Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Steampunk Conventions

I'm not an expert, I've only been to two but I can make some observations on steampunk conventions.

First as an aside I will define steampunk. My definition is science fiction as it might have been conceived by Victorians. Steampunk appears independently in different media. In literature it started as dystopian views of a parallel world with steam-powered mechanical computers. More recently examples are considerably lighter and are set in a parallel world where scientific advances and/or magic exist. There are also people who make steampunk devices - computers with lots of brass and typewriter keys. Steampunk fashion is sort of an offshoot from goth with lots more color plus goggles. Steampunk music still defies definition.

So, what does a steampunk convention consist of? A normal science fiction convention has guest writers and media stars and panels who talk about trends in the field. People dress up as characters from comic books and movies. None of that happens at steampunk conventions.

The biggest thing is giving people a chance to dress up and show off. There are no steampunk movies to emulate (there are movies with steampunk elements but no one copies them). Everyone creates their own styles. Most of it is based on Victorian or military styles but you also have belly dancers and Utilikilts mixed in. There are lots of top hats and nearly everyone has goggles, most of them non-functional).

The most creative people have made accessories - brass jet packs with folding wings or powered gauntlets. Nerf guns are easily converted into formidable-looking weapons.

Panels tend to be on how to do things: how to make costumes, where to find raw materials, etc. Other topics usually cover background knowledge like Victorian industrial design or the history of airships.

Vendors mainly sell clothing. There are no reproduction light sabers or clever T-shirts. Instead you find corsets, hats, jewelry, and gears. Plus goggles.

So far, steampunk music is undefined. I have seen maybe a dozen acts an none of them are remotely similar. The biggest name, Abney Park, came from a goth-industrial background. Others play world music or traditional 19th century music with some sort of a twist. One band played outright headbanger music but sang about Tesla coils. The only similarity was how the bands were dressed. To hats, corsets, and kilts are common.

I suspect that over time more tv shows and movies will include steampunk elements and people will begin copying them instead of inventing their own characters and the genre will become less creative but in the meantime it is nice to see hundreds of people come together to celebrate creativity instead of fandom.

Goggles are the defining trait of steampunk. Engineers need them so everyone wears them, presumably to protect the eyes when running the steam machinery that powers the convention. Some people have attached extra lenses to their goggles.

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