Communion Of Dreams


Reflecting (on) reality.

Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi  or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.

Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.

I mentioned events in Boston the other day.  Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.

Almost five years ago I wrote this:

This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.

Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.

And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.

But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.

Yet …

… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.

Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



“Both sides think they can win.”

From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

* * * * * * *

From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:

“Thanks, but I checked your file. You saw fighting during the Restoration. You can figure this stuff out.”

“Yeah, but those are old instincts. And what I learned was mostly just practical survival.”

“Worth its weight in gold.”

Jon smiled. “See you in the morning.”

* * * * * * *

Politically, I don’t fit into any neat little boxes. I tend to describe myself as “left-libertarian”, which is to say that I am generally left-of-center on a lot of social issues, but I also tend to think that the lives of people should be largely be their own to determine with minimal government or corporate intrusion.  Both government and business can be very great sources of good, but they can also both be great threats to the individual if unchecked, particularly if their power and interests are aligned.

What this means for me practically is that I tend to be in the center of the political spectrum, keeping a wary eye on everything. And since I like to stay informed, I tend to read more political blather than is probably good for my blood pressure. Combine that with my interests in firearms, and, well, let’s just say that I have seen an awful lot of extreme rhetoric on both sides of the current debate about gun control.

* * * * * * *

One of the interesting things about working on St. Cybi’s Well is that I have to keep in mind details of the larger story. Partly this means making sure the story of the current book meshes with the story of Communion of Dreams. But it also goes beyond that. It also means making sure that I set the stage for other books I might write someday.

One of those would be set during the “Restoration” — that period of time when a fractured, post-pandemic America is being again forged into a United States. As it says on the first page of Communion of Dreams:

The Commons had been borne of the fire-flu, with so few people left out in the great northern plains after it was finally all over that it was a relatively simple matter to just turn things back over to nature. Effectively, that happened a few short years after the flu swept around the globe. According to law, it was codified almost a decade later in the late Twenties, after the Restoration was complete and the country was once again whole — expanded, actually, to include what had been Canada, minus independent Quebec.

As part of this whole process, then, I’ve been thinking about what would lead to a splitting-up of the US. I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say that the fire-flu is only part of the explanation.

* * * * * * *

When people argue about gun control, one of the things you can bet on is that at some point a variation on the following will happen: First, one side will say that the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to allow for citizens to resist governmental tyranny. Then the other side will laugh and point out that Joe Gun Nut isn’t going to resist tanks and jets with his AR15. In response, the pro-RKBA side will likely point out that in both Iraq and Afghanistan local fighters managed to do a pretty good job in resisting the might of US & Allied forces for years. Then the argument will dissolve into disagreements over logistics, not knowing the local culture, corrupt indigenous military units, et cetera.  Laced through all of that will be those who hope just such a thing would come to pass, to finally resolve the issue and ‘show the other side’.

In these arguments, however, I think everyone is using the wrong examples. What would happen here isn’t what’s happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, with a cohesive military facing insurgents. It’d be like what’s happened in Syria: civil insurrection growing into civil war, with defections and confusion on all sides. From a news story this morning:

A rebel fighter stationed here says the two sides are so close they talk to each other at night, yelling across the front line. They even know each other’s names, he says.

Right now this cold front line is lot like the fight for Syria: Both sides think they can win, but neither side is winning, so neither side is going to back down.

Is Syria still too strange a place, too foreign, for you to map comparisons? Well, then how about Europe, just 20 years ago?

Careful what you wish for.

 

Jim Downey



Stuck inside of Columbia with the promotional blues again.*

Well, well, well. Some things to share.

First of all, thought I’d go ahead and post here the promotional video we made for the Kickstarter project. For those who might be curious about what I look/sound like, and who have yet to be tempted to go to the Kickstarter page:

A brief word about the Kickstarter’s progress so far, one week since launch: things are going well. We’re over $2,000 on pledges so far, from 20 backers. People have been contributing at levels from $5 to $500 — much appreciated! I’m a bit surprised that no one has just contributed at the $1.00 level so far, since that’s usually something which gets attention on Kickstarter projects where people just want to say “thanks”  for some previous efforts or lend a bit of encouragement for a favorite author or artist. But that’s OK, if people want to pledge at higher levels, I’m not going to complain.

Somewhat related to this, there’s a special drawing which may be of interest to those who are ‘into’ firearms — all the details are over on my BBTI blog.

I also want to give a head-up: Next Sunday (Sept 30) will be another promotional day for Communion of Dreams, when anyone will be able to download the Kindle edition of that book for free. You don’t even need a Kindle – they have emulators for just about every mobile device, reader, or computer system. Tell your friends! Spread the word!

Jim Downey

*With apologies to Mr. Zimmerman.



When I’m Fifty-Four.*

My wife answered the phone. I could tell just from her facial expression that it was bad news.

“Oh, no!” she said. “What happened?”

 

* * * * * * * *

As part of putting together the Kickstarter project for St. Cybi’s Well, I need to explain *why* I want people to hand over their hard-earned money. I mean, I don’t need to buy materials or hire someone to do research for me. I don’t need operating capital for renting a studio, there’s no up-front printing costs to speak of. Why not just write St. Cybi’s Well on my own time, at my own pace, the way I wrote Communion of Dreams and co-authored Her Final Year?

Writing such an explanation — writing anything, really — is the perfect way for me to clarify my thoughts, to push past vague thinking and distill my understanding. You’ll see the finished product in a few days, but this passage from a blog post a month ago is a pretty good insight:

I recently turned 54. And I have accomplished a number of things of which I am justly proud. I have friends and family I love. I have a wonderful wife. I have written books and articles which have brought joy, knowledge, and solace to others. I have helped to preserve history in the form of books & documents. I have created art, sold art, made my little corner of the world a slightly better place. I’ve even helped expand the pool of ballistics knowledge a bit. Frankly, I’ve lived longer and accomplished more than I ever really expected to.

But I have more yet to do. Time to get on with it.

 

* * * * * * *

My wife answered the phone. I could tell just from her facial expression that it was bad news.

“Oh, no!” she said. “What happened?”

She listened for a moment, then got up to go into her office. I heard her talking some more. When she came back I looked at her quizzically.

“Tanna had some kind of accident. John was calling to see if I had any ’emergency contact’ info from the Directory he could pass along to the hospital.”

A couple years ago, my wife and I put together this Directory for our neighborhood association. We’d included this option for people to list if they wanted. Tanna was one of our nearby neighbors, a nice semi-retired woman who we see almost daily on our walks.

I looked at her. “Anything?”

“Yeah, I told him what we had.”

“So, what happened?”

“She evidently had a stroke while out walking her dog. Just collapsed. John and a couple of other neighbors saw her go down, went to check on her, called an ambulance.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.” My wife looked at me. “She’s only a couple years older than you are.”

 

Jim Downey

*Yes, of course.

 



Italy, 2012: Rome Alone.

We left the villa early on Monday morning, since it was a drive of some hours back to Rome and we needed to get there about noon to allow some members of the group to make travel connections.

There had been rain overnight. When we left, this was the view of the sea from the villa:

 

 

Taking the inland interstate-style highway, we got to see part of the country we hadn’t before.

 

 

And I discovered that the rest stops in Italy are much like rest stops anywhere, complete with baffling toys…

 

No idea . . .

…and various products to help you stay awake:

Actually, I bought some of the “pocket espresso” things – and they weren’t bad. About an ounce of high-density caffeine with a lot of chocolate, in liquid form like an extra-small juice box.

* * * * * * *

We got to Rome, dropped off several people at the main train station. Most of the rest of us were back in the hotel we had stayed in the first few days of the program. We got checked in, dropped off bags and then made plans for the afternoon.

Most of the remaining group were leaving the next morning, just a few staying on to Wednesday. The bulk of the group made plans for dinner together that evening. But Steve & Amy needed to get a number of things done to wrap up the trip (and plan for the next one), so they were inclined to not join in on another big dinner.

In all honesty, I think they were also tired of being “in charge” and just wanted a little down-time. I know that when I have been in such a role for a week or two, I feel wiped out, and no offense to the people in the group but I am usually ready for a break.

So we spent the afternoon hitting a couple of different sights, mostly giving Steve and Amy time to do something of a post-mortem on the workshop – discussing what worked, what didn’t go so smoothly, how to perhaps change the schedule. I mostly kept my mouth shut, though occasionally I was able to offer some perspective as a tag-along. We had coffee & conversation on the Piazza Navona, then eventually Amy went off to take care of some errands and Steve and I went to see the Carravagio paintings (The Calling of St Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) at the nearby San Luigi dei Francesi. Naturally, I had seen reproductions of these pieces, but seeing them actually in the space they were intended for was breath-taking.

Following this, we wandered back to the hotel room. We both wanted a chance to rest and shower before getting back together with Amy for drinks and dinner that evening.

Dinner that night was worth mentioning: a place which specializes in dishes with porcini mushrooms. We ate heartily, washed the food down with some local artisanal beer. According to Amy & Steve, such beer is a relatively new thing in Rome – but it was quite good, though it was odd to have it served in what was basically a champagne bottle.

* * * * * * *

The next morning we mostly went our separate ways. Steve & Amy needed to check out a couple different museums for the next program. I was tired of “Roman Stuff” and opted to do a bit of exploring on my own.

Starting with a completely delightful exhibit I had noted on previous wanderings: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Big Machines”. I had seen that there was a traveling version of this show which made it to the US, but I hadn’t had a chance to see it for myself. Here are a few images of the fun items in the exhibit:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, this *was* shown to be a fake entry – but it’s still fun to see it produced in da Vinci’s style.

This was mostly geared towards kids, but it was still fun to see actual mock-ups of a number of da Vinci’s drawings. And one thing which was completely new to me was the octagonal closet which was completely lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. You stepped into this closet, closed the door, and were able to see an infinite regression of images – like being in a room with two facing mirrors. Except that in this case, because of the placement of all 8 mirrors, you were able to see yourself from every angle – and it is a very odd thing to see your own back full size, in real time. What’s most impressive about this is, of course, that during da Vinci’s time it was impossible to make mirrors of sufficient size or quality to demonstrate this effect – he had done it all through basic knowledge of optics, applied as a thought-experiment. Very cool.

* * * * * * *

I got some lunch from a street vendor, then decided to go see this:

 

 


Yeah, the Trevi fountain. I’d promised a friend I would toss a coin in for her, and fulfilled that promise.

Two things I want to note about seeing the Trevi fountain: one, it was crazy with crowds. Seriously, just a block away there were few tourists. But in the square with the fountain it was packed. Nuts. Worst crowds I had seen anywhere in Rome.

And two, I had gotten to know my way around Rome well enough that it was pretty easy for me to dead-reckon with minimal reference to a street map. This got me to and from the Trevi fountain with minimal problems. This made me inordinately happy.

* * * * * * *

I made my way back to where the hotel was, stopping by once again to just stand inside the Pantheon. It was the sort of place I could probably visit a hundred times.

Along the way back to the hotel, I noted this interior courtyard:

 

 

No idea what that was. But it was cool.

* * * * * * *

After dropping off my bag at the hotel, I popped over to the Campo de’ Fiori – the little market square I mentioned previously. I got a beer and some snacks, sat down to write some notes and just observe what was going on in the square.

And what was going on was the take-down of the market stalls and subsequent clean-up:

 

 

 


One thing in particular I want to point out:

 

That’s one of those little motor-cycle carts as seen in “Roman Holiday”. I was a bit surprised to see that they’re still very much in use in Rome, since that movie is even older than I am. But quite a number of the different merchants had them, and they seem quite practical for such use given the narrow winding streets in the heart of the city.

* * * * * * *
Dinner that evening was again just the three of us: myself, Steve, Amy. We ate at a place not far off the Campo, which is to say not that far from the hotel. This was by design, since we had to be up early to catch a private van to the airport.

Which we did the next morning, leaving about 6:30. My flight was later than the other’s, but it made the most sense for me to just get to the airport a bit early.

Of course, as it turned out, things all ran late at the Rome airport for me, and I could have gone over much later in the day. And the delays meant missed connections and the usual travel-foo. But I got in to St. Louis eventually, and in time to catch the shuttle home.

Yes indeed, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”  I almost don’t believe it, myself.

Jim Downey



Back from Z’ha’dum.*

I mentioned the other day that my trip to Italy had kicked loose some writing blocks I had been struggling with, and that it had given me ideas for additional stories and novels. It did. It also made me think hard about some decisions I needed to make. Not just about writing. Also about how I spend my life.

Simply put, I have several things I still want to accomplish before I die. Things which I won’t accomplish if I keep putting them off, putting time and energy into things which really don’t matter. Like arguments. Like writing fluff which other people could write, just in order to earn a little money. My time — my life — is more valuable than that.

I think that it was the experience of seeing so many incredible accomplishments from Classical Antiquity still around some 2,000 years later which made an impact on me.

Now, I have no illusions that anything I do will last that long. Nor am I going to give up ‘living in the moment’ and trying to enjoy my life and those I share it with. But I am going to reshuffle my priorities in some very concrete ways.

One of these will be much less time dinking-around in social media. Oh, I will still participate to some extent, still maintain connections with my friends and fans. But I am going to be less self-indulgent in that regard.

Another change in priority will mean writing fewer reviews and articles. That means a loss of income which has made a difference in recent years, and I have to find a way to replace that. After all, I still have to live. The result of this will be a Kickstarter campaign which will be formulated and announced in coming weeks — plenty of people have said that they are looking forward to seeing what my next novel is, and this is one way for them to help make that a reality sooner rather than later, a chance for them to put their money where their mouth is.

(And speaking of Kickstarter campaigns, some friends of mine just launched one to expand their artistic repertoire which I highly recommend — you can find it here: Ancient Metalsmithing Made Modern, or Perfecting Pressblech )

I recently turned 54. And I have accomplished a number of things of which I am justly proud. I have friends and family I love. I have a wonderful wife. I have written books and articles which have brought joy, knowledge, and solace to others. I have helped to preserve history in the form of books & documents. I have created art, sold art, made my little corner of the world a slightly better place. I’ve even helped expand the pool of ballistics knowledge a bit. Frankly, I’ve lived longer and accomplished more than I ever really expected to.

But I have more yet to do. Time to get on with it.

Jim Downey

*Yes, a Babylon 5 reference. In this case specifically to the episode “Conflicts of Interest” in which Sheridan makes the following statement:

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking, Zack. There are several hundred unpleasant things I’ve been avoiding doing since I got back from Z’ha’dum. Now with Delenn gone I don’t have any excuses. I have to start taking care of them.”

Appropriately enough, one of the places I got to visit while in Italy was Lake Avernus — which the Romans considered the entrance to Hades. Yeah, I’ve been to Hell and back. It’s given me a new perspective.



Blimey.
June 26, 2012, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, Humor, RKBA, Society | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Cross posted from the BBTI blog, just to give you an idea of what my day has been like.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blimey. Just got the following email:

Someone directed me to this page from your site: http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/357mag.html

Now, I appreciate what you are doing, but how you are presenting it is not very helpful.

What a useless page that is. Hey, look, columns of unlabeled numbers! How exciting!

Is that velocity? Muzzle Energy? Momentum? Power factor? Drop over distance? What are the units?

It’s labeled at the top as “.357 Mag Results”. Why not “.357 Mag Muzzle Energy in ft-lbs”?

My response? This: “Sorry to disappoint you. We’ll be happy to completely refund your money.”

The guy wrote back, protesting that he meant it as “constructive criticism.” And then went on to protest that he *still* didn’t know what the data represented (in spite of the fact that it is listed on the Y-axis of every ammo graph and indicated elsewhere on the site).

Sigh. I wrote back the following:

From the homepage of the site, and also referred to in multiple locations elsewhere on the site: “Since we first launched BBTI three years ago, it has become a primary reference tool for firearms enthusiasts of all stripes and from around the globe. Our initial research data covered the relationship between barrel length and velocity for some 13 common handgun calibers/cartridges.”

But you’re absolutely correct, we didn’t spell out that the numbers were velocity in feet-per-second (the standard velocity measurement in the US). We’ll correct that to make it more explicit. The funny thing is that you are the very first person in 3.5 years to not understand that this was what was indicated. Probably because you came at it from someone else’s link direct to that one results page. At least that’s the most charitable conclusion I can come to.

And that, dear friends is why now each caliber/cartridge page now says .22 Results in fps. (or whatever the caliber/cartridge is). Never let it be said that we won’t go the e x t r a inch for the dimwitted and deliberately dense.

People really will always find something to bitch about, won’t they? Even if it is free & unencumbered research data that they can’t get elsewhere.

Blimey.

Jim Downey



Voila! The ZF-1.

Some of my readers here may not know it, but there’s another aspect of my writing life: I’m a regular contributor to Guns.com. And because of that I tend to keep an eye on what pops up on the site.

That scrutiny paid off with this delightful little item:

The Adam Savage Amazing ZF-1 Replica from “The Fifth Element” (VIDEO)

Adam Savage of Mythbusters is working on a perfect replica of the gun from the science fiction movie “The Fifth Element,” which stars Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman and little known actor by the name of Luke Perry.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the Zorg ZF-1 is the end-all, beat-all king of weapons. It’s an assault rifle complete with homing bullets, a rocket launcher, arrow shooters (with explosive and poisonous tips), a net launcher, a flame thrower and the “ice cube system” (freeze gas). To top it all off, it’s ambidextrous. Who wouldn’t want a toy like that?

There’s more, but the real treat is this video:

Have I mentioned recently that I love The Fifth Element? Serious geekin’ here.

Working on a second part to Sunday’s post. Probably have that tomorrow.

Jim Downey



Am I a prima donna?

There’s a reason I’m self-employed.

It’s because while I can work fine with others, by and large I prefer to do things my own way, on my own schedule. This comes with trade-offs, of course, and it doesn’t mean that I can completely eliminate the need to conform to societal or even corporate rules. But I can minimize that crap and get on with my life.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing for the last year or so has been writing for Guns.com. For the most part I’ve just picked a topic, ran the idea past my editors, and then produced a piece of writing within the appropriate word-count range. Usually the changes they made to my writing were minimal, and everyone was happy. It didn’t generate a lot of money (free-lance writing in this day and age doesn’t), but during some of the lean times it was money which came in very handy.

Well, Guns.com has seen a remarkable growth in the time I’ve been writing for them (I got started with them very early on), and they’re now one of the biggest firearms-related sites out there. They’ve been very aggressive in gathering together a lot of talented people, and seeing that they have kept their content fresh & interesting. It’s been a lot of fun for me to be a part of that. It’s also taught me a lot (doing the necessary research to write a review or article is always a good education), and it has allowed me to keep my writing skills sharp.

Well, the other day I mentioned that I was making some changes in my usual routine, because of limitations of time and energy. And I’m giving serious consideration to making another such change – curtailing or even stopping altogether how much writing I do for Guns.com.

Now, partly this is just due to the natural pacing of things. I had set out to do reviews of most of the firearms we’ve tested for BBTI, and I have now submitted reviews for all those which Guns.com had not previously covered – there still some 30 or 40 such reviews pending publication (they like to spread them out). I also did a bunch of other reviews of guns which I had a chance to try recently which are a little more unusual than what most people ever try, and that was fun.

But there’s another factor here. With the substantial growth of the site, as well as the expansion of the number of contributing writers, Guns.com had to come up with some formal style guides for people to use. This is a common thing for any large site, and it is a mark of their professionalism that they put together a very good style manual more than 30 pages in length, complete with links of a lot of example articles. I was flattered to see that quite a few of those articles were ones I had written.

I find, however, that it presents a certain quandary for me: having to write to certain style rules.

That’s not my writing . . . style. I like to play around. Innovate. Feel my way through an idea, a topic, a story. If you’ve read my novel, or even this blog, you’ll have a pretty good sense of what I mean. While I am perfectly capable of writing within conventional rules, I’m much more interested in playing with the expectations of the reader a bit, challenging them by subverting those rules now and then.

In short, I don’t want the rules to apply to me.

In other words, I’m a prima donna.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. I like the guys at Guns.com, and I respect what they have accomplished. But I’m not interested in doing cookie-cutter writing – leastwise, not as a regular course of affairs. And besides, if I take the hour or two I spend on each article/review I write for them, and put it towards another novel, well I think that might be a better use of my time & energy. Particularly so, given the response so far to Communion of Dreams.

Speaking of which, remember that the Kindle edition is free today!

Jim Downey