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[conventions] Why steampunk cons can be confusing for genre authors - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-05-06 08:21
Subject: [conventions] Why steampunk cons can be confusing for genre authors
Security: Public
Tags:conventions, publishing, steampunk, writing
I had an excellent time at Gaslight Gathering this past weekend. This is the fourth different steampunk con I've attended (speaking off the top of my head), the others being GEAR Con in Portland, Steamcon in Seattle, and the now-defunct World Steam Expo in Dearborn, MI. I've noticed some things about steampunk cons that make them rather different from print-oriented fantasy and science fiction conventions, and in many ways more similar to anime and comic conventions. These differences can confuse authors.

Fundamentally, so far my experience of steampunk conventions is that they are not book-oriented at all. For example, at World Steam Expo, Gail Carriger and I were the only two out of town pro author guests in attendance, with something over 2,000 fan there. Here at Gaslight Gathering, I believe I was the only out of town pro author guest. (In point of fact, I was Guest of Honor.) People are here for a wide variety of experiences. Print publishing is basically a grace note for the steampunk fandom I've encountered. As Kevin Hull said in a discussion here at Gaslight Gathering, "Steampunk conventions are costume-driven." Costumes, yes, and I'll add art, maker culture, re-enactments, and music to that list.

But steampunk cons are very much about story, about narrative. 80-90% of the people you see are in costume. The tradition of hall costumes at SF and fantasy cons is relatively minor these days, but they are nearly de rigueur in the world of steampunk. And unlike the prevalence of cosplay and tribute costumes in the SF, fantasy, anime and comic worlds, steampunk costumes are mostly original work. Almost very one of those people in costume has a story and and character to go along with their creations. Most of them will be happy to explain in great detail, in character, what they are wearing, how it works, and why.

Like I said, very much about story, about narrative. Just not story and narrative the way a book dinosaur like me thinks of it as being packaged and delivered. In effect, the flow of primary creative endeavor is reversed, the fans becoming the creators. This significantly displaces the role of the author.

Hence the confusion. Because superficially, steampunk cons resemble SF and fantasy cons. They are run by many of the same people. They have the infrastructure of programming, the dealer room, registration, con ops, and so forth. Everyone's wandering around wearing badges, most of them with ribbons. It all looks very familiar.

And it's all very different.

The other observation I'll make is that steampunk cons, along with comic cons and anime cons, is where most of young fandom has gone. Hanging around any of these conventions, I see the average age of the attendees is easily two decades younger than the average age at Worldcon, World Fantasy or most other SF and fantasy cons. The kids and young adults are getting their creative buzz on in different way than they were several decades ago.

What does this all mean? Heck if I know. I think it does bode well for the future of steampunk as a cultural element. And these conventions are a lot of fun. But what's going on under the hood is different in some fascinating ways that I believe SF and fantasy authors need to take careful note of and spend time thinking about.

What do you think? Have you experienced the wild, whacky world of steampunk differently? Am I misunderstanding the source and direction of primary creativity in these contexts?

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User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-06 15:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The first cultural event I attended after moving to Idaho was a steampunk version of Hamlet. The words were the same, but the actors were in steampunk costume. Audience members sitting behind me were also in costume. It was pretty cool.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2013-05-06 16:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hasn't it been the case for a while that media events generally attract a younger crowd than Worldcons? During the recent Hugo whinging I think there was fanzine evidence from the 70s about people being shocked at the numbers and youth of people at Star Trek conventions compared to Worldcons.

I suspect some will make the crossover... most won't bother. I've been seeing worries at conventions about aging fandom since I had a full head of uniformly dark hair.
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my patronus is a basilisk: gardencthulu
User: jeliza
Date: 2013-05-06 20:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, media events do tend to run that way ... but none of the steampunk events I've been to are media events (unless the presence of featured bands like Abney Park counts); in some ways they remind me as much or more of SCA events than SF cons.
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2013-05-07 14:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
SCA events! That's a great comparison.
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2013-05-06 16:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I went to one Steamcon and concluded that steampunk was primarily an aesthetic movement -- so it manifests in art, costuming, music, movies, books, etc. But it's not primarily a LITERARY movement. It reminded me a bit of punk culture -- primarily about music and to a lesser extent about all other arts -- or goth culture, which people will argue vigorously with you about whether it's primarily about music, or other art forms.

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russ: venus im pelz
User: goulo
Date: 2013-05-06 18:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:venus im pelz
Interesting observations!

One of these days I hope to visit a steampunk event... It seems to be a bigger thing in the US than in Poland... :)
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User: ext_1790163
Date: 2013-05-06 22:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've been to three "theme" conventions as a guest author. The pirate convention was mostly about the partying and didn't embrace the authors all that much. The two steampunk cons I've been to embraced authors much more readily.

In all cases, I think authors will find that the more they get into the spirit of things, the more the audience will embrace them. This means dressing up, this means actually knowing something about steampunk, being enthusiastic about it, and contributing to the overall discussion, rather than just pushing your own work. Otherwise, you'll come off as an outsider with no real interest in the subculture, and the audience will dismiss you.

Since I love steampunk anyway, this was pretty easy for me, and I've enjoyed the steampunk cons I've gone to.

Carrie V.
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jtdiii: Bio
User: jtdiii
Date: 2013-05-06 22:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh yes there is much interest in costumes at Steam conventions.....

I wandered into the dining area of WindyCon in Chicago at one point, took my top hat off, flattened it and slid it under my chair. When I finished I picked it up and popped it back into shape, which makes a rather distinctive sound.

Multiple people turned at that sound and when they realized my hat looked new they made a beeline towards me asking where I had found it. Thankfully I had remembered to palm multiple cards from my favorite, and inexpensive, Tuxedo shop in Cambridge, MA and had enough for all. I learned later that I had sold four hats for them that afternoon.
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Little and foxy and sexy... what more do you want?
User: little_foxy
Date: 2013-05-07 02:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I know quite a few steampunkers here in Australia, and pretty much most of them I also know through the SCA as well. It is a nice cross over from recreation to just plain creation with no limits on what you can do because it is an almost purely fantasy based world they are pulling from. (Yes I know it is Victorian based but).

I have yet to dabble in the steam punk world but it calls quite strongly, partially because it means I can do some Victorian and Ewardian stuff and have somewhere to wear it! It definately isn't as big here in Oz as steampunk yet.
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Andrew Trembley
User: bovil
Date: 2013-05-07 17:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You have it right. Steampunk, as a subculture, is a collaborative/creative environment, not a consumer environment.

I almost hate myself for saying this, but it looks a lot to me like the early, early days of SF conventions when all the fans were fanwriters and faneditors and fanzines were the collaborative/creative output everybody was involved in.

On the other hand, rather than creating print on paper with the convention being a tool to come together, coming together and creating the environment and the convention is the end-product for steampunks. At its core, the steampunk subculture is an aesthetic movement in the maker subculture. Or, as I say out here in the Bay Area, steampunk is what happened when Burning Man met The Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

There is a LARPy element which drives me a bit crazy. I'm not into steampunk to play a character, I'm into steampunk to be a more expressive, more creative, more productive me.
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