On the Fence About Whether to go to the International Steampunk Symposium? GET THERE IF YOU CAN!

My Experience at the International Steampunk Symposium 2016

I am an unusual convention attendee. ISS is the second Steampunk con I have attended, and also the second one I have attended alone. Luckily for me, Steampunks are the nicest people around! I found plenty of people to talk to. Another thing that made me stand out a bit at ISS is that I was not wearing a costume for most of the weekend. I hadn’t taken into account how hard it is to get into corsets and other Steampunk clothes without help! And without a friend to lace me up, I ended up spending most of my time in jeans and a hoodie.

But, it didn’t matter to the nice folks at ISS that I “muggled” my way through the weekend. Steampunks really can be the most splendid people!

The Convention Space and Amenities

ISS has been held in the same hotel, the Crowne Plaza, for several years. The ONLY complaint I had about the whole con was about the venue. Thankfully, in 2017, the convention has moved to the Crowne Plaza Blue Ash. The original venue was particularly good for hosting the Symposium Games but the convention space and the guest rooms were reeeeeeeeeeally far apart. If you forgot something in your room you’d waste a good ten minutes getting there and back. I am looking forward to exploring the new space and amenities this year.

I ended up striking up random and rewarding conversations with several people during breakfasts at the hotel. This was a big perk of staying right at the venue rather than an overflow hotel. The bar also had special drinks they concocted to go with the Alice in Wonderland theme of the event for the barflies in the crowd. I’m sure that this year will be no different.

What Was the Balance?

Different events set out to achieve different goals. For instance, some conventions are more focused on musical groups, while others are all about shopping. ISS strikes a nice balance of lectures, entertainment, and vending. In addition to the ballroom that was dedicated to shopping, some authors and bands also had tables where you could get signatures and chat. I had a great time with Lauren Renee Hieber, a Steampunk author who also hosted a session on how awesome the Gothic period was.

I really enjoy the lectures that I attended, such as What is Aether? and The Ethical Treatment of Women in Science Fiction. I have showcased some of the topics that were covered on my blog, and I am using other information as research for my own fiction and other nonfiction projects. Though it is true that I was sometimes the only attendee at a session (such as So You Want to Edit an Anthology?) but I am so grateful that I was able to get the information.

My only negative comment when it came to the sessions was that the way they were scheduled could get in the way of attending all I wanted. There were basically two tracks, speakers who started on the hour and one who started on the half hour. But with all the sessions an hour or so long, the chance of missing a different speaker in the other track was really high. I mentioned this to some of the organizers last year, so here’s to hoping they’ve got this issue remedied.

Even so, if you can only make it to half the session, they were all excellent. I am hoping I will be able to live up to ISS’s high standards when I present my 30 Years of Steampunk lecture, as well as a few other talks I’m preparing. Subscribe to PhoebeDarqueling.com to get all the news on my upcoming appearances!

The Symposium Games

The thing that really makes ISS special though has to be the Symposium Games. These contests are equal parts whimsy and skill, and they are just as much fun to watch as to participate I am sure. I had heard of some competitions at other cons, such as tea dueling. ISS also had Dirigible Races, Teapot Races, Umbrella Fencing, and Combat Croquet. There was some prep work involved in these contests, so they weren’t the sort of thing you could join at the last moment (with the exception of fencing). Combat Croquet competitors, for instance, made their own mallets out of lawn flamingos and were judged both on most beautiful mallet and on actual points.

I also thought that the games did a nice service for the con because they were all family-friendly. There were other kid-centered activities all weekend long, which made it a very inviting and fun atmosphere for families.


I hope I see you Apr 28-30 at International Steampunk Symposium 2017!

I’ll post again with what you can expect for this year’s convention. The theme is “30 Years of Steampunk” (AKA 1987 Steampunk’d) to coincide with the anniversary of the word Steampunk in April.


Want to see a report like this for the Edwardian Ball in New Orleans March 25?

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Photo by Marco Sanchez


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