Above and beyond the excitement that comes from having two of genre fiction's biggest names in the same room, this event was notable for its good intentions, chaotic execution, wild curve-balls and, eventually, a bit of unexpected genius.
[All pictures from Dougal Wallace's Flickr - great photos!]
The first major factor that defined this event was the atrocious sound - microphones that cut in and out at every other word. Unless you were in the first three rows, it was a complete write-off. As you can imagine, that was a little frustrating. (Also, as you can imagine, I'll whine about this repeatedly over the next 500 words).
The second major factor was the abrupt "ending". After an hour, a woman fainted, so the audience filed out swiftly (we learned she's ok - whew!). This, without sounding a bit grim, was a turning point for the better. The stifling, inaudible signing suddenly became an impromptu block party - with bookshop staff passing out wine, everyone mingling, and the authors setting up shop in the middle of the street.
A flawed signing suddenly became the perfect event.
The books: China Mieville was exclusively talking Kraken for the evening. Cory Doctorow was promoting For the Win. Doctorow read a passage about the "first wildcat strike for gold farmers" and Mieville followed with "the rebellion of magical slaves in the afterlife". The stylistic differences between the two authors were on full display thanks to the selection of similar themes.
The stars: China Mieville has never disappointed us, and, I suspect, never will. Cory Doctorow is an unusual character. He's a very good speaker: articulate, funny and unafraid of controversy. I can't say that I agreed with everything he said - and in a few cases he rubbed me the wrong way entirely. But, that said, I would very much listen to him speak again (properly).
Perhaps the unexpected star of the evening was the moderator, Robert Sharp. Again, sound-related caveats, but Mr Sharp was charismatic and well-researched. We're pretty hard on bad moderators, so it is only fair that we recognize a good one when he/she comes along. Well done, sir.
The crowd: I'd estimate 50-60 people filled the church, most of whom stuck around for the fun and games in the street afterwards. Possibly because of the strangeness of the evening (or the free wine), everyone was very friendly. Spontaneous queue formation is always impressive, but this was the Blitz spirit at its finest. (Or geekiest. Or both.)
The setting: After the number of anticipated attendees exploded prior to the night (that's what happens when one star runs the biggest blog in the world), the event was moved from the bookshop to a nearby church. There was a professional photographer flitting around, one table for drinks and another for promotional material, plenty of seating... really, damn near everything you'd want except for a working sound system, which, again, rendered the entire event completely worthless.
Suggestions: This really was an event with great, ambitious intentions, but a couple of things went very wrong, undermining all the hard work.
First, guess what? Make the sound work. Have I emphasized this enough? And, if the sound isn't working? Just kill it and have people speak loudly. It is a church - the architect's first goal was to make it acoustically-friendly.
Second, Twitter may be the most awesomesauce shiznit of the webberverse, but it is also a very ineffective way of both announcing the event & getting the RSVPs. The event still isn't announced on the bookseller's own website, which is disconcerting. You've got the two biggest names in the genre coming over - don't be shy about telling people!
Third, celebrate success. As mentioned above, this was planned 90% right - the wine, the huge supply of books, the photographer - all really nice touches. Similarly, the rapid way in which the event was salvaged after the abrupt ending. It would've been very easy to let everyone stalk off home - but the organisers kept the crowd together, set up rapidly & saved the day. A+ for improvisation.
Conclusion: We ended the evening with some good stories, some good books and having a good time - although none of that would've been true at the halfway point. The bookseller was good in a crisis and even the "proper" event showed a lot of potential.