Thu
Jun 9 2011 2:52pm

Reporting from Steampunk World’s Fair, Part Deux: The Fairening

Steampunk roadster

The date was May 20th, and supposedly, the end was nigh. If you believed certain people, the worthy prepared themselves to be transported to Endless Happy Fun Times in the sky while everyone else was doomed. Tornado warnings hit New Jersey and heavy storms shut down the outdoor stage. Because of oversights with hotel regulations, the fire marshal had declared that the vendors were to move from their vending rooms by midnight or else be kicked out. As staff sorted this out, hundreds of attendees poured into the hotel, turning the ground floor into a miniature LobbyCon as people maneuvered and mingled. More than one person I ran into made a crack about how that Family Radio guy might be right after all. And so in the face of impending doom, what do steampunks do?

We party like it’s 1899 (or, perhaps, like 2099, if you’re into post-apoc steam).

It certainly felt a bit post-apoc on Friday at the start of the convention. Looking back, this fair’s second year was a whirlwind of activity and frenetic energy: if I felt overwhelmed by activities during its first run back in 2010, I certainly almost burned myself out by the end of the weekend this time around. I had praised last year’s World’s Fair and I wondered whether it’d live up to its second year or hit the sophomore slump. Despite its rocky start, this year’s Fair really succeeded in broadening what it means to be steampunk and involved in the community.  

Modern sensibilities with a historical flair (as opposed to vice versa) and a fresh embrace of its political bent marked this year’s Steampunk World’s Fair as a place for more than dressing up, Nerf Wars, and tea parties (though we certainly had them, too).

Despite all the hubbub over the vending situation (plus the freak weather conditions) compliments to how the con staff and hotel staff handled the situation: professionally and quickly. Of course, there were some sticky situations while all the details were sorted out; during the first few hours of the con’s opening, volunteer staff members “toured” available spaces in hallways, panel rooms, and ball room spaces for their misplaced hosts.

I hadn’t noticed this while attending my first panel on “Steampunk & the Performing Arts.” There, Pablo Vazquez and Cameron Hare, the con chairs for the Texan convention Aetherfest, and Lucretia Dearfour of The Wandering Legion talked about steampunk arts in a more dramatic sense: through film, drama, and even miming. One very clever aspect was Cameron’s mime persona Sixpence, whose speech usually is untranslatable to the average person, but because of his stempunk tech the mime translator, was able to express himself. (His character is also a great nod to Steam-Powered Giraffe.)

Later on, I conducted a panel with Monique Poirier about “Steampunk on the Cheap,” however, I did notice a touring vendor group take note of the cleared area in the back of my panel room, and shrugged off the irony.

One of the biggest regrets I had during the fair was missing out on so many good panels. One of the ones I wished to attend (and that felt rather timely, was Magpie Killjoy and the Catastraphone Orchestra’s “Steampunk & the Apocalypse.” I’ve always been a big fan of Steampunk Magazine and was thrilled to have the opportunity to hang out with its founder Magpie throughout the weekend, however, as he promoted his new book What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower.

The highlight of Friday evening for me, however, was the Queen of Steam event; only at Jeff Mach-associated events do I ever see queer-friendly activities like this one (there was also a meet-up of the Society of the Green Carnation at the Fair, though I couldn’t squeeze that into my schedule). At Queen of Steam, all of the contestants were beautiful, but I was impressed the most by the “drag king” who played a dashing and hilarious Eleventh Doctor. The winner of the contest, however, was one contestant who built a turning wind-up key on her back, which only enhanced her wonderful presentation.

The best moment was during the Q&A section, when Lucretia, one of the judges, asked how would contestants “earn their bottlecaps” in a post-apoc world after Saturday’s Rapture, the Doctor jumped into a nearby TARDIS standing off to the side of the stage and then popped out saying that he already prevented it from happening!

That evening was spent meeting up with intellectual comrade-in-arms (and fellow Tor.com blogger) Jaymee Goh at the Doubletree, which was the overflow hotel for the con. She arrived late after flying in from an academic conference in Canada. We unwound a bit with pizza and hanging out with Pablo and the crew from the Texan Airship Isabella, before a phone call interrupted our reverie—people had been waiting for me at the Crown Plaza, waiting to sing me Happy Birthday (it had happened a week before the Fair). I’d been running around so much, I forgotten I had promised to meet with them!

Thus, I returned to the con hotel for much drinking & revelry.

On Saturday Jaymee and I presented “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana” to a packed ballroom. Last year, we had a much smaller room and had to turn people away from the door, so I’m glad that the staff had accommodated our request for more space! We were still limited to an hour, however, and so I felt we rushed the materials a bit at the end. We had a lot of fun, however, and a great reception.

Soon afterward was the Steampunk Bible signing, which S.J. had already mentioned during her blog tour. I have very little to add, other than thanks to her for letting me participate in the event. While up on the 10th floor of the Crown, I also said hi to Stephen Segal of Quirk Books, who was there selling copies of various steampunk & sci-fi wares, and my friend & fellow author K. Tempest Bradford, who was there on a “field trip” for her day job.

That afternoon, I was able to wander around to take in the sights of the con. And look at the more creative costuming. A lot of my time was spent conversing with old and new friends from the community, but I did snap some cool shots of innovative costumes, like this steampunk with her hamster balloonist and this clever musician from Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band.

I also got to visit Jake von Slatt’s bus while The Wandering Legion filmed an upcoming skit for steampunkbible.com and hung out with S.J. and the band Murder by Death and be interviewed for CBS Sunday Morning, who was filming at the event (hopefully, the story will be aired soon!).

Sadly, I missed out on the Pro-Labor Flash Mob, one of the two political events organized by Miriam Rocek (aka Steampunk Emma Goldman). The embrace of the political side of steampunk was also a fantastic occurrence at this convention. This flash mob in particular was to drum up support for the Wisconsin strikers, and to advertise for the rally on that Sunday. On the Facebook event advertising for the events, Miriam explained cleverly:

We will stand, simultaneously, by the Newsboy’s Strike of 1899, the Cripple Creek Miner’s Strike of 1894, the Interplanetary Aetheric Pilot’s Strike of 2204, and the Wisconsin State Employees of Right the Hell Now.

According to my friends who were there, people started shouting out the unions they belonged to as the mob marched through the hotel, and supporters gathered out in front chanting, “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” Even steampunk youngsters had something to say:

After dinner with some friends at the Doubletree, I was off to meet people for the Multicultural Steampunk photoshoot & social hour at the Blu Bar at the Crown. I met with my friend Kevin Mullins, who is a contributor to Beyond Victoriana, and got to see a few other steampunks in their global-oriented gear. A bar wasn’t the place most conducive to picture-taking, though, she eventually we went outside, but not before snapping a few shots, like this steampunk of color donning a Captain Nemo inspired outfit (YES).

Oh, and whatever happened to the Rapture? It didn’t, but at least staff member Gil Cnaan was there, dressed as con Jesus. There was also a great prank he played with the EMTs on-call where they rolled him out on a stretcher at 6 PM that evening when the Rapture was supposed to happen.

The last event of the evening was “To Whom Does this Line Pertain To?” a rousing version of “Whose Line.” The room it was supposed to take place in had been overbooked, so the 250+ crowd assembled outside the hotel for a loud and funny show.

“Envisioning a Better Steam Society: Steampunk & Social Justice Issues” was the final panel, I moderated on Sunday. I had ten featured speakers invited to the event, and for a Sunday at 10 AM panel, the room was packed. I have to thank all of my speakers for getting up so early on the last day, and still able to contribute interesting and thought-provoking discussion: Jake von Slatt, Ekaterina Sedia, Magpie Killjoy, Lucretia, Jaymee, Monique, Catherine Siemann, Samara Martin & Daniel Holzman-Tweed. Extra props for Catherine; she was also the Fair’s academic track coordinator and allowed us to cut into the academic track’s presentation time to continue our discussion.

I had to make a mad dash early and hand the reins over to Jaymee, however, to participate during the “Across the Universe” fashion show. All of the designers were fantastic; Philip Ng also captured wonderful pictures of the whole show for the sartorial-minded.

Afterward was the Pro-Union Rally itself, overseen by steampunk Emma Goldman. I had the pleasure of joining several other speakers Pablo, Monique, author Leanne Renee Hieber and musicians Eli August and Painless Parker. And of course, with the rally came some more tongue-in-cheek performers: a line of “capitalist steampunks” protesting the rally.

Overall, despite various troubles that had happened at the con, I enjoyed myself greatly.

But there was so much I didn’t see at the convention, especially when it came down to musical performances. Luckily, however, several other attendees were able to record what I couldn’t see. More pictures from the event can be found on Tor.com Steampunk, and additional con reports and special features from authors, fashion designers and attendees can be found as part of Beyond Victoriana’s Convention Extravaganza series this Friday.


Ay-leen the Peacemaker spends her time having a bit too much fun for her own good.

3 comments
TW Grace
1. TWGrace
At first, I was thinking "That looks cool, sorry I missed it" then it went all political, and I became glad I missed it.

TW
Ay-leen the Peacemaker
2. Ay-leen_the_Peacemaker
@TWGrace: There was plenty going on that wasn't political, if that's not your thing. Especially the music (which was such a big thing for me last year, but I didn't have a chance to see much of it this year!), including performances from Professor Elemental, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, Psyche Corporation, Eli August, This Way to Egress, Murder by Death, Frenchy and the Punk, and others. Plus, there was a Queen Victoria's Birthday Party, a fashion show, a Mad Science fair, a Dandy Stroll, a Tweed Ride and dozens of craft & Victorian-era workshops & panels. I couldn't see it all, but others did, and you can check out their con reports and pictures on Beyond Victoriana tomorrow.
Czhorat
3. Czhorat
@TWGrace: Political tension is one of the most interesting things about the Victorian era; the way that industrialization created social and economic upheaval created an entirely new political, social, and ecomic landscape. For Steampunk to not recognize those tensions and see how they reflect on the world today would be a big missed opportunity. Steampun minus politics is a hollow shell made of brass, leather, and funny clothes.

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