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.
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.)
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):
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—
The Turtinator. Tell me this isn’t the stuff of nightmares.
For some reason, Caitlin seemed especially taken with this Pegasicorn.
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.
I have no clue what this is supposed to be.
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).
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.
My awesome Frawnsh novel editor, Bénédicte; her awesome husband (and my Frawnsh sometime-short-story editor), Olivier.
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.
Aqualung feels like this.