Gentlemen, grab your aviator goggles and put on your Victorian top hat. Ladies, don that corset and gather your locks into an old-timey hairdos.
Why? Because it's time to hang out with the steampunks at the Nova Albion Steampunk Expo
In case you don't know, steampunk is a hobby and lifestyle that glorifies all things related to Victorian and Edwardian science fiction. Using such writers as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as inspiration, steampunk enthusiasts like to marvel in wonderment at what the world would be like if 19th-century technology had been created with the insight of the 2010.
Steampunks also geek out over the Ren-faire-esque idea of role playing. This means that the they tend to stay in character while gathered amongst their own, gamely spouting (shaky) Victorian accents.
Asylum was on hand this past weekend at the Hilton Garden Inn in Emeryville, Calif., where the annual Nova Albion Steampunk Expo was held this year. Read on to see all the vintage fashion, anachronistic festivities, and crazy time-travel role-playing action.
As we pull into the parking lot, we notice that steampunk fanfare is well underway. A sea of folks dressed in old-timey gear marvels at the low-meets-high-tech innovations, such as this armored mobile snail that actually spits fire. (Fire-spitting not shown in photo.)
Here are a bunch of steampunks behind the wheel of the gigantic snail car. They look like school chums of the amazing Captain Nemo.
They try to remain in character as a renovated trolley encircles the perimeter of the parking lot, serenading us with accordion music that creates a carnival-like atmosphere.
But steampunk isn't all about goofy stuff like wearing top hats with large lightbulbs affixed to them, like this man who is channeling a character out of "Doctor Who."
It's also about tinkering around with obsolete gadgetry, much of which features gauges and tubes.
"This allows me to communicate with my airship. We're out of crumpets," says a goggled man about the Stirling engine
"I do say it's marvelous!" exclaims a man in coattails at the sight of a copper pipe organ that's part of the calliope portion of a larger musical instrument called the Pandemonium. "Splendid!" he says while wringing his hands. With a bow: "Thanks you for your time, sir!"
Though this couple looks like they might have arrived in a rocket-ship contraption built by silent film director Georges Méliès
(as seen in his film, "A Trip to the Moon
"). Or maybe a hot-air balloon like in "Around the World in 80 Days
But most steampunks arrived in such vehicles as new Hondas or Ford Escorts -- clearly manufactured in the modern era.
Come on, steampunks! You could have at least ridden in on something as cool as this steam-powered motorcycle rather than a four-door sedan.
Or maybe you could have driven this Trilobite, designed using the past's version of the future?
Some at least appeared to arrive at the expo in true Victorian fashion -- the horseless carriage.
But then we discover the truth. "Like so many steam cars, it's authentic," explains the top-hat-wearing tinkerer who helped assemble this contraption. "Which means it's not operational."
Inside the cramped expo hall, goggled couples shop for all their old-timey steampunk clothing needs, such as corsets and walking canes.
Women fawn over one another's outfits: "Darling! I love your bustle."
Many male attendees smoke pipes and wear gloves with the fingers cut out.
Then there's this guy, who uses metal claws to accent his Victorian outfit. This reminds us of Will Smith in "Wild, Wild West
." Or perhaps you desire a good wrist crossbow?
"What year did this start?" we ask one of the expo's organizers, a woman dressed like a schoolmarm.
"This is the between the years 1850 and 1890," she replies.
"No, I mean what year did the expo start?"
"Oh!" she laughs. "2008."
Really, though, how often do you get to wear your Phileas Fogg
outfit in a non-ironic way?
Official weaponry policy at the Steampunk expo as stated in the brochure:
"Ray guns, blasters, and other costume weaponry MUST be non-functional."
Good thing this is a non-functioning ray gun. We'd hate to have someone go 19th-century postal at this place!
"It's all about recycling old stuff to make them new," explains a steampunk woman, referring to her headgear of tubes and coils.
"This is my antenna," she reveals.
The 14th floor of the Hilton is where the steampunk art exhibits are. It's interesting riding a cramped elevator with a group of people staying in accented Victorian character.
"19, if you should be so kind."
"Going up? Splendid!"
This man, wearing a hat adorned with test tubes filled with brown, murky liquid, says, "This is my special medicinal brew. It's desired to lubricate."
We figured there would be people dressed like Charlie Chaplin at the expo. Not only that, but there's a Charlie Chaplin couple.
"This is the steam bass," says this musician. "It utilizes steam power." He demonstrates his modified bass. "The steam is transferred through the many parts and delivers the steam to the strings."
"It really does that?" I ask.
"No, it's just for show."
He explains he made it from a $40 Yamaha bought off of Craigslist.
"We're old model-makers from the '70s," adds his friend, who is dressed like an old west casino dealer. "We're taking junk and making it work."
"This time machine works in real time," says an excited attendee about this gizmo, which has flashing lights, sprockets and wheels. "It used to be a table."
If you were in a trippy world and you came across this thing, you might think it actually works.
My steampunk day ends at a party held in what looks like Willie Wonka's house. It's a simulated Victorian house -- on wheels.
The "admiral" throwing the soiree beckons, "You get to go up in the hall and hobnob with fellow wizards."
Just another day at the steampunk expo.