The author with Sarah Hans, author, editor, and all-around snazzy dresser
I just returned from Motor City Steam Con in Livonia, Michigan, and man, are my gears tired.
Motor City Steam is a first-year convention with a Steampunk theme. This was my first time taking my enthusiasm for Steampunk out of state, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The appeal of Steampunk for me is twofold. First, I love seeing the outfits people come up with. Steampunk is, at it’s heart, alternate history. Because of this, for someone (or a group) to say that something-or-other isn’t Steampunk is pure arrogance and elitism. On the other hand, I do love seeing people who make an effort, rather than just throw on their favorite renfaire outfit and go to town. Second, I’m fascinated by the amount of skill and artistry that Steampunk’s incorporate into their costumes, their gadgets, and their equipment. While my mechanical skill is fairly limited, I can still admire adding a string of minute LED lights to create an eye-grabbing effect, or modifying and decorating a Nerf gun so that it no longer resembles a toy.
I really like the idea of having more conventions in driving distance, so I was determined to support Salathiel Palland’s efforts to get this con off the ground. As it turns out, Sal really knew what she was doing. She’s an experienced event-runner and she had a core of really solid people to help her out. It showed: for a first-year con, the behind-the-scenes problems were exactly that – invisible to those who weren’t backstage.
I volunteered at this convention for two reasons. First, I needed to give myself something to do that didn’t involve following people I know around like a lonely puppy. Second, I wanted to do anything I could to support the convention, which was my main goal. I’ve worked on a lot of conventions in various capacities, and it’s always tough to get enough hands to get the work done — never mind for a first-year convention that may still be finding its feet. As it turned out, keeping my cell phone in my sporran on Saturday meant I couldn’t hear the tone when I had a text, which meant I missed a few messages from the tireless Eunice Baldwin during the day on Saturday. Hopefully that didn’t put her in a bad spot.
The convention hotel was a generally solid choice. It was reasonably priced, had plenty of meeting space that a convention like this requires, and was easy to find from the highway. Downsides included gently run-down facilities and outdated air-conditioning equipment that couldn’t quite handle a full house plus the 90+ degree heat in the Detroit Metro area that weekend. Also, the con staff learned a couple of weeks before the event that the hotel was destined to be torn down a month or so after Motor City Steam. I sympathize with the convention’s need to hunt for a new hotel; I’ve done that legwork myself a few times, and it is no fun.
One of the key elements to any Steampunk event is attracting airships. Airships are basically clubs of people from the same area who travel together to Steampunk events. Many airships will organize a steampunk invasion of a local museum, renaissance faire, or charity event, increasing the visibility of Steampunk fandom and building bonds within their group. More than 30 different airships and other groups were in attendance at this event, and some — like Cincinatti’s Airship Ashanti — did some additional cosplay to spice things up.
The Ashanti’s very well done group cosplay of Stephen Universe characters — Stephen Universe is a current obsession of mine — was a literal show-stopper as everyone dove for their phones or cameras while the group tried to make their way through the convention. They even incorporated a steampunk theme to the outfits to add an extra touch of relevance and interest.
Airships kind of come and go. When I first started, one of the most active groups that I encountered in my part of the Midwest was the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron out of Michigan. Then it was Columbus, Ohio’s own Airship Archon; now it seems as though the Airship Ashanti is the one of the most active ambassadors of Steampunk at the moment. These things are cyclical; as group members tire or life events intervene, core members drop out or scale back their participation, and the group’s enthusiasm and activity levels wane for a time. It seems to happen to nearly every group, but the good ones hang on until they can attract a bit of new blood to the membership, helping to invigorate the entire group and raising their activity level again. Of course there are many more airships than I mentioned — or indeed, than I am even aware of — but these have attracted my notice to a greater degree.
I had a delightful time at Motor City Steam, and I want to thank their fantastic staff, vendors, entertainers, and guests for making the event more than simply memorable. Next year I hope to spend more time talking with other writers, and maybe even participating as a panelist. I made some new acquaintances (which is unusual for lil’ old introvert me) that I hope will develop into friendships, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to what the MCS folks will have planned for next year. This far out it’s nearly impossible to say if I’ll be able to attend again in 2017, but I have it marked on my calendar, and I’m living in hope…