This year, I attended the first Steampunk Industrial Revolution in Nashua, New Hampshire. I hope it to be first of many more to come; it was undoubtedly one of the most fun-spirited conventions I’ve ever been to. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, full of enthusiastic, welcoming people, brilliant musical acts, and fascinating panels and discussions. There was a little organizational shakiness, but nothing that would weaken the experience, and all things I’m sure will be ironed out by next year.
I’ll be listing a lot of events out of order, as I didn’t make notes, and I have a pretty terrible memory. But one of the first events I attended, and a real highlight of the convention, was the Queen of Steam competition, organized by Ms. Lucretia Dearfour. This was a playful, not remotely serious beauty pageant. It would be inaccurate to call it a drag show, though the participants were mostly in drag, because one did not have to be biologically male to compete, one simply had to be playing with the gender binary in an interesting way. The entire pageant was entertaining, fun, and a great way to kick off the weekend. Of course, having the always wonderful A Count Named Slick-Brass there MCing didn’t hurt. Several panelists and performers were brought in as judges, and they, like everyone else, seemed to be having a great time. I can’t wait to see this event repeated in the future.
One particularly good panel, which provided material for discussions for the rest of the convention, was the panel on Race and Gender in Steampunk. This panel was moderated by Austin Sirkin. Panelists were Monique Poirier, Leanna Renee Hieber, and Megan Maude McHugh, and the discussion was an interesting, eye-opening talk about what fiction does, what it can do, how steampunk reflects history, and what can be done to make it have a positive impact on the future. The inclusion of one belligerent, misogynistic audience member actually added something to the experience; the fellow unknowingly provided a perfect example of the exclusionary, oppressive tendencies that everyone on the panel is trying to keep out of steampunk.
I’ll confess that I didn’t get to as many as panels as I would’ve liked. I attended two, not counting a fantastic improvisational storytelling contest I caught the tail end of. This was partly my fault, as I devoted a disproportionate amount of my time to the vendors, to concerts, and to plain old socializing. It was also partly the fault of the constantly-shifting schedule, which made planning difficult (again, I’m sure that’ll be ironed out next year), but first and foremost, I think it was because this con was primarily a party con. I took in more rocking shows, watched more dancers, and enjoyed more great performances than I ever expected to at such a small convention. The concerts were almost all staged in a great space, which, for reasons too bizarre to even attempt to explore, contained a full-sized sailing ship replica that contained a bar. There was space to dance, space to sit, and plenty of vantage points to get a great view of the stage. The performers definitely benefited from the fantastic energy of the audience.
The really key thing about SIR, for me, was the intimacy of it. If you were remotely a part of the East Coast steampunk community, chances were good you’d know some of the panelists, performers, vendors, or hosts of this convention, and if you didn’t, you would by the end of the weekend. With rocking concerts by the likes of Platform One, Nathaniel Johnstone, and Psyche Corporation, followed by raging all-night room parties, not only could con-goers mingle with performers and vendors, talk to them about their work, they could talk with panelists, panel-goers, and anyone else who happened by to more loudly and informally continue the great discussions that had been begun in panels. The issues raised in the panel on Race and Gender in Steampunk were explored at length and in detail in room parties, hallways, and the hotel lobby. That, of course, is exactly what a panel should do; raise issues that we can continue to discuss once we leave the room, but the truly wonderful thing about SIR was that, with the intimacy of the small convention, we could continue the discussion with the panelists themselves.
All in all, SIR was an intellectually stimulating, artistically interesting, socially welcoming, and overall quite enjoyable convention. I can’t wait for next year!
Miriam Rocek has worked as a tutor, a nanny, a dishwasher, and as a tall ship sailor, helping to sail old-fashioned, traditionally rigged sailing ships from the Caribbean to Nova Scotia. She was born in New Mexico, raised in Delaware, and currently live in New York City.