Communion Of Dreams

‘Watch the skies, everywhere!”

That’s from the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, one of the first (and defining) science fiction movies which set the stage for much of what was to come even to the present day.

It was also very much a product of the early Cold War era, reflecting the fear* of the USSR and atomic weaponry. This is typical — science fiction usually is a reflection of (or commentary on) the technology and social conditions of the era when it was created.

So, what to make of two news items which showed up this week?

Here’s the first:

First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops

It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.

With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

And here’s the second:

Welcome to the World, Drone-Killing Laser Cannon

Hang on to your drone. Boeing’s developed a laser cannon specifically designed to turn unmanned aircraft into flaming wreckage.

The aerospace company’s new weapon system, which it publicly tested this week in a New Mexico industrial park, isn’t quite as cool as what you see in Star Wars—there’s no flying beams of light, no “pew! pew!” sound effects. But it is nonetheless a working laser cannon, and it will take your drone down.

* * *

Instead of a massive laser mounted on a dedicated truck, the compact system is small enough to fit in four suitcase-sized boxes and can be set up by a pair of soldiers or technicians in just a few minutes. At the moment, it’s aimed primarily at driving drones away from sensitive areas.


I’m already seeing posts by friends on social media complaining about drones being operated by annoying neighbors, with discussion about what possible solutions there might be to deal with them (both by legal recourse and um, more informal approaches). There have been a number of news items already about people who have shot down drones, and there’s even a company advertising a specific kind of shotgun ammunition for just that.

“Watch the skies!”, indeed.


Jim Downey

*As good an explanation as any.

“…something that we do not yet understand.”

Those who have finished reading Communion of Dreams will have a particular appreciation of this:

“Ancient Aliens,” the popular sci-fi meme, has yet to produce solid proof that extraterrestrials ever interacted with humans. Yet Unidentified Flying Objects have a surprisingly ancient history. The earliest UFO sightings were reported by Roman historians Livy, Orosius, Seneca, Plutarch, Pliny, and Josephus. The ancient sightings have been classified by a NASA scientist according to the standard UFO categories devised by astronomer J.A. Hynek (1972): Close Encounters of the First (no physical evidence), Second (physical traces), and Third Kinds (occupants observed).

The parallels to modern UFO sightings are eerie.

* * *

The astronomical meteorologist who analyzed these Roman reports in Classical Journal (2007) notes that the “UFO phenomenon, whatever it may be due to, has not changed much over two millennia”: disk, elongated, or sphere shapes; metallic, brilliant colors and materials; smooth, erratic, or hovering motions; the object often vanishes. Whether these are extraordinary atmospheric effects, astronomical phenomena, or extraterrestrial encounters, the persistence of consistent details over thousands of years seems to point to something real observed by many witnesses over time, something that we do not yet understand.

Since I’ll be in Rome in a couple of weeks, maybe I’ll have to talk to my Classics Prof friend about this…

Jim Downey

As above, so below.

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 1:

Jon spoke. “That’s typical. Sidwell is a bit of an old coot. He’s about 80, close as anyone can get him to admit. He has been at the forefront of exploration all along, having started with the Israeli colonies on the Moon, and was one of the first prospectors to establish himself on Titan.”

* * * * * * *

NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy

The secretive government agency that flies spy satellites has made a stunning gift to NASA: two exquisite telescopes as big and powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope. They’ve never left the ground and are in storage in Rochester, N.Y.

* * *

The telescopes were built by private contractors for the National Reconnaissance Office, one of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. The telescopes have 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) mirrors, just like the Hubble, but they have 100 times the field of view. Their structure is shorter and squatter.

* * *

The announcement Monday raised the obvious question of why the intelligence agency would no longer want, or need, two Hubble-class telescopes. A spokeswoman, Loretta DeSio, provided information sparingly.

“They no longer possessed intelligence-collection uses,” she said of the telescopes.

* * * * * * *

“The Israeli colonies on the Moon?” When did that happen?


One of the plot points for St. Cybi’s Well all along has been that Darnell Sidwell had been a shuttle pilot for a secret operation by Israel (with the tacit support of most of the governments of the major world powers) to establish permanent colonies on the far side of the Moon. That effort was well along by 2012, which is when the novel is set.

Remember, the timeline for Communion of Dreams isn’t exactly our timeline. It is very, very similar to ours, but there are some divergences.

The biggest worry I have had for some time was how to say that such a space program could exist without people knowing about it. In fact, earlier work on St. Cybi’s Well revolved around this very point as an espionage/counter-espionage sub-plot. I was concerned that it might be *too* outlandish an idea for readers to be able to suspend their disbelief.

So much for that concern; we’ve just found out that what we thought was at the limits of our technology is so obsolete that it can be handed off as so much surplus junk. And the implication is that while NASA is currently without the means to launch and service something like Hubble, that there are plenty other agencies within our government which are not so inconvenienced.

* * * * * * *

Ex-Spy Telescope May Get New Identity as a Space Investigator

The phone call came like a bolt out of the blue, so to speak, in January 2011. On the other end of the line was someone from the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates the nation’s fleet of spy satellites. They had some spare, unused “hardware” to get rid of. Was NASA interested?

* * *

The telescope’s short length means its camera could have the wide field of view necessary to inspect large areas of the sky for supernovae.

Even bigger advantages come, astronomers say, from the fact that the telescope’s diameter, 94 inches, is twice as big as that contemplated for Wfirst, giving it four times the light-gathering power, from which a whole host of savings cascade.

* * * * * * *

From Sir Isaac Newton’s translation of the Emerald Tablet:

Tis true without lying, certain most true.

That which is below is like that which is above that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.

And as all things have been arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.

The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth its nurse.

The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.

Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
– Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.

It ascends from the earth to the heaven again it descends to the earth and receives the force of things superior and inferior.

And yes, that is a hint about another part of what’s to come in St. Cybi’s Well.

* * * * * * *

Enjoy today’s Transit. As above, so below.

Jim Downey

March 25, 2011, 4:50 pm
Filed under: Astronomy, NPR, Predictions, Science Fiction, Space, Titan, UFO

Lights in the sky. Strange lights. Lights that don’t move . . . right.

Must be aliens, stopping off for a visit, right?

Highbeams Of The Gods: Do UFOs Need Headlights?

Over at the Two-Way a UFO sighting over Colorado has been generating discussion and heat. In looking over the comments a question has come up which really strikes at the heart of the UFO issue. Someone astutely asked something along the lines of “Why do UFOs need headlights?”

Yeah. Good point. Are the aliens scared of running into a deer?


Pretty much the most crucial plot point in Communion of Dreams is that the alien artifact discovered on Titan is using some kind of stealth technology. (I’m not giving anything away by saying this, for those who haven’t yet read the book.) How and more importantly why this is the case is what drives the story.

I agree with the author of the blog post cited: “…any civilization with technology capable of spanning light-years ought to be able to hide themselves well enough to avoid detection from hairy apes with jet-planes like us.”


And that’s all I’ll say, or I will give away some spoilers for those who haven’t yet read the book. (And why haven’t you?? C’mon – it’s brilliant!)

Jim Downey

Decidedly unlike Star Trek.

This item made the news yesterday:

Scientists eye debris after satellite collision

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Scientists are keeping a close eye on orbital debris created when two communications satellites — one American, the other Russian — smashed into each other hundreds of miles above the Earth.

NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the unprecedented crash and whether any other satellites or even the Hubble Space Telescope are threatened.

The collision, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday, was the first high-speed impact between two intact spacecraft, NASA officials said.

Phil Plait’s take:

Wow: two satellites have collided in orbit, destroying both. This is the first time such a major collision has ever occurred.

The satellites were Cosmos 2251, a Russian communication relay satellite that’s been defunct for a decade, and an Iridium satellite, one of a fleet of communication satellites launched by Motorola in the late 90s and early 2000s.

* * *

There have been collisions in space before, but never from such large satellites — the Iridium bird was about 700 kg, and the Cosmos was about the same — and never resulting in a total wipeout like this. Again, if I have my numbers about right, the explosion resulting from the energy of impact would have been about the same as detonating a ton of TNT.

I had to chuckle at this comment in that thread at Bad Astronomy:

But wouldn’t the impact have made a new, ever more powerful hybrid satellite? It would have an over-arching need to communicate and would do so in Russian. The only way to make it stop broadcasting a constant barrage at us would be if it mistook someone for its designer at Motorola and then. . . Oh wait, this isn’t Star Trek.

No, not at all.  When you have two large satellites, each moving at something on the order of about 5 miles a second hit one another at nearly right angles, then you don’t get any kind of hybrid.  You get a mess.  As in a debris cloud of upwards of a thousand bits and pieces of space junk, some of it substantial, most of it still moving at thousands of miles an hour, and all of it dangerous.

I’ve written previously about the threat of real ‘UFOs’ to our space exploration.  From the quoted article in that post:

The reason is life-and-death. Since Mercury days, NASA engineers have realized that visual sightings of anomalies can sometimes provide clues to the functioning — or malfunctioning — of the spaceships that contain their precious astronauts. White dots outside the window could be spray from a propellant leak, or ice particles, flaking insulation, worked-loose fasteners (as in this latest case) or inadvertently released tools or components.

Whatever the objects might be, they pose a threat of coming back in contact with the spacecraft, potentially causing damage to delicate instruments, thermal tiles, windows or solar cells, or fouling rotating or hinged mechanisms. So Mission Control needs to find out about them right away in order to determine that they are not hazardous.

Right now the bulk of that debris cloud is about 250 miles higher than the ISS.  But it will slowly drift closer (the effect of atmospheric drag – even at that altitude, it will slow anything in orbit, meaning that the item in question will drop to a lower orbit).  At some point, this could be a real threat to the space station.

And beyond that, it is a further complication to *any* effort to get into something other than a low Earth orbit.  Currently we have something like tens of thousands of bits of “space junk” that have to be tracked – and while all of it will eventually fall back into the atmosphere and burn up, it can present a real danger.  If we’re not careful, we could encase ourselves in a shell of so much junk that it would basically eliminate the possibility of travel beyond our planet for decades.

Jim Downey

What do . . .
September 6, 2008, 9:45 am
Filed under: Art, Comics, Humor, Marketing, Science Fiction, Society, Space, UFO

. . . the Masons, Greys, Studebaker, Coast to Coast, Bigfoot, and Evil Tofu have in common?


From his merchandise page:

Studebaker had contracts to make aircraft engines during the second world war as well as making the weasel and a duce and a half truck. So , Studebaker was already part of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower talked about. When the UFO crashed in Roswell in 1947, Eisenhower signed the treaty with the aliens 1954, who better to use back engineered technology to produce UFOs than a struggling automobile company who had a record of government contracts going back to the Civil War and was already in the “inside”? Besides that, the design of Studes were much more aerodynamic than any other marquee and UFOs should be “slippery” when traveling through the air shouldn’t they? So once again, Studebakers come to the front of the line. A logical progression?

Indeed.  I came across this web comic a week or so ago, and shared it with a few friends.  But I wanted to wait until I had a chance to get through all the current strips (about 160) before I posted something about it.  It’s quite good, very funny and well drawn (no surprise since the artist/author has a solid resume of work as an animator/director).  Bugsport is done in a classic style, drawing heavily on adverising motifs and pop culture (there’s all kinds of visual and textual references – more than I am probably catching).  You can probably just dive right in with the latest strip, but then you’d be missing all the wonderful stuff that he has already done.

Give it a try. And someone please put up a Wikipedia article about Bastien and/or Bugsport, OK?  I mean, seriously, if I have one this guy certainly deserves one.

Jim Downey

Aliens, aliens, everywhere.

Yesterday I wrote a somewhat snarky post at UTI about the Vatican’s Astronomer giving his official blessing (almost literally) to the notion that alien life – even intelligent alien life – probably exists in the universe, and that this was not at odds with Catholic doctrine. A friend this morning sent me a link to this 1996 article in the New York Times:

Does the Bible Allow For Martians?

WOULD the discovery of life on Mars be a blow to the idea of biblical creation? Should the knowledge of alien organisms shatter faith in a God who was supposed to have created heaven and earth and life in a week?

As it turns out, biblical creationists have been touting the existence of aliens for years — and Mars itself has featured prominently in their scenarios.

Ronald Numbers, a professor of the history of science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of ”The Creationists,” a history of this movement, was himself raised in a fundamentalist Seventh Day Adventist community where belief in life on Mars was no big deal.

According to the Bible, Mr. Numbers explains, Satan and his cohorts were thrown out of heaven, so the question arises: Where did they go? At his high school in rural Tennessee, Mr. Numbers was taught by his teacher, who was also a Seventh Day Adventist, that they were hurled to Mars. The famous Martian canals were cited as evidence of this habitation.

In turn, that article was mention by another NYT piece yesterday (also sent by my friend) which discussed the Vatican’s stance on alien life. And in it, this is mentioned:

On Monday, Mike Foreman, a mission specialist during the recent Shuttle Endeavor voyage, expressed confidence in the notion, saying “it’s hard to believe that there is not life somewhere else in this great universe.”

Today, TDG also noted that another Endeavor crew member agreed, with this news item:

Astronauts who returned recently from a Space Shuttle mission said on Monday that they expected alien life would be discovered.

“Life like us must exist elsewhere in the universe,” Takao Doi, who had been on a 16-day Endeavour mission to the International Space Station, told reporters in Tokyo.

Mr Doi and his colleagues denied seeing anything that proved the existence of extraterrestrial life forms, but said the scale of the solar system and beyond had impressed upon them the possibility of alien life.

Of course, also in the news just about everywhere is that the British government is in the process of releasing their UFO files, gathered by the Ministry of Defense. As I quoted in my UTI post yesterday:

LONDON – The men were air traffic controllers. Experienced, calm professionals. Nobody was drinking. But they were so worried about losing their jobs that they demanded their names be kept off the official report.

No one, they knew, would believe their claim an unidentified flying object landed at the airport they were overseeing in the east of England, touched down briefly, then took off again at tremendous speed. Yet that’s what they reported happened at 4 p.m. on April 19, 1984.

The incident is one of hundreds of reported sightings contained in more than 1,000 pages of formerly secret UFO documents being released Wednesday by Britain’s National Archives.

And naturally enough, lots of people are just certain that whatever is in those files isn’t the *actual* truth, because you just can’t trust any government with this stuff. As noted (again, via TDG) in this post by UFO investigator Nick Redfern which pre-dated the recent release of documents:

Yes, the Government knows something. It may actually know quite a lot. Perhaps (although I seriously doubt it) it knows everything. But the idea that it (as a unified body) has any interest in telling us the truth, purely because we go knocking on its doors, loftily demanding to be let in on the secret, is self-deluded, ego-driven yearning of a truly sickening “I want to believe” nature.

Call me a cynic, but if the government reveals the truth about UFOs to us, you can guarantee it will be a lie. And it will probably be a lie designed to scare the shit out of us and ensure that we surrender more of our freedoms and rights to old men who wear suits and lack souls. And still the real secret will remain hidden – either in the pages of some hefty classified file or in a cryogenic tank deep below Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Maybe…

OK, I’ve written before about news related to SETI, because it ties in directly with Communion of Dreams.  But why mention these reports and comments?  Why get into the whole woo-woo land of UFOs?

Well, as I said over a year ago when French government made their UFO files available:

A staple of Science Fiction has always been the question of how humanity will deal with the discovery that we are not the only sentients in the universe.  It is, of course, the main theme of Communion as well, and while I am somewhat ambiguous about what exactly is “out there”, I make no bones about the fact that they exist, and have even visited our neighborhood (hence the discovery of the artifact on Titan being central to the book).

Honestly, one of my greatest fears is that before I can get Communion published, we may indeed have such proof, and will get to see just exactly how that plays out in the public sphere.  My own private suspicion is that it will not go well.

And I can’t help but wonder what is behind this sudden upsurge in scientists, astronauts, and even religious leaders commenting about how they are sure that there is alien life, possibly even intelligent alien life, “out there.”  Sure the UFO community has always been convinced (it sort of goes with the territory), and vocal.  But why this interest being expressed from so many other sources?  I may have been snarky at UTI, but I do have to wonder whether or not there isn’t some larger agenda being played out here before our eyes.  Certainly, were I in a decision-making position in government and we had conclusive and irrefutable proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence, I would advise spending some time ‘preparing’ the public for the release of that information.

Just a thought.

Jim Downey

Why bother?

There’s a good piece by Seth Shostak over at about the possible motivations an extra-terrestrial race might have for visiting our pale blue dot. (Shostak is one of the principals of the SETI Institute, and knows whereof he speaks when he addresses these kinds of issues.) First, he dismisses the usual SF plot devices of an alien race wanting our turf, our resources, or even our bodies:

Taking our cue from Tinseltown, I note that most cineplex sentients come to Earth either to solve some sort of ugly reproductive crisis or simply to take over the planet. The former doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. You can’t breed with creatures at the zoo, despite the fact that most of the base pairs in the inmates’ DNA are identical to yours (note that this is a biological incompatibility, and not just zoo regulations). The aliens, needless to say, will have a different biochemistry, and probably no DNA at all. Forget, if you can, the breeding experiments.

Taking over the planet would only make sense if there were something really special about our world. The best guess of the exoplanet specialists is that the number of Earth-size planets in our galaxy exceeds tens of billions. That doesn’t sound like our hunk of real estate is terribly privileged.

They won’t come here to mine our minerals, either. The entire universe is built of the same stuff, and while the solar system has a higher percentage of heavy elements than found in many stellar realms, it turns out that this is precisely the condition that seems to foster planet formation. In other words, ET’s own solar system will be similarly blessed with these useful materials. So why would they come here and incur multi-light-year transport charges?

Why, indeed? These various issues are ones which are discussed in the course of speculation about the alien artifact discovered in Communion of Dreams. And while I never actually reveal the motivations that aliens might have for having left the artifact on Titan in my novel, I do have thoughts on the subject (which might come out in a future sequel to Communion.)

Be that as it may, Shostak does go on to make a pretty good argument that if indeed there are a large number of technological civilizations out there, that they may just not consider us worth the trouble of contacting/visiting. Again, from the article:

Then again, there’s that last point: they just want to learn more about us. Well, perhaps so. Maybe that’s really what’s interesting about Homo sapiens. Not grabbing our habitat, saving our souls (or our environment), or subverting our industrial output — but assaying our culture. I’m willing to consider that even very advanced beings might find our culture mildly worthy of study.

Keep in mind that if they’re near enough to find us, that implies that there are many, many galactic societies (otherwise the distances between any two of them will be enormous). If there are lots of them, then we’re just another entry in a big book. Once again, not all that special. Kind of like another weird fish found in the Atlantic. I don’t expect mammoth expeditions to be sent our way.

It is a good point. I would counter, however, that we have seen plenty of evidence in our own history of people going to enormous trouble to bother to learn about seemingly trivial things. One only has to look at the difficulties encountered in sea-faring during the time of the great naturalists – people were willing to go to great expense, to risk great hardship and a fair chance of death just to add another entry into the botanical texts or to discover a new species. Even today we mount insanely expensive expeditions into the deep ocean just to expand our knowledge.

We have no evidence of extra-terrestrial life, let alone advance civilizations. Yet I think that you can make a fair case that any space-faring race which may exist must have some degree of curiosity – and that curiosity may alone be reason enough to come check out the new kids on the block, whatever the hurdles or cost.

Jim Downey

I, for one, welcome our new alien “Controllers”. Well, in 9 years, I will. Really.

Source at U.N. tells of secret UFO meeting February 12, 2008

I received the following email from two trusted colleagues (Clay and Shawn Pickering) regarding a reliable source informing them that a secret meeting occurred yesterday morning (Feb 12) at the New York office of the United Nations concerning the recent spate of UFO sightings. It appears that a number of nation states are concerned about the impact of increased UFO sightings and wish to be briefed about what is happening. Their source, who currently works in the diplomatic corps, had to travel for an early morning off the record meeting at the UN. Their source revealed that a secret UFO working group exists that is authorizing the release of such information to the public, in an effort to acclimate others to what is about to unfold. A date of 2013 was given as the time for official disclosure and/or when extraterrestrials show up in an unambiguous way. In the interim there will be acclimation related releases of information. Importantly, the source revealed that the events leading up to official disclosure will involve more ethically oriented extraterrestrials, and they will not pose a military threat to the world.

Aha! Now we know the real reason behind those UN black helicopters!

The above passage is from Michael Salla‘s site Exopolitics. But not to worry – the aliens, called “Controllers”, are actually not going to be revealed until 2017, according to Salla in this post:

What follows next is a report of a further meeting between Clay and Shawn Pickering and their confidential source regarding the UN meeting on UFOs held on the morning of February 12, 2008. They pointed out that the “unambiguous showing up” of extraterrestrial life – sitting over major cities – would occur in 2017, rather than 2013 as described in the earlier article. The role of religion and population growth was also allegedly discussed, and appeared to raise many issues at the meeting, especially for India.

A significant descriptive term chosen by Clay’s and Shawn’s source for the extraterrestrials that would show up in 2017 was “The Controllers.” Such a term has clear psychological connotations and was chosen to have a particular effect on the target audience – both UN member states in attendance and the general public to which the information was being leaked. This is a clue that Clay’s/Shawn’s source is conveying information that has been designed to trigger a certain psychological reaction that influences how issues are framed and discussed.

Hmm. Where have I heard of such a scenario before? Let me think . . . hmm . . . oh yeah, Arthur C. Clarke’s book Childhood’s End.

Clarke should sue for royalties. Sheesh.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi. Cross posted to UTI.)

March 23, 2007, 9:55 am
Filed under: General Musings, Predictions, Science Fiction, tech, Titan, UFO, Writing stuff

So, it seems that France has put all of its UFO investigations online, going back some 50 years.  And while there is no ‘proof’ that there are indeed some kind of visitations going on, there seems to be plenty of information there to keep people scratching their heads and wondering.

A staple of Science Fiction has always been the question of how humanity will deal with the discovery that we are not the only sentients in the universe.  It is, of course, the main theme of Communion as well, and while I am somewhat ambiguous about what exactly is “out there”, I make no bones about the fact that they exist, and have even visited our neighborhood (hence the discovery of the artifact on Titan being central to the book).

Honestly, one of my greatest fears is that before I can get Communion published, we may indeed have such proof, and will get to see just exactly how that plays out in the public sphere.  My own private suspicion is that it will not go well.

Jim Downey