“A pirate ship?! What!”
Those were literally the words that went through my mind when I was exploring the con hotel for Steampunk Industrial Revolution for the first time. Okay, it wasn’t actually a pirate ship as it wasn’t flying the Jolly Roger (or any variant thereof), but it was a double-masted ship nonetheless, and it was parked squarely in the middle of one of the hotel’s ballrooms. It wasn’t real, and probably never had been, but had, for some entirely unknown reason, been built into this hotel and outfitted with a bar. In case you can’t make up your mind about it, let me assure you that this fell comfortably within the realm of Awesome, and I had a great time partying in that room over the course of the weekend.
Partying seemed to be the theme for the weekend, even for someone like me, who doesn’t really party very much. I don’t drink (a personal choice, and I don’t begrudge anyone else their cups) and so I’m always the responsible, turn-in-early, designated driver type. And yet even I was swept away into the jubilant, welcoming spirit of the convention; that’s what this con did right: it was a blast. There were more bands than I could shake a stick at (and believe me, I tried), not to mention the extremely fun Wyck and A Count Named Slick-Brass, along with countless others. I suspect that if you couldn’t find something to entertain you at Steampunk Industrial Revolution, you weren’t looking very hard.
That said, the con had a few issues worth noting, most of which can be explained away with it being a first-year con. I was a guest at the con, and in the months leading up to the event, communication was sparse and I was in doubt for some time whether I was actually going to end up going. This may be due to the con’s single greatest strength and weakness: it was really, really ambitious. I suspect that they just didn’t have the infrastructure necessary to pull their designs off with aplomb, but the fact that it came together at all, much less as well as it did, is a feat worth applauding. Being someone who works behind the scenes at conventions, I know how hard it is to anticipate how many people will come to a con, and how many events to plan. Sometimes you guess right, and sometimes you guess wrong… It’s a risk of the game. Still, like I said, it came together remarkably well.
Personally speaking, I ran a number of panels on a variety of topics, from the now-traditional Race and Gender in Steampunk panel to the new Steampunk Propmakers as Folk Artists panel, all of which ranged from sparsely to well-attended, though I noticed a core group of attendees who came to nearly every panel I presented which meant that either they were enjoying my panels, or they just enjoyed talking about academic issues in general. I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was some combination of the two. Perhaps my favorite panel of the weekend was one that I didn’t plan (which may have contributed to my enjoyment), Steampunk and Left-Wing Politics. We primarily talked about class-based issues, and it was just a hoot.
In the multicultural department, I met the lovely Monique Poirier, who not only spoke about her Native American heritage, but also spent the weekend wearing her Native American Steampunk outfit which incorporated a number of traditional elements and was just generally really cool. In fact, I spent so much time talking to her about Native American history and Steampunk that if anyone else was wearing a multicultural outfit, I totally missed it! She does have extremely interesting things to say on the subject of multiculturalism, though, and I understand that she gives panels on the topic in the Northeast, so check one out, if you’re able!
I met a vast array of wonderful, talented people that weekend, and I’m terribly glad that I was able to attend. The Northeast is really lucky to have such a vast pool of great Steampunks, and while we have a great community down here in the South, it’s just not the same level of camaraderie. Granted, I was a guest of the con, so my experience may be different from that of the average attendee, but I was really impressed by the level of friendship extended by pretty much everyone.
So what’s the conclusion? Well, so far as I’m concerned, Steampunk Industrial Revolution was thoroughly worth attending, despite its problems. If I lived on the West coast, I probably wouldn’t make a trip just for it, but then again, how often do you get to party in a hotel with not only a pirate ship, but also a genuine Irish pub that the building was literally built around? Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that the whole hotel was built around a pre-existing, free-standing Irish pub? Over the weekend, a local man had to be taken home from said pub by the police after apparently drinking too much. It was just that kind of a weekend!
Austin Sirkin is a graduate student at Georgia State University studying 19th Century Science Fiction. He uses his critical background to also study steampunk and speaks about it at conventions and conferences around the country.