Note: This review is cross-posted with permission from the Airship Ambassador.
When AetherFest’s chairmen, Pablo Vazquez and Cameron Hare, invited me as a guest to AetherFest in San Antonio, Texas, I instantly thought of three things:
“The stars at night
Are big and bright,
Deep in the heart of Texas!”
And finally this:
Oops, wait, wrong city.
As it happened, the hotel for AetherFest, the St Anthony Wyndham, was just a few blocks from the historic site, and this year’s attendees trekked over on Saturday morning, braving the thousand-degree heat, for the traditional group photo.
Having never been to San Antonio before, I took advantage of some free time before and after the convention to see some of the city. There are plenty of places to visit, including the Riverwalk, the Alamo and other historic buildings and churches in the area.
One of several Texan events this year, AetherFesthad a very healthy list of guests to entertain fellow steampunks, with a good variety of programming during the three day event.
While Pee Wee was disappointed in his search at the Alamo, there was nothing disappointing about AetherFest. During the day, there were readings by O.M. Grey (Avalon Revisited ), Joselle Vanderhooft (Steam Powered series), and Margaret Killjoy (Steampunk Magazine, What Lies Beneath the Clocktower).
Airship Isabella , the Delirium of Grandeur, and the Celestial Rogues shared their thoughts and perspective on Steampunk 101, DIY, and FX. They were joined by The Wandering Legion of the Thomas Tew and the Emperor of the Red Fork Empire to discuss topics such as forming and running social groups and artist collectives, regional steampunk similarities and differences, and the positive ways steampunk had affected their lives.
Doctor Q gave a summary of steampunk in comics, followed by Margaret’s frank talk about survival and a post apocalyptic life. There are some great comics out there to read, in various degrees of availability and reprinting, which will help you pass some time when electricity disappears and everyone starts living a real steampunk life.
Each day, the wonderfully creative people from gaming companyCracked Monocle demo’d their steampunk RPG Tephra in the game room. Also participating in games were A.N.K.H (the Alamo Network of Khet hobbyists) and ChimaeraCon, San Antonio’s premier gaming convention.
Each night, there was musical entertainment lasting deep into the night. Or shallowly, as the case may be. Some of us aren’t 25 anymore
OK, OK, truth be told, I was up until 3:30am because after the concert, there may or may not have been some other music playing, which may or may not have included several prime ‘80s hits which delayed a number of people from wandering off to a respectable bedtime.
The feeling of AetherFestwas that of a family reunion. People from all over the state, and a few neighboring states, attended and many people knew, or at least knew of, others who were there. There were quite a few people I only knew through Facebook and Twitter, and it was nice to finally meet these people in person. Because of that familiarity, and no doubt to typical Texan hospitality, I felt quite welcomed into this new-to-me group. Thank you, everyone, for creating such a wonderful, memorable experience. I went home with some great stories and plenty to think about.
Pablo and I had talked about this on the drive in from the airport, and also how conventions of small to medium size contributed to making stronger connections. It was nice for me during the whole weekend that I could spend more time on more occasions talking with people, getting to know them a bit beyond the convention as well as sharing comments and perspectives about the panels of the day.
As often happens at steampunk conventions, people came together to share information and opinions, without any regard to age or background or any other labeling factor. There were a few families sharing the event together, at least one steam-tot, and two steam-dogs. We all commiserated about the heat and humidity (1,000 degrees Kelvin, easily! OK, maybe closer to 90+ F, but it felt like 1,000 in the searing blistering death rays of the sun.)(And it wasn’t just me as the lone person from Seattle, land of clouds, rain and cooler temperatures, who thought it was hot.) and everyone traded information – books they had read, music they liked, how something was made on their outfit, and what opportunities might lie ahead.
People were eagerly taking about their future plans, from the next Tephra game night or movie group, to fashion and prop projects, to road trips to another convention.
Throughout the convention, I was continually impressed by people’s outfits. There was some truly stunning leather work, from gauntlets and braces to full body armor. People really brought in their personal interpretation of steampunk using their experiences, culture, and creativity to express themselves beyond the standard Victorian garb. Making it all the more impressive was hearing from attendees, and reinforced by Cedric Whittaker, captain of the Airship Isabella, that Texas groups and involvement are comparatively new to the scene. Some people at the convention had only been involved for three to six months.
Despite some annoyingly dismissive and unhelpful behavior by hotel management and restaurant staff, ranging from inaccurate and misleading information to overcharging people for incorrect items on their room charges, as well as the challenges of an older building truly showing its age outside the grand shiny public spaces of lobby and meeting rooms – including an elevator malfunction which trapped several attendees for about ten minutes, and water dripping from the air conditioning vent and pooling up in a guest room – the weekend was a great and enjoyable success on many levels.
May is a very busy time for steampunk conventions and events, and AetherFest is a fun way to kick it off!