Communion Of Dreams

With apologies to Ursula K. Le Guin

So, since I haven’t been blogging here much in the last couple of years, I haven’t said anything about just how surreal it was working to finish my novel about a global pandemic … while an actual global pandemic was unfolding around us.

Yeah. Seriously. Real Lathe of Heaven stuff, making me wonder about just how much my envisioning a given reality was bleeding into this reality.

To a certain extent this had been an ongoing problem with writing St Cybi’s Well, as I had mentioned previously. I had to keep going back and making the ‘dystopia’ of SCW worse as our own world took a turn for the worse with the election of Trump, elements of Christian fascism seemed to be in ascendancy, et cetera.

But this year, after I had gotten a solid re-start on finishing St Cybi’s Well, watching the Covid-19 virus start to spread, was just … bizarre. And as you’ll see when you read the book, how the virus spread and the efforts that various governments tried to curtail it was pretty much exactly as what happened in real life. Fortunately, of course, C-19 hasn’t proven to be nearly as deadly as the Fire-Flu.

Well, at least not yet.

< shiver >

Jim Downey

“… telling you a tale that just *might* be real.”

So, almost two months ago I ‘officially’ launched the publication of St Cybi’s Well.

No, I didn’t forget to mention it here. Since I have allowed this blog to go quiet, I didn’t see it as an important venue to announce it, and figured that it would make a little more sense to just let the book exist in the wild for a little while, then write about the reactions to it.

Currently, there are 14 reviews on Amazon, with an overall rating of 4.9 stars. Some are from friends. Some are from acquaintances. Some are from complete strangers. Among the reviews I have my favorites, and not necessarily ones which say good things. At this point, after struggling with the book for so long, I have very mixed feelings about it.

But my strongest emotion about the book, and something that keeps coming up in the reviews of it, is just how surreal it is to have finished the book during the middle of a real pandemic, and having our reality seeming to follow the path I had laid out in the book. Here are some excerpts as examples of what I mean.

The first review, by someone who backed my Kickstarter and had an advance copy of St Cybi’s:

With some recent political developments and COVID-19, I found this unsettlingly realistic.

And from other readers:

That he wrote this well before our current pandemic was even a thing is a testament to his spooky prescience


The images are vivid and remain. No one took epidemic plagues too seriously anymore, Polio was long ago. But since Covid and Ebola, there is a realization that the 4 Horsemen of the Apocolypse are alive and kicking.


What I found most compelling is the almost prescient storyline of the Fire Flu and its attendant effects on society. I can’t imagine a more difficult proposition than trying to finish your novel about an apocalyptic disease while having to do so with one currently taking over the news. There are some eerie moments in the book where it feels as though it’s a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story.


Set in 2012, the overlap with current events in 2020 is uncanny.


the story is kind of terrifying considering its striking similarity to current events

Of course, I’m not prescient. I had no real idea that the coronavirus pandemic was coming, though I had long known that we were about due for another pandemic and were likely unprepared for it. And what I put into the book about how the FireFlu virus spread, and how people reacted to it, was just based on history. What we’re seeing now … all the good and bad of it … was entirely predictable, because it is the sort of reaction that human societies have always had to pandemics.

Which, of course, doesn’t give me any comfort. As is said in one of the reviews:

I ended up feeling that the story is part of what science fiction does best – telling you a tale that just *might* be real.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Download my book, or order a paper copy. If money is a little tight, wait until the first of the month, and download it for free. And please, if you do read it, leave a review.


Jim Downey

Scotland 2018: 2) Edinburgh lows.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.


Friday, May 4.

After breakfast in the hotel (at which I confirmed that I didn’t care for black pudding), we caught a taxi back to the train station. Much like the two-hour ride from Manchester to York, it was a pleasant way to see the countryside.

Except for the boyos.

Yeah, there was a group of young 20-ish guys going to Edinburgh for some kind of sporting event/party, in their own little world of drink and unlikely anecdotes accompanied by a boombox and various videos they kept sharing on their phones. It was mostly amusing, until they had enough to drink to start singing along with the music, without benefit of much skill.

We relocated to the other end of the car for the rest of the trip. It was a good decision, even though the conductor came through to check tickets and told the guys to knock it off.

We got to Waverley Station, then hiked the mile or so north to our B&B. Met our host, dropped off our bags, and then decided to go for a bit of a walk. He had recommended one of the sites we had on Martha’s Marvelous Map: The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which was just a quarter-mile or so away. It was great!



Mr Blackbird’s successful photobomb.



20180504_160801We finished at the Garden with a bite in the cafe, then went out to stroll along the Water of Leith, down toward Dean Village. It was a completely charming walk, and a good way to see a quiet part of the city. Here’s a bit of it.


We ended the day with dinner at The Bailie Bar, just around the corner (and down a bit) from our B&B. Since it was a Friday night, it was noisy, crowded, and a little nuts, but the hostess found us a table and took care of us. The food & drink was excellent and the whole thing was enjoyable … for a while, at least. We left before my tolerance for crowds left me.


Saturday, May 5.

After breakfast, we got our bags ready to travel, but then went out to explore Dean Village a bit, we enjoyed the walk along the Water of Leith so much the day before. I enjoy finding these quiet parts of old cities:






We got back to the B&B in time to meet our scheduled ride out to the airport, where we picked up our rental car. From there we drove west on the M9 to Falkirk.

Falkirk? Why Falkirk? The Wikipedia entry about the little town seems … kinda boring, to be honest.

Which is why we didn’t go to the town. No, we went to the Falkirk Wheel, just outside of it. This place:



Yeah, I know, it looks weird. Like a couple of giant talons, or a birds head or something. But it does something revolutionary, and I have been intrigued by it since I first heard about the proposed project a couple of decades ago: it lifts boats (specifically, narrow-boats, for the UK canal system) some 24 meters (about 80 feet) from one canal system to another. Woo-hoo!

Yeah, OK, I have a thing for big weird engineering projects.

Speaking of which, there’s another such big weird engineering project there above the Falkirk Wheel, albeit one almost a couple thousand years older: a section of the Antonine Wall, and Rough Castle, both part of the Roman fortifications of the north. Well, even though we only had a vague idea of where the Wall/Fort were, and how far, we decided to take a hike and see what we could see.

It was a good decision:


Trust me, this is impressive.


And so is this.


Even the sign says it’s impressive. Really!

But we browsed and walked around long enough, so decided to get back to the car and drive to Stirling, where our B&B awaited. We got there with little trouble, found the B&B, and settled in a bit. Then we decided to walk into town and get a bite to eat. Since our B&B was just below the castle, we got to see some great sights along the way:



The “King’s Knot

We had a nice dinner, tried some of the local ales and scotches, and then walked back to the B&B for a good night’s rest.


Jim Downey





Death comes quickly.
September 22, 2013, 8:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about
The dog up and died, he up and died
And after 20 years he still grieves*

Again, I am reminded that we need to cherish those we love while we have them.

An hour or so ago I lost my buddy. The buddy who went walking with me every morning. The buddy who helped me get through the long years of being a care-giver. The buddy who kept a sharp eye out for trespassing deer, and people, and racoons — especially racoons. The buddy who was always there, always patient, always happy to see me.

Death came quickly and unexpectedly. Yesterday he was fine, had a good day. Last night he seemed a little sluggish, reluctant to go outside, but we figured that was due to the loudness of a nearby music festival. He didn’t like loud noises.

This morning before the sun was up, he was out of his bed, seemed to not be feeling well. I decided to wait until a little later in the morning before I called our vet. Shortly thereafter he started a quick downward spiral, showing all the symptoms of a heart attack. We debated whether we could get him to a veterinary hospital in time to do any good. Instead, he was able to die while I held him, in familiar surroundings.

He was a good dog.

The cats are being extra affectionate this morning. They know we’re hurting.

Jim Downey

“More and more, it seems as if public officials in this country have simply gone insane.”
September 12, 2008, 6:25 am
Filed under: Bruce Schneier, Emergency, Failure, Government, Preparedness, Society, Terrorism, Uncategorized

That’s the closing line of yesterday’s post by Bruce Schneier.  Of course, Schneier has thought this for a long time.  But what is he going on about?  This:

Are the fire hydrants in your neighborhood turned on?

ROCKWALL COUNTY – A North Texas homeowner wants you to learn from his family’s tragedy.

The fire hydrants in his neighborhood are turned off.

Now, why are the hydrants turned off?

You guessed it: terrorism.

More from the news story:

Clay Hodges is the general manager of Cash Special Utility District.

He explains all the district’s hydrants, including those in Alexander Ranch, have had their water turned off since just after 9/11 – something a trade association spokesman tells us is common practice for rural systems.

“These hydrants need to be cut off in a way to prevent vandalism or any kind of terrorist activity, including something in the water lines,” Hodges said.

But Hodges says fire departments know, or should have known, the water valves can be turned back on with a tool.

Insane.  Just bloody insane.  As Schneier says:

One, fires are much more common than terrorism — keeping fire hydrants on makes much more sense than turning them off. Two, what sort of terrorism is possible using working fire hydrants? Three, if the water valves can be “turned back on with a tool,” how does turning them off prevent fire-hydrant-related terrorism?

Yes, this is insane.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

“I live to serve.”
August 2, 2008, 7:36 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, Humor, Uncategorized

I had sent a note to a friend that contained something which I thought may have been of interest to his students. He said thanks in return, and I replied (jokingly): “I live to serve.”

His reply:

Man, we got to break you of that. Is there a
12 step program for former caregivers out 

I kid just a little here ...

Actually, it’s an interesting idea . . .

Jim Downey

(Thanks to Steve, and all my other concerned friends.)

July 4, 2008, 10:35 am
Filed under: Humor, MetaFilter, movies, Science Fiction, Star Wars, Uncategorized, YouTube

Watch the whole thing:


Jim Downey

(Via MeFi).

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

Sleep is the default.

It’s now been three months since Martha Sr died.

You’d think by now that I’d be caught up on sleep. You’d be wrong. As I look over the last few month’s posts I note that time and again that I mention sleep. It is still the default that I want more, more, more. Even when I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, and am not fighting any kind of cold or flu, a nap in the morning or afternoon tempts me. For someone who thinks of himself as energetic, productive, it kind of goes against the grain. For someone who has a backlog of work running to years, it can be a little maddening.

Yet, sleep is still the default.

* * * * * * *

My sister called the other day.

Thirty pounds?  Wow. Be careful.”

I assured her that I wasn’t trying to overdo anything. That it was just my body moving back towards a natural set-point, as mentioned in that blog post.

But she has a good reason to be concerned: in our family, weight loss is one of the markers for the onset of the family genetic curse, Machado-Joseph disease. To be honest, this is one of the major reasons that I have always felt a little comfortable in being a bit overweight – it provided some sense of protection against the disease (which was very poorly understood or even known as I was growing up). That’s not how it works, of course, but it was always there in the back of my mind. If you’d lived with seeing what the disease does, you’d be willing to risk obesity, too.

* * * * * * *

Go back to any of the entries from last year under the tag Alzheimer’s, and you’ll see that one of the most common things I talk about is just how tired I was. For years – literally, years – my wife and I had taken turns being “on call” each night, lightly dozing while listening to a baby monitor in Martha Sr’s room. On those nights you’d barely get anything which amounted to real rest. When you weren’t “on call” sleep usually came, but wasn’t as easy or restful as it could have been – having your partner there more or less awake next to you all night wasn’t that conducive. Sure, there were naps whenever we could squeeze them in, but I would still say that my average sleep per 24 hour period was probably about 5 hours, maybe 6. Things did improve once we had a health aide three nights a week, but by then we were in hospice care, which had its own stresses and demands.

* * * * * * *

ATLANTA – People who sleep fewer than six hours a night — or more than nine — are more likely to be obese, according to a new government study that is one of the largest to show a link between irregular sleep and big bellies.

* * *

The research adds weight to a stream of studies that have found obesity and other health problems in those who don’t get proper shuteye, said Dr. Ron Kramer, a Colorado physician and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“The data is all coming together that short sleepers and long sleepers don’t do so well,” Kramer said.

The study released Wednesday is based on door-to-door surveys of 87,000 U.S. adults from 2004 through 2006 conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Surprise, surprise.

* * * * * * *

I’ve got a pretty strong work ethic. And it was shaped by conventional standards: get up, go to work for 8 -10 hours, come home. That’s not how I work – hasn’t been for years – but it is still the baseline instinct for me, the initial criteria I use for whether or not I am “getting things done”. So it is frustrating to feel sleepy and want a nap. That doesn’t pay the bills, get the backlog under control, get the next book written or the ballistics research written up.

Three months. Seems like a long time. And our culture doesn’t understand grief well, nor leave a lot of room for recovery that takes time. We expect people to “get over it”, to take a vacation and come back refreshed. It is part of who we are – part of who I am.

But I try to listen to my body. It is naturally shedding the excess weight I put on, now that regular sleep and exercise are again part of my life. Realistically, it is only halfway done – I’ve another 30 pounds or so to go to get back to a point which I consider ‘normal’ (though that’s still about 20 – 30 pounds heavy for me, according to the ‘ideal’). Does that mean I have another three months of wanting naps all the time? Yeah, maybe. Maybe more. I’ll try and give it that time.

I’ll try.

Jim Downey

Birthday party for Robert A. Heinlein.

Via BoingBoing, info about a Heinlein Centennial celebration to be held in my neck of the woods 7/7/07:

July 7, 2007 – 07/07/07! – will be the birth centennial of American author, futurist, philosopher and spaceflight advocate Robert A. Heinlein. The science fiction Grandmaster’s Centennial year will be marked with a grand event on the weekend of July 6, 7 and 8 in his home town of Kansas City, Missouri.

The clock is ticking down, and only weeks remain before this exceptional event. The time is now now NOW! to make your plans to join us for this huge, once in a lifetime gathering, remembrance and birthday celebration. Whether you’re a science fiction fan, a student of Heinlein’s work and legacy or involved with the growing world of commercial spaceflight… This is where you’ll want to be that weekend. Don’t miss out!

Hmm…KC is only about 2 hours away from me…may need to see what’s going on that weekend…could be a chance to do a little networking, meet some people (the list of participants includes quite a number of interesting people, from Buzz Aldrin to moviemakers to SF luminaries…)

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)