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

Not the lathe, but the scythe, of heaven.*

Nice timing. Not only is this essay an appropriate “looking forward” article for New Year’s Day, but it is a perfect expression of one aspect of the argument at the heart of both Communion of Dreams and St. Cybi’s Well: what do we make of our world, and how do we define our place in it?

Seriously, this sums up one of the major characters of SCW (who was only alluded to in CoD), and illustrates both the danger and the dilemma that character represents:

“Wilderness can be saved permanently,” claims Ted Kaczynski, “only by eliminating the technoindustrial system.” I am beginning to think that the neo-environmentalists may leave a deliciously ironic legacy: proving the Unabomber right.

Another excerpt:

I’m not sure I know the answer. But I know there is no going back to anything. And I know that we are not headed, now, toward convivial tools. We are not headed toward human-scale development. This culture is about superstores, not little shops; synthetic biology, not intentional community; brushcutters, not scythes. This is a culture that develops new life forms first and asks questions later; a species that is in the process of, in the words of the poet Robinson Jeffers, “break[ing] its legs on its own cleverness.”

What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.

Yeah, there’s a reason why the essay is titled “Dark Ecology.”

And in truth, it is a darkness which sometimes seeps into my own soul. As I said yesterday: “Poor Darnell.”


Jim Downey

*Reference, of course. Via MeFi.

“Damn” revisited.

In July I wrote a brief post about something stupid a book reviewer said in reference to Science Fiction, and about Ursula K. Le Guin’s brilliant response, as reported in a BoingBoing post by Cory Doctorow.

This morning, in looking at the stats for this blog, I noticed a very large uptick in hits on that post, and also a lot of people searching using some combination of Le Guin and Doctorow’s names. Huh? When I went to BoingBoing I found out why: Doctorow posted an apology to Le Guin.

In keeping with the spirit of that apology, and the Open Letter from Le Guin, I have removed the portion of her short piece (about half the paragraph) I had in my post “Damn.” I replaced the excerpt with the following note:

(10/15/07: Text has been removed because of copyright issues. See this post by Cory Doctorow for a complete explanation. Since I took the text from BoingBoing, I feel it only appropriate to respect the wishes of the parties involved and remove it now. You can read it in its entirety at the Ansible link.)

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I respect both Le Guin and Doctorow as writers. I don’t know what kind of ‘history’ all the participants have, and honestly don’t care. I still think that the initial book review was ridiculous, and Le Guin’s response perfect (you should go read the whole thing). Beyond that, I hope everyone is able to move on to bigger and better things.

And if you’re one of the people who found this blog by searching for info on this topic, I invite you to poke around a bit, perhaps download my novel (it’s free – info here). I won’t claim to be on a par with either Le Guin or Doctorow, but so far the feedback I have received from the 6,000 or so downloads on the book has been very positive.

Jim Downey


With The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Chabon has finally made the only use of genre fiction that a talented writer should: Rather than forcing his own extraordinarily capacious imagination into its stuffy confines, he makes the genre—more precisely, genres—expand to take him in.

Gah. That’s from Ruth Franklin in Slate on May 8th. Brought to my attention by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing. But he made up for it by posting this response from Ursula K. Le Guin:

(10/15/07: Text has been removed because of copyright issues. See this post by Cory Doctorow for a complete explanation. Since I took the text from BoingBoing, I feel it only appropriate to respect the wishes of the parties involved and remove it now.  You can read it in its entirety at the Ansible link.)

Damn. And that’s only about half of it. Not for the first time I read her work and think “I wish I’d written that.” But hey, anyone who writes science fiction is obviously just an untalented hack, according to Ruth Franklin, so I guess it can’t be any good.

Jim Downey