Cognitively estranging, richly imagined, and splendidly paranoid…
Dr Dougal McNeill
Senior Lecturer, School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies
Victoria University, Wellington NZ
Blum sure packs much intriguing fact and entertaining fiction into a small space. Like any good sci-fi, what starts as an improbable artistic idea starts to develop its own weight and credence. Although the concept is never truly believable, by the end you are left thinking: hmmm, what if…
—Michael Larsen The Listener, New Zealand
The world is in entropic meltdown in V.O. Blum’s prize-winning novella. Suicide decimates the population, aircraft fall from the skies, people gasp for breath in city streets. Despair is palpable – and contagious – a pandemic of malaise. Slow planetary deterioration had long been assumed, but nobody expected all systems to interactively collapse so precipitously. Has a global psychosis seized the collective mind? The year 2025 becomes a macabre landmark, the portal of anti-history.
Foster Castle, a young chemist, leaves his native New Zealand to travel the earth in search of evidence. His mission is a scientific investigation into various unexplained phenomena that could offer clues to the nature and origins of the downwave gripping the planet.
He stumbles across strange chemical and physical data that suggests the earth’s population is responding to a measurable dispiriting force. He traces it back to a famous novelist’s joint suicide with his wife in 1942 in Brazil. Then, a report on another sudden double suicide of two psychiatrists at McLean Hospital near Boston in 1968 alerts Castle to one Morton Than, a patient they were treating for what appeared to be psychotic symptoms.
Now in his late eighties and living on a Pacific island, Than almost certainly holds the key to the riddle. What is it about his frequency, his aura, his energetic pulse that affects those around him? The search becomes a national security issue – and a geopolitical crisis. Castle has to find this unsuspecting hermit and get his help to crack the code of this blight on human consciousness.
V.O. Blum has balanced careers in social science, journalism and literature. He holds graduate degrees in politics and social psychology from the New School in New York and Oregon’s College of Public Affairs at Portland State University.
He continues to serve as professor, visiting scholar and writer-in-residence at universities in the Kingdom of Tonga, Australia, and New Zealand. His academic articles on the Pacific have been published in, among other journals, Journal of Pacific History, Journal de la Société des Océanistes, Sites, Pacific Dynamics and Pacific Affairs; his popular features have appeared in Playboy, Psychiatric Times, and the Village Voice.
V.O. Blum has published three previous works of fiction: Equator, Sunbelt Stories, and Split Creek
An unbelievable – and at the same time realistic – warning of what might soon happen to our blue and white globe suspended in the darkness of the universe. DownMind conjures Western ghosts, US schizophrenia, and Pacific optimism … in places as far apart as Boston, Washington, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and the Kingdom of Tonga. The author’s imagination is always fascinating and the story captivates right to the unsuspected end.
Dr Niklaus R Schweizer
Honorary Swiss Consul
Blum has the ability to be both subversive and supportive in the same breath. A reverence for the apocalyptic Jewish intellectual legacy is bathed in Nietzschean ambivalence, Eastern mysticism, South Pacific politics and ambitious metaphors of apathy and deliverance. Ignore them at your peril.
Director of the documentary Tongan Ark
In the human sphere, what would happen if an individual mind, tapping into our basic interconnectedness, had the power to cause mass depression and even suicide? This frightening prospect is at the core of V O Blum’s DownMind. And you have to admire the mind of the author himself as he whips up a heady mix of psychology, politics, the Holocaust, Pacific culture and Kiwi stoicism (to name just a few of the ingredients). All underpinned by a simmering anger at what we are doing to our planet and illuminated by flashes of humour and (perhaps unique in the field of science fiction) loving kindness.
Richard von Sturmer
Auckland Zen Centre
From the Foreword to DownMind
By Luke Goode
Moods are contagious. Sometimes the spread is locally contained: yawns, tears, or infectious laughter shared involuntarily within a group. But we know too that moods can be transmitted across space and time. History teaches us how alarming such outbreaks can be.
In our current historical moment, communication networks exponentially multiply the paths of viral transmission. One might even imagine an ever-thickening digital smog shrouding our pale blue planet, rendering us little more than warmed-up hosts for increasingly virulent and drug-resistant strains of cultural disease: despair, cynicism, nihilism, fatalism, boredom, anxiety; or, indeed, the fundamentalisms, fanaticisms and paranoias which are the other side of that very same coin. Information and ideas are ubiquitous. And they are mood-carriers. The relentless global news stream may corrode our spirit and weaken our moral resolve, but we cannot turn it off. We cannot look away. Escape, temporary detox even, is harder and harder to attain. Moods are contagious: they spread not only through physical contact but are also, increasingly, airborne. Do we leave the study of the Zeitgeist to historians and philosophers, or do we enlist the help of the epidemiologists, too?
V.O. Blum’s DownMind provokes in me such troubling thoughts as these; other readers will no doubt be provoked and troubled in other ways. But in the best tradition of science fiction at its richest, DownMind combines dark with light in ways that are simultaneously disconcerting and entertaining: playful wit and a strong sense of historical gravity are the twin faces of this Möbius strip.