Today is Thursday–and that means we have a special guest. Today we welcome author Pip Ballantine who’d going to dish about her recent trip to Balticon.
Philippa Ballantine is a writer and podcaster from Wellington, New
Zealand. She is a published author, with a supernatural fantasy, Geist
coming out in October this year with Ace Books. She and her co-writer Tee Morris have a steampunk series the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences coming out with Eos in Summer 2011. She also looks great in a bowler hat.
Balticon, Maryland’s premiere Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, is where a good head of steam can be found building up, Gentle Readers.
The steampunk movement at Balticon has been growing for years, but 2010 seemed to be a breakout with plenty of costumes, panel discussions, a new player in the Dealers Room and two big announcements.
Firstly the costumes were out in force, obviously worked on well into the night with the help of gaslight and unbridled creativity. Pith helmets, goggles and brass were in evidence in the hallways pretty much all the time. The New Media party held on Saturday was a fine example. Dragon Moon Press author PG Holyfield came as one of Tesla’s Rangers, a sterling example of the well-heeled gentleman out of the Wild West. Renaissance swashbuckler and author Tee Morris, usually playing the tunes in a privateer’s best, sported a Jared Axelrod original (more on this fine gent later), a pin stripe woolsuit given an incredible steampunk makeover.
A staple of fashion, be it the Victorian Era or Carrie Bradshaw’s contemporary New York, is to accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. Balticon’s Dealers’ Room had a newcomer catering to the steampunk crowd. The Steampunk Funk Bizarre debuted with a rip-roaring trade in top hats, bowlers, a variety of goggles and some really beautiful watches. Lord Montague J Fromage might well have had something to do with it. Sporting a beautifully waxed and curled beard, Lord Fromage had the most delightful French accent (I am still not sure if it was real or an affectation), and really took care of his customers over the weekend. I know a number of my friends bought something from him.
On the literary front, the hot new steampunk author Gail Carriger was in attendance, flying in from San Francisco. If you haven’t read her Parasol Protectorate series, you really should. A fun read, with vampires and werewolves added to the steampunk mix. There were also two stand-out announcements, and one of them involves your Humble Writer, Gentle Readers.
If you don’t know the afore-mentioned Jared Axelrod, then you soon will. This writer, artisan, and podcaster extraordinaire (Voice of Free Planet X, Aliens You Will Meet) is embedded in steampunk (Seriously if you go to Wikipedia, Jared’s face will stare back at you!),, and those attending his high tea party knew he had a new podcast premiering. We were anxious to hear all about it. With wickedly beautiful assistants serving tea and danties to the packed room, we were all treated to the first episode of Tales from the Flying City. Jared (clad in the costume of his Flying Corp), known for being salwart and unmoving in his composure, couldn’t hold onto his announcement. The podcast was actually a prequel for the graphic novel The Battle of Blood and Ink, coming out in Fall 2011 from Tor Books.
Needless to say all decorum was lost as we all cheered for this.
The other announcement was a little more personal. Tee Morris and I hosted a second reading of our co-authored steampunk project. It’s a tale that was originally going to be podcast for pay, but ended up through a series of weird occurrences (please to pardon that pun, Gentle Readers) turning into a novel. Tee topped off his Jared Axelrod original costume with a bowler hat and mad goggles from the Steampunk Funk Bizarre, while I buckled into a corset, hitched my skirt with some skirt-lifters and wore my brand new purple top hat. Our Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels are set in late nineteenth century London, and revolve around a secret agent from New Zealand (rather like myself in some respects!) who has been demoted, after a couple of unfortunate explosive incidents, to the Ministry Archives. Here she butts heads with the Archivist as both of them set out to solve cold cases buried by the Ministry. It’s a huge, fun romp, and as an author it was nice to pack a room and have them giggling along with us.
Even better was to announce our two book deal with Eos coming in Summer 2011.
Yes, I confess, I drank champagne after that.
Balticon’s Steampunk Spectacular ended on Monday with the three of us — Jared, Tee and myself — for the panel ‘What’s Steamy in New Media’- a panel dedicated to steampunk. While this day tends to be the day people pack up and leave, a packed room spoke volumes to us on how much interest there is in this movement. I bought along my ray gun and with it in front of me, had a really good time. The audience interaction made the panel a lively one. We talked about what people love about steampunk—the general consensus was fun, a sense of wonder, being able to have a relationship with machinery, and the joy of messing around with history. We discussed which was everyone’s favourite steampunk story, and though Tee mentioned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the movie), he managed to walk out alive.
Jared made a fine point that steampunk is evolving, and that everyone has a different take on it. Soulless is not the same as Boneshaker or Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Some are making romps, some romances, some serious discussions on man and machine. What secures all these works, and the genre itself, is not brass bolts, cogs, or clockwork gears, but a delightful wide-eyed wonder at a world that could have been. I believe this is what fuels the steampunk movement.
That, and men in bowlers. Let’s face it: Nothing says sexy like a dandy in a bowler and goggles.