Monday, August 11, 2008

Edinburgh Book Festival

The Edinburgh book festival is now in full flow and I've just been along with Lesley to see Richard Dawkins (famous scientist) give a talk. All was going pretty much as expected, arrive early, see huge queue, guy with new iPhone (non-famous member of public) behind us, start going into the tent where the talk was being held. We found a seat and sat down. No problem, until this proved to be the very wrong seat indeed when Lesley spotted Iain Banks (famous author) having walked in as part of the audience.

The wrong seat, of course, was any seat that was not immediately adjacent to Iain Banks (famous Scottish author). Lesley happens to like Iain Banks (famous and clever Scottish author) a lot. So that was why the minutes leading up to Dawkin's talk consisted of observations of the form "Iain's taking his coat off", "Iain's looking around" and "Iain's looking at me!!!" (Disclaimer: Lesley is normally very *non-starstruck* and independent.)

The talk proved to be an interview chaired by Paula Kirby (famous, er, non-famous? I really have no idea) who started off by telling us that we'd be going into some less-travelled questioning. Most of the questioning stemmed from Richard's views on aliens, which itself came from an earlier debate in which he'd been consistently misrepresented. Even though it was outside his normal area of expertise, he spoke lucidly and at one point I wondered what must have been going through Iain Banks mind (famous clever Scottish Science Fiction author) as Richard explained that any real aliens would be vastly different in form to the old humanoid shape. Most science fiction writers don't have their aliens as being anything other than humanoid.

I wonder if Richard has read The Algebraist... but then Iain is most definitely not most science fiction writers. (Iain's giving his own talk on Wednesday, I'll have to ask him his thoughts - if I'm brave enough.) Dawkins is not most science fiction writers either; he revealed that his own story about aliens on the moon didn't follow the usual SF convention of having them speak English - the spoke French. But then he was seven at the time.

Most of the rest of the talk continued in on this theme, with a discussion of the Earth as a likely place for life and of multiverses. It was an unexpected avenue, and something which I am more familiar with than I would have been with biology. Of course it was all discussed with reference to scientific explanation versus "God did it", the result being entirely fascinating, even mentioning Fermi's Paradox. At that point I couldn't help thinking how amazing a discussion between Richard Dawkins and Stephen Baxter (another famous science fiction author) might have been.

Myself and Lesley were half expecting Iain to ask a question during the subsequent Q&A, but he remained silent. I thought that the questions from the audience were rather more interesting (and of course wider ranging) that Paula's questions, which really just stuck to the same theme.

So I'm blogging this from a pub a few streets down from the book festival and there's a lot of events still to go this week, including one about blogging.

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