Communion Of Dreams

Spinning wheel got to go round.*

I was surprised when one of the other BBTI guys said that he had found a reproduction wheellock on Gunbroker recently, and that it wasn’t even horribly expensive. This one:


Wheellock with Diablo double-barrel pistol.

I was surprised, because there aren’t many reproduction wheellocks out there that I was aware of. It’s a quirky firearm design from the 16th century (Ian from Forgotten Weapons has an excellent primer on Wheellock history and operation in this video), which was superseded by reliable & cheaper flintlocks, and not too many people are familiar with them. But it seems that a firm by the name of Mendi was producing them in Spain in the 1980s. This one is stamped along the top of the barrel “Jacobi Iserlohn”, which is a firm selling historical firearms in Iserlohn, Germany. You might be able to make out the stamp in this image:


Jacobi Iserlohn.

We didn’t know much about the gun beyond what was stamped on it — it came with no paperwork or anything (which, being black powder, it didn’t need).  As you can see in the image above, it says that it is “CAL 45”, and a normal .451 lead ball seemed to fit, so …

So we figured we’d try and figure it out and shoot it, of course. The first thing was to check the bore, see if the mechanism worked, etc. Most things checked out fine, though it looked like someone had substituted welding rods clamped between a piece of thick lead sheet for the historical pyrite used to generate sparks. See for yourself:


Welding rod?

Which would clamp in this (called the ‘dog’):


We adjusted the rods so they were equal length and extended far enough to engage the spinning wheel of the mechanism when the dog was lowered. So far, so good.

Next was to test the wheel mechanism. The way a wheellock works is that there’s a spring inside the stock, attached to the inside of the wheel usually by a chain or strap. Using a suitable crank (we didn’t have one that came with the gun, so we used a simple adjustable wrench), you crank the wheel until a ratchet inside locks it into place. We discovered that this gun only needed to be cranked about half a turn before the ratchet clicked. When you pull the trigger the ratchet is released, and the wheel spins.

We tried that, and it seemed to work.

OK, time to load the thing. We elected to start with a mild load typical for other black powder handguns we have in .44/.45 — 30gr of fffg. The lead ball seemed to fit tightly enough into the bore that we went without a patch. All of that went smoothly.

Last was to put some powder in the pan and see if we could shoot it. First, we cranked the wheel into place. Then we put some powder beside where the wheel was, next to the touch-hole. And gave it a try:

Remember, we had no idea what to expect.

At least we got sparks. Just sparks. The powder in the pan failed to ignite. We considered the matter, and decided that we had been too stingy with the powder, that it needed to more or less fill the pan all around where the wheel protruded.

The result:

Excellent! It fired! It hit the target! It didn’t blow up and kill us! Yay!

So each of us had a go:


That last one’s me. And let me share what it felt like.

Mostly, like shooting any similarly sized/powerful black powder handgun, with the gentle push of black powder. But when you pulled the trigger, you could feel a little bit of torque as the wheel released and spun for a moment. It was different than either a flintlock or cap & ball handgun, in that regard. And the delay between pulling the trigger and ignition was about what it’s like with a flintlock, perhaps a little longer.

All in all, it was pretty cool. And it wasn’t something I expected to ever have a chance to actually try, since most of the wheellocks I was aware of were either 300+ year antiques or fairly high-end (and rare) custom reproductions. Needless to say, if you do get a chance to try one of these things, definitely do it.

Jim Downey

* of course.

(Cross posted to my ballistics blog.)

The Fightin’ Swedes/Swiss.
September 4, 2020, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, tech | Tags: , , , ,

[For some reason, Facebook is having problems with my ballistics blog being considered “spam”. Until I get it resolved, I’m going to post partial info about new blog posts over there, here, so people can link it off FB. Please just ignore if ballistics isn’t of interest.]

Two last battle rifles today: the Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55 and the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin Model 1911 rifle.

Swedish Ag m/42B in 6.5×55

Swedish Ag 3

Swedish Automatgevär m/42

We should have done our homework on this.

Why? Because we had no idea about how to operate it. I’ll save you the several videos of us fumbling with it, trying to figure out what the hell made the thing work. Instead, go watch this video of how the mechanism works, if you’re interested.

At least none of us mashed our thumbs, which even Ian at Forgotten Weapons was nervous about (watch his second video there).

[The entire post can be found here.]


Review: S333 Thunderstruck.
September 1, 2020, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Ballistics, Guns, RKBA, tech | Tags: , , , ,

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This is the Standard Manufacturing S333 Thunderstruck revolver:

Thunder 1

It’s an innovative, 8-round revolver which fires two rounds of .22WMR (.22mag) with one pull of the trigger.

OK, if you like this not-so-little handgun, you might not want to read this review. Just move along and save yourself some time.

No, really.

[The entire post can be found here.]

Two Classic Battle Rifles.
August 31, 2020, 4:29 pm
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You can probably guess which ones I mean. Yeah, that’s how big of an impact they had on history.

The M1903 Springfield and the Lee-Enfield (specifically, the SMLE No.1 Mk III). Both bolt-action guns (actually, both derived from the G98 Mauser design). Both shooting powerful .30 caliber cartridges with an effective aimed range in excess of 500 yards. And both having played an important role in World War I and World War II.

Of course, there are some real differences between these cousins. Let’s talk about that after a brief look at each one:

[The entire post can be found here.]

1898 Krag-Jørgensen Rifle
August 30, 2020, 3:57 pm
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Man, I’m happy that I took a lot of images last weekend when we shot these rifles.

OK, as I’ve noted, I’m not really a “rifle guy”. And especially not a “historic rifle guy”. Oh, I can generally ID most of the major designs in history, but damned if I would be able to identify the dozens of minor variations and such.

Which is why I’m writing these blog posts: I’m learning a lot. And like I said, I’m glad that I took a lot of images, because it’s allowed me to determine specific details key to figuring out what a given gun actually is. Like the “1898” stamped on the side of the receiver of this Krag-Jørgensen Rifle:

[The entire post can be found here.]

4 Nice Reproduction Rifles
August 29, 2020, 3:46 pm
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As part of our historical rifle weekend, we shot 4 different reproduction rifles all dating to the latter part of the 19th century. In rough chronological order, these were the Spencer Repeating Rifle, the Remington Rolling Block Rifle, the Springfield Model 1873, and the Winchester Model 1885 (High Wall version). Here are our four reproductions:

[The entire post can be found here.]

“If you’ve never experienced the magic that is Wales …”

I’m just going to post this entire review:

Reviewed in the United States on July 28, 2020

From the very first page, St Cybi’s Well steeps you in the rich culture and landscape of Wales. It has a feel of ancient otherworldliness—until the scientific and political realities hit you full-on.

This book sounds uncanny echoes of our present predicament: Pandemic. Police. Politics. Racism. Rioting. Revolt. You can hear the ripping of the social fabric as fear overcomes reason.

And yet, there is hope. Hope for healing. Hope for a better future. Hope for us all.

With protagonist Dernell Sidwell’s quest for hope/healing/redemption set in the mystical, ancient sites of Wales, the reader feels deeply drawn to the power of the past—all while checking over their shoulder for what new nightmare the present has to offer.

You’d think the author was a time traveler, considering how closely Sidwell’s journey parallels the challenges we now face. You will appreciate Sidwell’s determination, his acute survival skills, and his willingness to consider, confront, and accept some things that stretch his perceptions of what is possible.

If you’ve never experienced the magic that is Wales, take the trip now. This is an urgent adventure that will linger with you long after you’ve finished the last page. I’ll see you at St Cybi’s Well.

St Cybi’s Well, and my other books, will be available for free download this coming Saturday, as it is on the first of each month. Please download & share! And as I’ve said before: “And please, if you do read it, leave a review.”
Jim Downey

Cautionary insight.

I’m not an epidemiologist. I’m not a medical professional of any sort.

And yet, I spent a lot of time studying the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, because I used that as the model for what the Fire-flu would be like in St Cybi’s Well. And it largely paid off, as I’ve noted previously, since so many people have seen the eerie similarities in how the Covid-19 pandemic has unfolded to what I depict in the novel.

That’s because a lot of these things happen consistently in all pandemics, as you can see time and again if you look at the history.

And, having studied that history, even though I’m not an epidemiologist, I feel honor-bound to say: be worried about where things are headed here in the US. Currently, the C19 virus is largely uncontrolled in most states, and I’m afraid that it is going to get MUCH worse in the coming months. Place the blame for that where you will, the fact of the matter is that each individual needs to take whatever precautions you can to limit your chances of catching this disease. Follow the advice of the real epidemiologists out there. Don’t listen to the politicians. Or the conspiracy theorists. Or your buddy from high school who barely passed biology class.

St Cybi’s Well actually contains a lot of solid practical advice for how to prepare for a pandemic, if you step back and think about it. I added all that stuff because I wanted the book to ‘feel’ real, and to show what an intelligent, well-educated person might do when faced with the prospect of a pandemic. That it now might add some insight into what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones going forward is just serendipity.

If you think so too, maybe share the book with your friends and family. It’ll be available for free download this coming Saturday, as it is on the first of each month.

Jim Downey

“Did we actually go there, or … ?”

One of the early reviews of St Cybi’s Well added this note under “TRIVIA”:

Most of the chapters start with information that looks like it came from Internet websites. I typed in some of the URLs, and they are exactly what they seem to be, lending credence to the book.

And several people have commented both on Amazon and on Facebook that the book could function as something of a travelog.

That’s very much by design. The chapter header URLs & info I used in the book are straight from real sites online, though I intentionally used versions which date back to ~ 2012 (the date in the novel) whenever possible. And likewise, each location specified in the book is real. As well as every bit of Welsh history or myth I used.

I did this to lend the book verisimilitude. I really want readers to wonder just how possible the story is, to feel that ‘thinness’ I describe between one reality and another in the book.  I want them to visit the sites mentioned, to feel what I have felt there.

I didn’t start writing the book with this in mind. I figured that I would simply use my own experience in traveling in Wales to ground the book in reality, and use what little I knew of Welsh history & mythology to help add color. But as I wrote, I found myself digging deeper and deeper, spending more time visiting sites virtually, until they became very well known to me.

After a while, I started to lose track of whether I had actually visited some of the sites in person, or had only visited them online. This led to the very surreal experience during a trip we took in 2017 where in going to Craig Rhosyfelin I was absolutely certain that we had visited the site previously … but also absolutely certain that we never had (the latter which was confirmed by my wife). I had spent so much time exploring the site virtually, working through the descriptions and history of it, writing the interaction of characters there, that it really did feel like I had my own personal memories of the place. Bizarre.

The same is true of several other locations in the book, to the point where my wife and I now joke about it. “Did we actually go there, or … ?” has become a standard in our travels.

And of course now, with the limitations imposed by our own real pandemic, such virtual travel is all we have at present. So if you need a vacation, maybe spend a little time in my novel. The links included on the website will help.

Jim Downey


Easy to predict.

In Communion of Dreams, I have “experts” who are A.I. assistants. As I describe them in that book when I introduce one as the character ‘Seth’:

His expert was one of the best, one of only a few hundred based on the new semifluid CPU technology that surpassed the best thin-film computers made by the Israelis. But it was a quirky technology, just a few years old, subject to problems that conventional computers didn’t have, and still not entirely understood. Even less settled was whether experts based on this technology could finally be considered to be true AI. The superconducting gel that was the basis of the semifluid CPU was more alive than not, and the computer was largely self-determining once the projected energy matrix surrounding the gel was initiated by another computer. Building on the initial subsistence program, the computer would learn how to refine and control the matrix to improve its own ‘thinking’. The thin-film computers had long since passed the Turing test, and these semifluid systems seemed to be almost human. But did that constitute sentience? Jon considered it to be a moot point, of interest only to philosophers and ethicists.

In the world of 2052, when Communion is set, these “experts” are ubiquitous and extremely helpful. Seth is an “S-series”, the latest tech, and all S-series models have names which start with S. I figured that naming convention would be a nice way to track the development of such expert-systems technology, and in the course of the book you see earlier models which have appropriate names.

So when the time came to write St Cybi’s Well, I figured that I would introduce the first such model, named Andi. Here’s the first bit of dialog with Andi:

“Hi, I’m Andi, your assistant application. How can I help you?”

“Andi, check local restaurant reviews for Conwy and find the best ranked Fish & Chips place.”

“You’re not in Conwy. You’re in Holywell. Would you rather that I check restaurants where you are?”

“No, I’m not hungry yet. But I will be when I get to Conwy.”

“Very good. Shall I read off the names?”

“Not now. It can wait until I am closer.”

“Very good. Shall I track your movement and alert you?”


“Very good. May I help you with something else?”

“Not right now.” Darnell shut off the app, then the phone, and dropped it back into his pocket. The walk back to his car was uneventful.

Now, I wrote this bit almost eight years ago, long before “Siri” or “Alexa” were announced. But it was predictable that such technology would soon be introduced, and I was amused as all get-out when Amazon decided to name their first assistant as “Alexa”.

Anyway, I also figured that since the technology would be new, and unsophisticated, that Andi would be slightly annoying to use. Because it would default to repetitions of scripts, be easy to confuse, et cetera, similar to encountering a ‘bot on a phone call. And you can judge for yourself, but I think I succeeded in the book — the readers of early chapters thought so, and commented on it.

So this article in the morning Washington Post made me chuckle:

Alexa, just shut up: We’ve been isolated for months, and now we hate our home assistants

“I’m not a bad person,” Angela Hatem said. “I’m so nice to people.” But Alexa, the voice of Amazon’s home devices, isn’t a person, despite how hard “she” tries to emulate one. And coronavirus/self-quarantine/2020 has Hatem feeling a bit stressed out.

“I say things to Alexa that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy, if I had one. And I don’t know why. She makes me crazy. … I curse at her. I call her names. I’m very, very mean to her,” said Hatem, who lives in Indianapolis with her 1-year-old son. “There’s really few things I can vent at or vent to, and I’m making Alexa my virtual punching bag.”


Heh. Nailed another prediction.

* * *

It’s the first of the month. That means that both novels and our care-giving memoir are available for free download, as they are the first of each month. If you haven’t already, please help yourself and tell your friends.

Jim Downey