In Which I Graciously Respond by Moving Many Hands, and Also a Giant Elephant

So the “Animals are Assholes” interview is out, and I’m  not sure whether there was a misunderstanding during the actual interview or if Google Translate is no longer my friend— but just for the record I did  not say that giant squid eat jellyfish.  I said that in a few decades there’d be nothing left except giant squid and jellyfish, and I didn’t know what the giant squid would eat. (Jellyfish, of course, can take care of themselves.)

But the rest of it? “He graciously responded by moving many hands, as a true Southerner, and gave me a lot of humor and pickling ideas”?  “I have not hung Starfish, but I think I still seduce leave to bread more.”? Yup. All pretty much accurate.

Nantes has changed significantly from the time I remember it.

Nantes has changed significantly from the time I remember it.

mainhall

The Main Hall.

Anyhow, it was our second time at Nantes, and as usual it was a nice change. (When your attendance weighs it at 14K and the mayor speaks at your opening ceremonies, you know you’re not in Canada any more. Can you imagine Rob Ford being caught dead at an SF convention?)  Last time we hung out with China Miéville, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Brandon Sanderson, and Larry Niven, among others. This time I was looking forward to hanging out with William Gibson, but he was under doctor’s orders not to fly so he didn’t make it. I had very mixed feelings about hanging out with Orson Scott Card (face it, people, his Omni stories back in the seventies and eighties were pretty awesome), because I’d been asked by various people to either punch him in the nose or to give him a long, deep French kiss, and it would have been difficult to honor both requests at the same time. As it turned out the issue never arose, because every time he was on stage I was either signing in the bookstore (they slotted me into way too many of those), or on a different stage myself. Caitlin saw him one time I was otherwise occupied, and reported back that Card had defined atheism as just another religion, because look at how stridently they try to convert everyone else to their beliefs. (At which point I immediately fugued into a daydream in which I had sat on said panel, and in which I rejoined “I dunno. Speaking as an atheist, I don’t find myself especially driven to proselytize.  I mean, I’m bemused by belief in invisible sky fairies of any stripe, but there’s no denying the adaptive value of the religious impulse so I certainly understand where they’re coming from. The only time I’d get especially het up would be if someone cited their own personal sky fairy to tell me what I could and couldn’t read, or who I could and couldn’t climb into bed with. Then we’d have a problem.  But barring that…” And it wouldn’t matter what I said after that, because it would be drowned out in thunderous applause.  Yes.  I dream heroic.)

notyouraveragecon

Not your Average Con.

I don’t have the same visceral reaction to Card as many folks do. It’s not that I don’t find his homophobia and politics offensive— or actually, it is that. His views are so completely over-the-top that I have a really hard time taking them seriously. Some part of me wonders if he’s not engaging in a piece of  performance art that people didn’t quite twig to, so he’s just kept piling it on until we finally get the joke. Reactionary bigots, homophobes, science deniers; those types should be fought tooth and nail. But judging by some of the things I’ve seen emerging from Card’s keyboard lately, he’s leveled up way past those descriptors, all the way to Fourth-Degree Black Belt Loon— and I find it hard to engage in combat when my eyes are rolled this far back in their sockets. Surely nobody is taking him seriously. Surely he’s not having any kind of impact beyond comic relief.

Anyway.  Enough about that.

Someone else we didn’t hang out with was Max Brooks.  I would have liked to, and there was opportunity— turned out his room was directly across the hall from ours, and once or twice we saw him breakfasting, alone and vulnerable, at the hotel restaurant— but I was too shy. I mean, what do you say to the guy other than Man, really loved WWZ, condolences on the movie? I did have an angle— I was going to congratulate him on the offhanded way he dropped Bergmann’s Rule into World War Z— but that would have been too obviously straining for effect. So I contented myself with sitting in the audience during the Q&A, during which he said (amongst other things):

  • brooks

    Max Brooks recognizes me in the audience and, being a huge fan, calls me onstage to take a bow. Just kidding.

    If he had his druthers, he would erect a statue of Frank Darabont  next to that of Martin Luthor King Jr.;

  • He thought the movie adaptation of World War Z had “an absolutely, amazing, fantastic title.”
  •  (Something about the creative process that was so insightful I jotted it down on a napkin, except the napkin went through the laundry before I transcribed it and now I can’t remember what it is).
Spinrad

The guy who wrote “The Doomsday Machine”!

One person I did manage to shake hands with— someone I’ve wanted to meet ever since reading “The Big Flash” (not to mention the fact that he wrote “The Doomsday Machine” back during the original Star Trek)  was Norman Spinrad, an American ex-pat who, thanks to cultural differences, feels more at home in France than his native US. The dude has also written some very kind reviews of my stuff (which I knew), but it turns out he also took Tor to task for their ill-considered decision to split βehemoth into two volumes (which I didn’t).

The panels were pretty good, too—  round tables on augmented reality, undersea SF, terraforming, and Human extinction (a couple moderated by fellow Canuck Jean-Louis Trudel). In fact, I’d say the panels were really good except for the one that focused on the latest news from around the solar system— in which the other panelists were actual astrophysicists working out of the European Space Agency and France’s Atomic Energy Commission. Try that sometime. Try being an ex-marine-mammal biologist discoursing on the latest findings from Titan you dimly remember reading somewhere on io9 when the guy to your left has a fistful of awards in astronomy and science education, and the guy to your right makes his living modeling the physical dynamics of planet/moon systems. And both of them belong to the star chamber that decides what  missions the ESA is going to be launching next decade.  When I said anything at all, I always finished it with a plaintive query directed at my co-panelists: “So, how much of that is outdated or just plain wrong?”

They, too, were very kind.

And then there was the stuff around the periphery. The steampunk animals we reported on back in 2010 have been moved off the factory floor to make way for new creations— a giant inchworm, a roboheron, an absolutely terrifying terminator sea turtle—

turtinator

The Turtinator. Tell me this isn’t the stuff of nightmares.

pegasicorn

For some reason, Caitlin seemed especially taken with this Pegasicorn.

heroraptor

Anyone who’s ever wrestled real blue herons will confirm that this is slightly smaller than life. That’s a rideable ant in the foreground.

scorphid

I have no clue what this is supposed to be.

inchworm

You realize you can click on any of these to embiggen them, right?

—and installed across the way on a working carousel (where, ridden by hordes of screaming children, I admit they lost a bit of their magic for me).

carousel

Where steampunk animals go to die.

 The Great Oliphaunt hasn’t gone anywhere since 2013, but we never actually saw it stomping around town before:

And the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, meanwhile, has acquired an infestation of ghosts sometime over the past three years:

The food, as usual, was amazing.  Even  better than last time, although that’s at least partly due to the fact that I didn’t have to eat Justine Larbalestier’s haggis this time out.

That sounded a wee bit pornographic, didn’t it. Maybe I better stop here.

benedicte

My awesome Frawnsh novel editor, Bénédicte; her awesome husband (and my Frawnsh sometime-short-story editor), Olivier.

suicidetree

The famed “Suicidal Jack Pine of L’Oire” continues its two-hundred-year effort to hurl itself into the path of Nantes light-rail system. Inset: Caitlin honors tradition by trying to convince the Pine that it has much to live for.

greatdeadbird

Aqualung feels like this.

 

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday November 12 2013at 11:11 am , filed under interviews, On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

21 Responses to “In Which I Graciously Respond by Moving Many Hands, and Also a Giant Elephant”

  1. You realize you can click on any of these to embiggen them, right?

    Lol

  2. > Can you imagine Rob Ford being caught dead at an SF convention?

    Dead no, drunk — easily.

  3. *Thunderous applause.*

    Re: Card’s performance art, that’s what I kept telling myself about W. Doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, just an observation.

    Stealing from comment in previous thread, there’s a new crowd-sourced game out, The Strange. I cannot believe the numbers they are pulling in. Of course D&D has/had a built-in worldwide audience and presently I can’t even spring for BtR. That should change by end of year.

  4. btw, the link for the no-clue animal points to the heroraptor.

  5. A perhaps slightly better translated portion (second half of second-to-last paragraph I consulted with an expert)

    Last question, why is the leader in Blindsight a vampire?

    It must first be remembered that Serasti in Blindsight is not the captain of the ship. The AI is the captain of the ship and uses Serasti at will, sometimes very cruelly. Serasti is a very effective puppet. Is he even aware in the sense that we understand it, this is a real issue. I see the vampire consciousness as a kind of waking dream, a situation in which you see yourself doing things more than you actually do them. This is a theme that I also address in Echopraxia.

  6. Christ…this is a convention that Charlotte and I need to show up at!!


  7. It must first be remembered that Serasti in Blindsight is not the captain of the ship. The AI is the captain of the ship and uses Serasti at will, sometimes very cruelly. Serasti is a very effective puppet. Is he even aware in the sense that we understand it, this is a real issue.

    People don’t like to see themselves as puppets. Sarasti is the only one who would let himself be used as one by an intelligence greater than himself, because as a psychopathic savant he is not interested in the pretense of ‘free will’, nor as a top predator is he subject to fear of the unknown and so on..

    Also, he’s likely the smartest entity onboard, after the AI, so..

    I’m just guessing.

  8. Also, designer babies.
    There is much, much more to success in life than the right genes. We are all pawns of causality after all, and having a good start in life doesn’t ensure success.


    When you acquire power, you become a bastard. So yes, there is this idea in the news.

    So, to decrease the number or right bastards, perhaps we should aim for a society where power would be finely separated and distributed?

  9. Alexey: Dead no, drunk — easily.

    Well, I guess it’s nice that Toronto’s in the map, at least…

    Nix:
    btw, the link for the no-clue animal points to the heroraptor.

    Weird. No idea how that happened, but thanks for the catch. Fixed now.

    Whoever: A perhaps slightly better translated portion (second half of second-to-last paragraph I consulted with an expert)

    Yeah I guess I should’ve included a link to the original French interview, which was at least English to French. Going from English to French and then having a Google-bot back-translate to English again was just asking for trouble…

    Y.: So, to decrease the number or right bastards, perhaps we should aim for a society where power would be finely separated and distributed?

    Don’t ask me. I just point out the problems; fixing them is someone else’s department…

  10. gave me a lot of humor and pickling ideas

    People Whom, Because Of Their Fondness For The Weirder And More Disturbing Branches Of Biology, Biochemistry and Neuroscience, One Ought Not To Accept Pickling Ideas From:

    1. Peter Watts. (“OK, I’ve got dill, I’ve got shallots, but Whole Foods doesn’t even stock pinniped cerebrospinal fluid.”)

  11. I missed the big show again, looks like…

    Anyway, just to complete the record in case you were still wondering, the original French interview clearly states that “giant squid eat jellyfish”. Sadly.

    “Les calmars géants survivront car ils mangent les méduses.” “The giant squids will survive because they eat the jellyfish.”

    However you splice it, it’s there. Google doesn’t get it too bad, considering.
    To be honest, the French version is pretty sketchy, and it isn’t the first time I notice that translation into French drains your prose from pretty much all traces of subtlety (not that it was lacking in the first place, mind).
    Just my opinion though, don’t hesitate to consult other sources.

  12. @ Peter Watts, by way of Whoever quoting a translation of part of the interview:

    I see the vampire consciousness as a kind of waking dream, a situation in which you see yourself doing things more than you actually do them. This is a theme that I also address in Echopraxia.

    Do you mean that they are sort of living in a sort of set of war-gamings? Multiple worldviews running simulations examining all probable/possible outcomes? And now and then comes a cusp of”deciding factor” and action occurs?

    Really, how would that be different from the rest of us?

    Hmm, contrast & compare with the “rich inner life of the schizoid” and their typical perceived inattention/ignorance to much of externality…

  13. Too bad about the squid eating jellyfish misunderstanding. Possibly the translator was going back over the notes, hmm jellyfish will survive, and giant squid, uh, why the squid? He must have said they’d eat the jellyfish and I missed it…

    The “true southerner”, according to my not very good French, means south of France, not south USA. The stereotype is that the southern French are excitable and emotional, almost Italian or Spanish, unlike the calm rational hard working northerners.

    Those steampunk animals are just awesome. Your photos have convinced me that if/when I get to France, forget the Louvre, I’m going to Nantes!

  14. Your posts always give me pickling ideas.

  15. Peter Watts:
    Going from English to French and then having a Google-bot back-translate to English again was just asking for trouble…

    Admittedly even this particular Quebec resident had a bit of a hard time parsing certain sentences. However the original provides a very good interview.

    I think I’m still going to stick to English when it comes to picking up your books though. Call me a traditionalist.

  16. How can I possibly recommend the work of someone who claims to be a biologist, yet fails to recognize a Dwarf Giant Banana Crab?

  17. My understanding is that Larry Niven is considered “hard SF writer” because when he started out (mid-60’s) there was no such thing as hard SF. Niven at least TRIED to make his stories logically consistent, and at the time that was wnough to earn a “hard SF” moniker. He would never have gotten it today.

  18. Fair enough. Although even in the sixties, the idea of genes that code for luck was pure fantasy.

    And none of this is to imply that I’m in any way dissing Niven’s sixties-era work; I loved it then, and to this day I remain impressed with his alien designs. He got so many individual biological facts wrong, but he got the essence of biology right, which to my mind is more important.

  19. Mr Non-Entity,

    Thinking we’re talking mirror neurons without the baseline need to actually have the thing being mirrored in front of them…on steroids. But I could be wrong.

  20. Mr. Non-Entity,

    Think we’re talking mirror neurons without the baseline requirement of needing the thing being mirrored…on steroids. But I could be wrong.

  21. It’s kind of obligatory to diss Orson Scott Card, I suppose, but I remember also really liking his work back in the Omni days of the late 70s and early 80s. So I went a took a look at a few of the stories that were available online.

    They were good, and some of them were really good. There was no rampant homophobia that I could see.

    Fast forward to now, and one has to ask oneself what happened? How did he become like that? LDS birth trauma?

    Anyway, I’m going to visit Nantes next year.