Guest Post by David Lee Summers
Last summer, I was asked if I would be a guest at a debut steampunk convention called Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. The
Queen Mary is an ocean liner originally launched by the Cunard Line in 1936. It served as troop carrier during World War II and was finally retired from service in 1967. It was moored in Long Beach and has served as a floating hotel and museum almost continuously since then.
I grew up in Southern California and had fond memories of visiting the Queen Mary as a child. I was in awe of the sheer size of the vessel. I loved the engines and the propellers. I liked visiting the bridge and imagining steering the vessel over the waters. Even as a kid, I was taken by the grand ballrooms and beautiful furnishings of the passenger sections. The history of the vessel fascinated me as well. When I heard about a steampunk convention aboard the vessel, I couldn’t imagine a better venue.
The symposium itself was held from January 13-16, 2012 and provided a nice balance of fun, social, and educational activities. The event was overseen by “The Queen of Steam” who helped to bring a sense of continuity and fun to the weekend. My understanding is that the good queen has presided over Renaissance Faires in California. Remaining royal and in character, she helped the participants immerse themselves in the created steampunk world aboard the Queen Mary.
There were discussion panels covering such topics as definitions of steampunk, how to write steampunk, and steampunk at war. An interesting, and in some ways terrifying, workshop was called “Author Story in the Round.” The moderator asked author Olivia Grey and I several questions about how we work as writers. Afterwards, he gave us a story starter and then asked us to continue the story for three minutes apiece. After I started and Olivia continued, we turned the story over to the audience. My impression is that it gave members of the audience a unique insight into the writing process.
Another particularly interesting panel I participated in was called “Steampunk Magic and Science.” On the panel with me were magicians Dino Staats and Professor D.R. Schreiber. We spent the hour talking about the science that allows magic to happen. Staats and Schreiber talked about how magic and science go hand in hand. I was able to take the science into a little more depth than the performers. In addition to the magic and science panel, I gave a presentation delving into the astronomy of the Victorian age.
Beyond the panels and workshops, there were also a number of entertaining shows. On Friday night, we were treated to a dinner theater featuring the music of Six-String Samurai and Steam Powered Giraffe. Dino Staats performed magic and Sky Kings Falconry showed off their beautiful birds.
Saturday at noon was the Queen’s Couture. The centerpiece of the couture was a fashion show where a number of the clothing vendors showed off their wares. In addition to that, Sky King Falconry brought in an owl and a falcon. How better than to follow an owl than for me to read a section of my novel Owl Dance. I also read my post-apocalyptic story “The Zombie Shortage.” I was followed by a comedy routine by Steam Powered Giraffe.
Saturday night featured a masquerade ball. Music was provided by Unwoman, performing on her cello and singing haunting melodies. She was followed by Jon Magnificent who won the 2010 Best Rock Album of the Year in the 20th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards.
What really stood out for me about Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium was that almost everyone who attended was in costume. This made for a truly immersive experience, where it felt like I had sidestepped into a steampunk reality for the weekend.
Perhaps the most touching element of the weekend for me personally was going to the engine room reception and being greeted by my college roommate, Ken Silsbee. We shared a dorm room at New Mexico Tech for two years in the 1980s. He flew down all the way from Seattle to be at the event.
As I write this, I feel like I’m just touching on a few of the great things that happened. There was also a ghost tour, where we saw haunted areas of the ship. A former Soviet Submarine is now moored alongside the Queen Mary and we got to tour that. A movie room ran throughout the convention and I discovered a wonderful short film called Child Invisible.
Sure, there were a few first-year glitches, too. The program came out with no panel descriptions and the dealer’s room was difficult to find. There was a general lack of signage. That said, the con staff was all extremely helpful and receptive to suggestions. I have no question these things will be fixed by next year. In spite of the minor issues, my impression was that people had an outstanding time and, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.
I hope if the opportunity presents, you’ll join us for Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in 2013!