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Steampunks Abound at Worldcon

The huge sci-fi event featured panels, dealers, readings, parties and, of course, the Hugo Awards

Thursday, August 23, 2018

For five days in August, San Jose was the center of the science fiction universe as the city hosted the 76th World Science Fiction Convention, known more commonly as Worldcon. The event, held August 16-20, drew about 4800 attendees, including what appeared to be a sizable number of steampunk enthusiasts. Several panels were devoted to steampunk or related topics, and numerous steampunk vendors offered their wares in the Dealer Room. Steampunk-inspired costumes were a common sight.

Adina and Carriger

One highlight was “Carriger & Adina Talk Steampunk,” a panel in which authors Gail Carriger and Shelley Adina discussed various aspects of their work and the genre, including their strong female protagonists. “That’s the ‘punk,’” Carriger said, because it upends the traditional Victorian notion that women should be subservient to men.

She observed that steampunk as a literary market is “dying down,” but added that the emergence of a new “powerful voice” in the genre could reverse the trend. Adina noted that independent publishing “is a way to get these stories out.”

Both authors were active over the weekend, signing books and participating in other panels. Adina also presented a reading from The Dancer Wore Opera Rose, the latest in her “Mysterious Devices” series.

Defining Steampunk

The “Defining Steampunk” panel on Saturday featured perspectives on the genre from Elektra Hammond, Anastasia Hunter, William C. Tracy, Diana Pho and Jaymee Goh. Hammond noted that when she first became interested in steampunk, people told her it would soon be gone. “I’ve been told that every year for the last 12,” she said. Which raises the question: “Why does steampunk have legs? Why is it continuing to expand?” One point was that it’s more than a literary genre, encompassing music, cosplay, and other maker aspects.

Other panels provided insights about Victorian-era technology and culture. Steve Frankel provided a broad overview that touched on science, technology, railroads, airships and medicine. He noted what kinds of retro-futuristic inventions were plausible (like certain airship designs) and which were not. Gene Forrer presented a history of submersibles in addition to speaking on two panels about costuming. Frankel and Forrer are both active in the Bay Area steampunk community. Author Carrie Sessarego discussed “Women Who Out Steampunked Steampunk,” focusing on real inventors and adventurers of the 19th century.

A crash course in Victorian ballroom dancing gave attendees a chance to prepare for a Steampunk Ball on Friday night. The dance was presented by James and Cathleen Myers of the Period Events & Entertainment Re-Creation Society, an organization that hosts historical costume balls in the SF Bay Area. Alex Cumming, James Langdell, and Charlie Hancock provided the musical entertainment.

Organizers of Clockwork Alchemy, the Bay Area’s major steampunk event, had a table to promote next year’s edition, which is now accepting registrations. It will be held March 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, California.


The Hugo Awards are presented each year at Worldcon, and one milestone this year was the “Best Novel” award given to N.K. Jemisin for The Stone Sky. This made her the first author to win in that category three years in a row. You can find a complete list of winners on the Worldcon website.

Retro Hugos

Several other awards were also presented, including the Retro-Hugo Awards, recognizing works and individuals from 1943; the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which went to Rebecca Roanhorse; and an award for Best Young Adult Book, presented to Nnedi Okorafor for Akata Warrior.

The 2018 Sidewise Awards, for best works of alternate history fiction, went to Bryce Zabel and Harry Turtledove. Zabel won in the Long Form category for Once There Was A Way, which speculates about a world in which The Beatles didn’t break up. Turtledove won in the short form category for his story, “Zigeuner,” which is set in an alternate World War II. It appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Future Events

Next year’s Worldcon will be held August 15-19 in Dublin, Ireland. The 2020 Worldcon is slated for July 29-August 2 in Wellington, New Zealand. Washington, DC, is bidding to host the 2021 event.

Layton, Utah, will host the 2019 North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC), which is held in years in which Worldcon is outside North America. That event will be held simultaneously with Westercon, the major science fiction convention for the western U.S. It’s scheduled for July 4-7, 2019.

In the meantime, check out the Worldcon 76 photo gallery below. You can also find galleries on the Worldcon website.

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