Communion Of Dreams

“In the before time.”

Some variation of the phrase “in the before time(s)” has been a staple of post-apocalypse Science Fiction for so long that it’s a well-deserved cliche, mocked even by South Park. Usually invoked by some grungy child reciting a barely-understood mythos, or an aged ‘elder’ thinking back to their youth, it served as a mechanism to explain what happened to civilization.

Of course, in our post-modern, self-aware world “in the before time” came to be widely used in a joking manner, to refer to some not-so-serious turning point in recent history. Before YouTube. Before Google. Before the internet. Before Fonzie jumped the shark. Whatever. It was funny, see?

Except in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started hearing it used to refer to the pre-Covid pandemic times. And not in a humorous way. People are using it completely seriously. Here are just two examples, the first from NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday program on 6/12:

New York Eater’s Chief Critic Isn’t Ready To Eat Out. Here’s Why

* * *

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you worried about the future of the restaurant industry? I mean, do you think it will look anything like what it resembled before the pandemic?

SUTTON: I don’t think anyone knows what the restaurant industry is going to look like in the coming months, never mind the coming year or so. We can only agree – is dining out in the future won’t look anything like it did in the before times. We’re going to continue to see a lot more takeout, and we’re going to continue to see, I think, a lot of people continue to eat at home rather than treating restaurants like extensions of their dining rooms. It’s not going to be a nightly fare anymore. And that’s going to cost a lot of jobs, and that’s going to close a lot of restaurants. And that’s just a terrible thing for everyone.

And the second from a FaceBook post a friend shared, about whether schools would/could open in the fall:

A high school teacher in this state has a maximum class size of 32-35 students, which gives the teacher around 200 students across 4-6 classes in beforetimes schooling. To mitigate coronavirus would then require 3 kindergarten teacher now to do the job of one kindergarten teacher a year ago. High school would require 24 high teachers to do one beforetimes high school teacher’s work and that is if we overlook the very awkward point that having half the class meet half the time might limit the children’s risk but only extends the hours of exposure to the virus that is faced by the teacher.

In doing a bit of quick research for this post, I also find that lexicographer Ben Zimmer (brother of excellent science writer Carl Zimmer) has noticed this change as well:

‘The Before Time’: A Sci-Fi Idea That Has Made Its Way to Real Life

(I haven’t actually read that, since I don’t have a Wall Street Journal subscription. But it’s obvious that he’s noted the same shift in usage.)

Just an interesting observation about how our language changes, and another example of how science fiction has had an effect on the ‘real’ world.

Jim Downey

Writer’s block.

A friend posted this little aphorism to my profile on Facebook:

Writer’s block: when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.

My response:

Hmm. Pithy, but not sure I agree.

For me, being blocked isn’t about the technical stuff – dialog, description, understanding motivations. That’s all pretty straight-forward.

Rather, it tends to happen when I am trying to see the whole arc, and how a particular scene will fit into the developing narrative. There’s always a balance between knowing that you want to get from point A to point B on the ‘map’ of your story, and then working on the scene-by-scene movement. It’s been described as being like driving at night: you may know your destination a 100 miles away, but your headlights only illuminate the quarter-mile of the road ahead at a time. Being blocked is like having your headlights fail.

Jim Downey

Oh, and if you’re not at least following me or the Communion of Dreams page on Facebook … well, you should. I’m obviously brilliant and share a lot of interesting links and observations about the world there.  Just think of what you’re missing!  😉

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.

Luck of the draw.

Damn – I thought I had posted an update here on Sunday. But I got busy and …

Anyway. “Debi” was the name drawn from The Hat on Sunday, and she will be receiving the first of the hand-bound cloth copies of Communion of Dreams I am giving away.

Why yes, I did just say “the first“. Because I am going to give away another one here shortly.

OK, for all those who got their name in the last time, don’t worry, your name will stay in The Hat for the next drawing.

But if you would like to increase your chances, you can. And if you want to get your name added to The Hat — this Hat:


it is easy to do so. Just follow these steps:

  1. Mention Communion of Dreams online someplace. It can be anywhere available to the public. Your blog. Your Twitter account. On Facebook. In a discussion forum. In an Amazon review. Anywhere — anywhere, that is, except here or on the Facebook page for CoD. You don’t have to link to the book, or this blog, or anything. You don’t have to say anything nice about me or the book. Seriously.
  2. Post a comment here or on the Facebook page telling me you did so. Include a link to said mention. No link back, no entry.
  3. You can enter once a day, now through Saturday. Sunday morning I will tally up all the entries, make a new slip for each one, and add them to The Hat.

So, it’s the luck of the draw — but you can increase your chances of winning. Just like last time, I’ll even pay the postage. And let you pick which edition number you want of those available. And inscribe it as you prefer (well, within bounds…)

Please, only one entry per person per day, and open to everyone, as long as you follow the rules noted above. If you’ve already ordered a hand-bound copy of the book  (or are due one from the Kickstarter) and you win this one, you can have me either send it to you or to the recipient of your choice. Easy.

Don’t wait — get your entry in now. And tomorrow. And Thursday …


Jim Downey


Want a free hand-bound, hard-cover copy of Communion of Dreams?

So, I got these all done:

Finished product.

Finished product.

And I’m really pleased with the way most of them came out.

Most of them. But not all.

The first several text blocks I trimmed, I had the fence on my guillotine set in the wrong place, and trimmed the top margin a little too close. Oh, it’s the sort of thing that probably only I would ever notice (seriously, it’s only about 5mm off), but when it comes to my work I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So I just wouldn’t feel right in selling them for the normal $100 price. Instead, I’m going to use them for promotional purposes. Starting with having a drawing for one now.

So, if you would like a nearly perfect, hand-bound, cloth-covered copy of Communion of Dreams, do two things, and I will enter your name for a drawing:

  1. “Follow” this blog (or “Like” the Facebook page).
  2. Leave a comment below (or on the Facebook page).

You’ve got until Sunday morning, when I log on to see who has entered. Then I’ll put all the names into a hat, and draw one out. That person will get the copy of the book. For free. I’ll even pay the postage. And let you pick which edition number you want of those available. And inscribe it as you prefer (well, within bounds…)

Please, only one entry per person, and open to everyone. If you’ve already ordered a hand-bound copy of the book  (or are due one from the Kickstarter) and you win this one, you can have me either send it to you or to the recipient of your choice. Easy.

Don’t wait — get your entry in now.

Jim Downey

Sure beats graverobbing.

Via BoingBoing, this fascinating application of scanning and augmented reality technology:

Access to good dissection models is always problematic, but is absolutely crucial for medical education.  Donor cadavers are often in short supply, and they have the problem that they’re, well, dead. Meaning that they died from something. And under even the best of circumstances, that will have an impact on the suitability for the student’s experience in studying a healthy body.

But with this kind of technology, a student can encounter a wide variety of body types: young, in the ‘prime of life’, aged, with any number of different medical issues (or none at all). Male. Female. Pregnant. Potentially, even as the body is “living”.



Jim Downey

(PS – the writing of St. Cybi’s Well continues. Occasionally I post fragments to the FB page, if you’re interested.)

But other than that …

Hey, another one-star review is up over at Amazon! That makes two in a row! Here’s an excerpt:

If you read this review, please know that I stopped reading after a chapter or so.

Why? Well, it’s hard to not see the similarities to Arthur C. Clarke, even if the story eventually takes a different turn. But that would have been OK if the writing had been better. Instead the author really whips through the logistics of assembling a team and arranging transportation to investigate the phenomenon. There’s no depth, little thought and weak writing.

But other than that, he thought my post-apocalyptic world was “somewhat interesting.” That was good to hear. 😉

I noted that this review was up last night over on the Facebook page, and a couple of people pointed out the simple truth that no matter what there are always going to be some people who just don’t like some things. That is something  I have said many times myself, going all the way back to the very early days of this blog.

So why mention it? Well, I’m just trying to be honest. With myself, and with you. I like to tout the good things which have happened, the positive reviews and other forms of feedback. So I figure I should also be forthright about the more critical things people say. But I haven’t lost sight of the fact that positive reviews outnumber negative ones by more than 10 – 1.

Anyway, so there’s that. Remember, there’s still a promotion going on, and we haven’t improved much on yesterday’s numbers. Maybe it’s a bit silly, but it’d be fun to break 25,000 copies in the first year — and we still have about 1,400 to go to do that.



Jim Downey