Communion Of Dreams


“We.”

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:

We

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

Jim Downey

Thanks to Margo Lynn for sharing the Hadfield essay.



“…it can take a ridiculous amount of abuse.”

I don’t write military fiction. Not my thing.

But for St Cybi’s Well, the main character has a relevant military background, as an A-10 (Warthog) pilot. Here’s a bit from Chapter Seven: Dinas Maelor when he and another character are reminiscing about their service in Desert Storm:

The two men sat for a moment, considering one another. After a while, Jones spoke. “I’m not surprised you don’t remember me clearly. You and I just shook hands in passing at that meeting. And while I was pretty worn out by several days of babysitting a royal in the middle of an ongoing battle, you’d just barely gotten out of your A-10 in time to clean up and make the audience. How many sorties did you fly in those three days?”

“A lot.” Darnell took another sip. “And then a lot more a month later.”

“A whole lot. And always in the thick of it. Two of your Hogs were so badly shot up they were scrapped. And that’s saying something, as tough as those things are.”

“Yeah, it’s a hell of an airframe.” Darnell smiled. “So, you checked up on me?”

“When this assignment came in, I recognized your name, so yeah, I went back through your record. Impressive.” Jones returned the smile. “Almost as impressive on paper as what I saw you do to that line of T-55s and BMPs. You crippled just the right vehicles to pin them in place so you could then coolly destroy them. Most other pilots would have tried to take out the line in the first pass, giving too much time for some to scatter. Not you. You nailed the head and tail, then came back for the rest. That was smart, and daring.”

I was reminded of that by this passage in an article on Wired:

Close air support is a vital job that, when properly executed, can mean the difference between life and death for soldiers. It’s highly dangerous, because it requires flying at altitudes low enough to discern friend from foe, leaving the plane particularly vulnerable to ground-based anti-aircraft fire.

But the Warthog was specifically designed for close air support: the cockpit sits in a 1,200 pound titanium tub, specifically designed to withstand fire from anti-aircraft shells at close range. Every system is double or triple redundant, and it can take a ridiculous amount of abuse. It can continue flying if it’s lost an entire engine, part of its tail, or even half a wing.

It’s been a very busy week for me with book conservation work. But I delivered that this afternoon, so can relax and appreciate the next couple of days for what they are. More on that later.

 

Jim Downey



Net worth.

“Here ya go!” said the salesman with almost sincere enthusiasm as he handed the key fob across the desk to me. “Your Googel AutoDrive Sedan is ready and waiting!”

“Thanks,” I said, with little desire to mask my exhaustion. I hated buying cars. I took the fob, stood up to go.

“Oh, one last thing …”

I cringed. Looked at him. He still had a gleam in his eye. Which I knew meant he hadn’t finished toying with me yet. “Yes?”

“In going through your profile, I noted that your credit score was … a tad low.” His smile widened just a bit.

“So? I financed it through MegaLoan. You got your money.”

“Well, yes,” he said. “But I wasn’t talking about the financing … ”

I waited to see where this was going. I was sure it wasn’t going to be someplace I liked.

He didn’t disappoint me. His smile broadened even more. “As you know, the AutoDrive system is programmed to consider every possible factor in road safety and benefit to society — in full accordance with all relevant laws.”

“Yes?”

“Well … how shall I put this … your low credit score means that in some situations, AutoDrive may elect to …” he paused to savor the effect “… maximize the benefits to society in the event of an accident.”

“Sorry?”

“Well, if the situation warrants, someone who has a better credit score … who provides a greater benefit to society, as shown by their assets and wealth creation … may be deemed less expendable than you are.”

“WHAT?!?!?!”

I had hoped my outrage would startle him. Instead, he licked his lips. “Now, now, not to worry. There’s an easy way to mitigate the chances of that happening.”

I sighed. “How much?”

“Well, we have a Net Worth insurance policy we offer which will indemnify society against loss of more valuable citizens, available on a sliding scale …”

 

 

Jim Downey



Hopeless? Nah …

One of the lessons I’ve drawn from my years of book conservation experience is that what may initially look to be a hopeless case can sometimes surprise you. Take a look at this 1880s dance card for the Marshall Missouri ‘Christmas Hop’. Here it is this afternoon when I took it out of the stack of items a client had brought in:

Before

Looks pretty bad, eh? Actually, it looks a LOT better there than it did in person, thanks to the automatic filters/functions on my phone camera. In person, that light grey was the color of charcoal, and almost no color or words were clear to the human eye. That’s because it was covered in charcoal — it had spent approximately 100 years hidden behind the chimney in a house.  The charcoal was more than 1mm thick over most of the card, and had to be physically scraped away before I got to the surface cleaning. Here it is after I spent some time cleaning it:

After

Not perfect, but a distinct improvement. Not everything can be fixed. Not every problem can be solved. And even when you can improve things, you’re seldom going to be able to make it perfect.

But that’s OK. That’s life. You do what you can. And almost nothing is completely hopeless — at least, not as hopeless as it might seem at first.

 

Jim Downey



Ties in nicely.

This is a good short, and ties in nicely with the end of Communion of Dreams:

 

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



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




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