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Communion of Dreams Paperback – January 25, 2012
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About the Author
James Downey has written for numerous blogs, websites, magazines and newspapers. His 2001 performance art project "Paint the Moon" (inspired by dialogue found in chapter nine of this novel) received considerable worldwide attention. He is a frequently-cited authority on handgun ballistic performance (see "Ballistics By The Inch"). And he is a highly respected conservator of rare books and documents (see "Legacy Bookbindery"). He was co-author of an Alzheimer's care-giving memoir (Her Final Year), and if you dig around a bit online you'll find out all kinds of things about him. This is his first novel.
Top customer reviews
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Overall it's fairly well written and has a less straightforward plot than a lot of modern sci-fi. Dialogue is ok. A couple of things prevent me from giving it a higher rating.
(1) the first part of the book really drags. It doesn't really become "interesting" until the final third or so. it just took me a long time to get into this.
(2) a lot of characters are introduced early on, but are very thinly drawn, to the point that it gets hard to tell who's who, and many of them are not that important to the story, or disappear off the map completely for long periods of time.
The pacing of the story is very leisurely until toward the end; I think the concept behind this story might work better as a novella or a short story.
After the investigation begins on Titan, things begin to move along a little more quickly.
I've been reading thrillers by Lee Child, and the pace of those books is so much faster than this, which is perhaps why I was impatient with the deliberate rate at which this plot evolved. The book did hold my attention all the way to the end. But it would benefit from a rewrite where much of the action was tightened up and many of the extraneous characters eliminated.
Even though things move more slowly than I would have liked, the story is well-imagined with some fresh ideas and insights. And author, James Downey, goes to great pains to make his universe seem real and convincing. All the technology seems well within the reach of 2052, the time in which the book is set.
I liked that Downey was able to tell a good story without recourse to sex and profanity. And there is not much violence, making this book suitable for a wide range of readers.
First of all, the characters are wonderfully three dimensional, and felt quite "real". I liked them, or didn't like them, or wasn't sure how I felt, but I definitely felt they were actual people, not just black and white names on a page. I loved how, with the minimum of words to describe a gesture, or look, or a few words of dialogue, entire volumes of personality and attitude emerged. I enjoyed watching those attitudes change as the characters faced new challenges and wrestled with what was, for most, a major paradigm shift. My own opinions of those characters occasionally changed as well, as I watched them deal with the challenges with which they were faced.
Second, the story was gripping and held my attention throughout (although I admit I tended to gloss over the more technical descriptions). A lot was happening to a lot of people in a short period of time, but I never felt overwhelmed since it was all presented in a logical and timely manner. Often when the characters themselves were caught by surprise, I was as well. When reference was made to events prior to the story, there was always an explanatory back story that fit perfectly and didn't feel like a flashback; just a few sentences that painted a detailed picture without pages and pages of detail. I have to say, the compact and concise way in which the entire novel was written was refreshing. I don't refer to the length of the book, but the fact that every comment, every gesture, every description, was neither more nor less than needed to precisely and accurately convey what was going on. And yet, it was not at all choppy, nor did I feel in the slightest that I was being shortchanged. In fact, during the last half of the book I was reading so fast to take it all in that I am looking forward to re-reading it, now that I know what happens, to see what nuances I might have missed.
One of the things I enjoyed most, as a science fiction fan of many decades, was finding little bits of reference to various other writers, either in a conceptual sense or, sometimes, in a name used or a place mentioned. So many science fiction novels touch on psychology, sociology, scientific and technological progress, philosophy, religion or just sheer adventure. This one has it all, and I do mean *all* of it. My mind was a whirl of ideas and thoughts, all intertwining as I read about the discovery of the artifact, watched different people react based on their perception and frame of reference, and saw their attitudes change over time as more and more was discovered. The plot wasn't so much convoluted as it was intricate. Yet everything was brought to a satisfying conclusion, with no real loose ends, but rather openings for a possible sequel. Or perhaps a prequel ... I'd love to learn more about Darnell Sidwell's experiences before and during the Fire-Flu, for example. Then again, it might very well be that we are to decide our own endings, based on our own, no doubt now altered, attitudes and perceptions after reading this tale.