II Celsius 232 - Spain 2013
Sue Burke reports on the second festival of horror,
Spain needs tourists, and these days the country is trying to promote cultural and historical attractions in addition to sunny beaches. Avilés, a small city in Asturias on the North Atlantic shore, lost its steel industry in the 1980s and has since rejuvenated its pretty little medieval centre, built some cultural facilities, and successfully repositioned itself as a tourist destination.
The city of Gijon, 25 kilometres away, went through a similar rebirth. Since 1988, it has hosted Semana Negra (Black Week) in early July, a literary festival dedicated to noir. Among other juried prizes, it awards Celsius 232 (which equals Fahrenheit 451) for the year’s best horror, fantasy or science fiction novel.
With that inspiration, a small group of writers and fans approached the Avilés town council and proposed a similar festival dedicated to horror, fantasy, and science fiction; thus Celsius 232 was born last year. Its star attraction was George R.R. Martin.
This year, its English-speaking list of authors included Christopher Priest, Steven Erickson, David Simon, Robert J. Sawyer, David Moody, Joe Abercrombie, Paul McAuley, Joe Courtenay Grimwood, Lauren Beukes and Nina Allan. Leading Spanish genre writers attended as well: Emilio Bueso (who won this year’s and last year’s Celsius award as well as the 2011 Nocte Award), Javier Negrete (the 2008 Le Prix Européen Utopiales des Pays de la Loire winner, Juan Miguel Aguilera (the retro-Ignotus winner in 2010), Edward Vaquerizo, Rodolfo Martínez (a 2012 Ignotus winner, Ana Campoy, Blue Jeans (Francisco de Paula), José Carlos Somoza – and a lot more.
Each day began at 11 a.m. in a tent between the Avilés Cultural Centre and a medieval church complex. In half-hour segments, writers and panels presented new books or talked about their work until lunchtime, which is 2:30 p.m. in Spain. Talks resumed at 5 p.m. in the Cultural Centre Auditorium, one following the other – no parallel programming.
Of course, that was not all there was to do. Booksellers had stalls in the back of the tent and in stands in the plaza outside. A role-playing club occupied a small tent welcoming newcomers and experienced players. Star Wars cosplay club members wandered around, inviting photographs. The Asturian School of Antique Fencing held afternoon demonstrations and lessons in a park next to the Cultural Centre.
Later in the evening, the Children of Mary Shelly presented dramatized readings of stories in the auditorium, and on Friday night, they organized a spooky music and poetry session in a nearby historic cemetery, with the audience seated on tombs.
Each night a film was projected in the town square: Brave, Willow, The Prestige and Jason and the Argonauts.
All activities were free and open to the public. The intention was to draw tourists, after all.
Some authors drew bigger audiences than others, especially the British and American authors. David Simon, who wrote the television series The Wire, spoke about how his work as a journalist inspired the program, and how, more than anything else, he would like to return to journalism. Joe Abercrombie, discussing his novel The Heroes, said there were no real heroes, only heroic behaviour. Robert J. Sawyer told how he always tries to mix human and divine in his novels. Christopher Priest said he uses unreliable narrators because 'everyone believes they tell the truth, but everyone changes the truth when they speak'.
On Saturday, Robert Sawyer, Christopher Priest, and David Moody discussed 'I Saw My Work on Screen' and agreed that they felt troubled about bad adaptations but tried not to let it affect them too much.
Most of the audience was Spanish, so while foreign authors got attention, local authors and works also drew crowds, sometimes standing-room-only. One was the joint panel by two publishers. Sportula announced that Terra Nova II was accepting stories. Terra Nova I is a big-selling anthology of contemporary Spanish- and English-language science fiction, with versions published in both languages in translation; I am one of the Spanish-to-English translators.
The other publishing announcement was a new line, Fantascy, by Random House Mondadori, which will publish 15 to 20 books per year, both English-language authors like China Miéville and Spanish authors like Concepcion Perea. This is a big change. During his presentation, Javier Negrete, one of Spain's top writers, told how in the 1990s he could not get published in science fiction because editors believed Spanish authors would not sell; only English-language SF authors in translation moved books in Spain.
Another standing-room-only audience listened to the panel that presented the anthology Mas Alla de Némesis [Beyond Nemesis]. It is based on the novel Mundos en la Eternidad [Worlds in Eternity] by Juan Miguel Aguilera and Javier Redal, a space opera that has reached classic status in Spain – I believe it would win a Hugo if it were published in English. Aguilera, Sofía Rhei, Eduardo Vaquerizo, Rodolfo Martinez, and Jos&eacure; Manuel Uria spoke about the excitement of revisiting those worlds.
Emilio Bueso presented his Celsius-award-winning novel, Cenital [At Zenith], about a fortified community in a societal collapse. He said he self-censured some scenes involving sex because they would have been too intense. During his autograph session, he was disappointed to learn that book merchants had sold out of his books by the second day of the festival.
Victor Conde (who in 2011 won the 'Best Novel' Ignotus) said he wrote about vampires because they were the only monster worth writing about. Marc Pastor explained that his novels are hybrids, 'culturally scattered'.
Three people organized the event, and one was Diego García Cruz, who also acted as interpreter for most of the English-speaking authors. In fact, he was so good at that role that he got rounds of applause and has his own Facebook fan page.
Cristina Macia presided over lively interviews with many authors as well as Saturday’s presentation by Zombie Chef Martín Pinol, directed at a young audience. She is married to British author Ian Watson and is translating the Song of Fire and Ice novels, which have been selling better, proportionately, in Spain than in the US.
The festival ended Saturday night with an espicha, an Asturian stand-up dinner featuring hard cider, conversation, and in this case, a costume contest.
Overall, how many people attended? This is hard to say since there was no registration. Seventy chairs were available in the tent for morning talks, and the Cultural Centre auditorium could seat 200. A Saturday free lunch of fabada asturiana, a bean soup considered a local culinary treasure, fed 250 people. Festival organizers report attendance in the tens of thousands, but they seem to be counting each person at each activity, so a single busy individual could have been counted 50 times.
During the festival, restaurants and sidewalk cafés were busy, hotels were full, and the city’s investment may have paid off. For fans and authors – and authors are fans – it was much like a convention, with time to talk and listen to each other, renew friendships, and chat over dinner or drinks. A two-word summary would be 'Spanish fun'. People are already anticipating a III Celsius 232 in 2014.
Sue Burke is a US writer and translator living in Spain. More about her at www.sue.burke.name.