As i pulled into the Hilton Mid-Town hotel in Raleigh N.C. the first thing i noticed were two very attractive young women standing outside the main entrance smoking and chatting. The young women were dressed nearly exactly a like. Ornate metal and leather goggles sat rakishly upon their heads. Leather gauntlets and tight woven corsets squeezed around their wrists and abdomens. Knee-high black leather boots and jaunty little kilt-like skirts completed their ensemble. They were beautiful and anachronistic all at the same time.it was the year 2014 but inside the Hilton (for the next three days at least) time was in flux.
Welcome to ConTemporal.
As i headed for the elevator after an unintentionally hilarious check-in. ( the two clerks were having an argument in hushed tones but using vicious words as they checked me in) i saw a man in full steampunk regalia talking to nice suburban mom in her tan khakis and holding the leash of a very small very tired looking dog.
“So what’s going on here this weekend?” she asked.
“It’s a steampunk convention” the man replied.
“What’s steampunk?”the woman asked
“Well it’s kinda hard to explain” the man said.sts
In a way the man was right. Steampunk is a movement . Steampunk is a genre. Steampunk is an idea. The simplest way I can sum it up for you is this. Playing pretend for real. Steampunk is defined as a genre of science fiction that typically features steam powered technology . But when you meet the people at these conventions you realize that rather bland and broad definition does’nt’ even begin to scratch the surface of what steampunk is. To me it seems like steampunk is an alternate world history and philosophy where the Industrial revolution happens one hundred years earlier but relies on steam instead of electricity . and even that observation is rather limited. i’ve seen steampunk cowboys here, Steampunk space pilots. I’ve seen someone dressed as a steampunk deadpool complete with sword and gas grenades. If you ask any of the participants to explain steampunk you invaribily get the same answer. “Steampunk is about dressing up and having fun.” In that respect it’s not much different than a Star Trek convention or of the hundreds of comic-cons that go on around the country
I was here to promote my first novel . The company I am working with primarily prints steampunk -themed novels so most of the people involved with the company are old hats when it comes to these conventions. I am a steampunk virgin. As i wandered around the “pavillion” i encountered various degrees of steampunk costumery There were what i like to term the “fledgings” . Young people mostly ,who had just a bare bones steampunk outfit on .A pair of goggles and a top hat and maybe a corset or leather vest. then you had what i termed the “committed” . These were individuals who were decked out in 18th century or 19th century garb complete with walking canes and quasi-british accents. Regardless of their level of committment most everyone i have met have been friendly and welcoming . There were one or two individuals who took there steampunk a little too seriously and seem to resent the fact that i was wearing a Punisher t-shirt and a blazer and not a leather vest or turn of the century stiff collar. But these folks are few and far between. I suspect most people here are so inclusive because they have experienced being the outsider at some point in their lives. Perhaps in high-school or even in college they were the outcast.The weird kid who read Edgar Allan Poe for fun and didn’t really need to study for the English exam.I am by no means ridiculing these people . I was that kid too. Still am to some extent. My first night at the convention was spent wandering around and learning about the other “punk ” movements. Like most every genre steampunk divides itself even further. i met the western steampunk contigent which basically consisted of folks who should have made the Wild Wild West movie. it would have been infinitely better. As i bounced from the pavillion to the exhibit hall i ran into some “spacepunk” folks. They reminded me of the cast of Firefly (that is a high compliment by the way.) After the festivities of the opening ceremony were adequately taken care of the convention came to life. As the libations began to flow i found myself falling in with a group of convention veterans who explained their main reason for being a part of a steampunk convention. their reasons were echoed throughout the weekend.
‘It’s just refreshing . Dressing up and meeting like-minded people who really work hard bringing their visions to life. Meeting people from all walks of life who love pretend….”
As I sipped on a flask full of Irish whiskey offered to me by a steampunk Mario I had to agree ..this was a LOT of fun…. The next day I awoke and took in several panel discussions that were offered by the convention staff.My two favorite discussions were the panel on Unsung Heroes in fantasy fiction. It was a fascinating discussion on the role of minorities and women in fantasy fiction. The panel was a very esteemed and knowledgable group of writers and artist who really articulated some thoughts that i myself have had over the years as a fan of fantasy and scifi.
The other panel that really blew my mind was a panel on comics from the the 30’s and 40’s. Now for a comic geek like me this was like finding nirvana (the state of bliss not the band) . we talked about characters that have maintaned their popularity through the ages like Batman and Superman, some characters who are only known to hardcore fans like the Shadow or the Doc Savage and some characters that unfortunately have fallen into obscurity. …Later that night my convention guardian angels invited me to “hang with them and get out of the corner texting on my phone” . It was the right thing to do.I attended a great burlesque show , then later hung out with the cast and other convention attendees discussing the merits of Frisky Dingo and full contact fight styles…….
All in all my first experience at a steampunk convention will not be my last.I even found inspiration for my nest book.As i left the hotel sunday morning I heard the best definition of steampunk ever….
“Steampunk is what ever you want it to be!”