Steampunk World’s Fair III – Review

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

Eli August

Baroque and Hungry (my Dad bought their cd)

 

And making their American premiere,

Victor Sierra

Strange Artifact

 

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).

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Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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AetherFest 2012 – Review

When AetherFest’s chairmen, Pablo Vazquez and Cameron Hare, invited me as a guest to AetherFest in San Antonio, Texas, I instantly thought of three things:

“The stars at night

Are big and bright,

Deep in the heart of Texas!”

And then Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure when he went to find his stolen bicycle in the basement of the Alamo (Note: Alamo website plays music and sounds).

And finally this:

Oops, wait, wrong city.

As it happened, the hotel for AetherFest, the St Anthony Wyndham, was just a few blocks from the historic site, and this year’s attendees trekked over on Saturday morning, braving the thousand-degree heat, for the traditional group photo.

Having never been to San Antonio before, I took advantage of some free time before and after the convention to see some of the city. There are plenty of places to visit, including the Riverwalk, the Alamo and other historic buildings and churches in the area.

One of several Texan events this year, AetherFesthad a very healthy list of guests to entertain fellow steampunks, with a good variety of programming during the three day event.

While Pee Wee was disappointed in his search at the Alamo, there was nothing disappointing about AetherFest. During the day, there were readings by O.M. Grey (Avalon Revisited ), Joselle Vanderhooft (Steam Powered series), and Margaret Killjoy (Steampunk Magazine, What Lies Beneath the Clocktower).

Airship Isabella , the Delirium of Grandeur, and the Celestial Rogues shared their thoughts and perspective on Steampunk 101, DIY, and FX. They were joined by The Wandering Legion of the Thomas Tew and the Emperor of the Red Fork Empire to discuss topics such as forming and running social groups and artist collectives, regional steampunk similarities and differences, and the positive ways steampunk had affected their lives.

Doctor Q gave a summary of steampunk in comics, followed by Margaret’s frank talk about survival and a post apocalyptic life. There are some great comics out there to read, in various degrees of availability and reprinting, which will help you pass some time when electricity disappears and everyone starts living a real steampunk life.

Each day, the wonderfully creative people from gaming company Cracked Monocle demo’d their steampunk RPG Tephra in the game room. Also participating in games were A.N.K.H (the Alamo Network of Khet hobbyists) and ChimaeraCon, San Antonio’s premier gaming convention.

Each night, there was musical entertainment lasting deep into the night. Or shallowly, as the case may be. Some of us aren’t 25 anymore 🙂

OK, OK, truth be told, I was up until 3:30am because after the concert, there may or may not have been some other music playing, which may or may not have included several prime ‘80s hits which delayed a number of people from wandering off to a respectable bedtime.

The feeling of AetherFestwas that of a family reunion. People from all over the state, and a few neighboring states, attended and many people knew, or at least knew of, others who were there. There were quite a few people I only knew through Facebook and Twitter, and it was nice to finally meet these people in person. Because of that familiarity, and no doubt to typical Texan hospitality, I felt quite welcomed into this new-to-me group. Thank you, everyone, for creating such a wonderful, memorable experience. I went home with some great stories and plenty to think about.

Pablo and I had talked about this on the drive in from the airport, and also how conventions of small to medium size contributed to making stronger connections. It was nice for me during the whole weekend that I could spend more time on more occasions talking with people, getting to know them a bit beyond the convention as well as sharing comments and perspectives about the panels of the day.

As often happens at steampunk conventions, people came together to share information and opinions, without any regard to age or background or any other labeling factor. There were a few families sharing the event together, at least one steam-tot, and two steam-dogs. We all commiserated about the heat and humidity (1,000 degrees Kelvin, easily! OK, maybe closer to 90+ F, but it felt like 1,000 in the searing blistering death rays of the sun.)(And it wasn’t just me as the lone person from Seattle, land of clouds, rain and cooler temperatures, who thought it was hot.) and everyone traded information – books they had read, music they liked, how something was made on their outfit, and what opportunities might lie ahead.

People were eagerly taking about their future plans, from the next Tephra game night or movie group, to fashion and prop projects, to road trips to another convention.

Throughout the convention, I was continually impressed by people’s outfits. There was some truly stunning leather work, from gauntlets and braces to full body armor. People really brought in their personal interpretation of steampunk using their experiences, culture, and creativity to express themselves beyond the standard Victorian garb. Making it all the more impressive was hearing from attendees, and reinforced by Cedric Whittaker, captain of the Airship Isabella, that Texas groups and involvement are comparatively new to the scene. Some people at the convention had only been involved for three to six months.

Despite some annoyingly dismissive and unhelpful behavior by hotel management and restaurant staff, ranging from inaccurate and misleading information to overcharging people for incorrect items on their room charges, as well as the challenges of an older building truly showing its age outside the grand shiny public spaces of lobby and meeting rooms – including an elevator malfunction which trapped several attendees for about ten minutes, and water dripping from the air conditioning vent and pooling up in a guest room –  the weekend was a great and enjoyable success on many levels.

May is a very busy time for steampunk conventions and events, and AetherFest is a fun way to kick it off!

Published in: on May 13, 2012 at 8:07 am  Comments (9)  
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