Unlike other conventions and themed weekends, The Asylum Steampunk Festival, now in its seventh year, sees an entire city join in the bonhomie. The steep ascent to Lincoln’s gothic spires is littered with bookshops, boutiques and tea rooms putting a steampunk twist on their window displays and menus. Even the charity shops get in on the action. Spreading the revelries across the entire city centre is the proven pudding that Lincoln is the steampunk city.
Westgate Academy acted as the literature nook, where steampunk authors stood behind desks of their alluring paperbacks and picture books, dotted about the hall with a scrap challenge and figure painting in the middle. The authors, in particular, offered a counterpoint to one another and proved the diversity and wealth of ideas at play. It’s not all cogs, googles and Dickensian lingo. R.B. Harkess, for example, adopts a fascinating slant on the subgenre, which he uses as more of a seasoning for urban fantasy. He argues that the absence, or glossing over, of colonialism does the subgenre a disservice. It’s not the popular view, which is often good natured and, for want of a better word, fun, but an intellectual subversion in the tattered fabric.
The school also provided the locale for the Rayguns in Fiction lecture. Budding authors gathered tentatively in the audience while Herr Doctor stood in front – Thomas Eddison reimaged: bequiffed, dapper and riveting. He paraded an impressive menagerie of rayguns he’d fashioned from scrap and offcuts, and explained their literary origins and functionality. He was joined halfway by Streampunk scribe Arkwright, adding a further layer of techno wizardry and literary consideration.
It wasn’t all bookish musings, the tea duelling provided a suitably silly contrast, which is every bit as stupendous and rib tickling as it sounds. The frolicking morris dancers had a surprising deftness of coordination, and attracted an impressing crowd while simultaneously making the pastime look cool. Yeah, we said it. Metropolis offered a head-banging brand of dystopian synth tinged music, after their popular meet and merch session.
But, of course, it was the outfits that were the real highlight. The attention to detail – both historically and in terms of fantasy – was mind boggling. A combination of costume pieces, special requests and the quickly thrown togethers (this writer included). By noon, the streets and market stalls were stocked with a throng of steampunk punters, photographers’ and vendors. It might be old hat to comment, but no two outfits looked the same. What’s more, the imagination, as ever, was startling. It’s tough to fathom any other gathering where the Invisible Man rubs shoulders with Judge Dredd, the rocketeer and a self-confessed metal alchemist.
More than any other geeky event the UK has to offer, The Asylum is a good hearted, opening and ingenious vindication of steampunk. With music, art, architecture, novels and even cocktails duly represented, Lincoln has once again proved that the subgenre is alive, healthy and growing. Here’s the number eight.