Another Aetherfest has come and gone, providing all of the attendees with the charms and big hearted friendliness that one would expect to find in the Home of the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas. As usual, the event is envisioned as a family reunion, a relaxing spell out on the porch while enjoying entertaining and educational discussions and debates.
Chaired by Pablo Vazquez with programming scheduled by Cameron Hare, this year’s return of the convention after a hiatus in 2013 highlighted a diverse collection of guests from within Texas and the steampunk community.
Author Guest of Honor and keynote speaker – Michael Moorcock
Artist Guest of Honor – Justin Stanley
Academic Guest of Honor – Kevin Steil
Fan Guest of Honor – Larry Amyett
Gaming Guest of Honor – Steve Jackson
Media Guest of Honor – Kevin Conran
Musical Guest of Honor – Marquis of Vaudeville
Special Guest of Honor – John Picacio
Toastmaster – Ben Hamby
The Menger’s older Victorian Lobby
People began arriving Thursday night, some flying halfway across the country, some driving many hours across several states, all ready to enjoy some serious pre-convention socializing at the Hotel Menger or down at the Riverwalk. The hotel, right across the street from the historic Alamo, was a gorgeous, welcoming historic space, with equally welcoming and wonderful hotel staff (completely unlike another hotel’s staff in 2012). Helpful, engaging, and entertaining, the Menger staff really helped make Aetherfest 2014 a very enjoyable time.
Just a few blocks away was the Historic Riverwalk, where lively shops, bars, and restaurants line the walkways of the river. Friends and families were out and about, enjoying the evening’s food and entertainment. Aetherfest 2012 was held in early May and could boast nighttime temperatures of 95F/35C and 100% humidity. This year was a much more comfortable (from a Pacific Northwest perspective) range in the 60s and 70s (15-23C).
Friday got started at 10am with the opening of the Con Suite, the gaming/vendor room, and the first panel, Steampunk: Past , Present, and Future, where we discussed some of the literary progression of steampunk stories, steampunk and dieselpunk fashion and communities, and where each retrofuturistic fandom may be headed next.
Photo by Marco Bernal
We also briefly touched on the growth of the steampunk community from its earliest days online at Brass Goggles, growing to other online forums, blogs and websites, conventions, and local groups. We had a chance to discuss the global nature of the community, as highlighted in the February 2014 (and upcoming 2015) Steampunk Hands around the World blog event. From there, we speculated, hypothesized and dream about how steampunk in all its forms will continue to evolve in the coming years.
Starting with actual 1800s science fiction such as Frankenstein, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and The Time Machine, progressing forward through such books as Crisis in Bulgaria (1956, Joyce Brooks), Worlds of the Imperium (1962, Keith Laumer), Into the Aether (1974, Richard Lupoff), Langdon St Ives (1978, James Blaylock), winding up with the current wave of literature within the last ten years.
Friday continued with a wonderful interview with Michael Moorcock and John Picacio, who created some of the covers of Michael’s books. Michael is a wonderful person with great stories and outlooks, and certainly one of the most prolific writers in the genre.
Saturday was the big day, starting off with Opening Ceremonies and a keynote speech by Michael.
This is where I comment on one of the more, sadly, memorable items of the weekend. I had a stomach bug hit hard in the wee hours of Saturday morning. It was so bad that my roommate, Jim Trent (Mad Raven, Steampunk Invasion) was more than ready to call the ambulance and rush me to the emergency room. I’ve never been sick when traveling to a convention before (although certainly had the con crud after a convention) and it’s never fun to be sick away from home. I was alternating between feeling bad that I was probably keeping Jim awake at least part of the night, and rather grateful that he was there just in case I really needed some help.
I missed Opening Ceremonies, mostly due to having no energy to even move and get out of bed. However, once I was up and about in the early afternoon, everyone I met in the hallways from the attendees, the other guests, and the staff, asked how I was feeling and did I need anything. It was humbling to see how much everyone cared, and how everyone wanted to do anything they could to make sure I was ok.
It also made me wonder just what Pablo said at Opening Ceremonies aside from a probable “Kevin isn’t feeling well at the moment.”
It was rather more like:
“Who took the vegetarian to a steak house for dinner?”
“The Airship Ambassador cannot die at this convention!”
There was also a comment from attendees speculating that perhaps the Prussians had poisoned me in an opportune moment. I wonder what Captain Krieger would have to say about that?
Thank you, everyone, who was looking out for me all weekend and made sure I was doing OK.
The show went on and people were treated to ad hoc games of Mad Raven’s steampunk card game, Twisted Skies, and a few cups of tea during a few rounds of Tea Dueling, called by dueling favorite, Madam Askew.
Saturday panels included Power of Myth, The Future of Steve Jackson Games, Retrofuturist Fashions, and a very interesting discussion with Kevin Conran about his design work for Sky Captain and the City of Tomorrow. Personally, I love that film with its spot-on sci fi Golden Age feel where pulp covers and contemporary artwork depicting the future came to cinematic life.
Saturday night’s entertainment was provided by Marquis of Vaudeville, who also performed at the previous Texas convention, Steampunk Invasion, a few months before.
Sunday was the time for looking forward during the State of Steampunk panel, a book exchange, a charity auction, and a Rant and Rave session before the Closing Ceremonies.
Special personal thanks go out to Pablo, Cameron, Jim, Robb Bates, Bryan Callahan, Wayne Lundquist, and Jocelyn Simone for all their help during the whole weekend, including an afternoon tea, and a special cheese shopping trip.
Not exactly a sequel, but related to people, and only somewhat related to the convention, is this blog.
Entertaining as ever, Aetherfest 2014 was an enjoyable, relaxing, and very sociable convention. Not only did attendees get to chat with Michael, John, Kevin C and many others up close and personal, there were many opportunities to meet new people and make new friends. That’s what our community is really about – the personal connection with others, the sharing of knowledge and experience, and the collaboration to make the world a better, and far more interesting, place. It is we, the people, who take The Future That Never Was and use it to create a better Present That Is.