On Thursday, November 15th, we drove over to Middleton for TeslaCon 9, “The Battle of Britain.”
The immersion plot this time starts with the evil Dr. Proctocus and S.W.A.R.M. in the ascendant, having conquered most of Europe and Asia, with the embattled freedom fighters fallen back on the islands of Britain as their last redoubt. The events climaxed Saturday afternoon, with a climactic battle, in which S.W.A.R.M.’s aerial armada is destroyed by Lord Bobbins’ secret weapon. This was creatively presented: the audience was ushered into the “air raid shelter,” where we could “overhear” the radio transmissions of the combatants, augmented as the crisis by animation of the final combat as “visual pickup.”
We had a particularly good time at this TeslaCon. Most things ran very smoothly. We got dinner on Thursday night at the “Wurst Dinner,” which was quite good and fun. Although attendance was slightly down this year, the people in attendance seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the people-watching in particular was excellent. The wartime theme brought out a lot of colorful military and paramilitary outfits, and it was fascinating to see the creativity expressed. (On Friday, I wore an outfit with a “Home Guard” helmet and medical kit. On Saturday, I sported my 1880’s U.S. Army Medical Officer’s uniform. On Sunday, I dressed as a dirigible crewman, which was thematic with my presentation on Historical Airships in Combat.)
All the presentations we attended were informative and interesting, if not all flawless. “Women in Early Aviation, 1784-1944” gave us a lot of history we hadn’t known before. So did “Alphonse Mucha, the life of a Victorian Occultist and Artist.” While I thought that the presenter’s finding of supposed occult symbolism in Mucha’s graphics work might have been a bit overstated, his involvement in Spiritualism and other occult movements was undoubted. She had a good set of graphics as well, including some examples of Mucha’s prodigious output that I (who consider myself a fan of Mucha) had not seen before.
Since 1888 was “the year of the Ripper,” there was a series of panels on Jack the Ripper, which broke the history down into “the victims,” “the suspects,” and “the completion” (other notorious characters of the time). These looked interesting and I approved the detail taken on this voluminous subject.
Friday night, we went to see Eric Larson and “Airship Ambassador” Kevin Steil talk about the year in Steampunk, the good and the bad, dealing with the collapse of a couple of well-known conventions on the bad side, but a continuance of interest and an outcropping of small events was on the good side.
Following that, I went to Thomas Willeford’s talk on “Steampunk Illegitimate Children,” which was a very lively, humorous, and rather chaotic talk arguing that Steampunk could be revitalized by integrating its offshoots, Dieselpunk and Atompunk.
The program “Ghost Stories by Candlelight” was very creatively presented and enjoyable.
On Friday morning, we went to “The History of Street Organ Entertainers,” which had a lot of interesting history on the development of the instrument and its evolution into part of the “organ grinder and monkey” cliché.
We took a break from panels and plunged into the depths of the dealers’ room, which was pretty dangerous. It seemed the goods on display this year were exceptionally nice. We bought a skirt from “As They Sew in Paris,” and I acquired a new piece for my pocket watch collection.
After that, we went to the first of three presentations Gail Carriger was doing. Ms. Carriger, always an excellent guest, really extended herself for this convention, putting on interview/talks (supported by Kevin Stine) on each of her three book series, plus hosting two sold-out tea events. Plus, she showed up at the Saturday night ball. The first talk was about the “Parasol Protectorate” books, and was very interesting and entertaining.
We went to see “A Commodore’s Briefing: The Evolution of Aerial Warfare,” which was well done, and then to yet another Carriger/Steil presentation, on “Dining in the 1800’s,” which concerned adventures in trying to reproduce 19th century recipes.
We met friends for dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was rather swamped due to being short-staffed. It took a while to get our food, and our friends’ orders went astray for a time, but the food was good, and we were pleased when “Lord Bobbins” dropped in and joined us at our table.
We skipped most of the opening ceremonies, getting to the main hall in good time for the now traditional “Steerage Ball” with band Dublin O’Shea. The music was loud, lively, and fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
On Saturday morning, we went to a rare solo presentation by Eric Larson on “The Costumes of Downton Abbey.” Eric did a really good job with the research, digging up a lot of hard-to-find images.
We went to the presentation on “Ripping Good Reads of 1888!” in which the presenter gave excerpts from some of the notable works published in English in that year. The audience seemed to enjoy it, and we heard a lot of good feedback about it.
After that, we got in line and signed up for next year’s TeslaCon, “Murder on the Orient Express.” Next, we went in for the second session of the “Battle of Britain” presentation, which we found quite enjoyable (except for one detail: the sound effects had the exact same double static burst at the end of every incoming radio transmission, which got annoying after a while).
Then, we went to “Humbug! Hoaxes, Charlatans, and Pseudoscience of the 19th Century,” which had some interesting fresh information in these fields.
At 3:30PM, we went to Carriger presentation 2, on the “Finishing School” books. This was amusing and interesting, too. Ms. Carriger was approached by the publisher, asking if she would do a Young Adult series. She replied, yes, and sent them her proposal. I asked: what was their reaction when you pitched them a school for assassins, one of whom has ambitions to become a serial killer? She replied, “They were OK with it.” I guess when you consider that The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner are all Young Adult fiction, the bar for violence has become rather high. Plus, Carriger’s books are funny, which the others are not--.
We then retired to change for dinner, and proceeded to the Bobbins dinner. We were seated a good table, with Herr Grossadmiral Krieger, and two very nice people we’d not met before, even though they’ve also been at TeslaCons for some time. The dinner was good as usual, starting with a nice lentil soup, salad with bleu cheese, a sorbet, beef tenderloin en croute (a kind of individual Yorkshire pudding), and a very tasty (but very dense!) bread pudding for dessert. Conversation at dinner was delightful, jeering at the representatives from SWARM fun, and we got to hear the news that Lord Bobbins had been acclaimed King of England first. (How does this happen, you ask? You may well ask! SWARM had succeeded in killing the English royal family, and also most of the House of Lords and other Peers, leaving Bobbins the seniormost surviving Peer and a cousin to Queen Victoria, the heir to the throne--.)
After dinner, we went to the “Ascot Ball.” My escort hadn’t felt like wearing black and white, ala the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady, nor did many others, so it was a colorful affair. Nevertheless there were a couple of ladies in excellent reproductions of Audrey Hepburn’s costume from that scene. The people-watching was truly wonderful, and we admired the beauty and creativity on display in the clothing and accessories.
The music by Vardo was not as successful, in my opinion. The first set, which is what we stayed through, just was loud, blaring, and percussive. Those who could dance to anything, danced, other people watched. At the set break, more danceable recorded music, including the Merry Widow waltz, was on, so we got in our obligatory dance, and then, honor satisfied, retired from the field and for the night.
Sunday, we got an early start with my presentation on Historical Airships in Combat, 1914-45. I had a decent turnout for 9AM Sunday, an attentive audience, and good questions.
Between presentations, we went to look at the Teapot Racing. There were some genuinely amazing machines present, including a cubical one with four wheels that could move directly sideways by contra-rotating the “front” and “back” wheels.
At 12:30PM, we closed out her programming with How Women of the Empire Went to War, which discussed the adventures of women of the British Empire of the 19th Century who went to war with their menfolk (Lady Sale and Fannie Duberly), succored the Empire’s wounded (Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole), and even made war against it (Lakshmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal).
So, we finished the con by staying for the closing ceremonies, which had two big reveals: Number one, that Bobbins has been appointed regent for the destroyed royal houses of Europe, and as such is effectively ruler of all Europe, and Two, that Bobbin’s trusted assistant is, in reality, the Shyam—the evil spirit that controls SWARM and apparently exerts a hypnotic control over Bobbins.
Well! Where will this lead? In the short run (next TeslaCon) we know that the “Orient Express” will be going to China, where Bobbins has also been invited to become ruler. But, will he make it, or, will there indeed be “Murder on the Orient Express”? (Smart money says there will be--.) Tune in next time!