November 12th, 2013

TeslaCon 4, Friday

We rose at a good hour on Friday morning, having slept decently well at the Comfort Suites. The rooms there include breakfast, which on the whole was quite edible. On Friday, this included a curious sort of scrambled egg patty, rather like something you would find on an Egg McMuffin, but a uniform yellow color and light texture. It was reasonably tasty, as was the meat on offer, a kind of chopped ham sausage. There was an adequate array of breads, juices, fruits, and cereal, so we were quite satisfied with it.

The first panel we went to was "Where Has Innovation Gone?" which dealt with the dichotomy between business' expressed desire for personnel capable of exhibiting creativity and imagination, and the inability to deal with it when they actually have it. This was a lively discussion, with audience members representing a number of disciplines taking part. Issues presented included the fact that "creation" tends to be an inherently wasteful process, and so is anathema to bean-counting managers; and that creative and capable people frequently don't have the paper credentials required to navigate the increasingly hide-bound and exclusionary hiring processes. Hope was found in the confluence of the Internet, the DIY/Maker movement, and crowdfunding operations such as Kickstarter, which allow creative individuals and small groups to develop projects in a way they might be noticed.

The next presentation we went to was "The Literary Steampunk: Where, Why, What Was, and What Now?" This panel was made up of guests of honor Karina Cooper (author), Austin Sirkin (fan), Kevin Steil (archivist), plus writer Joe Alfano. After the panelists' rather lengthy self-introductions, the group gave a good general overview of the genre in novels and stories. I made note of some newer authors to look up.
Next up was "Steampunk as Super-Culture: A Symbiosis Between Various Fandoms and Subcultures", which interested us in part because we had met the moderator, Veronique Chevalier, at the Masquerade Thursday night. Through no fault of hers, about half the panel ended up being much the same as the previous panel, since Ms. Cooper and Messers. Sirkin and Steil were all on the panel and had much the same things to say. (Including the canned introductions, which we also heard in a somewhat abbreviated form at the Opening Ceremony. While I suppose it's reasonable to suppose that not everyone in the room has already heard it, one could change up one's game a bit--.)

After that, we attended "Cause of Death" a historical survey of Victorian-era statistics on deaths due to accident and illness. Given by Julianne Hunter, who has a degree in public health, and Phil Jurasinski, Registered Nurse. Although the subject matter was rather grisly at times, the presentation was handled with a light touch that made it both informative and entertaining.

From 4:00 to 5:30PM, we went to "Junkology 101," an inspiring panel on scrounging and repurposing the parts you might have to make new Steampunk gadgets. I picked up a number of good tips from "Professor Waldo" (Walter LeTendre, Jr.), Juliet Pagel, Christopher Pagel, and audience members.
Then, we went out to dinner with friends Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden, to a nearby Indian restaurant, Swagat. The food there was very good, and service courteous, but it seemed to take a long time to get our meals, and we missed the beginning of Opening Ceremonies as a result.

We missed whatever passed for the Entry of Flags, so I suppose it's just as well we weren't able to sign up for it. We came in just as SWARM's new "demonic" ally was making its departure. This creature, supposedly an "Eldritch Horror" summoned up by the anarchists, was an interesting construction, rather insectile in form, but apparently composed of something like living wood, as its integument was covered with "bark" and leaves grew from its head. (I never did catch the name of the creature.) We did get to see the second set of dancing by the Stoughton High School Norwegian Dancers, who were quite breathtaking. Besides lighting speed, there were some impressive feats of strength in the dances requiring lifts, and a lot of clever humor, as in a dance where the men mime fighting, and another that lampoons men's addiction to snuff and women's disgust with it.

After the Opening Ceremonies, we queued up for seating at the Fashion Show. (We spent quite a bit of time standing in line at this TeslaCon. On the one hand, we tend to be neurotically early for events when possible. On the other hand, it was my impression that none of the major events started on time, either. Whether this was a hotel staff issue or a convention planning issue, or both, I cannot say.)

Despite being well back in line, we got great seats for the Fashion Show, which was fascinating. Many kudos are due to the designers, models, dressers and backstage staff, who, once the event got started, pulled it off in a brisk and highly professional manner.

First up was Silversark, whose dresses were mainly "Lolita" styles (by which I mean short skirts with crinolines, and frequently short sleeves) done in a collection of interesting graphic printed fabrics.

Fashions by Aritifixer were heavy on the "pirate queen" look, with corsets, leather pants, and boots. These were accessorized with masks, and frequently with a copper chiffon "hoodie" under the corset.

KMK Designs showcased a number of corset-and-chemise outfits, but also including one striped polonaise, or bodice/overskirt combination that was particularly nice.

RFD by Rachel Frank was a very "Goth" collection, with leather harnesses accessorizing corsets, short skirts, and exposed garters. All the models had "Baron Samedi"-inspired skull-face makeups.

Samantha Rei alternated between Empire waisted gowns and rompers.

At this point my crabbed handwriting runs out of legibility. I have the next designer down as "Uncanny H??????? C?????". Searching the Internet suggests this might be something like "Uncle Uncanny's by Chuk"? Apologies to the responsible people, and if anyone reading this knows the proper name, I will be glad to edit it in--. Anyway, this collection included 18th Century inspired styles, including an interesting saque-backed gown, plus some corsetry for males. (Amendment: A comment by Siversark Clothier tells me that this designer was "Uncanney House of Canney, by Anthony Canney." Thanks!)

Ending the show was Redfield, which had a line of fashions that were part Heidi, part Lolita, and interspersed with uniform-derived styles.

After the Fashion Show, we hung around and chatted while the room was reset for "Forbidden Images III: The Presented," which was a presentation on the often hidden aspects of Victorian and Edwardian-era sex life, (rated X--), this time focusing on some very notorious brothels in Paris and Chicago, illustrated with a variety of period erotic images. Karen Dezoma, William Dezoma and Robert Schug made this very entertaining and just naughty enough. We enjoyed it, although the night caught up with us and we leaked out before it ended.

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TeslaCon 4, Saturday, part 1

We had another decent night's sleep at the Comfort Suites. The one drawback we found there was that closet space is lacking, although there are numerous bureau drawers to use. Consequently, we had clothing and gear strewn around on every available surface, but the hotel staff was good about honoring our "Do Not Disturb", so things worked out well enough. Breakfast entrees were genuine scrambled eggs, a bit over-scrambled so falling into small bits, but still tasty; and pork sausage patties.

For Saturday day, Georgie wore her new ensemble, consisting of the pale gold gown we bought from Pendragon Costumes at Bristol Ren Faire in September, and the new hat from Ravenworks we bought Friday. The effect was splendid, and she got many complements on the outfit.

The first panel we went to "Journalism in Steampunk," featuring "Steampunk Chronicle" Editor Emilie Bush. Instead of being about how journalism is depicted in Steampunk, this presentation was about journalism covering Steampunk and how it is portrayed on sites such as the Chronicle, blogs, magazines, etc., and the application of journalistic standards and ethics (or the lack thereof) to such reportage. As a trained and experienced professional journalist, she (justly) views with alarm the overwhelming of real journalism by shallow sensationalism, ignorant credulity, and amateurish self-regard. These things may be particularly endemic in ego-driven areas such as fandoms, but, in my opinion, the critique could be well applied to the Internet as a whole. Ms. Bush gave a good talk on basic journalism, which seemed well received by the audience.

At 1:00PM, we went to "Lord Bobbins" speech on "Defining Steampunk." Although no one can doubt Eric's sincerity in wanting to keep Steampunk fandom as a "big tent" and to spread the word, the text, "Steampunk is what you make of it," was hardly profound. Nevertheless, since he was preaching to the converted, the speech was generally well received. I'm not as sure about the "Bobbins Initiative," to recruit more fans for Steampunk is going to make people run out and drag in new folks. I think that the plateau in fan convention attendance is a fact for the foreseeable future. For a number of reasons I won't go into here, I tend to believe that fannish sorts generally are marginalized in employment and economically, and have been disproportionally affected by the Great Recession and the slow recovery. Unless and until there's a genuine economic upturn-which I, frankly, don't see happening-time and dollars for hobbies are going to continue to be scarce resources.

At 2:30, we went to "But He Said He Was a Scientist!", which was an entertaining survey of pseudo-sciences current before and during the Steampunk Era, including such ideas as "phlogiston," "caloric," "N-rays," and "electro-gravitics".

Then, it was time to change for the Bobbins dinner. Georgie changed into an elegant black gown that she had made Steampunk by adding chains and medallions to a very good effect, and accessorized with her gold shawl and a lovely fan. I wore my white tie and tails with "Dr. Duquesne's" decorations. The doors of the dinner room did not open on time then, either, but queuing up gave us an opportunity to chat with the other elegantly turned out guests, and I also had the pleasure of meeting the "Chancellor" of Romania, who was actually in the wrong line and destined for the villains' dinner.

The Chancellor is a "Lycanbrom" (sp?), one of a tribe of descendants of Romanian peasants modified by the infamous Dr. Moreau before he moved to his island. (When I first heard the name, I heard "lichen brow," and so was looking for people with mossy foreheads--.) In the aftermath of the Ether War, they have taken over Romania or a large part thereof, and established a pariah state that is a haven for SWARM and its terrorist allies. The lycanbrom are rather swarthy, sharp-toothed people who affect wolfish furs as part of their clothing, and have a familiar, boorish manner. The effect is rather like half-orcs or Klingons in a Steampunk setting, with a dash of "Jagermonster" from the "Girl Genius" comic.

(I later learned from our friend, Kelly Lowrey, who had been following the convention's murder mystery plot, that the scientist who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and was presumed dead, had supposedly discovered a way to decouple the lycanbrom's "wolf parts" from the human parts, this being part of the ongoing intrigue.)

The Bobbins dinner was, frankly, delicious. The menu was:
§ Pumpkin soup with sage crème and toasted peppitos.
§ Riesling poached pear stuffed with goat cheese. Black walnut candied and Vinaigrette.
§ Elderberry inter-miso.
§ Monkfish with two sauces. Smoked tomato and popcorn butter. Truffle spaghetti squash.
§ Drunken beef, potato dauphenoise, bacon sauce, port wine reduction and brussels sprouts.
§ Apple Gallette for dessert.
Everything was excellent, with the only criticism being that the crust on the apple gallette was on the tough side.

Dinner was also an amusing experience. The blurb for the dinner had indicated that "challenges would be sent back and forth," something I was looking forward to. It turned out the challenging mostly came our way. We had a visit from the tree-demon thing, who snarled and menaced us, to notably little effect. We were also addressed by a motley group apparently representing the SWARM factions, who lamely read off insults swiped from Shakespeare and Month Python. I think I surprised them by replying with what I fancied was an appropriate Southerner's "brag", which I hoped the others present found amusing.

Most of the people seem to be there to see what will happen rather than interacting, which puts quite a burden on William Dezoma, who plays "Kapitan Krieger," Lord Bobbins' chief henchman and poor relation. He's an experienced actor and good at improvisation but maintaining a monolog over an hour-plus dinner is quite a job. Thus, he doesn't seem to mind when I or Georgie occasionally pick up the conversational ball. I suppose it's gauche to recount one's on bon mots, but I was really pleased with myself when, after getting the Kapitan, who was giving hints about next year's scenario, to admit that the "Freya," the craft for the "journey to the center of the earth," would be able to bore through solid rock, I replied, "Aha! Only Lord Bobbins could build such an exciting boring machine!"

After a moment's 'take', Dezoma frankly broke out laughing. Lord Bobbins, who had been making conversation with the lady next to him, seemed quite nonplussed when it was repeated to him. Oh, well, I thought it added to the fun.

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TeslaCon, Saturday, part 2 “If there won't be dancing, I won't come to your revolution."

After the Bobbins dinner, we went to the “Grand Ball.” We were somewhat pleased to hear that the first set, the “classic” section, would be recorded music, mostly by the First Brigade Band. Much as we love the First Brigade Band, it must be admitted that they are more of a concert band than a dance band, and picking out danceable pieces from their repertoire can be a job. So this proved. The first waltz played was a concert piece with a wandering tempo that proved very difficult to dance to. There were a couple of schottisches—nothing intrinsically wrong with the schottische, we just don’t care for it--, and it turns out people can schottische to a march melody as well.

We were able to get in a waltz, to “The Blue Danube,” and a polka, to “Feuerfest,” but once the set works through two long group dances, “The Bobbins Bob” and “Excursion Train” a.k.a. “The Choo Choo Dance”, there isn’t much of the set left.

Now, the website blurb for the ball said: “The Ball will happen in three (3) sections. Each section will have between 7-10 songs. Waltz’s, Polka’s and Reels will be prominent. Instructions to these dances will also be available before Saturday night.” (sic). After the first section, the Ball was given over to live performers, whom I believe were (and here I’m relying on memory so this may not be definitive), Lord Monty, “unique ‘steampunk funk’/Victorian rap”; Frenchy and the Punk, “Imagine Django Reinhardt, Johnny Ramone, Siouxsie Sioux and Edith Piaf jamming together at an event hosted by Tim Burton and Nikola Tesla”; and, I think, Eli August & the Abandoned Buildings, who, from the somewhat turgid prose description, appears to be rather a folk singer type. I’m sure they are all fine musicians, and it’s great of TeslaCon to furnish Steampunk performers with a venue, but, as one critic later said, “What parts of ‘grand’ and ‘ball’ did they not get?”

Now, Georgie and I are satisfied if we can have a waltz and a polka, and so, when the music switched to a modern beat, we retired and found some chairs overlooking the atrium where we held court and chatted with friends, intending to drop in on the Steerage Ball when it started at 10:30. Thus, we were in a good position to observe the breakout of what I have to call the “Dance, Dance Revolution.”

There was a flurry of activity near the atrium stairs, and we were somewhat bemused to see a small woman in a green Empire dress and matching hat climb onto a chair and harangue the people around her, declaring a “revolution,” and that the atrium floor was about to be liberated in the name of dancing, as what was going on in the Grand Ball was not the promised waltzes, polkas, or reels. Her escort, a slim man with a gray goatee and military coat, declared that he had a First Brigade Band CD in his car and went out to get it. A CD player which had been set up near the front doors playing ambient music (mostly the “Downton Abbey” theme) was requisitioned and relocated to the impromptu dance floor.

We watched this with considerable interest, not only for the amusement factor, but because there appeared simultaneously to be some kind of flap on involving hotel or con security or both, with serious-looking men rushing about checking doors and inside the nearby function rooms. However, to the credit of both the con and the hotel, no one attempted to interfere with this impromptu event. By the time the music was going, there were a hundred people in the area, some just to see, but others eager to dance. The recording started off with a waltz (“Beautiful Dreamer,”) which was restarted and Georgie and I joined in for this slow dance. Then, “Reel! Reel!” young people, who had perhaps learned the Virginia Reel that day but not had a chance to dance it at the Ball, called. The Reel was started, then over again, the organizers having declared they would play through that CD as many times as people cared to dance.

Now, it must be admitted, that, as a fraction of the people attending the con and the Ball, these people were in a distinct minority, but I think it was a minority that had right on their side, and whose opinion should be respected. Some took time out of their convention to learn to dance, and others just wanted what was promised—waltzes (plural), polkas (plural), and reels.

By this time it was after 10:30PM. We had by this time seen signs indicating that the Steerage Ball was being moved to the Grand Ballroom. However, inspection proved that the Grand Ball musicians were still holding forth, which told me, given how long it takes a band to set up and tune, that there wouldn’t be any Steerage Ball music until more like 11:30PM, so we called it a night.

I have no idea what logistical issues caused the relocation of the Steerage Ball, but I have to consider the circumstances unfortunate.

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