I attended my first Steampunk convention two weekends ago in Parkersburg, WV. It was the debut VANDALIA CON organized and put on in the historic Blennerhasset Hotel in downtown Parkersburg. All proceeds went to a the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program & Bonnie’s Bus, state-wide programs that provide patient services for uninsured and underinsured West Virginia women. Good causes all around.
And the setting couldn’t have been better. The Blennerhasset Hotel was built in 1889 during the Gaslight Era during which money from coal and natural gas was flowing freely throughout West Virginia. Owned and operated back then by Harman and Margaret Blennerhasset, the hotel still sports an old-style elegance.
I’ve had a budding interest in Steampunk for a while, having read several short stories in the sub-genre over the years as well as a handful of novels including The Difference Engine from 1990 by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and, more recently, Dreadnought by Cherie Priest and The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers. The 1960s television series, The Wild Wild West, is considered nascent Steampunk.
Though often simplistically described as “Victorian Science Fiction,” there is a distinction as Victorian science fiction, like the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, describes what could happen in the present world with a look toward the future. Steampunk offers more of alternate history scenarios which deal more with the past.
One of the things I find most interesting about Steampunk is the “Maker” aspect of it. Maker is the term given to those of the Steampunk persuasion who design and create clothes, gadgets, gizmos and art of all kinds with a Steampunk aspect. As a former art student (and holder of a BFA in Fine Art from West Virginia University), this really appeals to me. The Dealers’ Room at Vandalia Con was small but the artists and craftspeople exhibiting and selling there were first-rate.
From clothes, paintings, books, sculpture, jewelry, to film, music, and ‘mechanical’ arms, the wealth of talent and imagination was fantastic. Met a lot of interesting and fun people as well including well-known Steampunk writer, artist and Maker Thomas Willeford plus the director and cast of a remake of the 1932 film White Zombie which was reimagined with a Steampunk flair.
A few of my friends and fellow PARSEC members (the Pittsburgh Science Fiction and Fantasy Group) have long been aficionados of Steampunk. I’m still a beginner in this interesting sub-genre but my interest has been piqued enough to become more involved. At the con (which, unfortunately, I could only attend on Saturday), I wore a long-sleeve linen shirt, vest, jeans and work boots. Under duress, I did try on a bowler-style hat but it was too small for my big Alien-shaped head! So, that’s a start. J
My upcoming novel, Blood of the Daxas, contains some Steampunk elements like airships but is not true Steampunk, but more fantasy adventure. I just had a vision of a dragon battling an airship and went from there!