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An Evening with Neil Gaiman

Started: 2008-10-11 13:08:39

Submitted: 2008-10-12 13:23:07

Visibility: World-readable

Within the span of a week, two authors I enjoy visited Boulder to promote their latest novels. (As it happens, these are two authors whose books I've named computers after: Lord Portico of the House of the Arch from Neverwhere and Hiro Protagonist from Snow Crash.)

The first author appearance was Neal Stephenson on 1 October, promoting Anathem. His reading, question-and-answer session, and signing took place in the upstairs ballroom at the Boulder Bookstore's downtown location on Wednesday, 1 October. (Among other things, this room holds the adjacent science fiction and fantasy shelves.) After supper at Falafel King, Kiesa and I secured seats towards the front of the room and amused ourselves until the guest of honor appeared. I swapped my bookmark from the library copy I had been reading to my shiny new hardcover edition, still awaiting the author's signature.

Neal Stephenson at the Boulder Bookstore
Neal Stephenson at the Boulder Bookstore

Stephenson read the two artisan interviews from the beginning of the novel (interviews whose true significance only becomes apparent several hundred pages later) and fielded audience questions. No one dared to ask about The Big U or anything about his "Stephen Bury" pseudonym or what exactly he was thinking when he wrote The Baroque Cycle. There was one interesting question about his hacker-tourist "Mother Earth Mother Board" Wired article a decade ago. (Stephenson confessed that it didn't pay nearly as well as fiction, and one had the obligation to actually check facts prior to publication.) In response to an audience member's question about an updated In The Beginning was the Command Line (now hopelessly obsolete, though still interesting; it clearly identifies Stephenson's geek credentials), Stephenson observed that revising old material wasn't as interesting as writing new material.

Neal Stephenson answers audience questions at the Boulder Bookstore
Neal Stephenson answers audience questions at the Boulder Bookstore

After the question-and-answer session, the audience lined up according to ticket number for the signing. (I acquired my ticket immediately before eating supper, so Kiesa and I ended up with numbers 107 and 108.) The line looped through the science fiction section, ultimately ending at the author. Somehow I missed the fact that Stephenson is left-handed. The published protocol informed me that the author would be signing one extra book, so I brought my hardcover copy of Cryptonomicon and requested that he inscribe both of the books "To Gem and Ted".

Neal Stephenson signs Anathem at the Boulder Bookstore
Neal Stephenson signs Anathem at the Boulder Bookstore

(This is auspicious because this very copy of Cryptonomicon was the first Neal Stephenson book I bought and -- more importantly -- the book Kiesa gave back to me (before she finished reading it) when she broke up with me two months after we started dating. This all happened eight years ago, and obviously everything ended well. I couldn't think of any concise way to explain this to the author himself as he signed our books, so all I managed was to stand in awe as he personally endorsed the books. If I knew what gender our unborn child is, I may have had him inscribe the baby's gender-specific name in addition to our own names.)

I left the bookstore thrilled to have encountered one of my favorite authors.

I haven't finished reading Anathem yet; it's a heavy tome but worth every word. The first two hundred chapters were a bit slow according to the plot but I never got bored reading the rich descriptions and trying to piece together the foreign world Stephenson created.

The second author appearance was Neil Gaiman. Since he occupies a niche roughly equivalent to a rock star, the event was billed as "An Evening With Neil Gaiman"; instead of a fifteen-minute reading, a fifteen-minute question-and-answer session, and six to ten hours of signing, Neil pre-signed copies of The Graveyard Book, saving time for lengthy reading and answering questions audience members asked on index cards. The event was held in a church seating 600 people. When Kiesa and I arrived, the doors hadn't opened yet and the line snaked around the back of the building and into the parking lot. We bought tickets at the door; inside the lobby, competing lines traced serpentine patterns for buying the pre-signed books. I found one line, purchased my signed copy, found Kiesa, and grabbed a seat in the back of the auditorium.

Neil started out by reading the second half of chapter 7, which happened to include the book's climax. We watched a pair of videos with footage from the forthcoming stop-motion claymation adaptation of Corraline, and Neil returned to answer questions from the cards written by audience members. The whole thing was far more interesting than waiting in line for hours (at Gaiman's last appearance in the greater Boulder area three years ago, I queued until 23:45 to get my books signed), though I did miss the opportunity to get a personally-signed book. (I'm never quite sure what to do while standing dumbfounded (and, optionally, sleep-deprived) in front of a rock star author while he signs my books anyway.)

This year's Worldcon took place in Denver in August, and couldn't have come at a worse possible week: It was the week I started working at Qualcomm, my family dropped by for the weekend, and Kiesa left on Sunday morning for a week-long conference in Quebec City. I did manage to visit the Tattered Cover's new Colfax location to see Charles Stross appear with two other authors (Joe Haldeman and Kat Richardson) on Thursday evening, 7 August. This event was much lower key than either of my two most recent author appearances; there was a dedicated Worldcon-halo-effect crowd in the bookstore's basement and an interesting question-and-answer session. (None of the authors really like genre labels but were convinced that most people get them wrong anyway.) Stross asserted that Laurel K. Hamilton's books "jumped the shark, then got off the motorbike and returned to sodomize the shark" somewhere halfway through the series. (Don't worry if you don't understand the reference; you'd probably regret understanding it if you did.)