planet in the Milky Way by now.

Where are they?

Oh! Oh! I know! Pick me!!

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Thanks to all who helped spread the word about the 3rd anniversary promotion! It was a modest success, with a little shy of 200 books downloaded world-wide, including through the following Amazon portals:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Japan
  • Netherlands (for the first time!)
  • UK
  • US

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Via BoingBoing, turn your iPhone into a thermal imaging camera in just seconds:

Yeah, I mentioned using this kind of imaging tech in the current novel some time back.

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Speaking of tech predictions, this is the first step in the sort of thing I envisioned for the cyberware of Communion of Dreams:

Flexible spinal cord implants will let paralyzed people walk

* * *

I mentioned earlier that evidently the Wikipedia elves are trying to decide whether to nuke my entry there. It seems that they’re still debating it. As I noted on the BBTI Facebook page a few days ago, in response to comment by a friend that it seems weird that BBTI is little more than a footnote in that entry:

It’s a fair point. I certainly am known much better around the world for being the driving force behind BBTI than I am for a fun little art stunt which was intended to happen and then fade from memory. I know that BBTI has had a much bigger and more lasting impact in the real world.

So, whether or not an entry about me should exist at all, if one does exist, shouldn’t it be more about my part in BBTI rather than as a “internet performance artist”? Hell, even my work as a book & document conservator has had a much larger real impact than ‘Paint the Moon’ did.

Just a thought, if anyone wants to do some editing …

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This doesn’t have anything to do with any of the books or anything I’ve predicted (that I can remember), but it is a pretty cool bit of astronomy:

Gigantic ring system around J1407b much larger, heavier than Saturn’s

Astronomers at the Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands, and the University of Rochester, USA, have discovered that the ring system that they see eclipse the very young Sun-like star J1407 is of enormous proportions, much larger and heavier than the ring system of Saturn. The ring system – the first of its kind to be found outside our solar system – was discovered in 2012 by a team led by Rochester’s Eric Mamajek.

 

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And here’s a useful video for anyone out there who may need to remove some rust from old equipment:

I knew that this could be done with electrolysis, but I didn’t realize that it was actually quite so simple. I am definitely going to set up to do this on a number of old tools and suchlike.

* * *

A nice bit of space exploration history:

The Challenge of the Planets, Part Three: Gravity

 

* * *

And I think I will leave it at that for now.

 

Jim Downey



Three shall be the number thou shalt count…*

Today’s the official Third Anniversary for the publication of Communion of Dreams, and in celebration, you can download the Kindle edition today for free! Who doesn’t like free? I mean, yeah, sure, if someone walks up to you and offers you a free punch in the nose, you might not like it, but other than that …

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I was honestly surprised when I looked and saw that the last blog entry was ten days ago. I haven’t been ill, or traveling, or anything. But after I recorded the essay for “This I Believe” I was feeling very … quiet. As I explained to a friend:

It may be hard to understand, and I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it (recording the essay) was actually a very hard thing for me to do. It wasn’t just any essay or promotional piece I’d written, not like doing interviews or anything. The essay was powerful because of the emotions behind it — I’m certain that’s why it has resonated for people. But that same source of power cuts very deep for me. Particularly after the stuff last month, it took a hell of a lot for me to come to terms with it all again, and to do so in such a public fashion.

You probably wouldn’t think so from reading this blog (or the book which came out of it), but I am actually a very private and introverted person by nature. My writing has always been a way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to force myself to be somewhat more public, more sharing. And it’s worked. Mostly. But there are still times when I just need to withdraw, to recover my energy and self-confidence. This last week+ has been one of those times.

Thanks for understanding. Now, go download that book if you haven’t already.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.



You say toe-may-toe …

Interesting discussion about how the online culture has changed the nature of reviews, and what that means for both authors and fans:  BLOGTABLE: The Positive Value of Negative Reviews  Here’s a good passage about the topic:

I think a lot of fan coteries miss the fact, as they rally round their authors and go after the so-called bullies, that we all exercise critical judgements every day. Something as mundane as ‘I prefer apples to oranges’ is a critical judgement, but I’ve never noticed orange-lovers hounding apple-lovers because of it. There is a clear understanding that a preference for one fruit is not a judgement about the people who prefer another kind of fruit. And yet, these days even a slightly less than totally stellar review can have people behaving very oddly, trying to suppress reviews or silence an errant reviewer.

As I noted in one of my earliest blog posts here:

It’s OK if you don’t like my novel. No, seriously, if it doesn’t do anything for you, that’s fine. It could be that you don’t care for Science Fiction. Or maybe you just don’t like my writing. Sure, I want people to like it (or at least respect it for being well-done), but I long ago learned that tastes differ widely – what I like in art or literature may be completely at odds with what you like. And that’s OK. To argue otherwise is to basically come down to saying “you can’t like blue. Red is the superior color.”

In the eight years (!) since, of course, I’ve published two books, written a couple hundred freelance articles and reviews, and churned out something in excess of a couple thousand blog posts for here and elsewhere. And trust me, *none* of those were universally liked, and even the ones which were generally well received also garnered critical responses, sometimes very nasty responses. It happens. You’re never, ever, going to make everyone happy. Worrying about it will drive you nuts, and stop you from writing anything more.

You can’t let that happen. You just have to decide whether or not you think the critical comments and reviews are valid, and what you can learn from it if it is. Yeah, sure, sometimes a “slightly less than totally stellar review” smarts, no matter how thick a skin you develop. But that is part of the process of creating any art, of choosing to take the risky path of putting your work before the public.

It’s also part of being human, of taking the risky path of living in the world. Embrace it.

 

Jim Downey

 



The power to forget.
January 9, 2015, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Feedback, Podcast, Violence, Writing stuff | Tags: , , , ,

I mentioned the other day that I would be sharing some interesting news. Well, here goes …

On Monday, I got a rather unexpected email. From the folks at This I Believe. It seems that an essay I sent them nine years ago was now one of the most widely read items of the 150,000 they have on their site. And it was one of the few in the top 100 which hadn’t yet been recorded. They asked me if I would be willing to record it for them, so that they could include it in their regular featured essays and podcast at some point.

After picking my jaw up off the floor, I said yes, but that I would need some time to “wrap my head around that – it’s such emotional material for me that I’ll need to work up to it.”

Emotional material? Yeah. See for yourself: The Power to Forget

They were very understanding on this point. That gave me the breathing space to come to terms with the whole mix of emotions I felt — satisfaction that my words seemed to resonate for others, memories of deep parental love, an aching sense of loss which still remains, worry that I was somehow exploiting that loss, other emotions I couldn’t quite characterize — and over the next couple of days I spent a lot of time, processing it all.

Now after some back and forth to sort out the logistics, we’ve scheduled for me to record the essay next Thursday. How long it will take before it will be available for listening on the This I Believe website, I have no idea. But I will be sure to post a note here when it is.

Wish me luck.

 

Jim Downey



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:

1557496_654324411293554_1024650148_n

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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

* * *

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



“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.




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