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Conventional Wisdom

Anachrocon 2010
Atlanta, GA - April 30 - May 2, 2010

by Dan Hollifield


AnachroCon

I've got to get this written up while everything is still fresh in my mind. This past weekend, my wife and I attended AnachroCon 2010- the second edition of that rapidly growing Steampunk/historical fiction convention. In short, it was a blast! We attended as many of the panel discussions as we could fit in to our schedule, but there were far many more that we were sad to have missed. As is the norm with any convention, some interesting panels and events have to be scheduled at the same time as others which are equally interesting. That's just the nature of Cons; it's impossible to have just one event at a time, not everyone shares the same interests, and a con-goer will always find an informal discussion in a hallway or lobby among other attendees that they just can't tear themselves away from.

I had a long series of conversations with the Con Committee as they took occasional short breaks from the work of running the Con. This gave me a little bit of a look inside the workings of a convention, and what it takes to put on one that was as wildly successful as this one became. My wife and I attended the first AnachroCon last year- A one-day event. That was so much fun that we knew we'd have to make sure we got to go to the next one, this year's con. AnachroCon 2010 grew into a three-day event, from the success of the original and the sheer number of people wanting to attend, give panels, host events, etc. In 1009, there were 150 to 200 attendees, this year there was easily 400 or more when you include the folks who only attended one day of the Con- despite the state of today's economy. Also despite an unfortunate, last-minute scheduling conflict with another convention that turned out to be held the same weekend. In fact, AnachroCon may have scored a historical first among Cons- The first ever two-way live feed over the Internet from both Cons. There were computers at both Cons set up with video and audio, linked to each other , where attendees at both Cons could walk up, chat with each other, and see what was going on at the other location. The AnachroCon committee have already taken pains to set the date for the 2011 Con so that it doesn't clash with any other Con that has already been scheduled for next year.

It's a fact that no one has quite as much money to spare as we did before the economic troubles hit. I would guess that every convention is facing the same set of problems- "How can we keep the costs down so that people who want to attend can afford to do so?" The AnachroCon staff found a way, several ways in fact, to put on an enjoyable, yet affordable Con. In fact, most of these cost-cutting measure were quite invisible to the attendees, except in the fact that they worked to make it possible for even more people to attend. Con membership costs were held down, even though there was enough demand to allow an increase. A deal was made with the hotel to insure the cost of rooms for the Con was highly affordable. Dealers fees for tables in the Huxter's Room were held down to make sure that dealers could afford to attend and offer their wares for sale. And so on... Everything worked, and worked wonderfully, to make AnachroCon 2010 even more enjoyable than the 2009 edition. AnachroCon grew so much this year that it will be forced to seek a different hotel for next year's Con. Which brings me to where I must digress a moment to say a few words about the location: the Wellesley Atlanta Airport Hotel in Atlanta, GA

Both years that the Con has been held at the Wellesley I was highly impressed with the cleanliness of the hotel, the friendliness of its staff, the variety of and the easy walking distance to many, many affordable places to eat. The Wellesley in an amazing little place that has seemed like a second home every time that I've been there. I heard of only a few, minor problems with the hotel itself this year; one couple had to wait while some plumbing was repaired in their room, another had a malfunctioning air conditioner, and a third had to have their in-room microwave oven seen to- but that was the only complaints that I heard about the entire weekend. Another thing to consider, the Wellesley makes its living by being close to the Atlanta airport, not by hosting conventions. The sound of jets taking off and landing is obvious when someone is outside the hotel, in the pool area. From inside however, the noise is easily overlooked. I don't remember an instance of anyone at a panel indoors having to raise their voice to be heard over the normal noise of a working airport. The Wellesley is a small hotel, well established, and with a long history of helpful, polite, hard-working staff contributing to make it an enjoyable place to stay. It is a shame that the Con has outgrown the hotel and has been forced to seek a larger venue for next year. It is a delightful little place, but the operative word here is "little." AnachroCon attendees filled up easily half the rooms in this six-floor hotel. After the Con had begun, another group arrived: a High School Marching Band from New Orleans. Now you might think that a hotel full of teenagers and Anachronauts would be a sure recipe for inconvenience for both parties, but you'd be wrong. Yes, there were a few rowdy members of the teenage group, but these were very few and far between. The majority of them I found to be polite and considerate kids. They were well chaperoned by responsible adults who seem to have instilled in them a great deal of respect for others. As an example, I had gotten a new case for my cell phone just before the Con and had neglected to add a safety strap to the belt clip before I left home. One evening, I discovered that the case had fallen off my belt without my noticing. Just as I got up to start looking for my phone, of of the chaperons for the teens called me over and asked if I'd lost a cell phone. One of the kids had found it in the hotel hallway and immediately turned it in to their coach. He had sent one of the teens to the Hotel desk to report finding the phone at almost the same moment I'd realized that I'd dropped mine. That was not only a happy ending, but a reassuring example of responsible upbringing that I found personified the members of the Marching Band as a whole. AnachroCon may have outgrown the Wellesley, but there are other small Cons that will still find the place to be perfect for their needs.

Jefferson, Franklin, their wives, & my wife.Now, as for the panel discussions this year... Whew! Informative, exciting, fun, lively- This is one of the best Cons for panels and events that I have ever attended! As Steampunks, the attendees have a great and abiding interest in History, creativity, do-it-yourself handiwork, and fun. Most of the panels I attended could have easily been split up into multiple subjects and panels. Which, as I am informed, is quite possible at next year's Con. The discussions were amazing as well as enjoyable. The depth and breadth of the topics covered were nothing short of incredible. History, both real and fictional alternative History was covered in grand detail. There were panels on Victorian-era lifestyles, Crypto-Archeology, Steampunk literature and comic books, Victorian-era methods of food preservation, prop-making, costuming, fiction, non-fiction, research, crafts... In short, nearly every subject near and dear to the hearts of Steampunks the world over. One of the highlights was the appearance of two actors who have devoted themselves to researching the lives and times of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, as well as portraying these two historical figures with an accuracy and accessibility that cannot be matched. J.D. Sutton as Thomas Jefferson and Bill Pacer as Benjamin Franklin are a fantastic duo of actors. These two gentlemen, and their wives, must be seen and heard by anyone interested in the history of the early Steampunk-era United States, as well as Europe. I could wish that they had been around for lectures during my own school years, for they make their characters and the history of their characters come to life in a way that schoolbook learning can't possibly convey.

 Another highlight would be the appearance of several writers of Steampunk, historical adventures, alternate history, science-fiction and fantasy, gas lamp adventure/romance, and a host of other genres that fall under the umbrella that is known as "Steampunk Fiction."

Jana Oliver's first series of novelsFan favorite and good friend Jana Oliver was there this year. She was on several panels as well as hosting one devoted to her own "Time Rover" series of novels. If you've never read one of Jana's books, you have a huge treat in store for you, As an added bonus, Jana was able to announce that she will have a new series starting soon, called the "Demon Trappers" series, the first volume of which will be released in January of 2011- just in time for next year's AnachroCon. Jana also spoke briefly about other projects she has in development.

Another writer appearing was Nick Valentino, with whose work my wife fell in love at first reading. I've been promised that I'll be allowed to read his Steampunk adventure novel, "Thomas Riley" just as soon as my wife can put it down.

Other writers appearing were Kimberly Richardson, author of "Tales From a Goth Librarian" and editor of the anthology "Dreams of Steam", and Emilie P. Bush, author of "Chenda and the Airship Brofman." If you aren't familiar with the works of these two ladies, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

I would hazard to say that the panel discussions and the events at AnachroCon are contributing causes to the rapid growth of the popularity of the Con. So much is available to attendees to bring real history as well as fiction to their grasp that the average con-goer can't possibly come away without having learned something new and exciting. On so many levels, AnachroCon is succeeding in becoming a fun educational resource into every subject near and dear to the hearts of the Steampunk fandom at large. The full guest list is still available on the AnachroCon website- Far too many for me to list completely. Suffice it to say that each is an expert in their chosen fields of study. Each speaker brought an enthusiasm for their subject that rapidly transfused to the attendees. The Arts were well represented too, with displays and panel discussions on a huge variety of subjects.

The Extraordinary ContraptionsI can't possibly cover every aspect of the Con, so rest assured that there was much more going on than I have time to tell. I'd be remiss however, if I were to leave out the musical artists who graced the Con. Attractions in the evenings at the Con included several live bands of both modern and classical styles of music, like fan favorites The Extraordinary Contraptions, the Cemetery Surfers, Play It With Moxie, Denim Arcade, The Vauxhall Garden Variety Players, Doctor Q and Catt Ninetails as DJs spinning tunes that covered a wide range of genres on different nights, Talloolah Love and the Syrens of the South- a burlesque performance group, and many, many more things that I missed by being wrapped up in interesting conversations elsewhere at the time. One cannot be everywhere at once, much to my regret. In the future I hope to be able to take en even more panels, events, and entertainments that this marvelous convention has to offer. AnachroCon is far more than just another convention. No, it is a family, a convocation of those wonderful wizards of the aether, a collection of adventurers, mad scientists, literary geniuses, artists, musicians, entertainers, pirates, film makers, costumers, inventors, storytellers, bards, craftsmen, airship pilots and airship pirates...

A family of fans, united by the love of many, many different things that can be found here, enjoying the all too brief time they get to spend together.

AnachroCon is well on its way from being a "start-up" Con to becoming a major player in the Southeastern convention scene. I cannot recommend this Con highly enough. Go to http://www.anachrocon.com/ -the AnachroCon website, bookmark it, keep checking it out as new information is added, get yourself a membership, and come join the fun! You'll be glad you did.

Dan L. Hollifield
Senior Editor/Publisher: Aphelion Webzine
www.aphelion-webzine.com


© 2010 Daniel L. Hollifield

Dan Hollifield is the senior editor of Aphelion.

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