May is always a very busy month for steampunk conventions, often offering dry cooler late spring weather (except in Texas) and a calm before the rush of summer activities and holidays. In the last few years, there was one convention every weekend around the United States and Europe to attend. This year, May weekends often had two conventions or local events going on, making for some more difficult decisions for people about how to spend their time.
As noted in press releases, emails and Facebook postings by Jeff Mach and his crew, the Steampunk World’s Fair has evolved and grown beyond being a convention. While conventions often follow a schedule of discussion and presentation panels during the day, sometimes with demonstrations, followed by an evening of musical entertainment, SPWF is much more of a festival. There were still panels and author readings, in very full hotel meeting rooms, but there were also demonstrations, presentations, and performances all day long. There was truly something for everyone at this event, and while there was the age-old problem of choosing between one program and another, it was also easier to be caught up in thoroughly enjoying the moment.
From the Welcome article in the event’s program paper, Jeff writes:
We wanted to create an event, not just for Steam royalty, but also for airship mechanics. We wanted an event which presented, not some set-in-stone definition of what Steampunk is, but a billion ways to experience it, rejoice in it, and build it!
OK, so there weren’t a billion expression of steampunk but there were quite a few to choose from. Several are mentioned below, but there really are too many people, groups and businesses to list individually in this review, so check the website for the full listing. You won’t be disappointed.
Starting with the authors, since that’s where steampunk originated, there were readings and signings during the three days by Kady Cross (The Girl in the Steel Corset), Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine (Phoenix Rising, and Janus Affair), Lia Habel (Dearly, Departed) and many more. Emilie Bush gave a charming reading to several steam-tots of her latest work, Her Majesty’s Explorer: a Steampunk bedtime story. Literature is what brought me to steampunk and it remains my core interest, so I’m always looking forward to author panels and having a chance to catch up with them.
For historical topic presentations, there was Mystery Airships of 1897 by Zebulon Vitruvius Pike (I recommend this one and can’t wait to hear the presentation again), Great Activists of the 19th Century by Steampunk Emma Goldman, and Victorian Women of Science by Robin and Adam Renner. One thing that steampunk has brought into my life is an appreciation for the history that wasn’t taught in school. I don’t know about your grade school and high school textbooks, but mine were dry, dry, dry. And boring. With steampunk, though, I have a new appreciation for what else was happening in the world and actively seek out ever-increasing amounts of information about the nineteenth century. So, airships, activists and science? I’m there!
Current day steampunk topics included Comics in Steampunk by The Red Fork Empire, Creating Realistic Steampunk Worlds by Major Girth, and Steampunk and Social Media by a panel of guests. More serious discussion panels included Envisioning a Better Steam Society: Social Issues and Steampunk by Jaymee Goh, and Legal issues in Comic Publishing by Thomas A. Crowell, Esq. While we can’t rewrite the past, we can use the various expressions of steampunk to look at today’s social issues and work towards creating a better life and society for everyone.
Fashion and cosplay more to your tastes? There was Dandyism with Phil Powell and Advanced Kimono with The crazy Kimono Lady. No matter how great our outfits might be, there’s always something we can learn to make it just a bit better, or create something entirely new, not to mention how to improve our everyday style, appearance, and impression.
Perhaps more actionable skills? Professor Mark Donnelly had several engaging presentations including Fight like a REAL Highlander, Archery: Its History and Forms, and Kicking Ass in a Corset: Bartitsu for Ladies and Gentlemen. Not exactly actionable but clearly interesting for steampunks and steampunk worlds, Mark also talked about Inventions No One Mentions: Bizarre Victorian Contraptions. Mark really knows his material and it was quite engaging to learn more, in a very fun way, about the hows and whys of things. If you get a chance to see him, take it!
Fancy a bit of sit down entertainment? There was the fashion show, the Queen of Steam contest, and the First Annual Dandy-Off, all as a chance for people to really show off their fashionability and support each other in camaraderie. Also for a bit of edification and amusement, there was an absinthe tasting in the very full hotel restaurant.
The real differentiator of SPWF from any other steampunk event you’ve attended was the sheer number of performance groups – music, dance and otherwise. Easily one third, perhaps even one half, of the Fair’s programming was performance and this is what clearly sets SPWF apart.
Local, national, and international groups were on hand, well known and soon to be well known, just a tiny sampling of names are:
Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band
The Extraordinary Contraptions
The Clockwork Dolls
Frenchy and the Punk
Baroque and Hungry (my Dad bought their cd)
And making their American premiere,
There are SO MANY MORE groups that were performing, so please do visit the SPWF website to see the rest of the listing and then go check out their music on their websites.
Before heading out the exit, though, no event would be complete without a trip or ten through the Mercantile. With over 80 vendors, there was something bound to catch everyone’s eye. I was sorely tempted by some leather arm bracers and some amazing long coats, and did find that I could not live without some new button covers and a few bars of Eli August’s soap. Yes, clad in only one’s unmentionables, it was possible to be fully kitted out and accessorized after a trip through the vendor’s offerings.
Steampunk World’s Fair III was a big, busy and energetic event, and if that appeals to you, along with more performances than panels, make plans to attend next year by pre-registering when tickets become available, and book your hotel room as soon as the information is posted (it’s free to book a room and makes sure that you get into the hotel of your choice).