This past weekend I went to SteamCon III, which was my first Steampunk event. The Steampunk genre seems to have arrived later in my corner of the world, so I realize I’m a beat behind in discovering it. Anyhow, the trip was inspired by a) curiosity, b) it was nearby and relatively inexpensive and c) a friend wanted to go, too. In other words, it was a low-barrier way to see what all the fuss was about.

I’d read some really fun books in the genre and seen pictures of great costumes, but couldn’t—and probably still can’t—explain Steampunk. It’s kinda sorta Victorian alternate history, but that description falls short of reality. Imagine pirates with ray guns, dancing jellyfish, and women with lobster tails for bustles. Imagine gamers and androids and long discussions about how to keep an airship from tipping over. I found myself at an unholy hour (i.e. before noon) in a lecture hall listening to some academics—at least one from Harvard—discussing nuclear particle thingummies with a man wearing a birdcage around his head, and a bowler hat on the birdcage.

Sidebar: I was never very good at physics. I had not fully grasped how not very good I am. Frankly, the whole idea of celestial aether sounds reasonable to me.

The nuclear-aether-birdcage event describes one end of the weekend’s experience. The other involved a stuffed hedgehog and a deal of draft beer at the inevitable Irish public house. Every roadtrip seems to include at least one such establishment, but the hedgehog was a new innovation. Great icebreaker. I named it Smithwick. I tried to buy him a top hat but couldn’t find one small enough.


Saturday night was a concert with three new-to-me bands: Unwoman, The Clockwork Dolls, and Vagabond Opera. If you like eclectic—and I do—this was a treat, but a diverse one. Each act had a very distinct sound.

And the merchant room? There was some jaw-dropping craftsmanship there. One could walk in one door with a credit card and come out the other with an entire steam-driven household. There were costumes, books, weapons, artwork, housewares, practical things, impractical things, and a lot of cephalopods. I was almost too dazzled to shop, which is saying something. However, I seemed to walk away with a fetching red and black corset.

As you can probably tell, I had a blast. In turns, the experience was mind-expanding and giggle-inducing. By the end of the weekend, I concluded that you can’t define Steampunk, it just is. And the last thing it needs is someone trying to put it in a box with a label.

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