The second edition of the Celsius 232 (= Fahrenheit 451) SF & Fantasy Festival happened exuberantly between the 31st July and 3rd August 2013 in Avilés, Asturias province, in the north of Spain, assisted slightly by me as regards the foreign guests (and I also prevented rain, due to mage-powers of which I should not divulge more).
Compared with your usual UK or US con, this was a convention turned inside-out, spilling through the medieval arcaded streets and squares of the town, and even reaching the cemetery on the outskirts, named La Carriona (which ought to mean “place of carrion”, but doesn’t) where the Spanish ‘Children of Mary Shelley‘ literary group performed artistically from midnight into the early hours. Aside from being medieval at its centre, other parts of Avilés are industrial and post-industrial. Cannons of yore mingle with blast furnaces and giant anchors as street and park art. A Portuguese three-master was in port up the estuary, sails furled. Beyond a railway track, across a sharply angular rust-tone (but not rusty) bridge there´s the Oscar Niemeyer arts centre, designed by the architect of Brasilia, a domed and corkscrew-towered curvy Dan Dare-look place inaugurated in 2011 with Woody Allen and jazz, much admired by Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey.
International guests of Celsius included David Simon of The Wire fame, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Paul McAuley, Joe Abercrombie, Nina Allan along with Christopher Priest, whose Prestige showed in Spanish on a giant inflatable screen in the main square, watched late at night by hundreds of townsfolk from pensioners to kiddies, as a warm-up for Jason and the Argonauts, David Moody looking remarkably chipper for a zombie resurrected from being a bank manager, Canadian Flash Forward Robert J. Sawyer and his Canadian chum the true Indiana Jones of archeology Steve Erikson who live at the opposite ends of Canada, so that it’s almost as easy to meet in Spain, Steve Redwood who exiled himself from Britain to Madrid decades ago, via Turkey and Saudi Arabia, so that he isn’t as well known in the UK as his writing deserves, and Lauren Beukes, whose publishers took the peculiar decision to postpone her first publication in Spain until two months after the festival hosting her. I ought to add adjectives such as ‘splendid’, ‘excellent’, ‘genial’, and so forth after all these names, especially as ‘genial’ signifies ‘brilliant’ in Spanish, not just ‘amiable’ as in English.
These worthies were interviewed in the big auditorium of the non-Niemeyer cultural centre beside a leafy park, translated by genial genius Diego García Cruz. Normally, simultaneous translators work half an hour on, half an hour off, but Diego (extremely fluent simultaneously in English, French, Italian, German, Catalan, Gallego, Portuguese, and of course Spanish) burned up the Red Bull; he was still standing and talking afterwards. Crowd-drawers likewise were a host of Hispanic authors, amongst whom I merely single out José Carlos Somoza because three of his beautifully written and cunningly conceived novels are actually available in English, The Athenian Murders, The Art of Murder, and Zig-Zag, the latter two being SF of the highest calibre.
An outside marquee hosted book-dealers, many book launches, and events for kids such as hilarious Zombi-Chef Martín Piñol along with my ebullient spouse Cristina and lively Marta from our local Cook & Enjoy shop presenting horror recipes plus cupcakes monstrously decorated on the spot for give-away. I launched the Spanish translation of my Martian Inca, translated and gorgeously published by Paco Arellano of La Biblioteca del Laberinto, sporting a very appropriate cover by Boris Vallejo from 1988 showing the first Inca man-god and his bride. At last I have a Boris Vallejo cover! Paco and his wife Amparo also brought me a complete oxtail cooked by himself, and laid on a feast at La Botica Indiana pub with the oxtail as dish of honour; jolly good it was too. A Botica Indiana used to be an apothecary´s shop in the West Indies and Latin America, and now is the Spanish version of an Irish pub, filled with period photos and paraphernalia, and stocking among other delights Newcastle Brown Ale.
Another feast, for 250 people at trestle tables in the open air—which is what I mean about the convention spilling out into the town—was of Fabada, the robust Asturian signature dish of big beans, soft black pudding, chorizo sausage, and chunks of bacon. Equally, it seemed that the whole population of Avilés spilled out of their homes to mingle with Celsius, crowding the umpteen bars and restaurants, and the streets by the thousand. Through their midst strode the White Walker from Game of Thrones, Gigamesh publisher Alejo Cuervo‘s extremely tall son Iñigo after five hours of professional make-up work, a patient chap. Not to mention Star Wars storm troopers and armoured warriors hefting blades, while waiters poured cider an inch at a time from high over their heads into a pint glass held low, aerating the favourite local tipple.
Onward to next year’s Celsius festival in Avilés!
The photos up top show cinema in the Plaza España; part of the Niemeyer Centre viewed by the my dear friend Marta Menéndez (c); a smaller marquee in the street; the book marquee; evidence that kids read books; and the White Walker attacking Diego. The photos below show the White Walker make-up session; festival co-organiser, my wife Cristina Macía, relaxing with David Simon; Cristina helping launch my Martian Inca; Cristina (I see a pattern here!) with chef Martín Piñol and Marta from Cocina y Disfruta; and (left to right) co-organiser Jorge Iván, me, Diego, Steve Erikson, and Robert J. Sawyer with poet-wife Carolyn Clink in front of the 17th Century palace where some guests stayed.