The Steampunk Convention Where You Can't Buy Books

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Steampunk isn't just a fashion statement, it's a burgeoning literary movement, with books as far-flung as Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and George Mann's The Affinity Bridge expanding the boundaries of steam-driven storytelling. So why does Seattle's SteamCon have no book vendors?

SteamCon, happening Oct. 23-25 in Seattle, has an author guest of honor, Tim Powers. And I'm sure there will be plenty of book discussions. But the convention's list of vendors doesn't include any booksellers, unless you count graphic novel publisher Studio Foglio. And the con's website says the vendor registration is closed, although there's a waiting list. With steampunk authors coming to the convention to promote their work, it seems odd not to have books for sale at the con.

So why is SteamCon without a book retailer? We asked the SteamCon people, and con chair R. Martin Armstrong says:

Our vendor coordinator did not receive any applications from book sellers during our application period. So, yes, it is true, we do not currently have any book vendors in the dealers room at our convention this year.


But Eugene, OR bookseller Book Universe says it may not be an accident that the con received no applications. According to Book Universe, SteamCon kept out booksellers by insisting that you must sell nothing but steampunk items:

I thought they sounded like a LOT of fun, and had looked into being one of their dealers. Then I heard from another bookseller that "They don't want ANYTHING but SteamPunk in their Dealers' Room so we aren't doing the con..." I double-checked the contract, and indeed, it has a very sternly-worded clause allowing them to KICK YOU OUT if you brought and displayed merchandise that wasn't "theme-appropriate"(!). So, I e-mailed and asked "What about booksellers?". It makes sense that they wouldn't want, say, a costumer with two or three Steam-punkish waistcoats and corsets, and the rest of the booth fairy-wings and Star Trek uniform jerseys. Or a widget-seller with baby dragons and pink unicorns in among the miniature steam-powered airships... but Books? Yes, they insisted, Books too. Steampunk only, no exceptions.


There are some fantastic steampunk books coming out lately, but there might not be enough to make for an overflowing retailer table. These would be books that most of the con's attendees might already have. And it's easy to imagine that people going to a steampunk convention might also be interested in cyberpunk, or other historical fiction, or urban fantasy. If you liked The Difference Engine, what about Count Zero? Etc. As Book Universe points out,the con's writer guest of honor Tim Powers wouldn't pass muster under the "only steampunk" rule, since he's written other genres.

The good news is, with the con still a couple months out, there's still time for the organizers to make a renewed effort to get a bookstore in there. Whether it's true that their purism played a part in the bookstore-free dealers room, or they just didn't get any applications for other reasons, there's still time to reach out to some bookstores. Steam-powered metal piston fingers crossed! Steampunk dealers' room image by Cindy P on Flickr.