Communion Of Dreams

Bank your voice.

A somewhat related item on NPR this morning reminded me of an idea I had a while back. The gist of it:

Come up with a simple computer/smartphone app which would contain a few hundred basic words which you just read aloud and record. Save the file, and later it could be used for basic communication should you not have direct use of your voice for whatever reason.

Speech scientists/therapists could compile the standard list of words (for whatever language), perhaps with “expansion packs” of additional words some people might want to also record. When you have a few free minutes, you just run down the list, say a few words and save it. Then later you could use something like a standard text-message app to compose the words into sentences for ease of communication, and the app would just plug your recorded words into place.

It wouldn’t have the normal sort of nuance of inflection that comes with natural speech (though there may be a simple way around that — I’m not knowledgeable enough to know), but at least it would be in your own voice.

Who would use such a thing? Well, all of us face temporary or permanent loss of our voice throughout our lives, for all kinds of reasons. So there’s that. But I could also see uses where the app could be mated with any email or texting use, so that the recipient could directly hear you “talking” to them with it. I would think that it would have all kinds of uses beyond that, as well.

Just a thought.  If someone wants to come up with such a thing, cut me in for a percentage, will you?

Jim Downey

PS: Hmm, I may have to incorporate this kind of tech into St Cybi’s Well. I can think of a few ways it could be useful …

PPS: Following posting this, I contacted one of the speech scientists mentioned in the NPR program this morning, Dr. Rupal Patel. And while it isn’t exactly the same sort of thing I envision, she did share with me the effort she is involved with, which has an app currently in beta testing: Looks like a very worthwhile endeavor, check it out and ‘donate’ your voice.

“A certain embarrassment.”

A good segment on this morning’s Weekend Edition Saturday with writer Marcel Theroux (son of Paul Theroux). I recommend the whole thing, but two particular bits stood out for me. The first is included on the ‘highlights’ page for the show:

I was trying to be as free as possible. I don’t really think about genre … to be honest. I find it constraining. And I know there’s a certain embarrassment about talking about science fiction in polite company, so some people prefer to call it “speculative fiction” instead.


And the second is my transcription from the actual interview (at about the 5:00 mark):

Anyone who has written a long work of fiction just knows that your mood goes up and down and at times it seems baffling and you feel that you should be doing something that is of value to the human race, not sitting on your own in a room churning out words. Or not churning out words.


Boy, howdy. I am happily churning out words at present, but sometimes it just feels so … self indulgent. And that doesn’t include the moments of complete panic that everyone will be disappointed in the prequel to Communion of Dreams because it isn’t science-fictiony enough or the writing isn’t any good or something.


Back to work.  It’s all I can do.


Jim Downey

Looking back: “Yes.”

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on November 24, 2007.


I have a special place in my heart for Scott Simon, the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday program. Oh, I’ve long enjoyed his reporting and work at NPR, but in particular it was the experience of being interviewed by him in 2001 for my “Paint the Moon” art project which endeared him to me. As it was just at the beginning of the media coverage of that project, and most people as yet didn’t understand what I was trying to do with the project, it would have been easy to mock the idea and portray me as something of a fool – but Simon was kind and considerate in his interview with me (which took almost an hour to do from my local NPR station facilities), and the end result was an interesting and insightful segment for his show.

Anyway, I go out of my way to try and catch the broadcast of Weekend Edition Saturday each week, and today was no different. One of the segments this morning was an interview with Pat Duggins, who has covered over 80 shuttle launches for NPR and now has a new book out titled Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program. In the course of the interview, Simon asked the following question (paraphrased; I may correct when the transcript of the show is posted later): “Are Americans unrealistic in the expectation of safety from our space program?”

Duggins paused a moment, and then gave an unequivocal “Yes.”

I had already answered the question in my own mind, and was pleased to hear him say the same thing. Because as I have mentioned before, I think that a realistic assessment of the risks involved with the space program is necessary. Further, everyone involved in the space program, from the politicians who fund it to the NASA administers to aerospace engineers to astronauts to the journalists who cover the program, should all – all – be very clear that there are real risks involved but that those risks are worth taking. Certainly, foolish risks should be avoided. But trying to establish and promote space exploration as being “safe” is foolish and counter-productive.

I am often cynical and somewhat disparaging of the intelligence of my fellow humans. But I actually believe that if you give people honest answers, honest information, and explain both the risks and benefits of something as important as the space program, they will be able to digest and think intelligently about it. We have gotten into trouble because we don’t demand that our populace be informed and responsible – we’ve fallen very much into the habit of feeding people a bunch of bullshit, of letting them off the hook for being responsible citizens, and treating them as children rather than participating adults. By and large, people will react the way you treat them – and if you just treat people as irresponsible children, they will act the same way.

So it was good to hear Duggins say that one simple word: “Yes.”

What we have accomplished in space, from the earliest days right through to the present, has always been risky. But for crying out loud, just going to the grocery store is risky. None of us will get out of this life alive, and you can be sure that for even the most pampered and protected there will be pain and suffering at times. To think otherwise is to live in a fantasy, and to collapse at the first experience of hardship.

I think that we are better than that. Just look at all humankind has accomplished, in spite of the risks. To say that Americans are unwilling to accept a realistic view of death and injury associated with the exploration of space is to sell us short, and to artificially limit the progress we make. I think it *has* artificially limited the progress we have made.

One of the most common complaints I get about the world I envision in Communion of Dreams is that the exploration of space is too far along to be “realistic”. Nonsense. Look at what was accomplished in the fifty years that lead up to the first Moon landing. In a world filled with trauma, war, and grief, some risks are more easily accepted. In the world of Communion, post-pandemic and having suffered regional nuclear wars, there would be little fixation on making sure that spaceflight was “safe”, and more on pushing to rapidly develop it.

We can go to the planets, and then on to the stars. It is just a matter of having the will to do so, and of accepting the risks of trying.

Jim Downey

Looking back: that first novel.

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on July 1, 2007.


There was a very good segment on this morning’s Weekend Edition Sunday with Jon Clinch, the author of the novel Finn. Clinch talks about his experience in working on several prior novels, none of which were satisfactory to him, before embarking on Finn. It is interesting that he used the web to first promote himself, then land an agent, then get a publisher for the novel – the same kind of thing I am attempting to do with this site and Communion of Dreams.

But even more interesting was the business with his attitude towards his previous novels, which he thought were important in helping him as a writer, even though they were “failed” projects ultimately in terms of artistic satisfaction (and not being published.) I think we tend to underestimate the value of failure, in our focus on success. I have lots of what would conventionally be characterized as “failures” in my life, but each one was an experience which helped lead me to new understanding about myself and the world. Basically, I’m of the opinion that if a failure doesn’t kill you, it isn’t really a failure. And since none of us gets out of this life alive, anyway, we’re all doomed to “failure”.

The most interesting people I know are not the ones who have only succeeded in everything they’ve tried – that type is either too self-satisfied to be interesting, or so unambitious to have never pushed themselves. Give me people who go too far, who push themselves in what they do past their abilities, who are ambitious enough to want to Paint the Moon. Those are the people who are interesting.

Communion was not my first novel. No, during college I wrote one, another near-term speculative novel, once again based on the notion that a pandemic had caused a general societal collapse. I think it is stuck away in a box someplace in the attic. Even though post college I spent several months trying to rewrite it, it is fairly dreadful, and deserves banishment to the attic. But it helped me learn a *lot* about writing a novel, and allowed me to work out a number of themes and ideas which I then used in Communion to much better effect. So that book (titled Equipoise) was not entirely a failure. And I’d bet that most ‘successful’ authors have one or more such books tucked away in a box somewhere, if you can only get them to admit it.

Anyway, I enjoyed the interview with Clinch, and will have to look up his book one of these days.

Jim Downey