While comic cons regularly see a legion of steampunk afficionados circling the floor in Victorian petticoats and old-timey goggles, this weekend is the first time the cultural phenomenon gets a gathering all its own when Aethertopia opens at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Steampunk, which has been bubbling in the pop culture background since the ‘80s, is a style of clothing, gadgets and fiction that’s easy to spot but sometimes hard to describe. Usually set in a Victorian era of steam-powered gadgets, it resembles the science fiction of Jules Verne. Except when characters, costumes and devices are set in a post-apocalyptic time or the Old West. And that’s fine, too.
Calling it a cross between a Renaissance festival and a fan convention, Aethertopia creator Anthony Sakovich, who goes by the cosplay name Lord Puddleton, says the gathering on Saturday and Sunday will be steeped in Victorian sensibilities and science fiction.
The name Aethertopia comes from the frequent use in steampunk fiction of "aether," the magic element that keeps airships afloat or allows for Victorian Era interplanetary travel. The storyline goes that Aethertopia is "a city of artisans and makers who have transported across time" and are landing in Tampa this weekend, Sakovich said. Visitors will walk through seven "districts" of Aethertopia, such as the Hatters Guild and the Storytellers Guild.
Since so much of steampunk is about clever creations, the focus on makers is big, with a People’s Choice contest for the fabulous hats, props and story tellers in each district, as well as a judged Great Maker Contest of artwork, clothing, writing, devices and gear. There will be a daily "costume pageant."
Hands-on workshops will show attendees how to turn things like hats or a Nerf gun steampunk, and educational symposiums — "Theodore Talks" — will have sessions on steampunk and its inspirations, such as "Time Travel in Theory and Practice" and "Secrets of Smart Thrifting." All are included with admission.
Entertainment includes storytellers, musicians, dancers, plus a Steampunk Ball on Saturday night, free for attendees.
A 400-square-foot Lego play area will be open for kids. Games will include "teapot racing" (think remote control cars, except the car has been replaced by a teapot and you have to navigate an obstacle course) and "parasol dueling" (think rock, paper, scissors, except a twirl of the parasol beats a planted parasol held point down to the ground).
"Steampunks really shouldn’t have a convention since it’s not historically supported, they should have a world’s fair or a giant symposium," said Sakovich, 55, a marketing executive from New Port Richey who sports a glorious set of mutton chops as side whiskers. "That’s why we worked in a whole story line of a city that travels through time and it needs a room big enough to hold it."
With almost 1,800 fans on the Tampa Bay Steampunk Society Facebook group, Sakovich said he expects do draw a few thousand fans each day this weekend, where the main motivation is instructional.
"We want people to be entertained, but really it’s about being inspired. It’s about doing not watching."
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at email@example.com. Follow @SharonKWn.