Well, where do I begin? There are a thousand things to share, and memories that I know will linger with me for the rest of my life.
I disembarked from the airplane at the Nantes airport where I was delighted to discover that I would be sharing a cab with both John Hemry and Jack Campbell. For his part, he seemed to be sharing a ride with Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb. Strange to say, we all fit in the cab’s back seat with room to spare. John and I had been exchanging email before Utopiales, so it was wonderful to meet in person, even if we were both a bit tired.
We arrived at Utopiales at Cite Interantionale Des Congres Nantes. Our hotel was very conveniently on site. We had only a few hours to nap, change and be ready for Opening Ceremonies, so we parted to our rooms to do just that.
The space for the gathering was, I think, the best I’ve ever seen. Not only were their giant robots waving a friendly greeting as I entered. There was plenty of space for the art show. Intriguingly, each piece of art was tied to a brief notation from one of H.P. Lovecraft’s notebooks of story ideas. The range of interpretation was astounding.
I quickly found an area where a LARP group had settled in with all of their artifacts and a great deal of information on how they operated. I planned a second visit to that booth, but unfortunately my time was eaten up and I never returned to it. There were other displays of very immobile and unlikely Phones, called the Importables. There were robots and all sorts of very active art. There was an alley of artists, a few vendors of SF/fantasy related items, and upstairs, a generous space for books and signings. Not to mention a large central space for gatherings for panels or conferences, and a beautiful theater for movies. This place had it all.
For me, the highlight of the first night was watching an industrial robot arm conduct an orchestra through several selections. I sat and watched and let my mind drift on the music, as I pondered how much humanity a conductor inserted into a performance by his presence. What if a human had been conducting robot musicians. Is it possible to play a piece of music with absolute robotic perfection? Does the music lose something when it is interpreted exactly as the composer wrote it, or does that bring it back to its essence? Lots of questions and no hard and fast answers. Questions, I think, are good. Every story begins with a ‘what if’ for me.
Over the next few days, I met dozens of old friends and hundreds of possible new friends. I connected with the Soleil crew, and even if my time with Laurent Sieurac and Jean-Charles Gaudin were limited, it was a keen pleasure to meet them in person. I was very pleased to see how well the new graphic novel, L’Assassin Royal was doing at Utopiales. Many old friends from Imaginales were there. I connected with Arnaud Mousnier-Lompre, my translator for the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, and we managed to share a meal or two and some quiet conversation.
Speaking of meals, the on site restaurant did an amazing job of feeding us. Guests were given coupons good for meals, but each of the meals was more like an extended feast. The food was both excellent and plentiful, and the company was also a banquet.
In addition to immersing myself in Science Fiction and Fantasy for most of a week, I was also able to get out and about in Nantes, in large part due to the volunteer driving of Annaig Housenard. For weeks, we had been discussing, in email, the Grand Elephant de Nantes on the I’lle de Nantes. Now this is a creature that defies my powers of description. I recommend a search of You Tube to turn up films of it in motion.
The elephant is enormous, more like a Oliphant than an elephant. Elegantly sculpted from wood, as in butcherblock smoothed and curved. The facility for building and operating the creature is an old ship yard. I do wonder if I’m seeing ship builder expertise at work here. Not only can the elephant stroll grandly about with 30 passengers. It can trumpet, squirt water from its trunk, flap its ears, open and close its eyes, and even pee! Our expedition to see it included Ellen Kushnerand Delia Sherman. Greg and Astrid Bear joined us on site. If time favors me tonight, I will post my photographs at my photo bucket.
If the elephant were all I discovered there, I would still be steam-punked about it. But in addition to the elephant there were the prototype creatures for a wonderful carousel that will be inhabited by elegantly carved and articulated creatures worthy of Jules Verne novel. The riders of this future entertainment will mount inside the creatures and actually operate them. As part of our visit, the animals were demonstrated for us. And then they asked for volunteers!
Well, of course, I managed to snag a position inside the lantern fish. I pedaled to operate his propellers, while shifting levers to flap his fins. There were three other passengers helping me to operate him in a very wonderful matter. I hated for the ride to end. The only better moment was watching Greg Bear operating the giant mechanical crab. I know now exactly what Greg looked like when he was ten years old. That ‘sense of wonder’ grin never ages as the rest of us do. I know because I was wearing one also.
This display will be complete in 2015. Will I return with my kids and grandkids? Of course I will!
My other delights in the city of Nantes was a visit to the Cathedral of St Peter and St. Paul, and a stroll along the sentry’s walk at the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne. I was also able to sample the regional specialty, the gallettes.&nb
sp;(I hope I’ve spelled that correctly.) They were amazingly deliciously, rather like a crepe made with buckwheat flour, and with a savory filling. I know I can get buckwheat flour locally; I now have to find an authentic recipe to reproduce these at home!
I did a number of interviews while I was at the conference. L’Autre Monde has made on of them available at their website (http://lautremonde.radio.free.fr/interview.php?id=251) You never knew I spoke such fluent French, did you? It is, of course, a translation.
I enjoyed a lunch with 26 readers, mostly from Les Rivages Maudit on Sunday. Laurent and Jean-Claude were there, and we got a tiny bit of time to talk. But, despite a wonderful meal in delightful surroundings, it was a bit frustrating for me. I truly want to actually meet and have conversations with people, and the size and shapes of the tables always seem to interfere. Rather than give up on the idea of having lunch with readers, I think I have to set up several lunches with readers, and ask that we have no more than 6 to 8 people at a time. Many, many thanks to Idril of Les Rivages Maudit for arranging the luncheon. Without her help, I would not have met any of them! So, better too many than none at all, and next time, we will do even better!
I’ve only skimmed the surface of all I enjoyed there. I’ve scarcely touched on the music, or the costumes for the cosplay. I haven’t mentioned at all anime karaoke! Or all the wonderful conversations with friends both old and new. I think I’ll have to be content with recommending this festival heartily to readers and writers, and congratulating Pierre Bordage and all the committee members and some very special volunteers who created Utopiales this year. I’ll make a note of special thanks to Antoine who frequently appeared in the nick of time to steer me to wherever I was supposed to be!
So. What a wonderful week and a great break before coming home to put in the final effort on my book. It’s back to work for me, but with some wonderful memories to muse on. And far too much chocolate!