TeslaCon 6

Nov. 26th, 2015 11:50 am
We arrived at TeslaCon 6 about noon on Friday, and checked in without difficulty. This year’s program, the “Cognitive Reasoner” newspaper, was useful and informative.

The first presentation we attended was “The Not-So-Wild West; The North-West Mounted Police,” which dealt with the origins of the forerunner to today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The presentation included a great deal of very interesting information about the history of Canada and the founding of the North-West Mounted Police, but was somewhat difficult to listen to due to the speaker’s verbal tic, which at times seemed as though every other word was “ah” or “um.” I think that having the presentation copied out instead of switching between notes and reference books might have helped this.

The next event we went to was one of the “Immersion Events,” “The Story So Far,” which was described as “Totes McCoates, from last year’s ‘Time Travel for Tourists’ is back to get you up to speed on what’s brought everything to this point.” I’m sorry to say that this event was very poorly prepared. When Your Correspondent attempted to get the ball rolling by asking her to relate the significant events of the past year, she essentially responded that she couldn’t do that. “Beauregard Krieger”, also present, offered no help, although perhaps he felt he’d already done his share at the “War Stories with Beau Krieger” event earlier. After a bit of unstructured talk, “Ms. McCoates” attempted to address the request of another audience member, who was a new attendee, to fill in some of the more historical backstory. This was done clumsily, and the information supplied in many cases directly contradicted the historical timeline given in the Cognitive Reasoner. For example, referring to Lord Bobbins’ lunar adventure, she alleged that Dr. Proctocus had used a giant magnet on the moon to activate a robot army on Earth. According to the newspaper, Proctocus had pre-positioned a robot army on the Moon, which was de-activated by Bobbins and Krieger using a giant magnet.

At dinner time, we had purchased advance tickets for the “Krieger Family Barbecue.” At $21.00 a head the price might have seemed a bit high, but in my opinion made up for not having to either go out of the hotel for dinner or deal with the hotel’s rather small restaurant. The quality of the food was mostly excellent, with smoked brisket, beans, bread, and barbecue sauces being particularly good. Corn on the cob, which, at this season, has to have been frozen, was a bit spongy, but not too bad. The musical entertainment, “Milkhouse Radio,” was very good and entertaining, without being obnoxiously loud. Admiral and Frau Krieger worked the room, but, with 150 for dinner the actual interaction couldn’t be much.

After having stood in line for dinner, we stood in line for the Opening Ceremonies, which was the biggest disappointment of the convention. Entering the auditorium, we found that there were very few seats set up (presumably in order to leave the floor open for the Cotillion, which was immediately to follow), so the vast majority of people attending were “standing room only”. After having stood for an hour to get in, we did not feel like continuing to stand, so seated ourselves on the floor along the wall and attempted to listen. Unfortunately, the sound was poorly adjusted, and was largely unintelligible past the first few rows. Given that the other people in the back of the room couldn’t hear either, there was no reason for them not to mill around and chat, which made the whole thing a bust from our position. We eventually gave it up as a bad job, and, feeling too tired to dance, went back to our hotel room and to bed.

Saturday started off better. I was assisting my wife, Georgie Schnobrich, with her presentation on “Lies and Legends of the Old West,” which covered such storied characters as Wild Bill Hickok, Jim Bowie, Judge Roy Bean, and “Deadwood Dick,” the pulp hero. The presentation ran smoothly and seemed to be well received by the audience.

After a break in which we took a brief glance into the awesome dealer’s space, I did my presentation on “Weird Weaponry of the Steampunk Era,” which again the audience seemed to enjoy.
After that, we attended “From Disaster to Dashing; Steampunk Fashion for Men,” presented by Tony Ballard Smoot and DJ Doctor Q. The two gentlemen gave an entertaining and useful presentation on style basics for men, from shoes to hats.

This was followed by “The Pinkerton Detective Agency” presented by “Famous Captain Anthony LaGrange” a.k.a. Tony Ballard Smoot. This covered the establishment, founding principles, and history of the pioneering detective agency. The presentation seemed to be well researched, included lots of interesting information, and was skillfully presented by Mr. Smoot.

After that, we took a break to change for dinner. This year’s “Bobbins Dinner” was a bit bigger than years past, which made interaction a bit harder. (I note that the website posted that there were thirty tickets for the Bobbins dinner, but closer to sixty people were seated, some of whom, of course, were cast members.) The Marriott’s banquet staff is usually excellent, and the appetizer, salad, and dessert were all up to standard. The appetizer, shrimp on a rosemary skewer with chili barbeque glaze, was perfectly cooked, spicy but not too hot, and the shrimp were large and tasty. The salad was lightly grilled endive, with cheese and chicken garnishes, and a very nice lime and cilantro dressing. Dessert was a generous portion of flourless chocolate cake with bourbon infused whipped cream. The entrée, cider braised pork belly, was not a success. We were served a very pale piece of meat that some could not tell if it was pork or fish. Half the portion consisted of gelatinous fat, and the rest of nearly tasteless meat. No trace of cider was detectable. This was a misjudgment on the part of the chef. It is to be expected that pork belly is going to be fatty, but the braising method of cooking does not generate enough heat to render down or crisp up the fat as roasting or grilling would have. Nevertheless, since the appetizer was virtually an entrée in itself, the salad a goodly portion, and dessert filling, we did not go away unsatisfied.

After dinner, we lined up for the Night Circus, and were fortunate to get swept into fairly good seats. I was thrilled to enter the auditorium and hear the band strike up “The Big Cage: A Circus Galop”, which I had played in my high school band days. We were pleased to recognize Milwaukee performer Sir Pinkerton Xyloma of Dead Man’s Carnival as the ringmaster “T.E. Night,” and I was delighted to discover that the Original Baraboo Circus Band was being conducted by Professor Jerry Stitch, my old professor of Music.

The first half of the program was made up of acts associated with Dead Man’s Carnival, which are local people who are reinventing for themselves old-style circus and sideshow acts, with considerable success. The feats of strength, balancing, and juggling were truly impressive, all the more so for the occasional wobble or do-over which lets you know the effort involved is real, and the performers human beings like us.

The second half of the program was presented by Madison’s Cycropia aerial dance troupe, who performed a series of sets using fabric, trapeze, and custom equipment, including some I had never seen before. This show was beautiful, lyrical, and sensual and well worth seeing.
After the performance, the seating was broken down for dancing, but we preferred to decompress by finding a spot to sit in the hotel lobby to people-watch and chat with passers-by until we decided to call it a night. (People-watching at TeslaCon is always fun, but this year’s was exceptionally good. Perhaps the Western theme made dressing easier, but it seemed that the level and pervasiveness of good garb and gear was up a notch from years past.)

Sunday morning, I again assisted Georgie Schnobrich with presenting the second installment of “Wild Women of the West,” which dealt with Belle Starr, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, Mary Ellen Pleasant, The Other Magpie, and Adah Isaacs Menken.

Following that, we checked out the Science Fair, which had some very amusing entries, but seemed down in numbers from years past. One of the highlights was the robot-drawn pony cart, which was actually pulled by a walking machine (based, so I over heard, on the walking action of a dollar-store wind-up toy), which was built to resemble a scaled-down version of “The Steam Man of the Prairies” from 1868 dime novel by Edward S. Ellis.

Next, we made a thorough inspection of the almost overwhelming dealer’s room, which was rather crowded, but crammed to the rafters with luscious merchandise of every description. After making a couple of purchases, we escaped with what little remained of our money.
By this time we were beat, and, facing the possible prospect of having to shovel snow walks and driveway at home, we took off before the closing ceremonies.

Conclusions: We had, as we always do, a very good time overall. There did seem to me to be, in some ways, a bit letting down of standards perhaps due to “Lord Bobbin’s Vacation” being a bit of a pause in the more intensively scripted episodes of the past and the promised future, but overall still a very impressive effort bolstered by a lot of very well prepared volunteer presenters. Next year’s outing is Paris for the International Mad Scientist’s Convention, which looks to be fun. Special guests will include Abney Park and Professor Elemental which will be “specially ticketed events” which I expect means they will cost extra, but probably within reason for those who are interested. We have our tickets for next year.
Friday, November 7th, we made the trip to Middleton, Wisconsin, for TeslaCon 5.

We started the program with the first afternoon round of panels, “Exploring Your Steampunk Story.” This story-telling-style presentation was lightly attended, but the people who did participate had some interesting and well-crafted backstories to share.

Next, I did a presentation on “The Melodrama and the Music Hall: Victorian Middle-Class Entertainments.” I talked about the genesis of the melodrama, its rise and fall, and the various genres of play within the type. The talk was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation with pictures and some sound and video clips. The Music Hall portion was similar, giving origins and history of the Music Hall phenomenon, with numerous illustrations of halls and performers, and some music and video. The audience seemed to enjoy the presentation and find it interesting.

At 4:00PM, we went to the “Owen Society” presentation, “Cryptomania: Cryptology, Cryptozoology, and Cryptobotany for Fun & Profit.” This was a performance rather than a factual presentation, giving purported preliminary findings about the world at the “Center of the Earth,” which was cleverly done and amusing.

After dinner, we got in line for seating for the Opening Ceremonies. We were pleased that things started close to on time and we got good seats. Augmenting the usual broadly humorous acting of Eric Larsen as “Lord Bobbins,” William Dezoma as “Admiral Krieger,” and the rest of the crew, this year’s video presentation was, in a word, fantastic. From the moment the “Freya,” Lord Bobbins’ new combination armored dirigible/mechanical mole combination hove in site of the glowing polar hole leading down, until arriving at the Pellucidar-like “Center of the Earth,” the visualization of the journey was unlike any other I have seen. Totally unscientific, even by “hollow earth science” standards, but fascinating and beautiful to watch. The ultimate Center was the expected Verne/Burroughs homage with dinosaurs, mastodons, and, ultimately people. Much to the disgust of Lord Bobbins, the Earth’s Core also proved to harbor arch-foe Dr. Proctocus (Heath Howes), rescued by his minions from exile on the Moon and again plotting world domination.

Filing out of the Ballroom, I was particularly struck by the magic Eric has his people work: while the opening ceremonies were going on, the signage had been changed to add “beware of dinosaurs” notices. There were also dinosaurs in the Hotel! “Dakota & Friends” (www.DinoParties.com), are a troupe that has some amazingly cool dinosaur “suits” (for lack of a better term) with “animatronic” effects, and were now on site.

After the Opening Ceremonies, we attended this year’s fashion show, which featured Dr. Proctocus as M.C. After all, he said, “fashion is evil.” Actually, this year’s collection was very good.

The first collection was by Steampunk Angel Couture and BEW Steampunk Design which featured outfits with very creative and fresh uses of brown and black, plus a very attractive metallic paisley greatcoat.

Revive Gifts presented an attractive dress with multiple stripe patterns, one ornamented with gold tassels and bead fringe, a brown slinky number, and a harlequin skirt in pale blue and brown.

The collection from Ugo Serrano had a “family theme” showing us a daughter, son, father and mother. Included were an iridescent blue skirt with plaid bodice, vest with multi-check patterned trim, and a brown bib-front waistcoat. We also saw a sophisticated skeleton bustle, armor (steel!) corselet, and a flowing net skirt decorated with garlands of ruching that gave the effect of flowers.

Scoundrel’s Keep began with a lovely turquoise-patterned cutaway coat, followed by a bronze corset and pantalette outfit, a black and bronze ensemble with exposed crinoline hoops, and a white bolero jacket worn over coordinating corset and black floaty skirt.
KMK Designs showed us an elegant cream-colored corset dress, a basic black lapelled waistcoat and rousers, a steel gray hourglass corset with black lace overlaid skirt, and a black tunic top with mermaid skirt.

Silversark, who based her collection on the different colors and textures of obsidian, the volcanic glass, had one of the most spectacular collections, augmented by feather headpieces by Debra Olsen, and with jewelry by Muses’ Jewelry.

The collection opened with a yellow lace cocktail-length skirt under an exposed crinoline cage, accented with a black feather collar.

Next, was a black leather Empire waist tunic length dress with puffed sleeves; a black, off shoulder beaded number with elaborate feather headdress; and a largely sheer black negligee outfit, among others.

Enchanted Designs ended the show with a very unusual and imaginative collection, including a man’s firefighter uniform, an ensemble with wrap bodice and skirt hitched up to the hips, a red satin lapelled waistcoat, and some outfits incorporating very natural looking leather waist cinchers tooled by lasers. The final out fit was “The Gatekeeper,” which had a male model wearing a corselet of steel bars, and made ominously tall by stilts crafted to look like brick gateposts.

The designers took questions after the show, and talked briefly about the origins of each collection. After the formal show we were able to take close looks at the outfits and talk to the models about how it was to wear them.

Saturday Morning, we stopped in on morning coffee with the Milwaukee Steampunk Society, and then went to the Tea Room for the Suffragette Tea and Conversation, hosted by Frau Krieger, (now “Baroness Munchausen”, since the Admiral’s inheritance of the family title--), which was very pleasant. Georgie read some bits from a suffragist text, Are Women People?, by Alice Duer Miller, which the attendees present professed to find very interesting.

At 11:30AM, Georgie went to the presentation “vTech: Real Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian Technology” by Dr. Charles Tritt, which was very informative and covered a great deal of fascinating topics.

I went to “The Use Of Metafiction In Steampunk, And Steampunk Literature”. This was not “Metafiction as commonly defined, such as “Metafiction is a literary device used to self-consciously and systematically draw attention to a work's status as an artifact.” Instead, the presenters, including featured guest Thomas Willeford, discussed “the use and adaptation of various Victorian and non-Victorian characters and genre into the steampunk aesthetic.” This included both use of pre-existing fictional and non-fictional characters in new work and how to avoid the pitfalls that may exist. This panel had some useful information, not only for authors, but designers and actors as well.

Comic relief in the “Immersion” story was provided by “The Grink,” a troll-like puppet who enjoys singing, and whose idea of a good drink is a “grub smoothie.”

At 1:00PM, we went to “Cause Of Death II: The Sequel - An examination of illness and accident in 1880s America, with an emphasis on the medical advances and social issues surrounding contagious disease,” presented by Julieann Hunter. In this second installment, Ms. Hunter gave facts regarding diseases borne by insects and other vectors. This was again a morbidly fascinating discussion.

Our next presentation was “Our Lady Spies,” by Georgie Schnobrich. This program talked about Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds a.ka. Frank Thompson, Elizabeth van Lew and Mary Jane Bowser, all of whom spied during the U.S. Civil War. A great deal of fascinating information was dispensed to a room packed with an appreciative audience.

After the panel we madly dashed to change, having tickets for the “Bobbins Dinner.” We’ve attended these in the past and always found them great fun, as well as a good meal. It’s a pleasant challenge to stay in persona for a social event such as a dinner and we enjoy that. Also, it’s a good way to get some hints as to what’s coming up next year, as well as some entertainment in the form of the banter between Bobbins, Krieger, and their spouses and children.

This year’s menu was particularly good: titled “A Feast for Otto Lindenbrock” (the protagonist of “A Journey to the Center of the Earth,”) the first course was “Otto’s Foraged Mushroom Bisque,” which was delicious, but I found the “en croute” cap over the soup to be a bit awkward to deal with. Axel’s Intermezzo, elderberry sorbet with St.Germain liquor and basil was unique, refreshing, and delightful.

The main course, “Mastodon Tenderloin with Mushroom Mousse, Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus, Lemon Oil, and Bordelaise Sauce” was marvelous. We got a tender and flavorful serving of (beef) tenderloin stuffed with the mushroom mousse, which we were quick to pronounce “the best mastodon we had ever had.”

Dessert was “Anoplotherium Milk Cheesecake, The Professor’s Poached Pear, Marcona Almonds, and Micro Mint,” which was also delicious. The chef was roundly applauded by all.

After dinner, there was time to digest before the Grand Ball. This year, the wonderful First Brigade Band played again, and they were better than ever, having added more dance music to their repertoire. What could be better than the TeslaCon Grand Ball? There is beautiful music, beautiful attire, charm and good cheer for all. This year there were even dancing dinosaurs: yes, one of the “Dakota” group got out on the dance floor and bobbed around to the music.

Having danced our fill, we found some seats outside the ballroom, admired the passersby, and listened to the remainder of the music. We had wanted to stay for the start of the Steerage Ball, but it got too late waiting for them to set up, so we went to bed.
On Sunday morning, visiting the Steampunk Science Fair is de rigeur, and we admired the creatively designed gadgets on display. Following that, Georgie gave another presentation, “Wild Women of the West, “ telling stories of Lola Montez, Carrie Nation, and “Poker Alice”. It is likely there will be a sequel.

After both her presentations, Georgie got lots of good comments and feedback from her audiences. After “Wild Women of the West,” she was even asked if she would come and talk at a ladies’ tea!

I had to see the Closing Ceremonies, which involved a lot more fantastic video. For my taste, the “magma layer” sequence went on a bit too long, but it was all hypnotically beautiful to look at. The stage acting included a very good swordfight between new character Beauregard Krieger (the Admiral’s guerrilla fighter son) and one of Proctocus’ deep cover agents. Proctocus was foiled again, and given into the custody of the indigenous people, with a significant chance of being fed to the dinosaurs. (But, he’s not dead yet, so you know he’ll be back.) I did like the bit showing that Bobbins and Krieger are proper Imperialists, having loaded up the “Freya’s” holds with valuable “thorium ore” from the Earth’s Core before setting off.

Next year’s theme will be “The Wild West,” with Saturday evening having a “Night Circus” theme. We have our memberships--.
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.
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.
On Thursday the 31st, we packed our garb and gear and headed over to Madison for TeslaCon 4, "The Congress of Steam." Driving was good, and we got there with no problems. We stopped in downtown Madison for lunch and a bit of shopping, but got to the con in plenty of time for the first events. Check in at the Comfort Suites (a bit down the road from the Marriott) and for TeslaCon went smoothly.

We had some time before the first event we wanted to see, so naturally wandered into the dealer's rooms, which were as usual, dangerous to the pocketbook. Georgie had been going to look for hat decorations to go with the new outfit she had bought from Pendragon Costumes in September, and instead found THE perfect new hat at Ravenworks. While that was being negotiated, I discovered that my watch had stopped, and so bought a new one from Lily's Steampunk Emporium, which served me well during the con, and, besides, came with a number of cool chain decorations. So, we spent the better part of our discretionary funds within the first hour of getting there--. No regrets, though.

The first panel we went to was "Haunted Victorians: The Occult Sciences." This was a generally entertaining and informative presentation, with a few issues. They opened with a skit portraying a "gypsy" fortune-teller being exposed as a fraudulent spirit medium. I found this a bit inaccurate, conflating fortune telling with mediumship, and tending to reinforce the stereotype of Romany people as swindlers. To the group's credit, they received this criticism with good grace and acknowledged the point. In a general survey of people who might be considered as being in the "Spiritualist" scene in the 19th Century, there was not a clear transition made between charlatans such as the Fox Sisters and believers such as Wovoka, the Native American leader responsible for the Great Ghost Dance, which unintentionally implied they all belonged in the same "bucket". The panelists also agreed that this could be improved for future iterations of the presentation.

After the panel, we went back to our room to change for the Halloween Masquerade. Georgie was going as "La Fee Verte," or the "Absinthe Fairy." For this, she had an absinthe-colored evening gown stylishly distressed at the hems, elaborate black butterfly wings, a somewhat disheveled wig, and matching green eye shadow. The outfit was accessorized with an actual glass of absinthe and absinthe spoon. I revived (so to speak) my Dracula persona from years past. As time's gone by, I look more like the Count as described by Stoker-the long white mustache mentioned in his first appearance needs no artifice-with my white tie and tails paired with an appropriate sash and medallion, with the deathly pale make-up, and I'm good to go.

When we got into the Great Hall, we were dismayed to find it dark, lit mostly by the changing colored lights from the DJ's stage. What's the good of a Masquerade if you can't see the costumes? It also hadn't occurred to us that the music would be contemporary-most of it not at all obnoxious, but of course loud, and with today's thumping bass line that guarantees any attempts at conversation have to be done at a scream level. Not our thing, although it must be admitted we were in an evident minority and most people seemed to have no problem with it. After a look round, we retreated into the hallway and ensconced ourselves in chairs at one of the information tables in order to scrutinize the costumes as they came past. This worked well for us, as we were able to hail our acquaintances as they came past, made some new ones, and got to get good looks at the most delightful costumes, as the hallway became an impromptu photo gallery. People who wanted to chat came out to the hall, also, so it was a pretty "happening" place and we did not in the least feel like wallflowers.

We got quite a number of favorable comments on our costumes, and a surprising number of people wanted to take even my picture, which surprised me since there were many more spectacular costumes to see.
We retired about 10:30PM. This was not exactly the Masquerade we had imagined, but we had a good time nevertheless.
Sunday morning, we got breakfast again at the hotel restaurant, this time off the menu: omelet for me, Belgian waffle for Georgie, both pretty good.

We stopped in on Lord Bobbin's presentation, then went on to "Magic and Occultism in History and Steampunk," which was a nice presentation, but could have been broken down into two, one on "history", focusing on the Order of the Golden Dawn, etc., and the Spiritualist movement, to name a few, and one on incorporating (or not) magic into Steampunk. As it was, topics were touched lightly on, which went well for an audience on Sunday morning.

At 11:30 AM, we caught the action segment of "The Dragon's Tear,"--the third installment of the ongoing plot--, then went across the hall for "Scientists, Inventors, and Naturalists of the Victorian Age," which was a companion to the "Explorers" panel of the previous day and similarly formatted. This actually had what was to me more new information, perhaps because a lot of the interesting scientists are more obscure than interesting soldiers--.

At one, we went to the Closing Ceremonies, carefully choosing an escape route in case things got too loud. This time, that didn't happen, so we got to see and hear the latest developments in the struggle between Lord Bobbins and the fiendish Dr. Proctocus--to be continued next year!

We were rather tired due to not having slept very well--the Sheraton is a nice hotel, but the beds are 'executive hard', and there was a noisy open-door party down the hall from us Friday night--so we ducked out and made our way home.

All in all, TeslaCon 2 was a very good time for us, and we joined almost a third of attendees in signing up for next year, when Lord Bobbins & Co. will be going on a voyage to the Moon!
Saturday, we started with the breakfast buffet at the hotel, again, OK, but it was just as costly as ordering off the menu, and for Georgie having only toast, tea, and fruit that morning, not a good deal. It would perhaps have been good if the only eggs on the buffet didn't have cheese on them, but I found it all quite good.

Our first event was the "Bartitsu" lecture demo, which had a good balance of lecture and demo. We both picked up some useful information on Victorian-era fisticuffs and the unique style of cane fighting developed by Barton-Wright.

At 11:30, we went to the "Lost Worlds" presentation, introduced by notable explorer Captain Kreiger, and presented by Professor William Dezoma. Again, very thoroughly researched, and presented in an informal and entertaining fashion.

We broke for lunch at the Tea Room, which had an impressive variety of teas. It was nice in a way to have volunteers seating and serving people, but we could have done just as well serving ourselves. There was a nice selection of tea cookies on hand also, although I suspect that the liquorice allsorts that came along with were pretty much wasted-.

After that, we caught the latter part of the "Multiculturalism" panel, which in large part covered the same ground as similar panels we have seen at WisCon: respect the culture you are writing about/enacting, do real research. At least they had one of the more creative and exciting ends to the panel we have seen. "Authenticity" did seem to be a big theme at this convention, but that leaves unanswered the question of "how do you keep your 'punk' in steampunk?" What if your character would authentically be a cultural snob, or boor? What about fantastic elements? Hmm--perhaps a panel to be proposed, here--.

At 2:30, we went to "Explorers and Adventurers of the Victorian Age," which was pretty informative and well presented. It was interesting that the presenters included some local figures, such as Lake Michigan's most notorious pirate, although I was a bit bemused to hear that Captain Fredrick Pabst, famous Milwaukee brewer, supposedly participated in the Klondike gold rush at age 60? I've been to the Pabst Mansion several times and that was never mentioned in his biography as given, nor can I verify that anywhere else. Oh, well, the rest of the data given in the panel matched what we knew as far as we knew it. Again, there was an emphasis on using historical information as a basis for creating steampunk characters. (I gave my background for "Dr. DuQuesne" as an example of a persona with a military background, and got complimented on it--.)

Due to potential loudness, we passed on the "Battle of the Leviathans," and took a break in our room while dressing for dinner. We had reservations for 'The Captain's Table," and were looking forward to it. This was GREAT fun. Doing an entire dinner in persona is a great idea, and it gave us a chance to interact closely with "Lord Bobbins," "Captain Krieger," the Aquitanian (sp?)ambassador, and our co-attendees. I was charmed to discover that the couple next along the table from us were "Mr. and Mrs. Schlitz, from Milwaukee," which I though was a wonderful persona idea. I had the Sea Bass dinner, which was excellent, and Georgie pronounced the Apricot Chicken entree to be good, as well.

After dinner was the Steampunk ball, which we also enjoyed. Georgie had to go back upstairs to pin up her skirts so she wouldn't step on the hem, but in the mean time I cadged dances with Miss Mary Prince, and Mrs. Judy Seidl, who were both most gracious partners. When Georgie was able, we waltzed to "Tales of the Vienna Woods," polkaed to "Thunder and Lightning," and waltzed again to "Music of the Spheres". It's been too long since we danced together, and I was very glad that we could. The ball was a lovely occasion, and we speculated on where else these days you could see so many gentlemen as well turned out, "white tie" occasions being pretty much a thing of the past everywhere else.

After the ball was over, we adjourned to the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron party room and enjoyed some wine while catching up with friends Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden, before retiring for the night.
Having had good report of it from friends that went last year, we attended TeslaCon 2 in Madison, Wisconsin, with great anticipation and were not disappointed.

TeslaCon is one of the fastest growing SteamPunk conventions, and is unusual among Fannish events in having an overarching theme/plot, this years being the voyage of the dirigible/submersible HMS Trident from London to Peking via Cairo and the Indian Ocean, which involves making diplomatic contact with a race of mer-people, and avoiding the machinations of the evil Dr. Proctocus, oppressor of half of Europe and would-be dictator of all of it.

The convention is more-or-less "immersive", with it being quite possible to remain in your steampunk persona through the whole convention. Since we've never done SCA events, this was a new experience for us, and I must say we enjoyed it immensely. The hotel staff were well coached and played along to the extent necessary.

We spent a good deal of time before the event preparing and packing, some of which we needed (I used all five hats I packed) and some I didn't (there just wasn't an occasion really to drag out my doctor's bag or my guns), but I was generally glad I packed it all along just in case. Georgie and I both got several compliments on outfits or gear, so we were pleased with how things worked out. I enjoyed the effects of some little touches--seeing people's faces light up when I paid for some small item with dollar coins, or being asked for the loan of a pen, and handing the gentleman my fountain pen--.

We arrived at the hotel Friday about 9:30 AM and checked in with the Convention with no problems. Our room wasn't ready that early, so we left worrying about getting our stuff in to later, and went to the welcome speech by "Lord Bobbins". At the 11:30 time slot, I was taking part in the Jules Verne panel, lead by the impressively well-prepared Dr. Nautilus, and was able to add some remarks and historical notes that were very well received.

After that, we were able to check into our room, and the bellman was very competent and patient in handling our odd collection of luggage. We got lunch from the snack counter in the lobby (technically a Starbucks' but set up though the cons' intervention to dispense very good fish and chips) and found the F&C very good, with one order enough for both of us. After unpacking critical items, we caught the very end of the "Phantom Airships" presentation.

Next, we went to the "Arte and History of the Duel," which we found too much history and too little arte. The presenter, Sarah Lash, has an encyclopedic knowledge of her subject but went on too long before demonstrating anything. We ducked out and went to the dealer's room instead.

(General note to concom for next year: even for the demonstrations such as this, or dancing lessons, it is a mistake to take ALL the chairs out of the room. There is a wide range of physical ability even in the relatively young-skewing steampunk fandom, and not everyone can either stand up through an hour-and-a-half-long lecture demonstration, or sit on the floor comfortably. The A and B ballrooms easily had enough room to have had a single row of chairs against the walls and still have room to work.)

The dealer's room was most impressive, full of good stuff, and overflowed to both a "Couture" room and a "Dieselpunk" room. We had to shop fairly frugally this year, but made lots of notes for the future. Lord Bobbins threat--er, promise that next year there will THREE TIMES as many dealers is rather croggling in retrospect.

At 4:00PM, we went to Gail Carriger's solo reading, and found that she is as delightful in person as her books would make you hope. She read a bit from her forthcoming work "Timeless," answered questions most accommodatingly, and gave overviews of her forthcoming serieses (yes, plural-).

After that, we got dinner at the hotel restaurant. The buffet was reasonably priced, tasty, and had a good variety. The one quibble might be that we, and a number of other people of our acquaintance were notably headachy afterward, which might have been due to the presence of MSG in some of the prepared food? On the other hand, the hotel air was quite dry during much of the convention so that might have been a factor as well--.

After dinner, we attended the Opening Ceremonies--briefly. I say "briefly" because the seats we found were unfortunately directly in front of a speaker, and the volume on the animated movie sequence was literally tooth-rattlingly loud. And yes, I mean literally. We could feel them vibrating, not to mention the basso rumble in the chest which is particularly distressing to Georgie as it aggravates her asthma. When the sequence started to replay, we fled the room and contented ourselves with people-watching outside the ballroom. This was actually quite fun, as this con had some of the best people-watching, given garb and gadgetry, of any we have been at.

(Second general note to concom: There were approximately two sound settings for public address: TOO LOUD, and barely audible. The latter condition afflicted several of Lord Bobbins speeches. You need to get in and set up and check sound levels in advance as part of the setup for major events. Lord Bobbins also needs to be miked in larger non-ballrooms such as the "Leviathan" room. As a final comment on AV, it would be helpful to have some dedicated people who know how to run the video projectors and interface them with both Mac and PC equipment instead of letting presenters figure it out. This would be in ADDITION to Rena Noel, who did a great job but was looking run a little ragged by the end of the con--.)

We went back into the Ballroom for the Mummy Unwrapping, which was indeed a Victorian entertainment. Live projection of the process was a fine thing, although the narration sometime suffered from under amplification and occasional failure to describe what had been discovered (still too small to make out, even on the big screen). Both these issues got better as the event went on. The mummy itself was extremely well done, and, if it had any fault, was in looking a bit too-well preserved compared with real mummies of my experience.

Next, we attended the screening of "Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’ Adéle Blanc Sec", which was a lot of fun once it got running. The film is worthy of a full review on its own, which will follow.

After the movie, Georgie went up to bed, and I followed, after a short prowl of the parties on the first floor. The parties were remarkable for: 1) Charging admission: This was OK with me, since proceeds went to charity, a very common thing at TeslaCon; 2) Being pretty dark: not so good in my opinion; 3) Music actually at tolerable levels, OK; 4) LOTS of hard liquor available. OK by me, I've missed cons where people can be adults; 5)Almost no snacks, rather surprising. On Saturday night, Lord Bobbins made an announcement cautioning people against excess imbibing. It might be a good idea to encourage, if not require, party givers to offer some form of munchies, which acts to slow down absorption of alcohol.



September 2017

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