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March 28th, 2011:

Anomaly Con 2011 Wrapup

JimBySteamEngine.jpgI got back from Anomaly Con 2011 last night, and realized by 9 PM that it had worn me out. I used to do weekends of nonstop socializing and concept-absorbing without blinking, but those days are gone, and I just don’t have the stamina anymore. My collaborator Jim Strickland (left) did much better than I, but I’m guessing we both slept pretty well last night. I certainly did.

Not that I didn’t learn a lot, nor enjoy it. To the contrary: It was a great time, and I suspect I made a few new friends, even if I didn’t raise my profile as a writer very much. One of the things I learned is that the steampunk phenomenon is less about books than about culture, and it’s held together much more via social networking than I would have predicted. The sessions on clothes and characters and even absinthe were SRO. The sessions focused on writing were less so, though anything involving Sarah Hoyt was reasonably well-attended.

I haven’t read her yet and intuit that her work isn’t exactly my thing, but Sarah in person is insightful, funny, and completely on top of the writing game. Furthermore, she’s willing to dump on all of the writerly rulebookisms now doing the rounds at workshops, like never use any said-bookisms, avoid adverbs, and so on. Though she didn’t say it straight out, the summary is simple and would-be writers need to drink deeply of it: You can’t write well by rules alone. Black-and-white thou-shalt-nots of this sort are particularly misleading, and are perpetuated by people who make their living trying to teach people without a good ear for the language how to write. Backwards, backwards: Get your ear first, then apply the rules when your ear detects a rough spot.

One great surprise for me was Pandora Celtica, a (mostly) a capella group of five who do Irish folk songs and their own Celtic-themed compositions in marvelous close harmony. It was accidental: I was on my way to the men’s room when I passed the group’s vendor table, just as they were striking up an impromptu number. I bought two of their CDs on the spot, and was not disappointed.

A couple of my conversations suggest that a rift is developing in the steampunk world: Those who would like to see steampunk remain true to its roots, in fiction faithful to the science, technology, and culture of its time, versus those who feel no hesitation in pulling steampunk ever more toward deep retro urban fantasy. I need to read more on both sides before I can have strong opinions here, but something of this sort was happening in the 1960s, when the New Wave was taking on traditional hard SF and enough bricks were thrown in both directions to build several thousand brick moons. The New Wave eventually drowned in its own self-indulgence, but in fairness, it freed both fantasy and hard SF to explore sexual themes in ways simply unthinkable prior to 1960. The term “steampunk” may have to be broadened to include any fantastic literature in a Victorian setting–which will clear the way for others to create “hard steampunk” as a distinct subsubgenre.

The Tivoli Building at the Auraria Campus is not brightly lit, and many convention events were held in cavernous spaces where my pocket camera couldn’t grab enough light to image well. So (having reviewed everything in the camera this morning) I don’t have much in the line of photos to show you, and nothing at all of me. Jim may have some better shots (he had his DSLR with him) and if so I’ll post what I can in coming days.