Communion Of Dreams


“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.



In search of the lost cords.*

So, a couple of things to share this morning …

One, the decision has been made: we’ll be going with a design for the leather bindings which includes raised cords on the spine. In terms of the response I got from people, it wasn’t even much of a competition — “cords” were the favorite almost 10 to 1.

But that doesn’t mean that the book has to have an old look. Not at all. I’m playing around with some design ideas which will incorporate the cords, but which will feel more modern. Watch for some preliminary posts on that in a couple weeks.

Two, if you are expecting to get a leather-bound copy of Communion of Dreams, but haven’t yet told me of your color preferences, do so soon. Further, if you didn’t get a confirmation response from me acknowledging your choices, then please contact me again. Because I had something of a book conservation emergency drop into my lap 10 days ago, things have been delayed a bit — but I’ll still be ordering leather and starting on those bindings before the end of the month. Please don’t delay.

And three, there’s a new review up on Amazon you might want to check out. Here’s an excerpt:

this book is very well worth your time if you love classic sci-fi. i would say that so far it is a combination of arthur c. clarke, isaac asimov, and a little stephen king. not too shabby for an unknown author. not sure if this is a series, and don’t want to ruin anything for myself by finding spoilers in reading others’ reviews. i’ll finish this book first. that may be soon- already lost most of a night’s sleep reading it. this is an original alternative universe, populated by humans and their robots, being created here; that is why it reminds me of asimov.

As always, I invite you to produce your own review, rate the book or other reviews, or just leave a comment in any reviews which particularly engage you. And you don’t have to do so only on Amazon — if you participate in another venue where such a review or recommendation would be appropriate, the help is always appreciated.

One final note: yup, the writing is proceeding apace. More on that later.

 

Jim Downey

*Always did like that album: 

 



But wouldn’t (The World Series) be confusing?

A couple weeks ago, when I was setting up the price change and promotional stuff for the one-year anniversary of Communion of Dreams, I was again confronted with something I had pondered and then ignored previously: was this book part of a “series”?

See, when you’re going through the interface to publish a book with Amazon, that’s one of the questions you need to answer. The helpful little dialog box explains the idea this way:

A series is a connected set of books. If this book is part of a series, identify where the book exists in the sequence with a volume number. We only accept volume numbers in numerical format (“1”, “2”, or “3”). Magazines and journals are also often grouped as a series. Identifying the series helps customers find other books in the series.
Having such a series is a long and well-established literary tradition, particularly in genre fiction. Sometimes an author sets out to construct a series, sometimes a series is identified after the fact. Some authors are only known for a given series, others have several. I think Isaac Asimov is credited with like 47 separate but inter-related series, an all-time record.
These days most authors seem to consider naming a series as a marketing tool, as is indicated in the above blurb from Amazon. Just looking at the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” recommendations on the Amazon page for Communion of Dreams, there are these named series:

It makes me jealous.

Well, OK, it doesn’t really.  But it does make me wonder. What would I call the series for the slightly-altered-universe in which Communion of Dreams exists?

When I first published Communion of Dreams, I thought that I would eventually like to write several other related books, but I didn’t know for sure whether I would ever get around to doing so. I mean, we make plans, and have hopes & dreams and all that, but it seemed both a little presumptuous as well as potentially risky (in the “tempting fate” sort of way) to claim that I was going to write a series of books before seeing what the response to the first one was.

And then there’s the complicating fact that at least for the time being I consider Communion of Dreams to be the end of any such series. St. Cybi’s Well is a prequel — the start of the so-called series, in fact. And I have some rough ideas for other books which would be related to the overall story arc, about one per decade of the time between now and the setting of Communion (2052). But those are just approximations. How can I number the books in the series when I have little confidence in how many there will be? And wouldn’t it be confusing to number the books in the order they are written, since they jump around in chronological sequence?

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that I could use some help and suggestions with this. If you’ve read Communion of Dreams, you have some sense of the overall arc of the series, at least as the history is outlined in that book. And I’ve chatted a fair amount about St. Cybi’s Well. Knowing those things, what do *you* think would be a good ‘series name’ for these books?

I’m serious — I’d like suggestions. Post it here in a comment, drop me an email, say something over on the FB page. If I use your suggestion, I’ll credit you with it and send you a hand-bound copy of either Communion of Dreams or St. Cybi’s Well depending on your preference (and if you’ve already got those coming as part of the Kickstarter rewards or something, we’ll work out an equitable substitute).

Thanks!

 

Jim Downey

 



Well, when you put it like *that*…

I’ve noted in the past that there have been a number of interesting comparisons of Communion of Dreams with the works of Arthur C. Clarke in general, and with 2001: A Space Odyssey in particular.  Which isn’t surprising, since the book is an intentional homage to that book, referencing it directly at several points. I’ve tried to be clear that I am not trying to claim that my writing is on the same level as Clarke’s — if nothing else, I have only written one book and am very conscious of the fact that I am following along a well-worn path, one which he initially cut through the wilderness and many others have since trod. Still, it is flattering when someone else thinks that my book is good enough to even consider a comparison to 2001.

Well, that sort of thing has happened again, with a new review on Amazon which went up yesterday. It’s quite positive, and says things like this:

James Downey has written a very strong sci-fi story that, like all good sci-fi, takes the reader on a wonderful journey into the realm of future human possibilities.

Then, amusingly, it closes with this:

The only reason I did not give it five stars is because I don’t rate it as great a story as say the classic Isaac Asimov Foundation series or Frank Herbert’s Dune, but otherwise it is a book well worth the time to read and savor.

Yeah, when you’re judging my book against such classic works as those, hell, I’d give it only 4 stars as well. Once again, those works were trail-blazers, and that alone makes it difficult for anything which follows to be fairly compared.
Anyway. I’d like to ask two things:

  1. If you have read Communion of Dreams, and have not yet written your own review, please PLEASE do so. As I have hinted several times recently, I have something new in the works, and very much need as many solid reviews as possible in place to help people have a realistic idea of what to expect.
  2. If you’re on Facebook, please go “like” the Communion of Dreams page. And tell your friends about it. Again, this will help a great deal with what I have coming up soon.

 

Thanks – I really appreciate your help.

Jim Downey

 

 



Falling on my head like a new emotion.*

It rained this morning.

* * * * * * *

There are two new reviews for Communion of Dreams up on Amazon. Here’s one in its entirety:

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book, full of intriguing ideas, appealing characters (including some quirky ones) and a well-crafted plot. That it is also a debut novel surprised me, and I hopefully look forward to more. James Downey can write!

* * * * * * *

Chatting over breakfast with houseguests yesterday, I was explaining how the logistics of publishing an electronic book work, that the best model currently seems to be to give away a buttload of free copies periodically, which in turn generates actual sales. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, as I have explained here previously, but it clearly works: after each promotional event giving away copies of the book, sales and overall ranking jump then tend to plateau with a slow drop-off. Two months ago Communion of Dreams was stuck at a ranking of about 30,000. More recently it was hovering around 3,000, and it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that the rate of sales started to fall off from about 20 a day to something more like 5 or 6. After Saturday’s promotion, Sunday almost 50 people bought the book, and sales overnight last night look decent — my guess is that it will again plateau around 20 sales a day for a while.

* * * * * * *

Here’s an excerpt from the other review:

I have been a reader of science fiction from an early age. I grew up with the great writers: Asimov, Henlien, Bradbury, Clark and F. Herbert … With that education of the genre I have found it difficult to find pure science fiction that comes even close to the standards I have for great books. With Mr. Downey’s Communion of Dreams, there is finally a writer I can look forward to reading his future works.

* * * * * * *

That’s the other thing which happens: more reviews following a promotional event. And reviews make a difference. I don’t mind a negative or critical review — they help other readers identify a book which may not be suitable for them, and I want people to be happy that they decided to invest the time (and sometimes money) to read my stuff. Yeah, sure, like anyone I like praise and people comparing me to true giants in the field of SF — it’s a real kick in the head. But even those writers had plenty of people who didn’t enjoy their work: just take a look at the reviews of their stuff on Amazon and you’ll see. Hell, Communion of Dreams has an aggregate rating which is higher than almost everything listed for either Heinlein or Herbert, according a my quick check just now.

Does that mean I’m a “better” writer? Don’t be ridiculous. It just means that so far a few more people have assigned a better arbitrary rating to this one book. No one gets universal acclaim. And I’d have to produce about a book a year until I am 75 to have the same level of output that these other writers accomplished (and to about 400 to be in Asimov’s league). *That* ain’t gonna happen.

* * * * * * *

It rained this morning.

That’s not extraordinary, of course. This isn’t a desert.

But it’s been about a month since we’d seen any significant rain. And it is welcome.

Jim Downey

*Of course.



Phase change.
February 25, 2011, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Emergency, Failure, Isaac Asimov, Politics, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society

There’s a sign in the desert that lies to the west
Where you can’t tell the night from the sunrise
And not all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Have prevented the fall of the unwise*

Almost prophetic, isn’t it?

The homepage for Communion of Dreams has the following description:

The world I have envisioned in this book is recognizable, in the same way that the 1950’s are recognizable, but with a comparable amount of unpredictable change as between that era and the present. Most authors will avoid writing about the near-term future, because it is easy for a work to become dated. I’m not that smart.

Unpredictable change. Rapid change. Protests in Egypt started just a month ago. Protests in Libya started just a week ago. Then there’s Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. Even China has started to get nervous about controlling discussion of events around the Mediterranean.

If we had Asimov’s psychohistory, perhaps we would have been able to foresee this shift. But even then, I have my doubts. It is one thing to say “people want freedom” and another to not be surprised by what is happening. You can call the internet, Twitter, and mobile phones transformational technologies all you want, but that doesn’t mean you understand *how* the changes they augment will actually play out.

History is full of odd twists and small turns which topple rulers and determine the outcome of wars. Yes, certain forces can come together to create the right environment – to supersaturate the solution, as it were – but then almost any kind of catalyst can precipitate a radical change, and which kind of catalyst makes a difference. I think this is what we are seeing with the sweeping turmoil in the Middle East and Mediterranean – a phase change, as it were, from one reality to another.

This isn’t the first such phase change I have seen. The collapse of the Soviet Union was another. I grew up thinking that it was an implacable enemy, a monolith which would last forever if it didn’t kill us all first. When I traveled behind the Iron Curtain in 1974 I would never have been able to predict that 15 years later the whole thing would just tumble into dust. But then again, no one else did, either.

And that’s the thing. As I work now on the prequel to Communion of Dreams, set just a year in the future (but not our future – a related one near at hand) it is easy to envision other kinds of radical change which would come to create the world of my novel . . . and perhaps our own.

(2/26/11) An addendum: for a further, and much more insightful – not to mention more informed – discussion of the changes in the Middle East, read this article.

Jim Downey


*Alan Parsons, Turn of a Friendly Card.



Eye, Robot.

I like bad science fiction movies. Cheesy special effects, bad dialog and worse acting, it doesn’t matter. Just so long as there is a nub of a decent idea in there somewhere, trying to get out.

And in that spirit, I added I, Robot to my NetFlix queue some time back, knowing full well that it had almost nothing to do with Isaac Asimov’s brilliant stories. I knew it was set in the near term future, and that it had been a success at the box office, but that was about it. This past weekend, it arrived. I watched it last night.

I think Asimov himself predicted just what would be wrong with this movie:

In the essay “The Boom in Science Fiction” (Isaac Asimov on Science Fiction, pp. 125–128), Asimov himself explained the reason for Hollywood’s overriding need for violence:

[…] Eye-sci-fi has an audience that is fundamentally different from that of science fiction. In order for eye-sci-fi to be profitable it must be seen by tens of millions of people; in order for science fiction to be profitable it need be read by only tens of thousands of people. This means that some ninety percent (perhaps as much as ninety-nine percent) of the people who go to see eye-sci-fi are likely never to have read science fiction.The purveyors of eye-sci-fi cannot assume that their audience knows anything about science, has any experience with the scientific imagination, or even has any interest in science fiction.

But, in that case, why should the purveyors of eye-sci-fi expect anyone to see the pictures? Because they intend to supply something that has no essential connection with science fiction, but that tens of millions of people are willing to pay money to see. What is that? Why, scenes of destruction.

Yup. And that is just about all that the movie I, Robot is – destruction and special effects. Shame, really, since I have enjoyed Will Smith in other bad SF (Independence Day, anyone?), and just love Alan Tudyk from Firefly/Serenity. Even what had to be intentional references to such excellent movies as Blade Runner or The Matrix fell completely flat. It was, in a word, dreadful.

Ah, well. Via MeFi, here’s a little gem to wash the bad taste out of your mouth:

Gene Roddenberry would be proud.

Jim Downey