Communion Of Dreams


All bound together.

Today’s excerpt from St Cybi’s Well. The scene takes place at Gumfreston Church, outside Tenby:

He glanced up the way to the parking lot beyond the wall. His was still the only car there. Then he turned and followed the walkway further down the hill, past the church building. Partway down the hill a modern bench sat amongst the ancient graves, overlooking the secluded little niche containing the group of three wells. They were all clustered together, with fairly recent fieldstone platforms and walk around them.

Darnell went down directly, paused just before the first of the three. There were simple little white crosses painted onto some football-sized rocks beside the path. Small ribbons and bells were tied to trees and bushes nearby. On some of the rocks, and on the edges of the platforms, were the burnt-ends of candles. Clearly, this was still a place of pilgrimage.

He stepped onto the narrow platform, and once again could feel that strumming, that flowing energy he had felt in St David’s. Some yards away, sheltering the site from the outside world, were thick curtains of vines, still full leafed and deep green from summer, draping down from massive ancient trees. This added to the sense of the place being somewhat apart, special.

He knelt down, reached his hand to the surface of the first well. It bubbled slightly, but was otherwise clear and without a strong odor. He could feel a brightness, a clear sparkling energy to it.

The middle spring was slightly cloudy, with a ruddy kind of moss all along the bottom and sides of the pool and the little stream which left from it. Placing his hand lightly on the surface, he could feel a deeper, somewhat darker energy. Not darker in a negative sense, but one of earthiness, like the rich loam of a well-cared-for garden.

The third and lower spring had some element of that ruddiness to it, but it also had a distinct aroma of sulfur – distinct, but not overpowering. Touching the surface of that pool Darnell felt what could almost have been heat, though the water was still cool to the touch. Rather, it was as though the energy was intense, as if it were coming from a fire.

Kneeling there, reaching down, it almost felt like praying. He smiled to himself, and got up. Going back up the path, he sat on the bench overlooking the wells, and considered them.

Brightness, sparkling, as in the air. Richness, as the loam of the earth. Intense, as in fire. All bound together with water, flowing and mingling.

Little wonder this site was still on the pilgrim’s path.

 

Jim Downey



Artists lead the way.

One of my favorite characters in Communion of Dreams is the artist Duc Ng. Here’s the description of him when he is introduced in Chapter 2:

Duc Ng was an artist. A holo sculptor, whose specialty was slow-progression transformations. The works were beautiful, inspired, and appreciated by almost anyone who saw them. Ng had jacked-up cyberware to heighten his sensitivity, and used psychotropic drugs tailored to cause neurotransmitter activity to increase dramatically. This created an artificial synesthesia for a short period of time, during which the usual senses became blurredand intermingled, adding layer upon layer of perception.

 

Note the phrase “jacked-up cyberware”.  While it plays a role in the plot, I put this in there because I’ve always admired the way that artists are constantly pushing to adapt new technologies in the creation of their art. Here’s a passage from the beginning of Chapter6 when we first get a look at Ng using his skills:

There was just one other person in the room, standing at the side of the holo platform, hands dancing over a control board only he could see. It was Ng, dressed fittingly in a jumpsuit of the same black material from which the drapes and carpet were made.

“Isn’t that stuff hot?” asked Jon, nodding toward Ng’s clothing.

“Nah, I’ve got a coolpack plugged into it. Not as efficient as a real military stealth suit, but it works. Reduces the problems I have with creating my sculptures.”

Jon looked to the dance Ng’s hands played in the air. “About ready?”

Ng said nothing, but his fingers tapped a command in the air. Instantly, there appeared an image above the holo projector.

 

Check this out:

“These beautiful gloves help me gesturally interact with my computer,” says Heap, explaining how the wearable technology allows her to perform without having to interact with keyboards or control panels.

Pushing buttons and twiddling dials “is not very exciting for me or the audience,” she says. “[Now] I can make music on the move, in the flow and more humanly, [and] more naturally engage with my computer software and technology.”

 

There’s a brilliant video which demonstrates the potential of her gloves:

[vimeo 90252137 w=500 h=281]

 

And she has started a Kickstarter to help develop the technology to share with other performance artists:

 

Wonderful. I’m in to support it. And yeah, I think that’s another prediction from CoD coming true.

 

Jim Downey

Via BoingBoing.



Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me …

As I’ve noted previously, July 4th is my birthday (secondary thought – damn, this blog is six years old!).  And in something of a “Hobbit’s Birthday” spirit, again this year I’m going to run a promotion in celebration. But because I’m turning 55, it’s going to be a bit different than last year. Instead, the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams will be free for 5 days – yup, July 1st through July 5th.

And that ain’t all. Nope. At the same time, from July 1st through July 5th, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year will also be completely free.

And that still ain’t all. Nope. When the promotional period is over, the Kindle edition price for each book will drop to just $3.01. Why $3.01? Well, because of Amazon’s policies, it’s best to keep the price over $2.99. And I like the ‘shape’ of 301, mild synesthete that I am. And the number has some interesting properties. So, $3.01 it is.

And remember, you don’t even need an actual Kindle to enjoy either book, because there is a free Kindle emulator/app for just about every computer/tablet/mobile device out there. Earlier this year I installed the app on my Android phone, and I’ve been happily using it in lieu of my Kindle since.

So, starting Monday: five free days of Communion of Dreams. And five free days of Her Final Year. 5 + 5 for my 55th birthday. Help make it a good one, and spread the word. Thanks.

 

Jim Downey



A higher level of order.*

Sometimes I feel like this bit from Chapter 17 of Communion of Dreams:

“It’s all right, Jon, I’m awake,” said the scientist, still not opening his eyes.

“Tops says . . . ”

“Probably that I’m acting a little strange. It’s true. I came to a little while ago, but my head has been spinning. Not with any sense of vertigo, but with ideas. Like some kind of wild holographic sculpture of equations, moving and changing, solving themselves and giving rise to new ones, flowing, growing, gleaming from within. It’s easier for me to keep my eyes closed, so I can follow all that they’re doing, I hope you don’t mind.” All of this came pouring from the small man at a pace so quick that Jon almost missed some of it. He continued, “I’m going to have to discuss with Duc whether this is how he perceives his artwork before translating it into a form that the rest of us can see. For me it is like for the first time having direct, conscious access to my subconscious. You know that the human brain is capable of truly phenomenal computational power, but it usually happens below the threshold of awareness. I feel like right now, for this time, I can witness the full glory of the mind at work. No matter. I wanted to see you because I have come to realize what was bothering me before.”

We just placed the order for the special edition printing of Communion of Dreams. And yesterday I ordered several hundred dollars of archival bookbinding materials to execute the cloth hardcover bindings. Exciting — I love these kinds of beginnings!

Jim Downey

*Chaos theory. The ‘scientist’ in the quote above is Robert Gish, a central character in the book, and something of an alter-ego for me.



“I was speechless for a time.”

We got a little more than 2″ of rain yesterday.

On my walk this morning, the grass no longer crunched underfoot.

* * * * * * *

Got a note from a friend this morning. He’d just finished reading CoD last night, made this comment:

“That was one hell of a lot of keeping things straight on your part. Very nice job and a thoroughly enjoyable read.”

* * * * * * *

From almost a decade ago:

My awareness shifted, slowed, and a calmness and sense of peace came over me.  I did a cursory examination of the cottage, but then walked behind the Well room to find the source of the stream which fed the pool there:  it was a spring, unencumbered by metal bars, bubbling up in a stone-ledged pool complete with small steps, perhaps four feet across.  I knelt on one knee, left hand on the cold stone slab, the right reaching down to caress the surface of the water.  Just touching that water gave me an electric chill, and brought tears to my eyes.  Those tears have returned as I write this.  I paused there, and just felt the joy of that water through my fingers for a few minutes, before returning to the Well room.

This is a substantial room, all the walls mostly intact but the roof missing.  Perhaps 15 feet on a side, the pool in the center 8 or 9 feet across.  Again, there were stone steps leading down into the pool.  In the thick stone walls are several niches for sitting, perfect for contemplation.  I sat.  I just felt that place, felt the faith and devotion that had shaped it, and the deep source that fed it.  The pool is quiet, the surface a mirror for looking up into the open sky.  After what was probably only a few minutes, but what felt like hours, I again kneeled, reaching down to touch that smooth inviting surface.  Here there was a different character to the energy, less raw, perhaps easier to digest.  A sense of communion with all the souls who had entered that pool.  A moment that stretched back centuries.

I was speechless for a time.  Alix (my wife) knows me well enough, has seen me in these moments before, that she let me be, allowed me to just experience the place, until I was filled and ready to move again.  With the silky texture of worn stone sliding under my fingers, I rose and left the pool, pausing only to pat the dark stone of the doorway and give thanks.

In was in that moment that St. Cybi’s Well was conceived.

* * * * * * *

It’s a strange thing to write a novel. To have it churn inside you for years. To feel it gestate, to become heavy in your mind, slowly pushing aside everything else.

I think this is part of the reason why so many writers suffer with addiction and relationship problems of one sort or another. The book takes up all the space in your head. And if you can’t extract it at the right time, and in *just* the right way, it hurts. It hurts like hell.

* * * * * * *

We got a little more than 2″ of rain yesterday.

On my walk this morning, the grass no longer crunched underfoot. We’re still in a drought — still some 10″ under for total precipitation this year — but two inches of rain over the course of 24 hours has helped. A lot. It no longer feels as if the entire outdoors is holding its breath, hanging on in anticipation . . . and in worry. The world has sighed.

I was speechless for a time. I am no longer.

There is work to be done. Hard work. There is no guarantee that I’ll be successful. There certainly is no guarantee that anyone will like the book. While it is very much a prequel to Communion of Dreams, St. Cybi’s Well will not neatly fit in the usual framework of a classic science fiction story. The passage above should give you some sense of that.

But I have to be faithful to the story. And have faith in my fans.

Stick around.

Jim Downey



Internal excitement.

If you’ve never attempted to write a long (as in book-length) work of fiction, it might be difficult to understand what the process is like. Worse, it seems like every writer out there has their own entirely different experience of the process. Or more than one experience of the process, to be more accurate. Lord knows I seem to go through many different stages.

Which is why it is hard to find any instruction manual about writing long fiction that is worth a damn.

But I thought I would share this insight from my current stage of working things out for writing the prequel to Communion of Dreams: it’s like playing 3-D Tetris.

Seriously, that’s what it feels like. Like each of the different components of the plot & characters is an oddly-shaped piece rolling around in my head, turning this way and that, looking to fall into the correct position relative to all the other pieces. And as I juggle each different piece I make small changes, looking to find the best way that each one fits together into a comprehensive whole.

And when a piece lands into place, if there isn’t a little ‘jolt’ of excitement, then I know that there’s something wrong, and that the piece really doesn’t belong there, no matter how well it seems to fit at the time. Obviously, at this stage everything is very intuitive – the more analytic and logical work will come later in the actual writing. But first, I have to build this internal sculpture, find the overall shape of the thing. Only once that is done can I really make much headway in trying to describe the form (to extend the metaphor a bit too far).

What’s good is that as I have been spending more and more time & energy mulling over these different components, these different pieces, I’ve been getting more and more of these little jolts of excitement.

It’s a very good feeling.

Jim Downey



“There is always hope. Only because that is the one thing no one has figured out how to kill. Yet.”*

Ah, Spring.

Got my pepper plants last night, unboxed them and set them out in the sun this morning. Six each of Bhut Jolokia, Red Savina, and Naga Morich.

Yesterday was good in another way: had some 50 downloads of Communion of Dreams. That’s about 4x what daily sales of the novel have been this week. No idea why. I can’t find anything which would explain it – if you know, please clue me in. Today things seem to still be running a little ahead of what passes for normal, but not as busy as yesterday.

And lastly, someone “followed” me on Twitter. OK, that isn’t too weird – while I don’t do a lot with Twitter, it is a promotional platform I use and part of that is following people and being followed in return. But this came out of the blue, before I had followed this person or had any contact with them. Who was it? Alan Parsons.

Actually, further digging indicated that it was the account for the Alan Parsons Project. I’m not sure who administers the account. It might be Mr. Parson, or it might just be some flunky.

Now, I have referenced music from the Alan Parsons Project here a couple of times. I’ve always had a lot of respect for their stuff, as well as Parson’s work as a sound engineer in his own right. But what I haven’t mentioned previously is that instrumental tracks from the Alan Parsons Project pretty much were the ‘soundtrack’ behind writing Communion of Dreams. As in, almost without exception, that is the music I put on when I was writing. It was energizing without being distracting, and helped me get into the proper mental zone to work on the book – a kind of induced syneshtesia.

So it was more than a little weird to have APP follow me on Twitter, regardless of who handles the site. No idea why.

Which leaves me with a lot of more-or-less happy confusion, and hope for the future.

Jim Downey

*Galen, of course. Whom I have mentioned previously.



Legend of a Mind*

Almost 30 years ago I took psilocybin for the first time. I repeated the experience several times over the next couple of years, and have largely spent the time since making sense of the whole thing. Some of this is reflected in Communion of Dreams: descriptions of synesthesia in the book were based largely on my own experiences while under the influence of ‘shrooms, and the use of ‘auggies’ (drugs designed to increase neural processing) were also inspired by those experiences.

But the use of psychedelics was largely from another time. Not the first instance of my having been out-of-phase with the rest of society.

So it’s somewhat surprising to see new research being conducted using these drugs. Research which really should have been conducted decades ago, were it not for the paranoia of the “Just Say No!” years. This weekend’s edition of To The Best Of Our Knowledge provides a nice insight into this:

It’s taken decades for study of mind-altering drugs to be taken seriously. Now a handful of scientists are at the forefront of new research. One of them is Roland Griffiths is a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins. He’s just turned his attention to psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen commonly known as magic mushrooms. He tells Steve Paulson about his findings.

And:

We hear a clip from Annie Levy who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the late stages she took part in an experimental study designed to see if taking psilocybin could help with the fear and panic about dying. In her case, taking a single dose was a life-changing experience in her final months.

It’s a shame, really, that the therapeutic use of hallucinogens has been stymied for so long. There is such a long tradition of using these drugs to access deeper insight and spirituality in many cultures that one is almost tempted to say that humankind’s evolution has been influenced by psychedelics as much as learning to use fire. That we have cut ourselves off from these natural psychotropics is a shame – and again is reflected in Communion of Dreams in how we have artificially lost part of our natural birthright.

Jim Downey

*From the Moody Blues, of course.



No surprise: it’s not that simple.

I’ve written previously about synesthesia, and most recently said this:

The implication is that there is a great deal more flexibility – or ‘plasticity’ – in the structure of the brain than had been previously understood.

Well, yeah. Just consider how someone who has been blind since birth will have heightened awareness of other senses.  Some have argued that this is simply a matter of such a person learning to make the greatest use of the senses they have.  But others have suspected that they actually learn to use those structures in the brain normally associated with visual processing to boost the ability to process other sensory data.  And that’s what the above research shows.

OK, two things.  One, this is why I have speculated in Communion of Dreams that synesthesia is more than just the confusion of sensory input – it is using our existing senses to construct not a simple linear view of the world, but a matrix in three dimensions (with the five senses on each axis of such a ‘cube’ structure).  In other words, synesthesia is more akin to a meta-cognitive function.  That is why (as I mentioned a few days ago) the use of accelerator drugs in the novel allows users to take a step-up in cognition and creativity, though at the cost of burning up the brain’s available store of neurotransmitters.

And now there is more evidence that synesthesia is a more complex matter than researchers had previously understood:

Seeing color in sounds has genetic link

Now, Asher and colleagues in the United Kingdom have done what they say is the first genetic analysis of synesthesia. Their findings are published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Researchers collected DNA from 196 people from 43 families in which there were multiple members with synesthesia. They looked exclusively at auditory-visual synesthesia, the kind where sound triggers color, which is easier to diagnose than other possible forms.

They expected to find a single gene responsible for synesthesia, but they found that the condition was linked to regions on chromosomes 2, 5, 6, and 12 — four distinct areas instead of one.

“It means that the genetics of synesthesia are much more complex than we thought,” Asher said.

No surprise there.  The article goes on to discuss what may be happening physiologically – researchers are still trying to construct a model of how synesthesia actually happens in the brain, and still tend to see it as something which “goes wrong” developmentally.  The supposition, according to the CNN article, is that there is a failure of a necessary “pruning” of cross-wiring in the young brain.

But what if it is instead a meta-cognitive function, something which is emerging as part of ongoing evolution of the human brain?  In other words, an enhancement of our current ability to think and remember, by allowing our brains a bit more complexity in the neural connections?

Hmm.

Jim Downey



Flexibility.

[This post contains mild spoilers about Communion of Dreams.]

One of the difficulties facing computer engineers/scientists with developing expert systems and true Artificial Intelligence is the paradigm they use.  Simply, working from structures analogous to the human brain, there has been a tendency to isolate functions and have them work independently.  Even in modern computer science such things as adaptive neural networks are understood to analogous to biological neural networks in the brain, which serve a specific function:

Biological neural networks are made up of real biological neurons that are connected or functionally-related in the peripheral nervous system or the central nervous system. In the field of neuroscience, they are often identified as groups of neurons that perform a specific physiological function in laboratory analysis.

But what if the neuroscience on which these theories are based has been wrong?

Here’s the basics of what was Neuroscience 101: The auditory system records sound, while the visual system focuses, well, on the visuals, and never do they meet. Instead, a “higher cognitive” producer, like the brain’s superior colliculus, uses these separate inputs to create our cinematic experiences.

The textbook rewrite: The brain can, if it must, directly use sound to see and light to hear.

* * *

Researchers trained monkeys to locate a light flashed on a screen. When the light was very bright, they easily found it; when it was dim, it took a long time. But if a dim light made a brief sound, the monkeys found it in no time – too quickly, in fact, than can be explained by the old theories.

Recordings from 49 neurons responsible for the earliest stages of visual processing, researchers found activation that mirrored the behavior. That is, when the sound was played, the neurons reacted as if there had been a stronger light, at a speed that can only be explained by a direct connection between the ear and eye brain regions, said researcher Ye Wang of the University of Texas in Houston.

The implication is that there is a great deal more flexibility – or ‘plasticity’ – in the structure of the brain than had been previously understood.

Well, yeah. Just consider how someone who has been blind since birth will have heightened awareness of other senses.  Some have argued that this is simply a matter of such a person learning to make the greatest use of the senses they have.  But others have suspected that they actually learn to use those structures in the brain normally associated with visual processing to boost the ability to process other sensory data.  And that’s what the above research shows.

OK, two things.  One, this is why I have speculated in Communion of Dreams that synesthesia is more than just the confusion of sensory input – it is using our existing senses to construct not a simple linear view of the world, but a matrix in three dimensions (with the five senses on each axis of such a ‘cube’ structure).  In other words, synesthesia is more akin to a meta-cognitive function.  That is why (as I mentioned a few days ago) the use of accelerator drugs in the novel allows users to take a step-up in cognition and creativity, though at the cost of burning up the brain’s available store of neurotransmitters.

And two, this is also why I created the ‘tholin gel’ found on Titan to be a superior material as the basis of computers, and even specify that the threshold limit for a gel burr in such use is about the size of the human brain.  Why?  Well, because such a superconducting superfluid would not function as a simple neural network – rather, the entire burr of gel would function as a single structure, with enormous flexibility and plasticity.  In other words, much more like the way the human brain functions as is now coming to be understood.

So, perhaps in letting go of the inaccurate model for the way the brain works, we’ll take a big step closer to creating true artificial intelligence.  Like in my book.  It pays to be flexible, in our theories, in our thinking, and in how we see the world.

Jim Downey

Hat tip to ML for the news link.