Flags announcing the Sharjah International Book Fair line the bridge my car crosses and welcome me to the United Arab Emirates. Actually that’s not quite true. I feel the welcome first from of a friendly immigration officer who did his job with style and good humour – teasing me that my name is the same as a famous cricketer. “It is; I wrestle with him for top-spot on Google,” I jibe back and we chat some more as he checks my passport. What a change from the often surly, suspicious treatment that is dolled out by most western immigrations officers.
So, perhaps its fairer to say, it’s only when I see the flags waving in the breeze and illuminated by vehicle headlights on my way from the airport that it all starts to sink in. I’m here as a guest of the 30th Sharjah International Book Fair. And it feels great.
Who would have thought that writing a book about 17th century European astronomers would bring me to the Middle East? Certainly not me when I first conceived the idea for what is becoming The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth trilogy.
The story that I am telling in those books is about the precipitous rise of European astronomy during the seventeenth century that led to the Age of Enlightenment, yet I’m keenly aware that Islamic astronomy has its own long and noble tradition.
The calendar here is based on the cycles of the Moon. Islam uses the crescent moon as its symbol. These facets alone mean that the people here are constantly reminded of their ties beyond Earth, perhaps more so than most of us in the West.
So, although I’m here to share my stories, I’m also hoping to learn new ones in return, and then share them with you in these blog entries. I don’t know what those stories will be yet, but if the welcome is anything to go by, they’ll be fun.