Communion Of Dreams


The Globe and Mail has a wonderful essay by Col Chris Hadfield as an introduction to a new edition of Ray Bradbury‘s The Martian Chronicles. Here’s an excerpt:

Bradbury’s Mars offered unlimited new opportunity for exploration and discovery, and expansion of human awareness. Yet virtually every step in the Chronicles, as through much of human history, is a misstep. Mutual ignorance and distrust between normally peaceful peoples leads to violence and death. Greed causes unfathomably bad behavior; uncomfortably reminiscent of gold-hungry Conquistadors in the New World, five hundred years previous. Anger and frustration at the constraints of an intensely bureaucratic society somehow permit the craziest of personal behavior. And the ultimate threat of the destruction of it all somehow draws everyone back into the maelstrom, as if there is no escape. As if we all have a necessity to accept the consequences of everyone’s actions, and take our punishment, no matter how deadly.

Bradbury’s inclusion of the repeated patterns of human behavior, right down to inadvertent genocide caused by external pestilence and unfamiliar disease, makes The Martian Chronicles an ageless cautionary tale. It made me pause and ask myself – could it be possible that we are forever unable to go beyond who we were? Will every great opportunity of discovery be tainted, tarred and eventually destroyed by our own clumsy, brutish hand?

Are we so cursed by our own tragic humanity?

Wrestling with that very question … and depicting it … has been at the heart of my struggle to write St Cybi’s Well. And wrestling with my own demons at the same time has led me into some very dark moments, particularly over the last couple of months.

But there is hope. Here is the closing of Hadfield’s essay:

Their spaceship will be improbable, and the voyage will have been long. But as our first emissaries thump down onto Mars, stand up and look around, they will see who the Martians really are. And with that sense of belonging will come the responsibility and appreciation that has allowed us to flourish and grow on Earth for millennia, in spite of ourselves. By the time we land on Mars and first step onto the dusty, red soil, it will be alien no longer. We will know that we are home. And that may be what saves us.

As chance would have it, yesterday I started working on another conservation project which, in its own way, also affirms how exploration may save us. You’ve probably heard of the author, who had his own struggles and failings. Here’s the title page:


Maybe there’s hope for all of ‘we’, after all.

Jim Downey

Thanks to Margo Lynn for sharing the Hadfield essay.

“You write for the joy of writing.”

Another gem of a video from Open Culture:

The whole thing (about 4 minutes of actual interview, done as an impromptu chat in the back of a car about 40 years ago) is worth enjoying, but this bit in particular will resonate for anyone who writes:

If you can’t resist, if the typewriter is like candy to you, you train yourself for a lifetime. Every single day of your life, some wild new thing to be done. You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. Then your public reads you and it begins to gather around your selling a potato peeler in an alley, you know. The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me.

The joy, and the sublime struggle to understand. Like all art.


Jim Downey

Welcome to the paleo-future.

I grew up reading stuff like this:

R is for rocket.jpg

And even had a really cool metal rocket based on the images from Destination Moon which one of my relatives made and gave me. For the longest time those sleek rockets landing and taking off again (what NASA calls ‘Direct Ascent‘) defined what space travel meant, and I loved watching early launches which hinted at Things To Come.

Then space technology advanced, and I got a little older. Rockets were no longer cool. With all the wisdom and knowledge of a 14 year old, I dismissed the idea that anyone would want to use them for anything other than lobbing other things into orbit, and even at that they would be soon surpassed by more efficient and reusable shuttles and aerospace vehicles.

I’m glad not everyone was so easily distracted:

Welcome back to the future of my youth.


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.

Another transit.
June 6, 2012, 10:31 am
Filed under: Mars, Ray Bradbury, Science Fiction, Space | Tags: , , , ,

Rocket Summer

One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.

And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town. A flooding sea of hot air; it seemed as if someone had left a bakery door open. The heat pulsed among the cottages and bushes and children. The icicles dropped, shattering, to melt. The doors flew open. The windows flew up. The children worked off their wool clothes. The housewives shed their bear disguises. The snow dissolved and showed last summer’s ancient green lawns.

Rocket summer. The words passed among the people in the open, airing houses. Rocket summer. The warm desert air changing the frost patterns on the windows, erasing the art work. The skis and sleds suddenly useless. The snow, falling from the cold sky upon the town, turned to a hot rain before it touched the ground.

Rocket summer. People leaned from their dripping porches and watched the reddening sky.

The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land….

Farewell, Mr. Bradbury.

Jim Downey

Something all SF writers can aim for.
August 17, 2010, 7:53 am
Filed under: Music, Ray Bradbury, Science Fiction, Yoko Ono

Well. Fans are one thing, but the very Not Safe For Work video below the fold is something else altogether. And pretty damned funny.

But hey, it’s about Ray Bradbury, so cut her some slack.

Continue reading


As I have noted, I have been fairly busy of late.  And in looking back over the last couple of months, I can see a real change in both my energy level and my ability to focus – it’s no longer the case that I want to nap most of the time.  Yeah, I am still going through a detox process, still finding my way back to something akin to normalcy – but there has been a decided improvement.  Fewer migraines.  More energy.  A willingness to take on some additional obligations.

So I had to debate a long time when I was recently contacted by a site wanting to expand their scope and impact.  These folks.  They were wanting me to do a column every two weeks, more-or-less related to Science Fiction (giving me a lot of latitude to define the scope of the column as I saw fit).  They have a lot of good ideas, and seem to have a pretty good handle on where they want to go in the future.  And the invitation was a real compliment to me – not only did they say nice things about my writing, but they have a good energy and attitude which is appealing.

But I declined the invitation.  Why?  Well, to a certain extent it’s like Bradbury says: “You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”

I may come to regret this decision.  It could possibly have helped my writing career, at least in terms of landing a conventional publishing contract.  And I know from writing my newspaper column that the discipline can do good things for me – forcing me to address a specific topic rather than the more general musings I post here and at UTI.  But I really do have a lot on my plate right now, and they are all things I want to do well, rather than just get done.  Blogging here (which is really quite important to me).  Participating at UTI.  Crafting this book about being a care provider.  Getting the ballistics project website up and running.  All the book conservation work waiting for me.  Eventually getting to work on St. Cybi’s Well again.  And enjoying life.  There’s been precious little of that these last few years.

So, I declined.  But if you perhaps would be interested in the gig, they have contact info on their homepage.

Jim Downey

Fahrenheit 451: “It’s not about censorship.”

Now, Bradbury has decided to make news about the writing of his iconographic work and what he really meant. Fahrenheit 451 is not, he says firmly, a story about government censorship. Nor was it a response to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose investigations had already instilled fear and stifled the creativity of thousands.This, despite the fact that reviews, critiques and essays over the decades say that is precisely what it is all about. Even Bradbury’s authorized biographer, Sam Weller, in The Bradbury Chronicles, refers to Fahrenheit 451 as a book about censorship.Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.

Ray Bradbury has a subtle point to make in trying to change how we view his novel Fahrenheit 451, saying that the death of reading is more important than the imposition of censorship. It is a valid point, and shows some of the depth the author has now, and indeed had even at the time of the writing of the book, since the text is clear in how he saw the possibility of his dystopia occuring.

But this does not make the generations of scholars, teachers and readers wrong when they focus on the overarching role of censorship by the government in the novel. Bradbury has a right to point to the additional messages and meanings of his work, as any author does. But in some very important ways, the way the work is understood beyond the author’s own intent is just as valid, perhaps moreso. Any text is a living document, seen with new eyes each generation – eyes that understand it in the context of their own lives, their own experience, their own society. This is how we read any great work of literature, from the Bible to Declaration of Independence. Jefferson may have penned his document as a justification of colonial rebellion against England, but it is now seen in a broader context, as one of the great treatise of human rights. George Orwell may well have been writing a cautionary tale about the future of the Soviet Union, the West, and Asia, but we understand 1984 now as a more general warning of the power of a fascist state to control, corrupt and destroy anyone it wishes.

Ray Bradbury is welcome to add to the discussion of his work, to provide information for his intent in writing it, to explain his understanding of the most important message it contains. We, as readers, should listen to his thoughts on the book. But his comments are not definitive, rather are part of a dialog between author and reader. Just as he brought his experience and understanding of the world to the writing of the book, we must bring our own experience and understanding of the world to the reading of it. Fahrenheit 451 may not be about censorship, but drawing the lesson from it that censorship is to be avoided is completely legitimate.

Jim Downey

(Via a comment from Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing. Cross posted to UTI.)