From November 10-14 I was in attendance at the Utopiales Festival in Nantes, France. As usual for a conference, I was on a lot of panels, discussing subjects like alternative history (uchronie, as the French say) and the ethics of plastic surgery (with a real surgeon as my co-panelist). As I have about zero French, so all of this was done with headphones on, a simultaneous translator slaving away in my (and my audience’s) ears. That in itself was kind of science fictional.
But perhaps the coolest (and certainly the most photogenic) experience happened outside the festival, when a cohort of sf writers and I visisted les Machines de l’ÃŽle Ã Nantes.
Nantes was the birthplace of Jules Verne. As such, the city has a historical connection to science fiction in general, and steampunk-y type stuff more specifically. The city leaders are cognizant of this, and about five years ago handed over a disused dock area to a totally Clanker-tastic workshop of street theater mad scientists, who created the Machines of the Isle of Nantes.
Here are two shots of the island’s most famous inhabitant, a mechanical elephant that was an inspiration for the Ottoman walkers in Behemoth.
It’s made of wood, not metal, which is quite trippy. You can actually ride this thing around, though it had a broken leg when we visited. (Sad face. Feel better, elephant.)
But there’s much more on the island than just the elephant. The Machines group is currently working on a huge carousel of sea creatures, including this awesome steampunk grouper!
All this stuff moves, of course. Behold the steamgrouper in action:
Go to Youtube to watch this bigger.
And, of course, no self-respecting steamgrouper would be caught dead without its own personal steamsquid!
Needless to say, seeing these creations in the flesh (um, the metal?) was amazing. It impressed on me how alive machines can seem, even when their movements are strange and otherworldly, or aggressive and disturbing. You can see how people from Jules Verne all the way to Mark Pauline have fallen in love with things mechanical, and how a whole clanker culture might have come into being.
It was a total education. Vive les Machines de l’ÃŽle Ã Nantes! (For more photos from our visit, check out the blog of sf writer Petes Watts.)
If you know any French and want to read about my visit there, check out this link.
And one last thing! There’s an auction on right now to support SpecFaction NSW, a sf and fantasy group in New South Wales, Australia. Check out all the stuff for sale, including many cool signed books and an otherwise unavailable print from Leviathan signed by both me and Keith. This is a one-of-a-kind in the world thing.
Note that the auction is in Australian dollars, which are a bit smaller than US ones. Also, the shipping is listed as being from Australia, but the work is currently in the US, so the shipping won’t cost as much as you’d think if bought by a USian.