I am just back (and still badly jet-lagged) from the Utopiales Science Fiction Convention in Nantes, France. It was a fascinating experience. American SF cons tend to be light-hearted, party-oriented, even irreverent, with panels on things like "The Furry Culture in Fandom" and "Ten Worst SF Movies of All Time" sprinkled in with more substantial topics. Utopiales, in contrast, was all serious, with most panels a mixture of writers and scientists. Participants and audience wore headphones giving simultaneous translation, as in the UN. Audiences were respectfully attentive. Other English-speaking writer guests included Robert Charles Wilson, Neil Gaiman, Norman Spinrad, and Michael Moorcock.
The convention did have a lighter side. Here are the NOA robots, amazingly flexible robots about three feet high with bright, humanoid faces. They can walk, talk, and -- as below -- dance. (Actually, they dance better than I do, although that's not hard.) Everyone I talked to wanted to take one home.
Jack and I also made some side excursions to see Nantes. We toured the castle that was once the home of the Dukes of Brittany. We also visited Machines de l'Ile, a museum of mechanical creatures. The largest of them, which roams outside the museum, is this incredible steampunk elephant, three stories high and actually powered by steam. It flaps its ears, blows steam out of its trunk, and (an odd cross-species trait) wags its tail. Fifty people can ride on it at once; we were among them, in the company of Ellen Herzfeld and her husband Dominique Martel.
A wonderful trip.