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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Word Polaroids from WorldCon Part 1


Retina scans, reunions & fighting robots

Or how I survived the heroin-hood hotel, met old friends, made new friends, went to talks, readings and panels and held my own in a discussion on the future of war with real-life soldiers.

Day Zero: Arrive at Altanta airport. Retina-scanned and fingerprinted. Even though I’m an international transfer passenger. Bruce Sterling’s security theatre, anyone?

Montreal: An unmarked black doorway, a rickety staircase, paint peeling off the walls, decaying retro furniture. Large men with tattoos and a heroin habit lurking in the street. Even for a Jo’burg girl, this charmingly seedy (and cheap) boho hotel’s location is a little too dodge.

Two stops on the subway away, the Palais des congrès de Montréal echoes cold and corporate and convention-al, but ascending the escalator, there are friendly people who register me and direct me to the sneaky underground route to the Delta hotel which later wins me admiration when I am able to navigate others through the Montreal undercity.

Thrum of camaraderie in the lobby of the Delta hotel with other be-badged folk leads me to a new roommate – “reader” and experienced Con-noisseur, Deanne Fountaine. It is a relief to switch hotels.

A diplomat, a Homeland Security officer, a cat rescuer, a reader, two writers and four kids walk into an Italian diner. Kaaron Warren (whose novel Slights just got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly ) and her wonderfully raucous family feel like an extension of mine.

Day One. 9am. Many men with shaved heads and beards. One stands out, not least for his insanely cool companion and the Cthulu beastling riding her shoulder. Charlie Stross and his wife. Feòrag NicBhrìde are warm and witty and not at all jet-lagged and let me pose with Fluff eating my brains. An especial honour as Fluff has snacked on far brighter neurons than mine, including Gaiman’s.

Neil Gaiman alights the escalators with an entourage of minders. Pure fan love trails his wake.

A room packed with soldiers and ex-, all incognito attending a panel suggesting they may be obsolete. On the panel are best-dressed novelist Jon Courtenay Grimwood Mike “Sparks” Rennie, the senior lecturer at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and novelist and Canadian Forces facilitator (who has drunk much tea with Afghan community leaders) Paul Chafe and me, but not, alas Joe Haldeman who is only arriving later. We tackle everything from robot morality to child soldiers, terrorism and the social costs of assymetrical warfare. The audience (mostly) approves, although the questions and comments keep coming full circle to Afghanistan like a hummer with the wheels locked. Story ideas spark.

Pablo Defendini and John Picacio dazzle with their art in a panel on cover design.

John Picacio's illustration

Cover by Pablo Defendini

Cover by Pablo Defendini

I’m blown away by Lou Anders presenting Pyr’s upcoming titles, and by readings by the brilliant and wry
Connie Willis
, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross, who provides us with a rollicking sneak preview of the sequel to Halting State .

The 9am stroll with the stars with the likes of Ellen Datlow , Peter Atwood Ann VanderMeer, progamme juggler (and SF critic and academic) Farah Mendlesohn , Felix Gilman , Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Edelman , Stephen H Segal Stu Segal and Paul Cornell among others are a highlight. Not least because they get us out of the damn convention centre. I manage to see a few blocks of the old town and Chinatown when I remember to look up from intriguing conversations.

“Feminist geek” Laurie Mann and I manage to swear a lot in our panel on cultural differences in the English language with Vincent Docherty while my publisher Marc Gascoigne and his panel are surprisingly chaste with the dirty words in their discussion on “The Knights Who Say F***!”

Doctor Who scribe, comics writer and affable rogue Paul Cornell and snappy dresser Angry Robot editor Lee Harris lead their teams (and the audience) into hysterics with a game of practically impossible SF-themed charades. Marc Gascoigne guesses almost all of them correctly. I’m disappointed that Lee left his dalek cuff links behind.

Charlie Stross and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman talk a whir of science fiction and economics. You can listen to the MP3 here

Every day I circle fourteen different events in my programme guide, from a panel on the real workings of nanotech to genocide in SF or Neil Gaiman reading Cory Doctorow. Sometimes five good ones scheduled at once. But I only manage to make three or four a day max, including my own.

Looking forward to a panel on how to clone yourself to be able to attend more panels…


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">LaurieMann</a>
    August 19th, 2009 @17:15 #

    Yeah, that panel brought out my tendency to swear. WTF??? ;-> Lots of fun, though.

    Nice to meet you, just ordered your book from Amazon, and hope to see you next year in Australia!


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