Communion Of Dreams


Drawing the wrong lesson …

One of the oldest Science Fiction tropes is the development of technology intended to enforce compliance through pain. Two notable examples: the ‘shock collars’ used on members of the Enterprise crew in The Gamesters of Triskelion and the ‘pain givers‘ first depicted in the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams.

In both cases, and typically through most of the SF I can think of, this is meant to be a cautionary tale, to show how even a nominally benign or at least non-lethal technology can be perverted. The lesson is that the intentional infliction of pain is itself a bad thing, whether or not it actually causes real corporeal damage.

So, naturally, we have drawn exactly the wrong lesson:

Judge pleads guilty to ordering defendant to be shocked with 50,000 volts

A Maryland judge who ordered a deputy to remotely shock a defendant with a 50,000-volt charge pleaded guilty (PDF) to a misdemeanor civil rights violation in federal court Monday, and he faces a maximum of one year in prison when sentenced later this year.

* * *

The deputy sheriff walked over to where Victim I was standing and pulled a chair away to clear a place for Victim I to fall to the floor. At this point, Victim I stopped speaking. The deputy sheriff then activated the stun-cuff, which administered an electric shock to Victim I for approximately five seconds. The electric shock caused Victim I to fall to the ground and scream in pain. Nalley recessed the proceedings.

* * *

The authorities are increasingly using stun cuffs, which are about the size of a deck of cards, at detention centers and courthouses. They are made by various companies and cost around $1,900 for a device and transmitter. Some models can shock at 80,000 volts.

 

Oops.

 

Jim Downey



Out there … and down here.

Via Laughing Squid, a nice little animated exploration of the Fermi Paradox:

(Does not contain spoilers for Communion of Dreams. 😉 )

* * *

Been a busy week. Part of it was putting in my garden:

Garden

(That’s just the tomato plants — the super-hot peppers will go in next week.)

Part of it was a MASSIVE job converting a 16 x 16 storage space into the beginnings of a workshop:

Shop

(There’s still lots to do, but man, what a change from being hip-high in grungy boxes and scattered junk!)

And part of it was we have a new addition to the family:

Kitten

(He’s just 6 weeks old, entirely too cute, bold & adventurous, and tiny. For now. No name yet, though given his grey color I suggested perhaps we should go with Dukhat … )

* * *

I’m just now finishing up the first major revision to the working copy of St Cybi’s Well. I already have a couple of people lined up to take a look at it with fresh eyes, but if anyone else is interested also having a preview, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch with you.

Lastly: for Mother’s Day weekend, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year will be available for free. Check it out, download it, share it with others!

Jim Downey



And the sky, full of stars … *

I should have some interesting news to share in a couple of days. But for now, I thought I would share this amazing post from Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy:

Andromeda

Yesterday, I posted an amazing Hubble Space Telescope picture. I don’t think it’s too soon to post another shot from Hubble… and I think you’ll agree when you see it, especially after you get an understanding of what you’re seeing.

First, the eye candy: The magnificent Andromeda Galaxy, as seen by Hubble.

 

And as Plait notes, that’s the low-resolution image.

Go enjoy the article, and marvel at the images he has/links to. Seriously — it is worth your while, if you’re any kind of a space-geek at all.

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies to JMS.



Moments of revelation.

“All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation.”

-G’Kar, Z’ha’dum

Sometimes you don’t recognize when things change — the moments of transition — except in hindsight. That could be because the change is incremental enough that you don’t notice it for a while, or it might be that you’re so completely involved in the moment that the realization of what just happened doesn’t sink in immediately.

 

* * *

This morning there was a news item on NPR which caught my attention: that perhaps the Voyager 1 spacecraft has already left our solar system.

Scientists have known for a while that it was approaching the limits of the heliosphere. The expectation was that there would be a fairly clear change in orientation of the magnetic field when the craft crossed the boundary of the Sun’s influence into true interstellar space.  But perhaps that boundary was less defined than we thought. From the story:

How did we miss that? As it turns out, it wasn’t entirely our fault. Researchers thought the solar system was surrounded by a clearly marked magnetic field bubble.

“There’s one at the Earth, there’s one at Jupiter, Saturn, many planets have them. And so just by analogy we were expecting there to be something like that for the solar system,” Swisdak says.

Scientists were waiting for Voyager to cross over the magnetic edge of our solar system and into the magnetic field of interstellar space. But in in the September issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, Swisdak and his colleagues say the magnetic fields may blend together. And so in July 2012, when Voyager crossed from the solar system into deep space, “Voyager just kept cruising along,” Swisdak says. All they saw was a change in the field’s direction.

 

* * *

Last Thursday my wife had a follow-up with her surgeon to see how she was doing in recovering from her emergency appendectomy.  She had been released from the hospital the previous Saturday, but there was some concern over the risk of secondary infection within her abdomen.

Well, without getting too much into the details, tests indicated that she might be developing exactly that sort of infection. The surgeon ordered a procedure called a needle aspiration and scheduled it for the following day.

We dutifully reported to the hospital for the procedure. It didn’t go smoothly, and the upshot was that it didn’t help her condition at all. A couple hours later we left the hospital, and she’s been mostly resting since. We’re now waiting to hear from the surgeon about what happens next. And what it means.

 

* * *

Some six years ago I wrote what could be considered a companion piece to this blog post. In it I quoted a friend, talking about Communion of Dreams:

“Yeah, but it’s like the way that the people involved in your book – the characters – are all struggling to understand this new thing, this new artifact, this unexpected visitor. And I like the way that they don’t just figure it out instantly – the way each one of them tries to fit it into their own expectations about the world, and what it means. They struggle with it, they have to keep learning and investigating and working at it, before they finally come to an understanding.” He looked at me as we got back in the car. “Transitions.”

 

* * *

Where Communion of Dreams was largely about transitions, in many ways St. Cybi’s Well is about revelations. How we experience them. How we understand them. How we do or don’t recognize them when they happen.

The Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams is free today. And you have less than two weeks to enter into the drawing for a hand-bound, full-leather copy of the book. So far only two people have entered. Don’t miss the moment.

 

Jim Downey



Reflecting (on) reality.

Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi  or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.

Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.

I mentioned events in Boston the other day.  Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.

Almost five years ago I wrote this:

This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.

Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.

And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.

But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.

Yet …

… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.

Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



Dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers.*

Almost everyone who has seriously studied a foreign language has experienced this: that at some point when you have gained sufficient fluency, you’ll find yourself actually dreaming in the new language. Particularly if you are somewhat of a lucid dreamer, or just remember your dreams, this can come as a very pleasant surprise, and serves as a real mile-marker in your progress with the language.

Well, last night for the first time I found myself “dreaming” scenes and character discussions from St Cybi’s Well.

 

Jim Downey

*Elric.



Farewell, Commander.

I didn’t watch it when it was originally broadcast, but I came to really enjoy and respect the science fiction series Babylon 5. It was intelligently written, well produced, and generally well acted. It’s now my ‘default’ evening viewing — we’ll watch an episode or two with dinner whenever we’re not in the middle of watching something else. As a result, I’ve watched the entire series through (as well as all the various movies and the short-lived spin-off ‘Crusade’) probably a score of times. And I still find things to appreciate which I hadn’t caught on previous viewing — there’s a reason it won two Hugo Awards while it ran.

One of those things is an increased appreciation of the performance of Michael O’Hare as Commander Sinclair. He was mostly involved with the series in the first season, but played an important part later as well. And of all of the episodes he was in, this little bit is probably my favorite:

Michael O’Hare passed away last night. He will be missed.

Jim Downey