Communion Of Dreams

All alone in the dark of night?


Earth could be unique among 700 quintillion planets in the Universe, study finds

So much of humanity’s astronomical research is based around the notion of finding something like us out there – whether that’s looking for environments that could sustain life, ranking planets in terms of their potential habitability, or comparing distant worlds to our own.

But what if – statistically speaking – the odds are stacked against us finding another planet even remotely like Earth? That’s the thinking behind a new study by an international team of researchers, which has taken what we know about the exoplanets that lie outside our Solar System and fed the data into a computer model.

Their resulting calculations, designed to simulate how galaxies and planets have formed over some 13.8 billion years, produces a “cosmic inventory” of terrestrial planets – and one in which Earth very much looks to be unique.


Perhaps not:

Jon nodded. “Thanks. So what’s the meeting about? What happened?”

“Dr. Jakobs tried to contact you this morning. After hearing her message, I bounced it up to Director Magurshak. They found something on Titan. An artifact.” Seth paused, looked down at his hands, “a nonhuman artifact.”

Jon sat there for a moment, trying to digest what Seth said. According to what pretty much everyone thought, it wasn’t possible. SETI, OSETI, META and BETA had pretty much settled that question for most scientists decades ago, and twenty years of settlement efforts throughout the solar system hadn’t changed anyone’s mind. Even with the Advanced Survey Array out at Titan Prime searching nearby systems for good settlement prospects, there had never been an indication that there was an intelligent, technologically advanced race anywhere within earshot. Seth knew Jon well, didn’t let the silence wait. He looked back up, eyes level and unblinking, “It isn’t a hoax. The artifact is definitely nonhuman, or at least non-contemporary human. Mr. Sidwell found it out near his base. Dr. Bradsen will have as much a report on it as is available, which isn’t much.”


Jim Downey

A crack?

Interesting news item on NPR this morning:

Close Encounters Of The Radio Kind? Mystery Bursts Baffle Astronomers

Astronomers have a mystery on their hands. Two large radio telescopes, on opposite sides of the planet, have detected very brief, very powerful bursts of radio waves.

Right now, astronomers have no idea what’s causing these bursts or where they’re coming from. And nothing has been ruled out at the moment — not even the kind of outrageous claims you’d expect to see in tabloid headlines.

* * *

As you would imagine, there’s been lots of speculation about what’s behind these mysterious bursts. Some astronomers think they’re caused by blitzars, pulses of energy from a supermassive star collapsing into a black hole. Others think they may be caused by power solar flares coming from stars nearer by.

And Lorimer says he has to mention it: “There’s even been discussions in the literature about signatures from extraterrestrial civilizations.”


From Chapter 1 of  Communion of Dreams when news of the discovery of an evidently alien artifact on Titan is being discussed:

The man sitting next to him got up, stepped up to the holo of the artifact still rotating there in the center. Robert Gish was a little unkempt, his beard untrimmed, his dark hair matted. He was out of shape, almost flabby in appearance. His scientific reputation was as unconventional as his looks. More so. He had been responsible for the radical change in long-range sensing which led to the development of the Advanced Survey Array. Nobel Prize stuff. A true genius, not just brilliant but able and willing to make leaps that took others years to understand. Which was why Bradsen had him here: Gish had been saying for decades that there was other intelligent life among the stars. Saying it so loud and so often that he was considered a crank, since he had no proof and couldn’t even really explain why he believed it to be so, at least in a way that others could accept.

Reaching out as though he was going to touch the object, he said quietly “We know what it is. It is a crack in our shell.”


Interesting news, indeed.


Jim Downey

Go for a joyride in somebody’s brain.*

Carl Zimmer has put up a really interesting piece about recent developments which allow for visualization of brain structures which I would recommend:

Flying Through Inner Space

It’s hard to truly see the brain. I don’t mean to simply see a three-pound hunk of tissue. I mean to see it in a way that offers a deep feel for how it works. That’s not surprising, given that the human brain is made up of over 80 billion neurons, each branching out to form thousands of connections to other neurons. A drawing of those connections may just look like a tangle of yarn.

As I wrote in the February issue of National Geographic, a number of neuroscientists are charting the brain now in ways that were impossible just a few years ago. And out of these surveys, an interesting new way to look at the brain is emerging. Call it the brain fly-through. The brain fly-through only became feasible once scientists started making large-scale maps of actual neurons in actual brains. Once they had those co-ordinates in three-dimensional space, they could program a computer to glide through it. The results are strangely hypnotic.

Yeah, they are, and also very cool. One of the most interesting developments is a new program called the Glass Brain which is powerful enough to allow you to see how the brain is working in real time. From the article:

Imagine, if you will, putting on an EEG cap and looking at a screen showing you what’s happening in your brain at the moment you’re looking at it. That’s what this system promises.

The diagnostic and training potential is obvious. And if you consider the implications a bit, this could be a big step towards a true mind/machine interface. And then all bets are off for what could happen next.


Jim Downey

*Referencing Dust to Dust.

And a side-note. While I don’t make a big deal of it in Communion of Dreams, if you stop and think of the descriptions I use for the super-conducting ‘gel’ found on Titan, and what is revealed about it, you might notice that it would seem very similar to how neurons in the brain are structured and behave, though on a vastly different scale … 😉

You can’t tell a book …

So, a week or so ago I linked to a new review of Communion of Dreams which was very positive overall. But the reviewer made a comment which echoes things some other people have said:

Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).

Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.

But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in  new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).

Jim Downey

PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.

Its a start.

The description of Communion of Dreams on both the back of the book and on the website/Amazon is this:

The year is 2052, and the human race is still struggling to recover from a massive pandemic flu some 40 years previously.  When an independent prospector on Saturn’s moon Titan discovers an alien artifact, assumptions that we are alone in the universe are called into question.  Knowing that news of such a discovery could prompt chaos on Earth, a small team is sent to investigate and hopefully manage the situation.  What they find is that there’s more to human history, and human abilities, than any of them ever imagined.  And that they will need all those insights, and all those abilities, to face the greatest threat yet to human survival.

It was pretty easy to come up with that. It was written well after the fact, after all. The book had been done for years, worked over and tweaked endlessly.

Well, as I am getting things set to do the Kickstarter project to allow me to concentrate on writing St. Cybi’s Well, one of the components we have to get into place is setting up a website for it. To do that I needed to have the same sort of short description of that book as the one above for Communion of Dreams. But St. Cybi’s Well *isn’t* done yet. Far from it. I have a lot of ideas/thoughts/scenes for it, accumulated over the last nine years. I basically know what the book is going to be, but the story and the characters will evolve as I write. Nonetheless, I had to come up with a description.

This is what I came up with. See what you think:

Darnell Sidwell had a problem. Well, two, actually. One was the onset of an eye disease which threatened to end his career as a shuttle pilot for the Israeli Lunar Transfer, to the so-called New Ma’abarot colonies. That brought him to Wales, where his sister operated a spiritual healing center – a last, absurd hope for a man who didn’t believe in miracles.

The other problem was a small matter of a murder. His. But he didn’t know about that yet. Just as he didn’t know that the whole world was about to be plunged into the fire-flu.

It’s a start.

Jim Downey


Hmm. That’s an interesting idea.

I don’t know whether it was prompted by yesterday’s blog post, but late in the day there was a new review put up at Amazon which seemed to specifically address the one-star review. It’s a very positive review, and I would urge you to take a look at it if you get a chance. But this bit in particular caught my eye:

His story combines elements of many popular genres into a near epic tale. It has elements of Sci-fi, mystery, psychological thriller, political thriller, metaphysical enlightenment, alien contact, artificial intelligence, buddy-drama, and action-adventure. I can easily see this world screen-played into an engaging TV series that appeals to a wide range of people.

I’ve joked previously about a possible film treatment of the book, and what that might look like. And I have no reason to think that the TV-meatgrinder would result in anything much better. But I must admit that I find the idea of a TV series or miniseries based on the book to be kinda interesting.

Anyway, thanks to the author for the new review, and if you were prompted by my blog post yesterday that’s cool. Reviews do seem to make a real difference, so if you haven’t taken the time to write a review or rate the book on Amazon, please do.

I hope to get the first travelog from Italy posted later today. But first I have to pay catch-up a bit in my garden.

Jim Downey

Looking back: Welcome to the Hobbit House

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on May 12, 2007.


Hobbit House

Gotta love this: a collector of J. R. R. Tolkien artifacts needed a small library/museum to house his collection. His architect decided to do the right thing, and go to the source material for inspiration. The result is a wonderful little Hobbit House, straight out of the books:

Asked to design a fitting repository for a client’s valuable collection of J.R.R. Tolkien manuscripts and artifacts, architect Peter Archer went to the source—the fantasy novels that describe the abodes of the diminutive Hobbits.

“I came back my client and said, ‘I’m not going to make this look like Hollywood,’” Archer recalled, choosing to focus instead on a finely-crafted structure embodying a sense of history and tradition.

The site was critical too—and Archer found the perfect one a short walk away from his client’s main house, where an 18th-century dry-laid wall ran through the property. “I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to build the structure into the wall?”

Now, my wife is an architect, so I know a little about this profession, and having a client willing to go along with such a design is a real boon. And as a rare book and document conservator, I appreciate an architect who went to the trouble to make sure that the environment was appropriately climate controlled for the archives. And as a craftsman, I really appreciate the attention to detail by the contractor and his crew – this isn’t just a facade, it’s well-crafted workmanship.

Wonderful, all the way around. I can’t help but think that J.R.R. would be pleased.

Jim Downey


Right on schedule.

A friend who recently read Communion of Dreams sent me a link to this item this morning:

DARPA sets sights on high-tech contact lenses

( — A Bellevue, Washington, company specializing in display technology based on eyewear and contact lenses has sealed a deal with DARPA. Innovega, which says its technology can open a “new dimension to virtual and augmented reality applications,” told the BBC earlier this week that it has signed a contract to deliver a prototype of its iOptik display system to DARPA. That system consists of special contact lenses and eyeglasses. The product is touted to be a better solution than bulky heads-up display systems of the past. Screens sit directly on users’ eyeballs and work with a pair of special lightweight glasses.

* * *

Users can look at two things at once, both the information projected and the more distant view. The retina receives each image in focus. The engineers used nanoscale techniques to develop the lenses, so that they can work as a focusing device with the glasses. The ability to focus the near-eye image is achieved by embedding optical elements inside the iOptik contact lens, according to Innovega. The micro-components do not interfere with the wearer’s normal vision.

* * *

The company says its system affords the human eye to see near-to-eye micro-display information simultaneously with the surrounding environment. Beyond DARPA, the company anticipates its technology can be used by the general public, but it will take a few years for that to happen. The product is undergoing clinical trials as part of the US FDA approval process. Possible applications might be gaming, watching big-screen 3-D movies, and future augmented reality devices superimposing images on reality. According to Innovega, the technology may be available to the public towards the end of 2014.

There’s also video of how the technology works, using a camera with one of these contacts mounted on the surface of the lens. It’s pretty cool.

Four years ago I wrote about the first big breakthrough with this kind of technology, and noted that the article I was referring to said the technology should reach the stage where DARPA would be able to start testing a functional version in “three to five years.”

Just for fun, here’s a passage from the beginning of Chapter 8 of Communion of Dreams when the main character first descends to the surface of Titan:

Jon nodded, slipped between the seats, through the door of the airlock. Locking it, he started the cycle. He felt a crinkling of his environment suit as it compensated for the increasing pressure, then the indicator light turned green and the hatch opened. He looked out into a thick, dull red fog. In the distance a strobe flashed. Sidwell’s compound.

Jon went out the hatch, down a couple of steps to the ground. As he cleared the small craft, his pc connected to Sidwell’s datastream broadcast. An overlay appeared before his eyes, pale lines of light outlining buildings in the distance. Nodding to the two guards waiting, he followed them toward the compound.

As I’ve said many times before, it’s always fun to see these technologies I envisioned becoming reality.

Jim Downey

Help a guy out.
January 27, 2012, 11:02 am
Filed under: Amazon, Kindle, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, tech, Titan

Well, it’s official:

To ‘launch’ the publication of Communion of Dreams, the Kindle version will be free to download for just three days: January 27 through 29. Of course, you’re welcome to buy it outside of those dates, to get a paperback copy, to get a signed copy, or to even just make a donation in appreciation. The links for all those are there on the side.

I’d really appreciate your help, and ask for it with the following:

  1. Please just go download the Kindle version during this free period. It’ll cost you nothing. Even if you don’t have a Kindle – you can get the free Kindle app for a wide variety of electronic devices. Just by downloading it you help boost the ranking, and that helps me a lot.
  2. Tell others about the book and this free offer. Please – word of mouth is far & away the best advertising. Don’t spam people/sites, but if you know anyone who likes speculative/science fiction, please let them know about the book & free offer this weekend. And this goes like triple for any well-known writers/bloggers/personalities you may have a connection to. This would be a *huge* help to me.
  3. Lastly, wherever possible please “like” or “+1” Communion of Dreams.  On the homepage. On Amazon. On Facebook/Twitter/G+/whatever. Each time you do this it helps to boost the ranking in search engines, and so will be a great help in the long run.

And if/when you actually read the book, you’d be willing to write a review or give a ranking on Amazon, that would be very much appreciated. But I want this to be an honest review/ranking – BS doesn’t help.

Thanks – it has been a long haul to get to this point. Now it is a matter of marketing. The next three days are critical, as they could help get enough attention to get the book established. Already today (just about 7 hours after the promotion started) there have been well over 100 downloads of the book and the page rank has jumped to under 5,000. I’d love to give away a thousand books this weekend – help me out.

Cheers, one and all!

Jim Downey

Now you see it . . .
January 23, 2012, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Amazon, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Titan

Getting ready for the official ‘launch’ of Communion of Dreams. I should have the proof copy of the paperback in hand tomorrow or the day after, and if it looks good I hope that the launch can come later this week. Have already had some sales of the Kindle version of the book, and some people have already downloaded a ‘loan’ copy under the Amazon Prime program. If you want to dive in, that’s great – but here’s another little secret: I’m going to run a promotion during the official launch whereby *anyone* can download a free copy of the Kindle version. Yup. So you might just wanna wait . . .

And in working to put the various components of all this together, I stumbled across this fun little optical illusion: The Eclipse of Titan. Check it out!

Jim Downey