Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | November 23, 2011

PhilCon 2011 (part 2 of 2)

Philcon introduces Guest Speaker Cory Doctorow

An appearance by Cinderella

Panel: Remembering L. A. Banks with Stephanie Burke, Gregory Frost & Rock Robertson







Finishing up my coverage of this year’s PhilCon, here are the remaining panels I attended.  The steampunk ones were fantastic.

1. Panel: Is SteamPunk here to stay?

Panelists: PJ Schnyder (moderator), Jonah Knight, Evelyn Kriete, Thomas Willeford, Jeff Mach, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, G.D. Falksen

Will SteamPunk stay on as a social phenomenon, even after the literary ore has been mined out?  What is the relationship between steampunk fashion, music, and literature anyway?

This panel was the richest of all that I attended.  It could have gone on for hours and had serious lecture quality.  Some of the talking points:

– First, a definition.  Simply put, SteamPunk is sci-fi in a Victorian setting.

– Early on in the panel a comparison was made to goth, which has enjoyed 25+ years of existence, over multiple “generations” participating in it from music to fashion, dancing, and of course, the many, many characters on the TV and movie screens, as well as the many books.  SteamPunk has the popularity and potential to do the same thing.  Expect to see it in mainstream entertainment over the next five years.

– It’s possible that steampunk will last longer than goth because it’s image isn’t set but always changing.

– It was pointed out that the first book in SteamPunk was “The Difference Engine”, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.

-We are currently in the 2nd generation of SteamPunk.

– There’s a lot of crossover aspect between Goth and SteamPunk, as far as the fans go.

– SteamPunk is the antithesis of disposable technology, it’s recyclable technology.

– SteamPunk can tell any kind of story, and one great quote from G.D.Falksen was that “It’s the new rebellion.  (The characters) rebel against the previous generation by being more formal than them, as opposed to tearing down the formality” which is typically the case.

– One important fact to note is the very wide appeal of SteamPunk.  The older generations can appreciate the Victorian setting, and the younger generations can appreciate the techno gadgetry as well as the storylines, which quite often will

Panel: Steampunk Costume Basics

cater to the younger age.  SteamPunk takes place in a time of hopeful creation, a mindset all fans can appreciate.

2. Panel: Steam – Ironing out the details.

Panelists:  Richard B. Stout (moderator), Gil Cnaan, Elektra Hammond, G.D. Falksen

What exactly makes a story SteamPunk? Is it just a matter of slapping a few weird-science inventions on a Victorian setting, or is there more to it?

Another brilliant display of fervor and enthusiasm from the panelists, who very clearly are proud of SteamPunk and where it can go.  Some of the finer points:

– The rights of women in the Victorian Era was touched upon, and what roles that opens up for storylines.

– What are the boundaries of SteamPunk, and how flexible can they be?  There was more rejection to this than acceptance.

– It’s important to note the technological progress of certain countries, starting with England and then some parts of Europe, and then finally America (Civil War Era or New England).  These are ideal settings for SteamPunk.

– SteamPunk likes to ask the question, “What If”.

– Richard B. Stout urged all of us to read Jeffrey Ford’s Physiognomy.

– Most importantly, you have to include the aesthetic for SteamPunk.  A setting that exemplifies optimism, building things, creation.  One person (character) CAN make a difference as opposed to today where everything is already set and established.  Then, it wasn’t.  The techonological question is important.

– This is a romantic dream that scientific pursuits can make the world a better place (and likewise, for the bad guys to do evil with those pursuits).

– SteamPunk is moving toward greater detail, accomplishment, and opulence.  Machines weren’t just functional, but crafted with detail and beauty.  The world was more affluent then.  After the first World War, the world went into reverse, perhaps in response to it.  Machines lacked the detail and beauty it had beforehand.

– One final point comes from me, as several of the panelists were having a difficult time agreeing on whether SteamPunk Music can be labeled as such without a consistent musical identity (for example, jazz or classical music).  Years ago, a couple bands were labeled Goth by the fans in the audience.  Whether the bands liked it or not, the label stuck.  SteamPunk is like that; if the fans are wearing brass and they all start calling you SteamPunk, I think that means you’re SteamPunk.  It’s important to note that many will disagree with me here, including some of the panelists.  However, one of the most notable observables about goth is the endless bickering over topics just like this.  SteamPunk seems to me to be following in that same path, and what a wonderful path it is.

3. Panel: Internet Privacy and You

Panelists: Francis X. Taney Jr.(moderator), Orenthal Hawkins, Mary Spila, Gary Feldbaum, Cory Doctorow

Panel: Internet Privacy and You with Gary Feldbaum, Cory Doctorow, Orenthal Hawkins, Mary Spila & Francis X. Taney, Jr.

How much privacy do you really have on the internet?  Are your thoughts, wants, feelings really that private or are you opening the door to issues you never thought of? Can you be fired for blogging about your boss?  Will whiteboarding work?  What price do you place on your lack of privacy?  Discuss with panelists the pros and cons of posting online.

– One of the first points that was brought up was the hypocrisy of an entire industry.  You can’t tell people that privacy is important when you’re spying on them.  There’s too much going on with the internet that reports information back to whomever without your knowledge.

– The currency of friendship is information.  There’s a price that you pay to use the product, without being able to reject the product.  If you want to use it, you pay the price unfortunately.

– Two of the panels (Francis X. Taney Jr. and Gary Feldbaum) are attorneys and brought a legal point of view to the panel.

– There’s nothing you can do to hide away from the internet breaches, but you can make it more difficult for the wrong party to get information about you.

– The most popular uses of the internet from the panelists, where there would be concern were: Google Plus, Facebook, Livejournal, LinkedIn, Twitter, DreamWidth, Flicker.

That wraps up the PhilCon for 2011 for me.  I wish I had gone to more panels, but then I say that every year.  PhilCon always takes place on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Until next year!

Panel: SF Primer with Victoria Janssen, D. Douglas Fratz & Muriel Hykes


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