The Steampunk Empire

The Crossroads of the Aether

Went to Marcon this weekend. I was gaming on Thursday night so I didn't pack. I did, however, make a list so that I would be sure not to forget anything. Euphorbia didn't set her alarm so I didn't either, waking up at 8am. Checked my email. Read my webcomics. Got some things ready, waiting for her to get up. When she did get up an hour later I started really packing.

I broke my steampunk cane putting it in the car. It was held together with Gorilla Glue, which I don't think is all that great. I took it with me anyway with plans to stop somewhere along the way and pick up some binary epoxy. In my head I'd been considering its replacement design.

Finally left the house at 11am for the three hour drive to Columbus.

Unloading the car onto the cart and broke the travel bag I bought on Tuesday. Tore the so-called heavy duty nylon right open. The piece of crap was more expensive than the piece of crap it was replacing wherein the zipper broke and I had to resort to opening it with a knife. I noticed there was a luggage establishment in the hotel basement next to the food court. Maybe I'll purchase something from the next rung up on the quality/expense ladder.

The hotel had internet connectivity if you want to pay $26 a day for it. Bah. Crappy motels have free internet wireless, why should a nice place gouge you for every last little thing. Oh, yeah. That's how they amass enough money to be such a nice hotel. By robbing its guests.

Last month, Max called me on the phone one evening to tell me that he had just gotten the Sportsman's Guide and they had pith helmets for $15. I got my catalog the next day and ordered one the day after that and they were out of stock that quickly. But I found a real pith helmet here in the dealer's room. It was $40 but it was a helmet made of real pith and I didn't have to pay shipping. The next step is the steampunk great white hunter costume. I'll need to get the proper khaki Boer war-style shirt with the buttons and high collar.

The dealer I bought the pith helmet from also had fezes. (Fezi? What is the plural form of fez?) I had mentioned to Euphorbia about getting a fez but she didn't think I would look good in one. I was able to put one on and have her see and, in fact, she actually thought I looked pretty good. Of course, to make it really work, I think I would need the Victorian smoking jacket and a big wingback leather chair in front of a fireplace. I don't think I could make the look work properly walking around at a con so it's unlikely to happen. It was a really nice fez, though.

There were a lot of steampunk goggles and face masks in the dealer room. Steampunk is still “in”.

Someone recognized me from Millinnicon. He was in a mad scientist get up and said that he had been inspired by my steampunkiness then and said he would be showing that costume off on Saturday.


The binary epoxy that I used to repair my cane on Friday evening seemed to have set fairly well come Saturday morning.

Sure enough, the gentleman from Millennicon had not only put together a steampunk costume of his own, he had emulated mine. Top hat. Goggles on the top hat. The same model of goggles on his face. Red vest. Pistol in a cross draw holster. Another gentleman in a thrown together steampunk also had a red vest. Red is apparently a popular color for waistcoats and so I will need to get some other color. I had been thinking of a blue one even before this.

One thing that he did that I thought was brilliant was a take on a steampunk lightsaber. He had a wooden table leg with a belt clip and a few pieces. He had to pull it out of his pocket but instead of the Star Wars lighted lexan blade he had a telescoping metal extender to act as an electrified fencing foil. I was reminded of Agatha Hetrodyne's bug-zapping swords from “Girl Genius” and in the version that I will make will be two telescoping electrodes, like a Jacob's Ladder. An arcing effect would be impossible but a sound effect could be done. Brzzzzzzzp. Brrrrrrzzzzp.

There. You steal my ideas and I'll steal yours. But among costumers, it's not quite stealing. There's a lot of sharing, inspiring and collaboration. It's a maelstrom of ideas. The three of us stood in the hallway for an hour and, between having our pictures taken, talked about various ways of doing steampunk better.

click for larger image
Steampunks at Marcon

Standing as we were in the main hallway, we attracted the attention of other steampunks. Lots of picture taking. I found out there was a club in Columbus, the Airship Archon. I'll have to look them up. At 2pm, we collected up all the steampunks we could find and had a collected photo op.

With the prevalence of steampunk there of course came the questions from people not involved about just what steampunk was.

Steampunk means many things to many people but one of the things I thought helped to explain it fairly clearly was to ask one to imagine that we are attending a convention of speculative fiction, scientific romance, gaslamp fantasy, gothic horror and edisonades. Jules Verne is Guest of Honor. Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard are newly published authors on panels trying to promote their books. There's a kinetoscope track. There is to be a scientific performance by Nikola Tesla. You run into a young guy named Wells working on some time travel story that he hasn't gotten published yet.

What would cosplay look like at Marcon 1889?

Yea. Steampunk is kind of like that.

Another question that came up was about goggles. People have noticed, as have I, that goggles seem to be an integral part of steampunk. Throw some goggles on almost anything and BANG. Steampunk. Why is that? I think it's something to do with 19th Century technology being somewhat inherently dangerous. Gears and pistons and myriad moving parts. Coal soot, steam and hot lubricating oil. Safety goggles seem to be a necessity for any gear jockey or mad scientist. There are also airship pirates and engineers of experimental heavier-than-air flying machines who need top protect their eyes from prop-wash debris.

Cyberpunk's mirrorshades came with the phrase “The future's so bright, you have to wear sunglasses.” Steampunk seems to come with the phrase, "The gears of progress are driven by inherently dangerous mechanical contraptions that often emit fine particulates and occasional high-velocity shrapnel so it is imperative that one wear sufficient ocular protective devices at all times so as to avoid unnecessary injury and  inconvenient diminishment of vision."

And, by the way, I hate the name steampunk. As a fan of Verne and Wells long before Victorian became newly fashionable in fandom, I still don't think of in in punky terms. Steampunk was coined as a genre in 1987 by K. W .Jeter as an attempt to describe his Victorian science fiction to a publisher. Nobody paid much attention to it until about two years ago when a number of goths grew tired of the angst of their movement and moved into something a little brighter. It was then that steampunk took off and, in fact, became a lot more punky.

I prefer to call it by the name that was used to describe it in the late 19th Century: The Scientific Romance.

I spent some time at the Klingon Assault Group party. I wandered down the hall to the Bar Fleet party where they had blocked off half the hallway. People at the gate were demanding con badges and ID but since my wallet was inaccessible underneath my tool belt I decided I didn't want to see the drunken assemblage enough to retrieve it. It was also extremely hot with all the people. I don't feel I missed anything.

I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and went to see “Gamera the Brave” at midnight. Afterwards, back up to the room for shower, some writing and then bed.


I got up and packed the car. Made five trips to the parking garage a block away so that we could check out and have the room empty without having to take the car out of the lot and spend the bulk of the day still at the con. I hit the dealer's room one last time to get a t-shirt and a plasma disk. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with a plasma disk yet but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find some sort of steampunk purpose for it.

I went to a panel on zombie plans but, being from Pittsburgh, I already had my zombie plan in place and so didn't gather any new information. I went to a panel on "writing the other" but didn't find it all that informative either. So many of the examples of alien cultures they mentioned really aren't that different from my own culture. Or perhaps I'm just too familiar with multiple cultures and the weird crap that my own culture does to find them alien.

In the afternoon, the was a steampunk costuming panel. The day before, I had heard that the people doing the panel had only just been informed that they were doing so and I was being asked to attend and bring my stuff. I went back to my car and hauled some of it in. Mostly, it was people sharing their steampunk resources. What shops to go to. Websites to peruse and so on.

Of course, the question of goggles came up. Goggles are the "Steampunk Helper." Just add goggles and it's recognized as being steampunk. So, what to do without goggles? One lady said that she had a nice dress that she thought was steampunk but she didn't seem to get the attention. I saw her. Thought it was very nice, though a little more Edwardian than Victorian. But, she was right. It didn't stand out as steampunk. My though is to properly accessorize. If you can't incorporate steampunk elements into your costume, walk about with a steampunker on your arm. There. It's as easy as that.

And when someone wanted to know how to steampunk a horse, that is how to make the tack and harness look more steampunky, the answer was obvious. Put goggles on him.

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