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Fancy Gadgets and Proper Villains

Steampunks Converge at 2017 Clockwork Alchemy

Friday, June 16, 2017

This article originally appeared on sbealeonline.com.

A time rift opened over San Jose last May, allowing a sundry cast of Victorian chrononauts to come forth and stage Clockwork Alchemy, a steampunk convention held at the Doubletree Hotel during Memorial Day weekend.


In 2016, I dipped a toe into the event, spending one afternoon taking pictures and getting to know some of the colorful characters. This time, I was "embedded," as we say in the journalism biz, and spent most of the weekend there. I even donned a pith helmet in keeping with my "Creative Explorer" tagline.

Highlights included a bazaar where steampunk artists sold handcrafted goods, from Victorian-inspired apparel to goggles and ray guns. Another room housed the curated Artist's Gallery, featuring "fantabulous contraptions" such as a steampunk jetpack and a radio that (allegedly) tuned in broadcasts from the future.

One hallway was devoted to authors — many in steampunk garb — selling their books and discussing their work. Most had stories in "Some Time Later," an anthology of steampunk tales produced in conjunction with the event.

Clockwork Alchemy also had several educational tracks. In the Authors' Salon, aspiring writers could get tips on historical research, e-book publishing and other tricks of the trade. The "War Room" hosted lessons in lost martial arts, such as how to defend against werewolves. Speakers in "The Academy" covered diverse topics such as "Art of Sigil Witchery" and "Biology in the Victorian Era." Workshops provided hands-on instruction in various steampunk crafts, from rusting and coloring techniques to leathercraft.

Doctor Blackheart

"Steampunk celebrates the maker in all of us," said Dr. Nathaniel Blackheart, who organized the Artist's Gallery. He's also one of the shadowy figures behind the League of Proper Villains, which conducts villainous events in the Sacramento area and has a pretty cool website. (I've discovered that many steampunks adopt fictional personae, and Dr. Blackheart stuck to his for the duration of the event.)

As we conversed, we were interrupted by a young man who shouted, "Telegram for a Dr. Blackheart! Telegram for you sir!" Thanks to The Aetheric Message Machine Company, attendees could send text messages to a telegraph office in the hotel. The messages were printed on a restored teletype machine and hand-delivered to various locations at the convention.

Clockwork Alchemy was held in conjunction with FanimeCon, a big anime event held in downtown San Jose. But beginning next year, the steampunk event will be on its own, running March 23-25 at the Hyatt Regency near the San Francisco airport. Memorial Day weekend poses lots of scheduling conflicts, including BayCon, a science fiction and fantasy convention. The organizers hope that the new time and venue will attract a larger crowd.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the event.

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