Steamcon 2009 - Friday, Day 01

WARNING: The following steampunk scholar post is about as academic as the average diary entry. It is filled with moments of geeking out, friendly reflection, and moments of throwing up the horns in triumph over being "The Steampunk Scholar". Sometimes you just gotta crow.

What a difference a year makes. My attendance at Steamcon in Seattle, WA, very nearly marked the year anniversary of the real kick-off of my steampunk research, at Steam Powered in Sunnyvale, CA. Last year, I knew very little about steampunk, other than what my initial research into Jules Verne's writings had produced. While I presented at two panels and gave my own presentation on Captain Nemo, all my information was raw and undeveloped. Twelve months later, I'm being considered (at least in certain circles) something of an expert on the topic. So even my experience leading up to the Con was quite different: I was able to cite my presentations at Steam Powered, the Eaton Conference, my pending publications, and of course, this blog. Thanks to everyone who has helped raise the profile of Steampunk Scholar--October was the highest number of visitors yet, with over 3,000 visitors, and a returning audience of around 500. It's nice to know someone's reading.

The updated Steampunk Scholar costume - why the cowboy hat? Because I'm an Albertan Steampunk.

My journey to Steamcon began early in the morning of Friday, October 23. My wife, Jenica, was in Kelowna, BC, with our kids, who would be staying with their grandparents for the weekend: the first time we've been away from the kids for more than a night. I was flying down with some close friends, Blaine and Kim, who were interested in seeing what a steampunk convention was like, and perhaps catching some sights in Seattle. Alas, despite our early arrival at the airport around 5 am, we didn't board a plane until 1 pm, due to mechanical problems and a cancelled flight. This was inconvenient, but made strange by the coincidence that Jenica's plane was also delayed in Kelowna for the very same reason! Cue ominous music...

We arrived at the Marriot in Seattle at around 3:00 pm, with less than an hour for me to get registered, changed, and arrive at my first presentation of the weekend. I nearly opted to do it out of costume, but since Jenica had done some very cool modifications to my suit coat and I'd bought boots to go with it, I hurried into my steampunk scholar's garb and rushed to register. Thankfully, although Jenica had to wait in line to register, my registration as a presenters was a breeze, and the swag bag and info pack were top-notch. Nearly every piece of paper had a map of the hotel on it, which was great, as it was more sprawling than the Marriot in Sunnyvale had been. The details taken care of, I strode to the salon I was to present in.

It was a small group I presented to, but there were a number of familiar faces in the crowd, which made for a relaxed first session: of course, my traveling companions, Jenica, Blaine, and Kim; Chris Garcia, the ultimate "con-man" and editor-in-chief of steampunk 'zine Exhibition Hall, accompanied by the lovely Linda; and Daniel Silveria, aka Michel Ardan from Legion Fantastique, accompanied by Autumn Adamme, the genius mastermind behind Dark Garden Unique Corsetry. Having Daniel there was a real treat, since he was one of the first people I met at Steam Powered, and in addition to looking quite a bit like Nadar, the man Ardan is based upon, is a very warm and friendly person. I'd only found out the day prior that he'd be attending, as he put it, "with his girlfriend." I said that was great, even though I had no idea who his girlfriend was. Finding out that she was the woman behind the most amazing corsets in North America blew me away. I've been part of the Facebook group since Steam Powered, and have used photos from one of their displays as part of my research on steampunk Star Wars, so it was really great to meet the creative force behind Dark Garden. I continue to be nonplussed that I can never attend the fashion shows, but I'm still hoping...

A stunning couple: Autumn Adamme and Daniel Silviera

My Nemo session went well, with some scattered audience participation, and a quick chat with a Verne fan afterwards. While I was chatting, Jake von Slatt entered the room. This is more evidence of how strange the difference of twelve months is: last year at Steam Powered, I felt too intimidated to talk to Jake, but he was good enough to give me his card at my Nemo panel and state that "we need to talk," which was a really cool moment of acceptance into the steampunk community, coming only moments after I'd gotten my honorary admission into Legion Fantastique and my first (and still only) pair of goggles from the crew. A year later, and instead of intimidation, it's recognition and friendly wave from another familiar face, which brings me up another notch of comfortable.

The salon was directly across from Abney Park's product table, and so Jake introduces me to Nathaniel Johnstone, guitarist of Abney Park. I made the comment to my traveling companions that Nathaniel is the man who brings both the sound of Rammstein and Loreena McKennitt to Abney Park, which launched Nathaniel into regaling us with several funny anecdotes from concert experiences. While he was doing this, I got to watch how that incredible headpiece of his is combed into his hair.

Jenica and I with Abney Park's Nathaniel Johnstone (and his amazing belt-dreadlocks)

My work for the evening complete, I could now play. I changed back into civilian clothes to grab some supper, which inadvertently allowed Jenica and I to explain "what was going on" to non-Con people who sat near our table in the lounge. I just told them they were getting dinner and a show at no extra cost. The food at the Marriot was fantastic - I ate mostly seafood all weekend, as we don't get fish even remotely fresh here on the Prairies. The food was good, but the company was even better. Jenica and I joined Daniel and Autumn, as well as Joel Browning, aka Impey Barbicane of Legion Fantastique. Unlike Daniel, I didn't meet Joel until the last moments of Steam Powered, so it was good to have a face-to-face conversation with him. Joel's a real charmer, and a great storyteller to boot, as all the folks in Legion I've met tend to be.

Jenica and I got into costume, and headed down to a special Tea being held for presenters and guests of honor. Unfortunately, this Tea wasn't extended to significant others, a definite negative for us; if you're going to have a wine-and-cheese event to honor your contributors, extend it to their companion as well. I ducked in long enough to say a proper hello to Chris and Linda before re-joining my wife and meeting up with Blaine and Kim, now in costume. None of us had spectacular steampunk looks, but I was very proud of the costumes we'd come up, considering none of us work in the fashion industry, or have large amounts of disposable income or time to sink into creating said costumes. Additionally, I've decided to not attempt to make my costume really great: really great costumes get stopped every ten feet for a photo opportunity. If their costume is really that awesome (or they're just hot), then they end up standing for a lengthy photo session. At both Steam Powered and Steamcon, I was busy enough that I couldn't afford to be stopped for photos for any length of time. It's good to look great, but it's great to on-time for your panels. That said, I am looking to track me down some awesome spectacles and a decent frock coat for my Steampunk Scholar ensemble.

Blaine in his awesome Prussian-style outfit 

Even though I didn't think of our costumes as being particularly fantastic, we did get a kudo from Cap'n Robert of Abney Park; I was taking Blaine to meet Jake von Slatt. As we approached Jake, I could see he was talking with members of the band. Cap'n Robert loudly declared that he "loved" what we were doing with our costumes, in reference I'm sure, to Jenica's fantastic circa-1920s look. Whatever the case, it was a moment to geek out internally, and play it cool on the surface. I'm pretty sure Jenica's weekend was made right then and there, as she's as big an AP fan as I am. I introduced Blaine to Jake, and we all stood around chatting for a few moments before taking our leave of two of the most well-recognized figures in steampunk in North America. Way cool.
My very own femme fatale, in her Cap'n Robert-approved 1920s look.

Moving to the lounge once again, the four of us engaged in spending exhorbitant amounts on highballs at the ridiculously over-priced bar (which is not a criticism - all hotel bars are ridiculously overpriced). We were soon joined by Daniel and Autumn, and Linda and Chris.I should mention how honored I am (and he'll likely think I'm a goof for saying so) to hang with Chris. When I call him the "con-man," it's because the guy knows everyone at these events. Stand with Chris Garcia for more than an hour, and Tim Powers will walk up and ask what's worth having from the menu, Jay Lake will come up and make a joke, and Cherie Priest will want to know when their panel is happening. Despite being the fanboy of all fanboys, Chris is congenial, humble, and damn funny. And he doesn't even need a kickass steampunk costume to fit in.

It was an added bonus to watch Jenica, Blaine, and Kim interacting with everyone. Jenica's not a geek in the pure sense - she knows BSG and Buffy because of Blaine, Kim, and myself. But as a fashion aficianado and interior decorator, she, Linda, and Autumn had lots to talk about. It's a big win when your non-geek wife has a blast at the first geek-con she goes to, since it means you'll get to go to more. For Blaine and Kim, who are pure geeks, it was awesome to watch them interacting with people and speaking various geek dialects. Kim has the added advantage of being an archeologist, which is to geeks what being a professional hockey player is to everyone else.

The photo I was too busy to take...
Now, at this point last year, I was standing on the sidelines, watching conversations happen. I chatted with a few people, but largely just observed and took photos. This year, I was so busy catching up with Chris, who I've seen at every event that's taken me into the U.S. for my research this past year, and getting to know Autumn, that I didn't take one damn picture. Chris has one of all of us seated on big comfy furniture in the lobby, enjoying drinks and conversation in the most recent Exhibition Hall. What a difference a year makes.


  1. Aw, I'm positively blushing.

    I've got a plan for Steam-X that'll be awesome. Plus, we gotta have that traditional lunch!


  2. As always, an entertaining post. I remember times of having to explain what's going on to non congoers, and the experience was generally positive for me.
    Hopefully you'll be seeing a few more new readers come your way, as I'm adding a link to your blog in an article I'm doing for one of mine. Best wishes for the holidays and new year.

    Colin Neilson

  3. As a VSF wargamer and member of the Cowford Steampunk Society I have to say.

    Good Show Old Boy!
    Professor Kraus Von Anthrax


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