- City Guides
Steampunk Digest - March 20, 2020
Our weekly roundup of news and other happenings in the steampunk world
Friday, March 20, 2020
The COVID-19 outbreak continues to wreak havoc, sweeping up much of the steampunk community along with geek culture in general. Dozens of events been cancelled or postponed, disappointing fans while leaving artisans, musicians, and other creators without their major sources of income. Meanwhile, much of the world is dealing with larger concerns about the economy and public health. When your main worries are staying well and keeping a roof over your head, pursuit of our retrofuturistic pastime might seem somehow trivial.
Yet as folks hunker down, some are finding solace in online steampunk communities, even setting up virtual events and marketplaces as alternatives to in-person gatherings. Others are using downtime caused by the outbreak as an opportunity to catch up on their reading or the streaming entertainment they might have missed.
Here at The Steampunk Explorer headquarters in the San Francisco area, we’re under a region-wide shelter-in-place order that restricts travel and bans public gatherings of any size. It’s expected to last through early April and maybe longer. Businesses are closed, except those deemed essential, such as supermarkets and pharmacies. Retail shelves have been emptied of necessities like water, bread, and produce, and some places are now requiring shoppers to wait in line before they can go in. It feels eerily like living in a real-world apocalypse, but who would have imagined an apocalyptic scenario where people found it necessary to hoard toilet paper?
As best we can, we’ve been following the impact of the outbreak on the steampunk community. On Friday, we ran a story about the postponement of Clockwork Alchemy in the San Francisco area and the International Steampunk Symposium in Cincinnati. Then we heard about other steampunk-related gatherings that had been cancelled or postponed, so we’ve posted a list of them. Sadly, we expect to be continually updating the list in the coming weeks. If you hear about an event that’s been suspended, please drop us a line.
The Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts, is scheduled for May 9, prompting worries that it, too, may not happen. The organizers posted this statement: “The Watch City Steampunk Festival is keeping an eye on developments in the Coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak and will work with the City of Waltham to determine the best course of action. For now, we are moving forward with plans ensuring the Festival will run on May 9th, as scheduled.” With estimated attendance of up to 10,000 in past years, it is one of the largest steampunk events in the USA.
Organizers of Megacon Orlando plan to reveal the fate of that event on Monday, March 23. It’s currently scheduled for April 16-19 at the Orange County Convention Center. “Our team is working closely with the facility, the local and state agencies, and our partners to see what options are available including the possibility of moving Megacon to a later date,” they stated. “As fans ourselves, we’re committed to moving forward with an event this year.” They added that ticketholders will get a full refund “in the unlikely event we’re not able to host Megacon 2020.”
Megacon has drawn more than 100,000 attendees in recent years, making it one of the largest pop culture conventions in the U.S. Local steampunk fans typically have a big presence there, including a booth and panels by the Central Florida Steampunk Association. That group, in conjunction with the Central Florida Costumer’s Guild, also presents the Museum of Costumes & Curiosities at Megacon.
Some organizers are responding to cancellations by setting up online marketplaces to help vendors who relied on the events for income. They include a virtual steampunk market for traders displaced by the cancellation of the Shrewsbury Steampunk Spectacular in the UK. In addition, Abney Park is planning a streamed live concert to make up for revenue lost due to cancelled bookings. You can read about these projects and others in our story, “Virus Sends Steampunks to Cyberspace.”
On Tuesday, the organizers of C.O.G.S. Expo in New Jersey announced postponement of that event to Oct. 16-18. But they’re also planning a virtual convention for the weekend of May 15-17, when the steampunk fest was originally scheduled to run. Dubbed the C.O.G.S. STREAMpunk Expo, the online event will include musical performances, panels, workshops, video interviews, and vendor sales. You’ll be able to view it on Facebook or the event’s website. Learn more on the Facebook event page.
The outbreak has also inspired gallows humor in some corners of the steampunk world. Leathercraft maestro Wheeler Stone posted photos of his steampunk plague doctor masks, describing one as “the latest spring fashion accessory.” It’s “not guaranteed to stop plague,” he wrote, but “it will stop you from touching your face.”
We were running low on our own supply of plague doctor photos, so Wheeler helpfully chipped in with this one. You can see more of his work on the Doc Stone Studios Facebook page.
Others have noted that the Victorian-era practice of curtseying is a good alternative to handshakes that can transmit the virus. And, as seen here, fashions of that time provided built-in buffers to enforce social distancing.
Wheeler Stone also co-produces the Key City Steampunk Festival, which is scheduled for the middle of August in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Even though it’s almost five months away, the organizers felt the need to issue their own COVID-19 statement: “The Key City Steampunk Festival has been monitoring the situation with COVID-19 with extreme care. At this point, we are keeping our dates of August 14-16. We are extremely mindful of the crisis at hand, and should anything need to be changed, we will let the community know as soon as is possible.”
The Cog is Dead is doing its part to slow the spread of the disease with “Wash Your Hands,” a new song posted on YouTube. “Since it is recommended that you wash your hands for 20 seconds, here is a 20 second song you can sing while hand washing,” they write. “It’s fast, it’s fun, and those seconds will fly by.” Beginning Friday, you can also look for it on Spotify.
One thin silver lining: This is a good time to get deals and freebies on digital entertainment. Through March 27, Bookfunnel is offering free downloads of 19 speculative fiction e-books, including Steve Turnbull’s steampunk tale Harry on the Run. The only catch is that you have to sign up to receive e-mail newsletters from each author whose book you want.
Comic book publisher Insymmetry Creations is making a blatant play for folks grounded by the virus. “You’re stuck at home and have nothing to do. Your local authorities won’t even let you venture outside. You need some form of entertainment and you need it NOW!” So they’re offering a US$25 Lockdown Pack containing all of their digital products, including Heirs of Isildur, a steampunk time-travel graphic novel; a 12-track MP3 album based on the graphic novel; and the first two issues of Tales from Nocturnia, a medieval fantasy tale.
Heirs of Isildur creator Matt Knowles recently participated in Wannacon, a “virtual comic con” hosted by author/podcaster Russell Nohelty. Other panelists included Madeline Holly-Rosing, creator of Boston Metaphysical Society.
Bandcamp, a platform that allows musicians to offer digital downloads and CD sales, is waiving its revenue share on Friday March 20. This means that all sales on Friday will go straight to the artists. Normally, Bandcamp gets 15% of sales from digital downloads and 10% from sales of CDs. Bandcamp says it’s a way to support the artists, many of whom have lost income due to show cancellations.
We’ve posted a list of steampunk musicians on Bandcamp, along with links to their Bandcamp pages, in case you want to help by purchasing their music. It runs from midnight to midnight Pacific time.
Non-Viral News Dept.
A few weeks ago, we shared a remarkable colorized, high-resolution video showing everyday life in New York City in 1911. Now you can view upscaled scenes of laborers in North England in 1900 and 1901. Note the reactions of the workers as they were being filmed with the newfangled technology for that time.
As with the earlier video, this is essentially a tag-team project. In 2016, Guy Jones took original footage shot by the Mitchell & Kenyon film company, slowed it to a more natural speed, and added ambient sound. Then Denis Shiryaev used AI-enabled software tools to add color, increase the frame rate to 60 fps, and boost the resolution to 4K.
Kikai Digital Games of Sydney, Australia, plans a March 20 launch for Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy, a “cinematic visual novel” set in a steampunk anime world. Taka, the protagonist, goes on a journey to find his lost parents. After falling from a plane, he finds himself in an alternate reality “where baristas are knights and coffee is king.” To continue his quest, “he needs to learn about the power of caffeine. And in order to learn about the powers of caffeine, he needs to learn how to…… brew coffee.”
The historic Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin has faced an uncertain future since 2018, when the University of Chicago shut down the 120-year-old facility described as “the birthplace of modern astrophysics.” But now it appears that the observatory will re-open as a tourist attraction and educational center, as the university has agreed to donate the property to a new private foundation.
The university announced the deal on March 10 to a packed auditorium at Williams Bay High School, according to a report in the Lake Geneva (Wis.) Regional News. Under the deal, the new Yerkes Future Foundation will assume ownership of the observatory and 50 acres of surrounding land. Some additional land will be sold for housing development.
When it opened in 1897, the observatory housed the world’s largest refracting telescope. The observatory and telescope were named after Charles Tyson Yerkes, a transit magnate who financed the construction. Scientists who used the observatory included Edwin Hubble, Gerard Kuiper, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, and Carl Sagan. Albert Einstein visited the facility in 1921.
Review: Steampunk Adventure ‘Abigail’ looks Stunning but Fails to Thrill (Horror Geek Life)
10 Movies To Watch If You Like The BioShock Games (ScreenRant)
Steampunk enthusiasts descend on Newton Aycliffe festival (The Northern Echo)
New Zealand: Annual Steampunk Teapot Racing a Success, Fun for All Ages (What’s On Invers)
New blog from steampunk author Jonathan Fesmire (Jonathan Fesmire)
Spanish flu: The deadliest pandemic in history (LiveScience)
Stories by Category: