Really Retro: Your Ultimate Guide to AnachroCon, Atlanta’s Steampunk/Alt-History Con

Posted on: Feb 21st, 2012 By:

Science fiction used to be all about the future, but in steampunk, it’s gone back to the past to create a steam-powered alternate Victorian era full of airships, goggles and rayguns where Tesla trumps Edison. If you think that steampunk is just about creative costumes, there will be plenty walking the halls of AnachroCon, this weekend (Feb. 24-26) at the Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, but there will also be so much more from literary to art to performances. Read more about the many facets of this fast-growing subculture in our recent interview with STEAMPUNK BIBLE co-author S.J. Chambers, then head on down to AnachroCon to experience the city’s biggest annual steampunk gathering live.

As Anachrocon’s Website says, it’s the “place in the South for Steampunk, History, Alternate History, Science, Music, Classic Sci-Fi Literature and the most amazing costuming you’ve ever seen!” Here’s our top nine coolest things to do at Anachrocon. For times and locations, check the full con schedule here.

Mad Sonictist Veronique Chevalier.

1. Costumes Extraordinaire

Men in top hats, boots and goggles. Ladies in their finest Victorian dresses with rayguns tucked into their beaded evening bags. Gizmos galore. In the case of steampunk, accessories make the outfit and it’s not just a look but a way of life for some followers who meticulously craft their eccentric wardrobes in home workshops. Expect to see an amazing array of hall costumes, but the best of the best compete in the Costume Contest at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Or learn to make your own from award-winning costumers in the Fashion and Fabrication programming tracks.

 

Frenchy & the Punk.

2. A Marvelous Menagerie of Musical Acts

If steampunk has a look, thanks to a motley menagerie of talented musicians, it also has a sound – a diverse blend of jazz, ragtime, gypsy, classical, goth and even a touch of rock n roll. At Anachrocon, you can hear some of the best in the region and nation including The Hellblinki Sextet (do we need to say more than pirate cabaret to pique your interest?!), The Extraordinary Contraptions, Frenchy and the Punk, Aeronauts, The Ghosts Project, The Gin Rebellion, The Vauxhall Garden Variety Players, Play It With Moxie and more. Dance the night away to several DJs including “self-described eccentric audio arranger and morally ambiguous scientist” Dr. Q, the mad mastermind behind The Artifice Club which stages quarterly steampunk shindigs and is the official sponsor of the Friday night main entertainment track provocatively titled Fallout Frenzy. Read an interview with Dr. Q here about The Artifice Club here.

Talloolah Love. Photo credit: Mark Turnley.

3. Trick or Tease: Burly-Q and Carnivale Steampunk-style

Burlesque arose out of vaudeville and sideshow hoochie-coo, all of which go back to the bawdy dancers, singers and comedians of the Victorian music hall. Circuses and carnival sideshows for general public pleasure also came of age in the 19th century. See steampunk versions of both this weekend. Award-winning Atlanta burlesque beauty Talloolah Love  invites you to Burlesque At the End of the World (Fri. midnight) featuring  flavors of Bertolt Brecht, The Muppets, and Hollywood heresy; “you’ve never seen a burlesque show like this!” Guest stars include Knoxville’s Rosey Lady, the Blooming Beauty of Burlesque; Katherine Lashe of Syrens of the South Productions; The Chameleon Queen; and Sadie Hawkins and Barbilicious of Blast-Off Burlesque. Meanwhile under the motto of “Doing the extrordinary with the ordinary,” the talented performers of Oklahoma’s Carnival Epsilon (Fri. 5 p.m.) test the limits the human body can be pushed to with sharp blades, burning fire and a silver fork. And Wicked Hips Bellydance, a professional troupe with members from the US and Europe, presents an art form once considered so risque that it would have inspired proper Victorian ladies to grasp their smelling salts (Sat. 7 p.m., Sun. noon).

4. History, Science and the End of the World, Oh My!

Nikola Tesla.

Yes, the whole idea of steampunk is based on an alternate history and a different direction in science and energy. Costumes are not mandatory to attend these bonafide actual history and science with fascinating panels on such topics as “the history of passive-resistance and non-violent protest” (Fri. 3 p.m.);  “evolution of small arms” (Fri. 5 p.m.), “Sex in Classical Greece and Rome” (Fri. 11 p.m.), Van Gogh at Remy (Sat. 5 p.m.) and much more including culinary discussions, Vikings, shipwrecks and a Sunday-morning gnostic mass. Well, with the Mayan calendar’s abrupt end this year, we give them some slack for a few more apocalyptic (and maybe not so hard-factual) programs such as “This is the Way the World Ends; Eschatology 101″ (Fri. 2 p.m.), “Mayan Calendar 2012″ (if the world’s coming to an end, it only makes sense there’s also a mead-making 101 class out by the pool at the same time), and “Surviving Those Pesky Zombie Apocalypses” (Sat 8 p.m.). Does that mean we’ll see some Walking Dead Steampunks drunk on mead? Well, we can only hope.

The Traveling Revelers.

5. A Little Etiquette & Indulgence Can Do You Good

The Victorian Age was known for being prim and proper, unlike our uncouth contemporary era, so it seems only fitting that AnachroCon’s newest last-minute programming track is centered on Etiquette & Indulgence. Run by Peter Beer Slayer and Richard Carnival, “their mission [is] to make the world a better place by providing instruction on the Social Graces and how to truly enjoy life by using their combined powers to become the Traveling Revelers!” Take ConSociology classes on “how to meet people at cons” (Fri. 3 p.m.);  “the zen of flirting” (Fri. 7 p.m.); “the art of social cues, green lights/red lights” (Sat. noon),and enjoy a “morning refresher” course (ok, early afternoon, Sun. 1 p.m.). Or engage in proper Tea Dueling at 11 a.m. Sun. morning.

Bill Pacer as Benjamin Franklin.

6. Viva the Revolution – Meet the Founding Fathers

Tea Partiers and Ultra-Liberals, take note! OK, AnachroCon isn’t breaking out the Ouija Board (well, not right now anyway; we kind of think there has to be some Ouija-ing going on somewhere), but professional Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin impersonators (J.D. Sutton and Bill Pacer) will be on hand to share their wisdom on government, electricity and even provide a Q&A. Find out what the founding fathers really thought about freedom of religion, gay rights and sleeping with French prostitutes – we dare you to ask them!


7. Astounding  Alt-History Literature & Pop Culture Panels

At the end of the day, it’s sometimes forgotten that steampunk started not as an aesthetic movement but in the pages of books and now is a lively literary genre. Panels discuss classic influences from Edgar Allan Poe (Sat. 1 p.m.) to a Victorian Science Fiction Roundtable (Sat. 9 p.m.) where we imagine the names Jules Verne and H.G. Wells might get a few mentions. More topics include how to write alternate history (Sat 4 p.m.), modern steampunk literature (Sat. noon) and Growing Up Steampunk (Fri. 7 p.m.). Author guests include Mark P. Donnelly, Kathryn Hinds, O.M. Grey, Emilie P. Bush, Kimberly Richardson, Alan Gilbreath and Dan Hollifield.

Enhanced sonic phaser by Venusian Airship Pirate Trading Co.

8. Sensational Steampunk Marketplace

Need a pair of goggles, a trusty ray gun, a corset, jewelry, custom leather items? All of these and more are available in the Vendor Room, a veritable bazaar of steampunk-related merchandise, with a little Medieval-Renaissance-Celtic thrown in for fun. Well, steampunk does share some roots in modern fantasy which is often inspired by those eras. Be sure to also visit the Artisans Room where you can buy unique, one-of-a-kind creations by jeweler Corey Frison (Labrys Creations), art prints and jewelry by Kerry Mafeo (Fantastic Visions), chainmail by Thandor (and watch him craft it before your very eyes!), the geekiest T-shirts on the planet from Aardvark Screen Printing and works by award-winning artist and illustrator Mark Helwig.

9. Steampunk Boba Fett

Do we really have to say anything else but those three words? OK, you may have seen the Elvis Stormtrooper at DragonCon but Steampunk Boba Fett has taken this helmeted STAR WARS mercenary to a new level of eccentric creativity. Dubbing himself humbly, “the galaxy’s most feared Steampunk Bounty Hunter since 1878 (Earth Time),” to see him is to be inspired! Now go home and get to work on your costume so you’ll be ready to enjoy Anachrocon this weekend!

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Really Retro: Tidings of Comfort and Joy: The Toast of Christmas Past Revives Traditional Caroling in Vintage Victorian Style

Posted on: Dec 13th, 2011 By:

A trio of carolers in The Toast of Christmas Past, including left to right: Rivka Levin, Geoffrey Brown and Fiona Leonard.

Other Atlanta vocal ensembles may sing carols, but local acapella group The Toast of Christmas Past is reviving the tradition just as it was performed in 19th century England by wandering groups of singing Samaritans dressed in bustles and bonnets, frock coats and top hats. All of which reminds that while some may consider Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL a great ghost story, but one need look no further than the title to see that the popular Victorian storyteller saw music as synonymous with the spirit of the season. Apparently contemporary audiences also long for simpler Dickensian customs as The Toast of Christmas Past tends to be booked almost every night during the holidays.

The Toast of Christmas Past is led by Fiona Leonard, an eclectic and energetic actress, singer, costumer, make-up artist and mistress of many trades well-known for her work with local theatre companies, film productions and attractions such as the Georgia Renaissance Festival where she sang in a rollicking pub band called Wine, Woman and Song. As a costumer, she started sewing and designing as a teenager and has won numerous awards and attained master class status at science fiction and costuming conventions. In recent years, however, Fiona has focused her creative energies more towards recreating the look of past eras than fantasy ones, and her caroling venture seems perfectly suited to a lady increasingly seen dressed in exquisite Victorian attire.

Curious about the origins of caroling, we asked Fiona if she would tell us what she knew about its link to Medieval wassailing and how the practice evolved into a mainstay of Victorian times. She also shared the story behind her own journey into caroling and Victoriana, as well as a bit about how listening to traditional holiday melodies seems to bring “tidings of comfort and joy” in this time of giving.

Geoffrey Brown, Fiona Leonard in red, and two other members of The Toast of Christmas Past.

ATLRetro: How did you first get the idea to start up an acapella caroling group, who are the group’s members, and why keep caroling alive in the 21st century?

Fiona Leonard: My dad [Al Leonard] and I worked at the Georgia Renaissance Festival for a number of years, and someone contacted them one year looking for carolers. They passed that on to my Dad and he put together a little quartet to do it. I replaced someone the next year, and we had several people ask us for cards at the event. So the next year I came up with a name and had cards printed up. We got three more bookings and The Toast of Christmas Past was born. From that point in 1994, we grew and in our best year had 55 bookings!

Each year I have anywhere from 12-24 carolers on call, who sing in trios and quartets. Most of my singers are musical theatre performers, so they have lots of personality and are good at engaging strangers. Although it is a great way to make extra money for the holidays, it is also a really great feeling to have people come up and tell you that your singing has put them in the holiday spirit. Making people feel something is really what performing is all about, and we really do get to spread joy wherever we sing. 

How did Christmas caroling door to door (or in public places) get started? 

Caroling comes out of several traditions, some going back over a thousand years. Religious songs composed for the common man to sing first started appearing around the 10th century, but really caught on as Protestantism began to spread around the world. But I think the most direct ancestor of our style of caroling is wassailing. This was basically legitimate begging. During winter holidays—whether solstice, Christmas or yuletide—groups of peasants or other poor would go from door to door, singing blessings on each house and demanding compensation in return. This was usually in the form of drink (hard cider, mulled wine or spiced ale), food (sweets, figgy puddings, cakes), money or at the very least a spot by the fire to warm up.

Everyone in The Toast of Christmas Past wears Victorian clothes and embraces that era. Why was caroling so popular in Victorian times, who did it, who did they sing for and how did Victorian caroling compare to caroling in previous and later times?

There was a great trend in the Victorian Era to romanticize things of the past and things from other cultures outside the Empire. Christmas trees as we know them became popular at this time, and the beginnings of Christmas as a commercial holiday come from that period as well. What was a fairly small celebration started adopting traditions from older times (wassailers, Morris dancers and pantomimes); strangers with gifts (magi, St Nicholas, Norse gods); sacrifices to older gods of meat, drink and produce (geese, roasts, horns of plenty, trees hung with fruit or even game); and evergreen boughs, holly and mistletoe hung to repel evil spirits in the dark of winter. All of these combined to make Christmas the celebration we know today.

Caroling or wassailing is fun, it’s something the whole family can do, [and] it’s much more acceptable than straight begging, since you at least offer entertainment. Victorians did it for all those reasons, and Dickens set the practice in the public mind with his caroling urchins in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The story itself has become such a classic that we tend to think of Christmas as described by Dickens to be “classic” Christmas, something to hark back to and try to achieve. Really, this era has just as much tendency to romanticize the past as the Victorians.

Fiona Leonard dressed to carol.

What were some of the greatest hits of Victorian caroling, and do you limit yourself to songs dating from that era or do you throw in some more recent seasonal favorites, too?

We do not limit ourselves to Victorian carols, but some of the songs we sing that were popular then include: “Good King Wenceslas,” “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “We Three Kings,” “Twelve Days of Christmas” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.”

When you were interviewed for PBS Radio [listen to it here], you talked about one of the reasons you enjoy caroling being actually turning around someone’s mood. Do you think caroling has a therapeutic effect on either the listener or the caroler or both?

I have always found singing to be therapeutic and cathartic. I think live carolers invite listeners to feel the music in a way that recorded music can never truly achieve, which makes the emotional impact very intense.

How do children react to your caroling in costume?

I get called a princess a lot! Kids really seem to like us and often want to join us, which we encourage.

Who hires a Victorian caroling group and at what kind of events do you perform? How can we hire you?

You can hire us by going through our website: www.toastofchristmaspast.com. We have been hired by malls, entertainment venues, museums, townships, business associations, property management, the airport and, of course, for plenty of private holiday parties. If you are traveling through [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] Monday Dec. 19 or Tues. Dec. 20, look for us between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Is it correct that you made your Victorian caroling dress? Did you make all the costumes for the group? If yes, how far did you go to ensure the clothes were period-accurate, and can you recommend a few online resources for Victorian costumers?

I do make my dresses and many of the other costumes we wear. Some of the other ladies have made their own dresses, and even one or two of the gentlemen have put together their outfits. My preferred period is 1878-1882, a brief window when the bustle was still present but very small. I just think the dresses from that period are very pretty and graceful. You can get away with a little lower neckline and 3/4 sleeves for that period as well, which I find more comfortable. Most of the ladies do wear corsets and petticoats with their costumes. There are all kinds of resources online, but mostly I just order corset supplies online, usually from Farthingales or dealers on etsy.com.

The Toast of Christmas Past performs at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

You’ve done a lot of Victorian costuming and performing. You’ve won awards for your work and regularly are a costume judge at Oakland Cemetery‘s Sunday in the Park annual event in October. In broad terms, what appeals to you personally about the Victorian era, and if there was one aspects of it that you wish had survived to the 21st century, what would it be?

Honestly, I just love how decorative things were. I love ruffles and fringe, and curlicues and flowers, and men in well-tailored clothing. Also I read way too much Barbara Cartland, and I am just sure some tail-coated dandy is going to sweep me off my feet if I have enough ringlets in my hair! If there was one aspect of the era I wish had survived, it would be the practice of giving dances and balls as standard social gatherings. I love a good waltz!

What’s up with Wine, Woman and Song?

We retired from the Georgia Renaissance Festival in 2002. We still perform together occasionally, usually for St. Patrick’s Day or historical re-enactments. We can still be booked through the Toast website.

What else are you up to performance and costuming-wise when it’s not the caroling season? Anything exciting coming up in 2012? 

I work full-time at Costumes, Etc…, which is a family owned business in Midtown off Cheshire Bridge Rd.They do rentals and retail, but they also take on a certain number of special commissions which I get to make a lot of. I will be costuming GUYS AND DOLLS for Habima Theatre at the MJCCA at the beginning of the year. I am hoping to actually get out and perform in a show or two next year, time permitting.

In 2012 I  hope to record a CD of The Toast of Christmas Past to make available for purchase. I am also considering putting on a Toast concert early in the season next year for the public.

Editor’s Note: All photographs are courtesy of The Toast of Christmas Past and Fiona Leonard.

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Really Retro: STEAMPUNK BIBLE Co-Author S.J. Chambers Muses on the Appeal of Alt-History & A Paranormal Fantasy at This Saturday’s Mechanical Masquerade

Posted on: Nov 10th, 2011 By:

When The Artifice Club presents the 2nd annual Mechanical Masquerade: A Paranormal Fantasy this Saturday Nov. 12 at Blue Mark Studios, a renovated 110-year-old church, they couldn’t have picked a better judge for their ghost story contest than S. J. Chambers, co-author with Jeff VanderMeer of the critically acclaimed THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE (published by Abrams Image this spring). S.J., you see, suffers from Poepathy, a dread affliction whose symptoms include “daydreaming…reveries that include black birds, scents of an unseen censor or aberrant alliterative applications.”  She contracted it, she says mournfully (or enthusiastically, depending on your point of view), from excessive contact with the works of  seminal American horror author, Edgar Allan Poe, on whose works she has penned a frightful quantity of essays and journalistic works.

Lately though, S.J.’s journalistic adventures have sailed towards Steampunk, a fast-growing international movement whose participants dream of an alternate world powered by steam technology and resplendent with airships, corsets, goggles, mad scientists and other fantastical wonders of a Jules Verne-ian nature. Lavishly illustrated, THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE is the first definitive guide to the wildly, weirdly imaginative literature, art and costuming of the subculture, which has a vibrant chapter here in Atlanta. A Tallahassee resident (she also treated us to the Cute and Creepy art exhibit review here), SJ also will be signing that esteemed tome at the Mechanical Masquerade, The Artifice Club’s most elaborate event yet—planned to play out like a story itself in which a supernatural-themed masquerade ball is staged on a magical rift accidentally created by one infamous Montague Jacques Fromage whle experimenting with a curious invention in service of her majesty Queen Victoria. And yes, masks are not just encouraged but required (come unfashionably without one, and we’re told you may be asked to leave or to purchase one from the lovely Dread Sisters). The fantastical festivities start with afternoon seminars on topics such as Steampunk Burlesque (see this week’s Kool Kat feature on Indigo Blue here). Then the main event runs from 5 p.m. to way past midnight and features a bazaar, libations, costume contest and performances by an eclectic ensemble of talent including the Mezmer SocietyDoc Volz and his Steampunk TrunkThe Ghosts ProjectVauxhall Garden Variety Players and the Fantasia de Mode Fashion Show presented by The Steampunk Chronicle.

ATLRETRO asked S.J. to demystify steampunk for the uninitiated, tell us what she learned about steampunk abroad on her recent book tour to England and France, and tease us with a sneak peek into her role in the Paranormal Fantasy. She not only kindly obliged, but then some…

What’s the origin story behind THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE (Abrams Image) and how you personally became involved? 

It did some editorial work for Ann and Jeff VanderMeer with [surrealist flash-fiction anthology] LAST DRINK BIRD HEAD and some other miscellaneous projects, so my role with THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE began as an editorial assistant. However, Jeff loved what I was doing, and saw how much I was getting into the project, that he asked me to contribute to the writing. One thing lead to another and we were co-authors. I can’t say enough what a great experience it has been to work side-by-side with Jeff. He’s full of wisdom and one of the best writers alive, imho.

Why are you excited to be attending THE MECHANICAL MASQUERADE: A PARANORMAL FANTASY and what will you be up to while you’re here?

There are several reasons why I am excited about this event.  First, I have an extreme case of Dance Party deficiency, so I can’t wait for DJ Doctor Q to start spinning at midnight. Second, I’m excited about wearing a costume, which I don’t usually do.  The clothes I wore on tour are pretty much what I wear normally, even the more Pre-Raphaeliteish pieces, so this is my first true sojourn into Steampunk chic. Not sure how great it’ll be, as everything I touch seems to turn Regency, but it should be fun.

But vanity aside, what I am REALLY excited about is the ghost story contest that I am judging. From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., I am challenging guests of The Mechanical Masquerade to scare me! Contestants will have five minutes to spin a paranormal yarn—doesn’t have to be gruesome horror, but must have something of the unexplainable and strange.  If participants are reading this, I’ll give them a clue as to what endears me most.  I love stories—and this goes for any type of story really—that strike me emotionally. So, if you make me split my petticoat with laughter, or drown my veil in tears, you’ll get a lot of bonus points. Being the Poepathist that I am, some of my favorite tales involve haunted houses and dead lovers, and the more monsters the merrier.

In any case, we will have lots of prizes for winners, including a first prize of signed copies of THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s wonderful, new anthology THACKERY T.LAMBSHEAD’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, which I have a sundry tale in, and a $25 gift certificate to Octane Coffee.  Not bad for five minutes.  If you don’t want to vie for a copy of THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE via the competition, they will be available for purchase and signing throughout the night.

The Mezmer Society. Photo credit: Farad Rezei of Rakadu.

THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE seems to be thriving in a time when books and authors in general are having a tough time. You even had a whirlwind signing tour which took you through New England and to England and France. What’s the secret to its success and why is steampunk so popular right now? 

I would say publishing is in a state of transition right now, thanks to e-publishing, and in trying to figure out what that means in the grand scheme of things, on top of the recession, authors and books are having to work double-time to stay afloat. I definitely know that I, Jeff, our editor Caitlin Kenney, our publicist Amy Franklin, and the wonderful people at Abrams, as well as our contributors, believed very strongly and worked really hard on promoting this book. So, I attribute a lot of the success we’ve had to our collective sweat and tears.

The fact that, in this burgeoning world of two-dimensional and grey e-books, the THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE is very tactile and visually pleasing hasn’t hurt. This is a book with a lot of textual as well as visual content, and it invites people to peruse it in both ways, which really appeals to readers.  I think this attraction ultimately ties into the same technological fatigue that is making the Steampunk spirit very resonant: the world is tired of being spoon-fed culture and knowledge. We need Steampunk in our lives because it promotes imagination and ambition, it promotes awareness of how things work and also sustainability. People think of Steampunk as a fashion fad or a science fiction trend, but it is an umbrella term for a lot of reactionary and revolutionary philosophies on modern life, which we try to touch on in the book.

Speaking of England and France. You even went to a steampunk convention over there, didn’t you? How do English and French steampunks or steampunk fans differ from the American variety?

While I did an event in London, and an event in Paris, I am afraid I didn’t make it to the Weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln.  Towards the end of planning the Europe Tour, an assignment in Paris came up, so I had to take those few extra days to make sure I had time to work on it.  I was sorry to miss it, as I had just met Jema Hewitt and Kit Cox who were going, and I would have loved to spend more time with them, as well as meet some of the U.K. Steampunk luminaries like John Naylor and Professor Elemental.

The differences between U.K., French and U. S. Steampunk are subtle. U.K. tends to be more Victorian-oriented because that’s where she reigned and that’s their direct history.  However, I think we over here in the states misunderstand U.K. Steampunk as nostalgists ignoring skeletons in the Empire closet, and I found that to not be true. At the Last Tuesday Society event, there was a lot of interest in multicultural Steampunk, and I think that dialogue is just waiting to burst through the gates there.  French Steampunk was very interesting because a lot of its participants are interested in CosPlay, but there aren’t really any venues for that. The fine folks of French Steampunk, like Morgan Guery and Franck Gouraud are trying to promote conventions around France, and I think that will contribute to a very strong and cohesive scene there. Also, just like U.K. Steampunk operates within their history, so do the French Steampunks.  Queen Victoria and the Empire is irrelevant, and while we had our Civil War, they were dealing with their own strife with the Paris Commune and the reign of Napeoleon III. It has led to a lot of beautiful and innovative art like Sam van Olffen, Futuravapeur and Anxiogene.

The “Sultan’s Elephant” at The Machines of the Isle of Nantes exhibit, Nantes, France. Photographed in 2009 by Yann Langeard - Le Chatrou Electrique.

What makes a literary work, piece of art, costume steampunk at the most basic level and do goggles have to be involved?

Ha! No goggles do not need to be involved, nor necessarily cogs, nor gears. Tor editor Liz Gorinsky explained Steampunk best when she compared it to porn—“I know it when I see it”—which perfectly encapsulate the difficulties of defining this aesthetic. I know I should have an elevator pitch-like answer for this, but the real answer is too complex.  It is why we wrote a book about it.

As just flipping through the book will show, there are a lot of characteristics that bind artists together under the umbrella Steampunk—like the iconic goggles, a retro ambiance, gears, cogs, rayguns, hoop skirts, leather corsets, mecha animals, steel and steam—but it is also an ever-changing and evolving aesthetic that can feature a lot of versatile and disparate characteristics informed by cultural history, and even era. What was once a retro-futurist movement that looked only as far back as the 19th century has participants looking back even further, evaluating our present on all aspects of past failures and successes. The Steampunk of today will not be the Steampunk of tomorrow.

To the uninitiated person who wants to experience steampunk, what three authors could they read and get a good sense of what it’s all about?

Jules Verne, Cherie Priestand Scott Westerfield. I know I am cheating with Jules Verne, but I feel like if you don’t understand Verne’s world, you are missing a key part of Steampunk history and its context. Also, since I’ve already cheated once, it won’t hurt to cheat again. I would say Steampunk newcomers would find a lot of guidance in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s two STEAMPUNK anthologies, as they do a wonderful job of displaying the movement’s full literary spectrum.

What was your favorite part about researching THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE?

Getting to talk with artists, makers and writers about their craft, and finding contemporary work that I really identify with.  The past 10 years of my life can be characterized as observing Remodernism, but not quite understanding where I fit in with it. THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE changed that for me.

S.J. Chambers.

What did you learn about steampunk that surprised you the most?

That most people working within the Steampunk aesthetic, icons like Jake von Slatt and Libby Bulloff, did not begin doing so consciously. Steampunk adopted them. To me, the fact that all of these disparate figures were unknowingly working within a common aesthetic attests more to the aesthetic’s importance. It’s a zeitgeist, not a fad.

The art direction on the book was stunning. Were you involved with that part or what can you tell us about that side of the book’s development?

Jeff and I were very much involved with the art direction. Jeff had the wonderful idea of the Jules Verne Hetzel cover, and Abram’s designer Galen Smith did a wonderful job of that.  We were responsible for gathering the images, and organizing them with the text.  The nice nuances that really tied it all together, like the margins, the font and chapter covers were all Galen Smith’s genius.

How’s the popularity affecting you personally and your career? Do you have any time left for Poe, and where else can we read your work?

This has been one of the most stimulating and positive experiences in my writing life.  There are numerous outcomes that I am thankful for, including getting to go on tour and meet people that have quickly become kindred spirits and friends. I have been busier than I am accustomed too, but it has been a good busy, and I’ve been able to begin a few projects that I hope will really pick up steam next year. One of them does involve Poe, but on that for nonce, I’ll say nothing more.

I try to keep my blog The Flightless Philosopher updated, but lately my Twitter [@selena_jo] has become a more immediate marquee for my whereabouts and publications.  You can also find other work in the wonderful and very curious THACKERY T. LAMBSHEAD’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, in which I adapted my “Poe-Bug” essay into a short story, and I’ve been reviewing a lot lately for Bookslut.

Tell me more about THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE, VOLUME 2.0?

Volume 2.0 is our sister site that has been running extra content from the book, like raw interviews, dispatches and exclusive interviews.  There is a lot in our archives, and I had to construct an automaton, Mecha Underwood, to help me manage and man the helm of this beastly webship. Poor Mecha! She really has it hard since I built her with a Lachrymose 5000 chip, and seeing Jeff and I gallivant around the states last summer has made her a bit morose.  She yearns for sand in her gears, and forgets to post sometimes, but I have found that a gauntlet of oil and some Keats poems rolled into her printing case cheers her right up.

Finally, what question has nobody asked you yet which you wish they had? And what’s the answer?

Is Spongebob Steampunk taking it too far?  [The answer is] I don’t know. It would depend on whether the movie version incorporating Spongebob Steampunk, Geary Gary and Colossal Squidward in a battle against Corporate Nemo’s Krabby Patty takeover will successfully capture the Steampunk Spirit. Can’t be worse than THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2011), but you never know.

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Really Retro: Heading for the 1890s: Living in the Weird, Weird West

Posted on: Jul 21st, 2011 By:

When most people think Steampunk setting, images of Victorian London likely come to mind, but across the Atlantic and a steam engine-pulled train ride inland stretched a vast frontier. This Saturday night, July 23, at THE WEIRD WEST SALOON, the fine folks at The Artifice Club transform The Solarium in Oakhurst into a steampunk version of that less polite society where the law often came down to the fastest draw.

Festivities kick off at 5 p.m. with the opening of the Trading Post Market with vendors of unique jewelry, weaponry, costumery and other unexpected ephemera. Then at 7 p.m., doors officially open for ticketholders. Chance your cash for charity in the saloon casino, test whether you’ll be caught dead or alive in a quick draw tournament and kick back an alcoholic beverage in period sets created by mad geniuses Sean O’Shea and Penny Dreadful Productions. Of course, there’ll also be entertainment aplenty from Blair Crimmins & the Hookers (read an ATLRetro interview with Blair here) to Mistress of Ceremonies/Sheriff Sabrina Pandora, tunes spun by DJ Swivel and Artifice Club maestro/founder DJ Doctor Q to a bevy of Atlanta burlesque beauties, dressed delightfully down as sexy saloon personas including Fonda Lingue, Ruby Redmayne, Tupelo Honey and Talloolah Love.

The tantalizing Ms. Love graciously consented to give all you ATLRetro cowboys and girls an exclusive sneak peek, as well as the scoop on a Friday pre-party and late night after-party for those who want to play in the Weird West beyond the Witching Hour.

How did The Artifice Club get the idea for a Steampunk Western theme night?
There are many cultures to pull from when you talk about the Victorian era. Many of us start out with the European influence because it seems the most natural. Since The Artifice Club wants to explore all advents of the art form, the American twist was where we went with it this time, and it seems like everyone is really jazzed about it. It’s something new, and a great excuse to whip out those sewing machines, spray paint and epoxies! It’s time to think about a new slant on a good costume and new props, because you can always use a new form of weaponry, just ask Bill Harrison! The West Coast does a lot of really cool wild west conventions as well but not on the East Coast. That should be remedied.

It’s often said that THE WILD WILD WEST 1960s TV series was an early example of Steampunk. Can we expect to run into Jim West (Robert Conrad), Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) or—yikes—Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless (Michael Dunn)?

You might, though I find that most of our Steampunks lean toward doing unique costumes. Though, you never know with this crowd, they tend to surprise me at every turn! I know that the burlesque portion of our show is most definitely inspired by movies with saloon girls, such as THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, RIVER OF NO RETURN, and even a little French import from CAN CAN. I think Doctor Q would do flips if someone did the 1960s version of Loveless or Gordon, but that’s my opinion.

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