My last event during Tesla Con last weekend was the teapot races. Twenty-seven cars and racers were there for the event, not to mention a large and appreciative crowd. I talked to a few racers who said they’d seen the event at the International Steampunk Symposium earlier this year and it inspired them to give it a try. I bet we’ll see a lot of these same cars at ISS 2017!
Most of the cars had a lot of trouble with the ramps, but this powerful silver racer made it through the entire track in under a minute. Definitely one to keep an eye on!
I told my brother-in-law about both the dirigible races and the teapots and he is now gung-ho about building some to race at next year’s Tesla Con. I can’t wait!
I’ve been carting around the same old Xbox 360 from place to place for years now, and it’s been even longer since I got a game that didn’t have “Lego” in the title (though I do love that style of game play…) so I’m not personally able to recommend that many games. But, I found this quick video that recommends 10 games for Steampunk fans and I thought we all could benefit.
I got a chance to ask Al Fox, the creator of the International Steampunk Symposium and ThePandoraSociety.com, a few questions about the con and his background during this year’s Symposium.
PD: Which came first, your love of Steampunk or your knowledge of large-scale event planning?
AF: The love of Steampunk came first and then evolved from putting together small social gatherings to planning full-scale weekend conventions.
PD: What is your favorite thing about Steampunk in general, or your Steampunk event in particular?
AF: Without a doubt my favorite thing about Steampunk is the people. The Steampunk Community is amazingly creative and not afraid to spill their imaginations everywhere! With some other fandom conventions, attendees come in with the attitude of “show me what you’ve got,” whereas Steampunk attendees bring so much with them and approach the con with the attitude of “let me show you what I’ve got.” There is such a positive energy that is shared by most Steampunks.
PD: Tell us a little about your event and the inspiration behind it.
AF: The International Steampunk Symposium is an annual gathering of Steampunks from all over the country and some from other countries. Our signature event is probably the Symposium Games, which is basically a Steampunk Olympics involving various light-hearted sports and challenges such as Nerf Dueling, remote-control Dirigible Races, and the ever so dangerous Umbrella Fencing. The whole convention is very participatory and inclusive of the attendees; the Symposium ranks highly on being a most socially engaging experience. As with Pandoracon, our sci-fi & fantasy convention, the inspiration for the Symposium is “verb;” we want to fill the weekend with so many things to do . . . our most consistent criticism is that there’s too much to do!
PD: Where did the Symposium Games comes from?
AF: The Symposium Games were at the core of the show’s planning from the very beginning. Inspired by the Olympics, I had the vision of different Airships and Steampunk groups from various cities coming together to compete in Victorian style games, but with a whimsical twist. One of the key games is the RC Dirigible Races; the Symposium was the first to start this sport and now our rules are being used at other conventions around the world. While we may have started a couple of Steampunk sports, we are more than happy to host contests that were started elsewhere, such as Tea Dueling and Teapot Racing.
PD: What was your biggest mistake, er, “growth experience” when you first started holding The International Steampunk Symposium?
AF: The Symposium has been blessed with good luck, despite several attempts to tempt fate and disaster. The biggest mistake was actually during the first year in 2012 and the Umbrella Fencing event’s lack of safety steps. The concept of the special event was supposed to be a light-hearted folly, but several of the combatants were out to win and left mercy at the door. Pretty much as soon as the bouts began we realized how much of a bad idea this was, and swore that we would never have this event again, but then for the 2015 Symposium we actually brought it back, partly due to popular demand, but this time we brought the armor with it.
PD: You also run The Pandora Society website, would you tell us a little about that? Are you taking submissions?
AF: The Pandora Society runs in collaboration with the International Steampunk Symposium and also Pandoracon, but has also become its own entity by providing fandom communities with consistent and fresh daily content. Most of the site’s articles are focused on various forms of retro-futurism, but we do also publish articles on pop culture, science, history, and most things nerdy. We are always on the lookout for new writers to add to our spectrum of geeky voices; if interested, writers should visit http://thepandorasociety.com/call–for–pandora–writers/
Thanks so much to Al Fox for taking the time to answer my questions!
Here’s What’s Going on Right Now
Bask and Shadow – FP 3D Steampunk/Swordcery Dungeon Crawl, Ends May 19
A first person, single-player adventure where Sword and Sorcery meets Steampunk: based in a twisted city and the dark depths below. Crawl through multi-levelled dungeons riddled with tricks and traps, where exploration and route planning skills are as important as fighting. Difficult challenges await you in the city and dungeons as you encounter unique hordes, motley crews, legions, lieutenants and bosses . This is not a hoarders paradise. The treasures are unique to the quest.
My favorite reward: For $19 you can get the game and a your name added to the digital poster given as a reward at other levels
Silent Meridian – Steampunk & Time Travel, Ends May 13
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is obsessed with a legendary red book. Its peculiar stories have come to life, and rumors claim that it has rewritten its own endings. Convinced that possessing this book will help him write his ever-popular Sherlock Holmes stories, he takes on an unlikely partner, John Patrick Scott, known to most as a concert musician and paranormal investigator. Although in his humble opinion, Scott considers himself more of an ethereal archeologist and a time traveler professor.
Together they explore lost worlds and excavate realms beyond the knowledge of historians when they go back in time to find it. But everything backfires, and their friendship is tested to the limits. Both discover that karmic ties and unconscionable crimes have followed them like ghosts from the past, wreaking havoc on the present and possibly the future.
Silent Meridian reveals the alternate histories of Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Houdini, Jung and other notable luminaries in the secret diaries of a new kind of Doctor Watson, John Patrick Scott, in an X Files for the 19th century. Stay tuned for A Pocketful of Lodestones; book two in the Time Traveler Professor series by Elizabeth Crowens.
My favorite reward: For $14 you get a paperback of the book
Modis – YA Steampunk Novel, Ends May 22
I’m excited about this story, and sharing it with others, so let’s start with what it is. The Modis is an action filled steampunk adventure set in early 1800’s England. It is about a boy, with an unusual gift, and a drive to be reunited with his sister. Along the way, he meets a motley array of characters, some warm, and others who are downright dangerous. More than just an adventure, this story carries with it some wonderful and challenging history, and the characters deal with some big issues. What happens when we magnify our internal issues into the physical realm and add in some high stakes peril? A wildly entertaining romp through the revolution of early Industrial England…
My favorite reward: $5 and you get the ebook. The goal is very small, I have no doubt it will be reached, so even a small donation will mean a lot to this creator!
60 – A Steampunk Dice and Card Game, Ends May 13
Fresh from our successful No Dice Kickstarter we have another creative little game. Score points by rolling a die. Simple, yes? Not if you can trade up to a d8 or a d10, or double your score every turn. 60 is a combination of card and dice game in a 2oz tobacco tin.
Each player holds two cards (one if there are 5 or 6 players) and draws one more per turn. They must then play one of the cards in front of them either to benefit themselves or to hinder another player. Finally, rolling to score points for their turn, play passes to the next person.
Draw, Play, Roll, Score. It’s that simple…
My favorite reward: $22 pledge gets you the game.
Breach City Token Line, Ends May 19
The Breach City Token Line is a complete line of tokens for the table top miniature war game Malifaux™ produced by the company Wyrd™ Miniatures.
As you all know, a lot of abilities and effects in this game need to be tracked down. In their latest tournament packet, Wyrd™ Miniatures even added a section about tracking the different elements in the game, for the sake of clean play. There are a lot of different options on the market to help you with tracking, but most of these will only offer the most popular conditions and marker tokens but will leave out those that are used sparingly. This is where my project comes in…
My favorite reward: $12 pledge gets you 25 tokens of your choice.
I went to my very first convention, Marscon, just over a year ago in Minnesota. It was more a general interest fest with lots of different kinds of geekery, but there were a few seminars aimed at Steampunks. The best one I attended was called “Alternate History and the History of Time” and the speakers addressed ways to make an alternate history feel authentic.
One of the audience members posed the question, “What is the best way to let my readers know about the time period, and my alterations to it?” And the entire panel agreed that good writers show their audiences what they want them to know, they don’t tell them outright. When it comes to altered history, the process is two-fold. First, you need to make sure that the readers know, at least roughly, what year it is. But second, and really more importantly, you need them to understand that the world of your story, game, or film is somehow different without a bulky piece of exposition laying it all out for them.
Show, Don’t Tell
The best writers and filmmakers never just tell their readers anything, they seduce us into reading more (games are a different story, see below). With seduction comes a certain air of anticipation, tantalizing tidbits dropped here and there to intrigue and draw us deeper into the truth they are striving to create. Sure, you could have a prologue that lays out where the timeline got altered in detail, but this takes a lot of the artistry out of the process and may serve to actually drive some readers away. My mother, for instance, reads two different types of books: mysteries and historical fiction. Her tastes are grounded in things that really did happen, or at least seem like they really could have happened. If she picked up a book and was immediately told the steps that lead to a vastly different state of the world, she’d put it right back down. Despite my tutelage, she has very little interest in the genres of science fiction and fantasy (though she did enjoy Firefly after we got a few episodes in), and would be totally turned off by this sledgehammer-like approach. She would need to first be introduced to characters that she could care about to draw her in and a compelling story to keep her reading even if stuff started to get “weird.”
“Well, maybe I’m not writing a book for your mom!” you may be thinking. Fair enough. There are plenty of die-hard sci-fi and fantasy fans out there who could be interested in your subject no matter how it is presented, and maybe that is enough for you. I know I read and watch a lot of things strictly because they fit into the Steampunk ouevre, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them to someone who isn’t already into the aesthetic. And let’s face it, Steampunk is gaining in popularity so in general the audience for such works is growing, but the way to really succeed as creator is to bring new people into the fold by crafting something objectively good that would appeal to people even if they are the uninitiated.
Games, on the other hand, do benefit from laying all their cards on the table at the get-go, but that is because the act of playing is where the seduction occurs. To succeed in the world of a game a player needs to understand the mechanics of gameplay in addition to the storyline, but this often comes from practice through playing the game itself. As the player gets better at manipulating the world of the creator and navigating it successfully, they will be drawn ever deeper into that world. Role-players and tabletop gamers are seduced by the act of participation, which can keep them coming back and wanting more. They are actively involved in the act of creation as they build characters and alliances, which is different from being the passive receptor during a good book.
Do Your Homework
No one should attempt to write an alternate history story without having a good working knowledge of the actual history they are messing with. Many readers would probably miss anachronisms, but there are a lot of people who know their history and would be bothered by attitudes or expressions that have no place in that time. If you are going to include anachronisms as part of your “punking” scheme, make sure that they fit in logically with the other alterations you are making to the timeline. You must be purposeful with this tactic, or the trolls will come out and attack you for a lack of authenticity. I found a great reference book called Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes that I use to inform my own writing, and there lots of other books out there to help to add details that make your story ring true.
Knowing your stuff will also make it easier to implement the “show, don’t tell” method of drawing in your audience. There are plenty of noteworthy events that an author can reference instead of explicitly naming the year. For instance, there were several international exhibitions during the steam era, and a passing mention of a new technology that was unveiled at one or the creator can give a reader a touchstone. Or, if you know that you want to situate your story late in Victoria’s reign, you could have a character consider attending the opening of the Albert Memorial. Soldiers returning home after the second Anglo-Afghan war could be spotted in a cafe, or someone could start their morning by reading a story in the newspaper about the first lighter than air flight and reflect on how technology was changing the world.
There are also famous figures who can be integrated into your plotline. Charles Darwin, for instance, is well-known far beyond Steampunk circles, and adding in a reference to him making a personal appearance or perhaps a passing acquaintence with a character places your story before his death in 1882. Authors, poets, explorers, inventors, scientists or even the sinister Jack the Ripper can do a lot to situate your story in time. Maybe one of your characters is a fan of The Strand magazine and is feeling devastated by the untimely death of Sherlock Holmes. Or, perhaps they get pulled into the action of your story while on their way to purchase the latest volume of poetry by Algernon Charles Swinburne. A person could have very strong feelings about a politician running for election, or engage in a debate about the benefits of alternating current. This kind of thing can do a lot to add the flavor of the time and place without hitting an audience over the head with it.
Think It Through
History is complex, so if you choose to alter some element of it there may be a widespread ripple effect. For instance, in the world of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, supernatural beings have been fully integrated into society. The good queen Vic has both a werewolf and a vampire advisor to help her navigate this unique political situation, and they have a distinct place in the social structure the United Kingdom which differs from the way they are viewed in other parts of the world. In Whitechapel Gods, there are competing quasi-religious factions that enforce the will of very real gods who have taken over the social and political systems of London. The future is forever altered in The Difference Engine because computers become viable much earlier than in real life. These are all suitably large changes to create real differences in the fabric the era in which they occur, and are great examples of alternate histories with rich backstories.
On the other hand, you can write a much smaller story. Alternate histories don’t have to completely break the time period they are depicting and reshape the world. One of my absolute favorite television shows is Murdoch Mysteries (Sourcebook coming soon!), and the writers do an elegant job of presenting the main character as just slightly ahead of his time in a very realistic way. The detective piggy-backs on the existing science of the 1890s and creates methods of collecting evidence and catching the culprits without causing any type of large-scale change to society.
I am also a huge fan of stories that give a new take on actual events. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, for instance, started with a historical figure with a well-known history but found ways to put his actions in to a very different and darker narrative. This approach means that there doesn’t need to be much of a ripple effect, because you aren’t actually changing the major events of history, they are just being recontextualized.
Sometimes, the alteration to history is a curveball, and actually puts things that have not yet come to pass even our own lifetimes somewhere in the past. I’ve explored the notion of adding futuristic elements in another post, and next time I’ll examine what can happen when there are aliens among us, so check back for more ways to punk your steam!
Do you have a favorite alternative history book, game or film? Have you found a particularly informative reference book or website you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!
Looking for more ways to “Punk your Steam”? Check out the whole series!