Communion Of Dreams


Because I was not the President.*

First they flew to watch for illegal immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an illegal immigrant.

Then they flew to look for marijuana farms, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a marijuana farmer.

Then they flew to watch the White House, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not the President.

Then … and then … and then …

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies.



“A lesson we cannot afford to forget.”

I said this recently:

But while that is the case, I also believe that the horror which is/was Nazism cannot be easily dismissed as aberrant. If one of the most humane and enlightened societies known — one which gave birth to brilliant scientists, philosophers, and artists — can turn into the Third Reich, then any society can. That is a lesson which we cannot afford to forget.

 

This isn’t that, but it is a sobering revelation:

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

* * *

“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours. That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist,” said Trainum, who now studies national policing issues, to include interrogations, for the Innocence Project and the Constitution Project.

 

Again, I want to emphasize: this is not Nazism. This is not equivalent to the Third Reich, and all the horrors which it spawned. But as someone said on one of the sites which has covered this:

I remember when the KGB were the bad guys.

Back in the ’80s, we used to ask how a populace could tolerate people being disappeared, and so much happening extrajudicially. Now we know.

 

A lesson which we cannot afford to forget, indeed.

 

Jim Downey

 



The metaphysics of presence

Excellent essay. Excerpt:

I venture that when it comes to the best of these paintings, mammals have never been rendered better in the history of our species. These are the paintings of people who looked at mammals for over 30,000 years — far longer than all of recorded history combined. I was seeing visual wisdom, the hard work of looking and taking the time and trouble to make exact renditions of what one watched. Looking at these images, I began to know things we don’t know anymore but still know in our bones. I felt the narcotic power of this naturalism, what Norman Bryson has called “the metaphysics of presence.” I gleaned the carnal pleasures of painting textures, surfaces, and fur in variable viscosities; the vision of a world unfolding yet held in exactly these moments, and not framed by drawn lines but within geology.

 

Jim Downey



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

 



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 …

* * *

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

* * *

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

* * *

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.

* * *

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

* * *

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.”

* * *

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



Virtuous ends.

From Chapter 9 of Communion of Dreams, about the ‘Edenists':

“Please,” asked Johan Klee, “who are these Edenists? I do not believe that we have them in Europe.”

“Homegrown American kooks,” said Gates. “Take your worst nightmare right-wing Christian fundies, breed ‘em with ecological extremists, let the mix simmer in isolation for about twenty years, and you wind up with the Edenists: eco-terrorists who think that it’s God’s Will that mankind return to a primitive, pre-industrial state.”

I hate having these things be so damned accurate:

Greenpeace Apologizes For Stunt At Peru’s Sacred Nazca Lines

Greenpeace activists stand next to massive cloth letters next to the hummingbird geoglyph at Peru’s sacred Nazca lines. The Peruvian government is pursuing criminal charges against the activists.

Greenpeace has apologized to the people of Peru after activists entered a highly restricted area to leave a message on ancient, sacred desert land.

Activists placed giant, yellow letters spelling out, “Time for change! The future is renewable. Greenpeace,” near markings in the earth known as the Nazca lines.

Fanaticism, whether religious, moral, racial, or technological, is dangerous. Once you decide that your virtuous ends justify any means you use, horror is a predictable outcome.

 

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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