Gear Con was a first year steampunk convention held during the weekend of July 22-24, 2011 in Portland, Oregon, and having missed Gaslight Gathering in San Diego, it was nice to attend another convention on the west coast.
There was another major convention going on in town that weekend, and a concert at the nearby stadium, and I faced some hotel challenges when booking my room almost 6 months earlier. The hotel assigned me one room for the first two night and a different room for the last night, but thankfully once I arrived, they sorted it out and kept me in one room for the whole weekend. One other thing about having steampunk events in July is that the weather can be warm, and for some, downright hot. After several weeks of unseasonably cool weather, this weekend hit the 80s. For those of us wearing multiple layers in our outfits, leaving the air conditioned hotel space to go outside was practically unthinkable. All the more reason for creative and clever lightweight summer outfits!
Overall, the weekend was great fun, and as Diana Vick has commented before, “Put steampunks in a box and we’ll all have a good time, but there were some challenges. The biggest ones dealt with lack of scheduling information and hotel room availability. Other presenters and I were frustrated by not having even a tentative schedule a week or two before the convention in order to prepare, and attendees were frustrated because they couldn’t plan out their daily activities. Having a July event was nice in an otherwise empty steampunk convention schedule, but having it the same weekend as San Diego Comic Con and this other in-two convention meant lower Gear Con attendance, and really tough hotel room logistics.
Gear Con II is already a go, and I expect that these issues will be taken into account for next year. For everything, there is a first time, and these growing pains can be taken in stride.
Challenges aside, what a great weekend! The guest list was really quite impressive – authors, performers, commentators, and some fun vendors to boot. Life can be pretty busy and it’s nice to attend a convention to spend time with friends and make new ones. Diana Vick and Martin Armstrong from Steamcon had come down from Seattle, as did Cherie Priest, Jaymee Goh had flown in from eastern Canada, and there were plenty of other people attending from up and down the whole west coast. Members of “Out From Behind the Curtain” and the local Rose City Steampunk group were also there having a great time. Jaymee’s cousin, Andrea, and her friend, Jaimie, also came along, wearing some spectacular outfits for the weekend.
The author list included M.K. Hobson, Andrew Meyer, Mary Robinette, Irene Radford, and Shanna Germain. Margaret “Magpie” Killjoy, the founder of Steampunk Magazine, was also around for the weekend. All of us had a good chat on Saturday at “The State of Steampunk” panel and it was very interesting to get people’s perspectives on how steampunk as a community has grown and changed over the years, and how these authors have been involved both as fans and active participants. We didn’t run the allotted two hours, but it was near enough that some people were fading away from starvation. Sorry M.K. and Cherie! One person I was looking forward to meeting but didn’t was Meljean Brook, author of The Iron Duke. Another time, Meljean!
On the performer side, there was Veronique Chevalier, Fein and Dandee, Vagabond Opera and Vernian Process, among others, and after the very entertaining evenings both Friday and Saturday (I missed the Sunday night events), I thought how much fun it would be to attend an evening of vaudeville and cabaret acts outside of conventions. As Noah Mickens, the MC, said, “If you don’t like an act, wait five minutes for the next one.”
Not all of the acts could really be classified as ‘steampunk’ with a 19th century feel, but that didn’t stop any of it from being wildly and resoundingly enjoyable. Music, waltzes, belly dancers, and Scott Joplin rags – it was great! Creative, engaging, and filled with talent, the performances reminded me just how great and more fulfilling live, in-person entertainment can be. And next year, you should be there, too!
The days were well filled with a variety of programming, too. Friday’s lineup included discussions about the new and old instruments used in steampunk music, as well as academia, apocalypse and world building as it relates to steampunk story writing. There were workshops, historical presentations, and discussions about defining steampunk, as steam, punk and all the other expressions. There were non-England-centric panel topics, social issues, and author readings. Rounding out the day before opening ceremonies and the evening’s entertainment was a talk by James Carrott, cultural historian, regarding an upcoming documentary about steampunk called Vintage Tomorrows. Part of this project asks the question that if we want to change the past, what kind of future does that create. Note of disclosure, I’m very flattered to be one of the people included and interviewed in this project.
Saturday was the busy day with more people attending, and panels running from 10am until 6pm, giving people enough of a dinner break before the evening’s entertainment. The day started with talks on publishing, fashion basics and local steampunk projects, and continued with dance lessons, author readings and DIY workshops. There really was something for every interest, including a two hour session of the Rise of Aester LARP.
One of my favorite moments, which lasted about three hours, was meeting Mikel Sauve and Wayne Orlicki from Vulcania Volunteers, attending their panel about the Harper Goff Nautilus, and attending the “History of the Zeppelin” panel where Steffen Criss presented some great information about how various Zeppelins and other airships came about, and where the technology is heading. During that panel, Wayne talked a bit about his schematic drawing of the Albatross airship, from the Master of the World movie with Vincent Price as Robur. It was an amazing labor of love, taking Wayne almost two years to painstakingly draw with incredible accuracy.
The Vulcania Volunteers have done some amazing work, channeling their passion for the Nautilus into new props and drawings. When I first met Mikel, he had some very kind things to say about the Airship Ambassador website, but truth be told, I’m a huge fan and admirer of the work he and the others have done. As I’ve mentioned before, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of my favorite stories and movies, and the Nautilus was the first vehicle I craved (later followed by the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and much later, the Tardis)(And the Liberator from Blake’s 7. And …).
Sunday mornings can be a little slow and rough for people who stayed up until the wee hours dancing, chatting, and having a great time with others. This Sunday was no different, but people were still up and moving for early panels about Pacific Northwest Steampunk Regionalism, a friendly (or not so) discussion about steampunk music groups, and several more author readings and workshops.
All in all, a fun, entertaining weekend which I’m looking forward to repeating next year. It was great to have Jaymee be my roomie for the weekend, since it gave us a chance to talk and catch up (Mike, don’t worry, our late night chats at Steamcon still hold the record for length and for breadth of content!). The guest list really was amazing and while I got to see everyone, sadly there wasn’t enough time to talk at length with them all. Same goes for all of the performers; we grabbed a few minutes here and there but there was so much going on that wasn’t enough time to chat over a relaxing cup of tea.
Make your plans now for Gear Con II, and check out the full steampunk convention and event listings at the Airship Ambassador Events page.