What if the Victorian era never ended? What would life be like today? How would we perceive the future? You may get a good idea for an answer to these questions at this Saturday’s Steampunk Emporium in Sacramento.
What is the Steampunk Emporium? It might be easier to answer that question by looking at the definition of “steampunk”, which has not been easy to define. But we can start by saying that steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction inspired by the subgenre of cyberpunk which has to do with futures dominated by digital technology and virtual reality (William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer” is a good example), much of which has become today’s reality. Steampunk drew a following shortly after cyberpunk did in the 1980s.
Though the Oxford Dictionary defines steampunk as “a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology,” the definition has grown over the years. It’s even expanded to the fantasy and horror genres. Having mostly begun with alternative Victorian futures and histories, it has come to cover not only 19th century British culture but also culture of the American West. The short lived TV series, “Firefly”, is an example of this second category. Steampunk has also crossed both ethnic, racial and continental boundaries. “Beyond Victoriana” is a website that promotes multicultural steampunk and therefore “steampunk outside a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework.” And so the subgenre has opened up to cultures and races such as Black, Hispanic and Asian, reflecting those cultures with a 19th century industrial era theme.
What is so punk about steampunk? Rather than just an aesthetic of art, literature and fashion, it is also a political statement, one that criticizes mainstream society of today using a 19th century scope. According to “Beyond Victoriana” founder Diana Pho, known on the website as “Ay-leen the Peacemaker”, “Steampunk . . . is never apolitical. The nineteenth century was a time of intellectual achievement, innovation, and geopolitical expansion. At the same time, that greatness came at the expense of slavery, oppression, social inequality, and racism. These problems did not go away once the Victorian era ended, and in fact, the social scars are still visible upon our society today.”
The Sacramento science fiction/fantasy fandom community has also taken part in the subgenre. Sacramento has at least three steampunk clubs, Sacramento Steampunk Society, The League of Proper Villains and UC Davis’s student-run Steampunk Society. All three have put on numerous events and this includes Sacramento Steampunk Society’s Steampunk Emporium.
So what is the Steampunk Emporium? Think of it as a mini fan convention for steampunks. This event will feature arts and crafts on display and for sale by more than 40 venders. Some of these venders will include Tom Banwell whose work has been exhibited at Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science, 3D photographer Jim Tenney and corset maker Barbara Muran. A swap meet will also be held. There will also be entertainment by performance groups Aether Brigade, Equilibrium Fire Arts and SwingGoth. “New York Times” best-selling author Gail Carriger will be signing books from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Members of many of Sacramento’s historical and geek culture organizations such as Sacramento Steampunk Society, League of Proper Villains and Sac Geeks will make appearances. Door prizes will also be given away throughout the day.
The Steampunk Emporium runs this Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Great Escape Games, 1250 Howe Avenue, Suite 3A. It is open to the public with “free admission for shoppers” and is family friendly. For more information, please visit the Sacramento Steampunk Society’s website.
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