Monday, October 26, 2015

Darwin recap

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of spending ten days in Australia, and thought I'd give a quick rundown of my adventure.

This all started months ago though, so some backstory might help. I was contacted by a fan from Darwin via email, inviting me to come speak at a conference he organizes. This was not, as it turns out, a literary or pop culture event, but instead the annual conference of Occupational Heath & Safety Professionals.

What the hell do I know about Occupational Health & Safety? Only what I could infer after working for years at a Fortune 500 company. Which is to say, lots of signs in the workplace. To that point I used this slide in my (very tongue-in-cheek) presentation to the audience:


That was one of the more serious slides I used, to give you an idea of what my talk covered.  Point is, the organizer wanted me to come to his rather dry conference and add a little spark. Something different to wake the crowd up after hours of very long and admittedly boring talks.

I don't do many presentations like this (and many thanks to my friend Ramez Naam for giving me some pointers beforehand). I wanted it to be funny, interesting, and ultimately worth the price of bringing me over there. Everything went great, or so I'm told! The audience laughed at all the places they were supposed to, and in the lobby afterwards we sold out of my books. The organizers were very pleased. Alright then! Job done!

So, all the way to Australia for a 30 minute talk. I filled the rest of my time, primarily, with exploring. This was my first visit to the city where my DIRE EARTH trilogy is set. And even though I deliberately set the books far enough into the future that present-day Darwin wouldn't matter much, I still wanted to get a feel for the place. Sort of after-the-fact research. What did I miss? What did I get right?

Right away I realized something I'd neglected: birds. The soundscape of Darwin, at least at certain times of the day, is absolutely full of birdsongs. They were everywhere, they were noisy, and I don't think I mentioned birds once in my writing.  I also saw a fruit bat with a wingspan that shocked me (a meter? More?), and what the locals call a ta-ta lizard because of the way they wave at you. Of course, my Darwin is a megalopolis, not a sleepy beach town, so I suppose it makes sense the wildlife landscape would be different (I left out crocs for exactly this reason, despite knowing how central they are to the personality of Darwin).

Interesting to me is the fact that Darwin is already growing rapidly.  They might not even need an alien-built space elevator to become a major city.  Right now there's a new $50bn oil and gas project going on nearby that has high-rise condos going up all over this supposedly small town, giving Darwin a hotter real estate market than Sydney.

But aside from the safety conference, and my wanderings, I did have some official author business to attend to.  I did a book signing in Sydney as well as Darwin.  In Darwin they sold out of my books before the event even started though, so that made the event a bit... quiet.  Still it was great fun to meet fans and readers, as well as introduce people to the series.

I did two radio appearances, and even had a half-page photo show up in the local newspaper!


Thanks to this picture, on my last day in Darwin someone shouted from across the street, "Hey, it's the zombie guy!"  Perhaps the first and last time I'll know what it's like to be a recognizable face, and as you can imagine it was both cool and a little weird. But mostly cool. I decided not to tell anyone that my books, technically speaking, don't have any zombies. That would cross a nerd border that just didn't need crossing.

There was also the defense-against-zombies demonstration at the Progressive Combat Centre, a Krav Maga studio that invited me to come down and see what they do.  Plus they offered to BBQ for me. It was awesome, and the people I met there were all tough as nails, but also incredibly friendly and helpful. I now have a whole list of folks I can send hand-to-hand combat questions to (and I plan to take full advantage).

Last but not least is the plaque. I had this idea to install a plaque at the location of the space elevator, and a fan (and friend) made one for me to take along. In Darwin, I wasn't able to meet with the mayor, who was out of town, but I did talk to a member of the city council.  They took me out to the site in Nightcliff.  While there we picked a spot beside a park bench and took some pictures.  At some point, once the mayor approves it, the plaque will be permanently installed.



I'll post the exact coordinates once it's actually there, for the historical record. The spot isn't precisely where I marked it while writing the books, because that would have put it in someone's back yard. But it's within a hundred meters of that spot, and along a beautiful walking path. Good enough for me!

Many thanks to Martyn Hill at the Safety Institute of Australia for bringing me over, and to Anna at the Bookshop Darwin for adding book sales support to my events, as well as hosting me for a signing. Also, thanks to Rosina at NewSouthBooks for all help in organizing my appearances and radio interviews.

tl;dr - An awesome time in Australia. Can't wait to visit again!