Steampunked

A woman snug, tight in a steel-boned corset. A man in a double-brimmed hat, puffing a calabash pipe. Brass-rimmed goggles, a necessity on airship voyages. A brass and leather spyglass, for solving mysteries, of course. A vintage mechanical pocket watch and fob.

All were common sights at OctopodiCon 2012, a celebration of all things steampunk, held in Oklahoma City in October.

Steampunk literature and culture venerate the Victorian era, the second half of the 19th century. Steampunk is first and foremost a genre of literature, a mix of science fiction, fantasy and alternate history that draws upon the people and paraphernalia of the steam-powered age.

Never heard of steampunk? Ever heard of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Ever heard of Dr. Who? Ever heard of Girl Genius? Ever heard of Myst? If so, then you have heard of various shades of steampunk.

“Most people have seen steampunk, even if they aren’t aware that that is what it is called,” says Katrina “Kit” Holley, a Norman attorney and OctopodiCon organizer. “Lawyer by day, steampunk prima donna by night,” she jokes.

Noddy Brothers lives in the Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres and works as a receptionist at Oklahoma City’s Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics. Brothers was chair of OctopodiCon 2012.

“First and foremost, (steampunk) is an attitude – exploratory, wondering, creative,” Brother says. “It was a very innovative time period. Telephones, telegraphs, automobiles…you’ve got the whole world opening up. They went everywhere; they did everything.”

“Lawyer by day, steampunk prima donna by night.”

It was indeed a remarkable time for literature, the time of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. The time of beloved characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Van Helsing, and much-feared ones like Dracula and Frankenstein. Modern steampunk fiction revisits that fascinating age.

According to OctopodiCon’s website, “Steampunk is a retro-futuristic subgenre of speculative fiction, set in or thematically referring to an alternate Victorian period during which the technologies of the Industrial Revolution achieve fantastic sophistication and power.”  

Oklahomans and visitors from around the world celebrated the steampunk subgenre and subculture with classes, authors, art, gaming, a masquerade ball, a charity auction and even a radio-controlled mini-airship race. A few weeks before the convention, Holley says almost 300 people were pre-registered, and two to three times that many were expected to attend.

Both Brothers and Holley were pointed in the direction of steampunk by their youthful love for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Holley also mentioned Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and the science fiction of H.G. Wells. “I have always enjoyed anything with a Victorian flair to it,” she says.

In 2011, both women attended what was probably the first statewide steampunk event, the Oklahoma Steampunk Exposition. A few exposition attendees, including Brothers and Holley, wanted to keep the steampunk fire burning, so they banded together to put on OctopodiCon 2012.

To Holley, the vintage costuming is definitely part of the attraction. She sews and crafts many of her own pieces. “Half the fun is getting to dress up and show off all the stuff you have found and created. It gives me a creative outlet that I don’t get in my job.”

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