Well this really was something entirely other.
How’s that for the wraparound cover of a near-future cyberpunk thriller? The lights of the distant spaceport blink through the haze in the background, the steel and glass palaces of the rich and powerful. In the midground scaffolding crawls over a downed star freighter, wallowing on its magnetic launch rail. Nearer at hand the rusted hulks of boats that long ago saw their last voyage, colonised now by those who scrape out an existence on the fringes of society, while the seabirds wheel above as they have for thousands of years, and always will…
In fact, of course, it’s Dubai at sunset, taken from the hotel a few evenings ago.
I’ve been to a few sci-fi and fantasy specific events before, of course, but this was . . . how shall we say . . . a rather different affair. Authors were of all nationalities, genres, and types. Literary (Martin Amis, Alexander McCall Smith, Yann Martell, Chris Cleave), Childrens (Polly Dunbar, Oliver Jeffers, Jacqueline Wilson), Crime (Jeffrey Deaver, Mark Billingham, RJ Ellory), Poetry (Roger McGough, whose poetry my Mum used to read my as a child and who I ended up having a couple of beers with on the thirty-sixth floor of the hotel), Journalism (Kate Adie, John Simpson), Fantasy and Horror (Darren Shan, Garth Nix . . . can’t think of anyone else important), and etc. etc. What I hadn’t expected was how well all the authors (and their partners) got on. How involving, welcoming, interested they all were. If there is some great chasm of disrespect between genre and mainstream then I saw not the slightest evidence of it at this event. Beautifully organised too, I didn’t notice a single hitch anywhere. Plenty of books where they were supposed to be, mics and audio that all worked, translation services from english to arab and back available on demand.
Much though I enjoyed the sfx weekender, I think it’s safe to say, without insulting anyone, that the level of hospitality was just a teensy weensy bit higher in Dubai. I mean, I like Pontins as much as the next guy, but you can’t really knock business class flights there and back, plus six nights in the five star Intercontinental, full board, including 24 hour gym and a swimming pool with palm trees in it that projects, glass-bottomed and ended, into empty space at the edge of the building, plus a social programme that featured lunch at the top of the Dubai World Trade Center, tours of the city by foot, bus, and boat, and a trip by 4×4 into the desert, for falconry, camels, and dervishes. Crazy hospitality. Surreal hospitality. My abject thanks to anyone involved in whatever mistake led to me being invited. Will I just be spoiled now? Will I stand in stations on my way to conventions and signings, frowning at my bag thinking, “when is someone going to pick that up for me?” More than likely…
I did a one hour session where I talked a bit about expectations and cliches in fantasy, read from books old and new, and took a few questions. Seemed to go pretty well, my thanks to anyone that turned up, or got a book signed afterwards.
Kind of a humbling experience, seeing the level of success some of these diverse folks have achieved. Mark Billingham is exec producing the tv adaptation of his books with David Morrissey. Chris Cleave was celebrating his second week at #1 in the NYT paperback chart. Darren Shan had, I would say, about 500 people at his session. There was a veritable stampede for signing when he finished at midday. I came back to the same room at 3.30 to hear Roger McGough. Darren Shan was still there signing, with a significant queue. And these were just some of the people we ended up spending a lot of time with. Well. Gives one something to aim for, eh…?