Communion Of Dreams


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. ;) )

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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



Not “Because it’s there.”

George Mallory, the famous British mountain climber who may or may not have been the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest, supposedly responded when asked by a New York Times reporter “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” with “Because it’s there”.  This, in the spirit of the day, was understood to mean that it was a challenge to be conquered, man triumphing over nature.

When I was young, I found this quote to be inspirational. Aspirational. It was, I thought, the perfect explanation for doing the seemingly impossible. For pushing boundaries. For climbing higher than anyone had ever climbed before. Perhaps all the way to the Moon. And maybe one day, to the stars.

Half a century later, I have learned the wisdom of having goals — or, perhaps more accurately, motivations — which make more sense over the long run. Because while “because it’s there” may lead to a temporary triumph, it is hardly enough over the long haul.  If you want something to be more than just a moment of glory, captured forever in the record books but limited to only being in the record books, then you need something much more pragmatic.

So I was delighted to read this today, from Phil Plait’s visit to Elon Musk’s SpaceX factory and the question of why go to Mars:

Musk didn’t hesitate. “Humans need to be a multi-planet species,” he replied.

And pretty much at that moment my thinking reorganized itself. He didn’t need to explain his reasoning; I agree with that statement, and I’ve written about it many times. Exploration has its own varied rewards… and a single global catastrophe could wipe us out. Space travel is a means to mitigate that, and setting up colonies elsewhere is a good bet. As Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (the father of modern rocketry) said, “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.”

* * *

The overall atmosphere in the factory was one of working at a progressive company on an exciting project. Of course: They build rockets. But the feeling I couldn’t put my finger on before suddenly came into focus. The attitude of the people I saw wasn’t just a general pride, as strong as it was, on doing something cool. It was that they were doing something important. And again, not just important in some vague, general way, but critical and quite specific in its endgame: Making humans citizens of more than one world. A multi-planet species.

It’s easy to dismiss this statement, think of some snark as a way to minimize it and marginalize it as the thinking of a true believer. But—skeptic as I am—I’ve come to realize this is not minimal. It is not marginal. This is a real, tangible goal, one that is achievable. And SpaceX is making great strides toward achieving it.

That’s when I also realized that the initial question itself was ill-posed. It’s not why Elon Musk wants to get to Mars. It’s why he wants humanity to get there.

 

The Apollo Program was a phenomenal achievement. It was inspirational. Aspirational. But while it contributed many worthy technological advances, and led a whole generation of the best & brightest to go into science and engineering, there is a reason that there are still to this day only a dozen people who have ever walked on the Moon.

Musk’s goal is still visionary. And perhaps not pragmatic in the short term. But in the long term, species survival seems to be just about the most pragmatic goal humanity could have.

 

Jim Downey



“You’re oversharing again, Earth.”

Seth Shostak, on the topic of how to introduce ourselves to our neighbors:

A better approach is to note that the nearest intelligent extraterrestrials are likely to be at least dozens of light-years away. Even assuming that active SETI provokes a reply, it won’t be breezy conversation. Simple back-and-forth exchanges would take decades. This suggests that we should abandon the “greeting card” format of previous signaling schemes, and offer the aliens Big Data.

For example, we could transmit the contents of the Internet. Such a large corpus — with its text, pictures, videos and sounds — would allow clever extraterrestrials to decipher much about our society, and even formulate questions that could be answered with the material in hand.

 

While I still agree with Stephen Hawking on the idea of ‘active SETI’, I think that there’s merit in the idea of exposing other nearby civilizations to what we’re really like, warts and all. Because as soon as they decoded our transmissions well enough to understand the comments section of pretty much any major site on the web, they’d either completely wall off our solar system* and post warnings around it or just trigger our sun to go supernova. Either way, we’d never know what happened, and the rest of the galaxy would be safe …

 

Jim Downey
*gee, that’d make an interesting premise for a SF novel, doncha think?



Share it.

The folks at This I Believe have now put up the audio of me reading my essay “The Power to Forget“, as part of having it included in their weekly featured essay podcast, as I mentioned previously was in the works.

And I’d like to ask a favor: if you know of someone who might benefit from this essay, please share it with them.

No, not for any benefit to me. I’m not above self-promotion, but that isn’t why I ask for your help in this case. A decade ago when I wrote that essay, I had hoped that it might help others navigate through their own anger and loss. I thought that it had just disappeared into the foam of internet verbiage, until the people at This I Believe contacted me the beginning of this year. And now it feels somewhat like it has a second chance to do some good.

I don’t expect it to work miracles. Each of us who has suffered a loss — whether of a loved one, or our health, or our dreams, or an opportunity — have to deal with that loss in our own way. But it’s sometimes good to know what path others have taken, what worked for them.  So maybe my essay will help someone.

Thanks.

 

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 …

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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.

* * *

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.”

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Any others to add? The 10 Sci-Fi Films That Defined 2014

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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



Two visions.

This wonderful vision of the human future has been making the rounds recently, and I had to share it:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

A somewhat more … cautionary … vision of what the future could hold can be found in this:

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down in 1986, creating a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone that has been almost completely devoid of human interference for decades. Now you can take a tour, courtesy of a camera-carrying drone.

 

Mutually exclusive? Apocalypse versus brave new worlds?

I think not. In fact, the Communion of Dreams/St Cybi’s Well ‘universe’ contains both. If I ever decide to write them, I have books set in the 2020s, about 15 years following the fire-flu pandemic, and in the 2030s in the Israeli colonies on the Moon. In the first the world will feel much like what’s seen in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And in the second I’ve envisioned how the 1/6th Earth-normal gravity would allow for playing something very much like Quiddich on small personal flyers in large domed stadiums.

It’s important to remember that the future isn’t either/or. It’s even more important to remember that we will have a role in creating that future, for good or ill.

 

Jim Downey



The Fort.

An excerpt I thought I would share. I had been planning on the current chapter being titled “Maen-Du Well”, but have decided instead on going with “Y Gaer”, which is just the Welsh name for “The Fort” — this fort, actually. The following happens there in the ruins:

A path led around past the buildings, then into a fair-sized rectangular terrace, the remnants of the Roman walls still clear and exposed in places. And the western and southern gate foundations were still surprisingly intact, from what he could see even at a distance of a hundred meters or so. He decided to cross the grounds of the old fort, go directly to the south gate.

As he approached the south boundary, he saw a man sitting on the gatehouse foundation, looking across the river. An old man, his aged leather rucksack on the wall ruins next to him. Eleazar didn’t look back, didn’t say anything as Darnell entered the small fenced-in area which protected the ruins from grazing sheep. He just looked out across the valley, until Darnell sat down beside him on the sun-warmed stone. “I thought I might find you here.”

Eleazar smiled. He pointed down the slope. “It was a good posting. The old road used to run just there, between us and the river.”

“You make it sound as though you were actually here,” said Darnell.

Eleazar shrugged. “For a while. It was good to get back to Britannia, and my passage was with a cavalry unit, part of which wound up here.”

Darnell studied the man. For a while, Eleazar just continued to look out over the small river valley. Then he turned, and considered Darnell in return. “You’re looking for miracles. Are you so surprised to see evidence of one?”

 

Jim Downey




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