Monday, September 10, 2007

The 2007 International Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference in Chengdu (Part 1)

What, you may well ask me, was it like being a American writer at a Chinese science fiction conference? It was like being a rock star for a weekend. Above is a picture of the fans waiting for us at the opening ceremony. They were young, they were enthusiastic, and every single one of them wanted their books and often enough their t-shirts autographed by each of the guests and, as long as they were there, a photograph of themselves with the writers as well.

There were five Anglophone writers in attendance (myself, Robert Sawyer, Nancy Kress, Neil Gaiman, and David Hill, who may not be very well known in the U.S. but is big as big in China), and of us all only Neil was accustomed to receiving this sort of adulation. But I’m here to tell you that it’s very easy to get used to. As Neil said, “Signing autographs is fun for the first two and a half hours.” Because we had a busy schedule and the conference organizers were careful to keep us moving between events, we were able to sign hundreds of autographs without ever feeling overworked.

At the opening ceremonies, Neil Gaiman was greeted with enthusiastic applause. But when Rob Sawyer was introduced, the audience roared. Rob is immensely popular in China, as later events were to prove. After the obligatory welcoming speeches, twin cannons shot glitter into the air and we were ushered inside the Sichuan Science and Technology Museum.

The conference itself passed by in a pleasant blur. We each gave a talk and attended talks by others. We explored the science exhibits. We took part in the largest and longest convention panel I have ever been on. (It was held in a conference room longer than a football field and was scheduled to last two hours. After two and a half hours – by which time, Rob Sawyer, David Hill, and I were making whispered jokes about the death of Tycho Brahe – the moderator opened the panel to questions from the audience.) We had official signings and casual signings and on-the-run signings. We posed for photographs with fans. We took photographs of each other. We were taken out on Saturday night and given an elaborate banquet of astonishingly good food. We hung out with Chinese writers and Japanese writers and noted academic Elizabeth Hull and American fan Trina King and Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Yevgrafovich Bugrov and my friend from Moscow, Larisa Mikhailova, editor-in-chief of Supernova magazine.

Left: Neil Gaiman, during the panel, showing Nancy Kress a truly awful photograph of Yours Truly. You can find it on his blog (scroll down to August 29), where he did his own report on our experiences in Chengdu.

The conference ended with the Galaxy Awards ceremony, where Robert Sawyer received the “Most Popular Foreign Author of the Year” award. By this time, a visitor would have to be not only deaf and blind but pretty darned dim to be at all surprised. Chinese readers really, really, really love Rob’s work.

At one point, I slipped away from the conference and across the street to Tuan Fu Square. Which is big and glitzy and wonderful in an overdesigned Postmodern kind of way. Every day at dusk and noon there’s an elaborate water show, synchronized to music, and I had the good fortunate to be there for the noon show.

The conference ended with everybody going out for yet another banquet – this time featuring Chengdu’s famous “hot pot,” of which more in the next entry. But the conference itself was only a small part of our adventures. Stay tuned for Part 2. Soon.


Unknown said...

Haha hopefully u did enjoy your time there.
Btw I am Nick.

Michael Swanwick said...

Hi, Nick! Yes, let me make it explicit: I had a wonderful time. The conference was one of the best-run I've ever attended, and everybody knocked themselves out to make us feel welcome. So . . . thank you, Chengdu! It was terrific.