The Redcoats Were Coming – A Review of Up in the Aether Steampunk Convention

Good evening, gentle readers.

I do hope that you have been enjoying the slow stroll into summer. It does seem that some days are warm and sunny while others are chill and grey, but such is the wont of Mother Nature particularly in Canada.

I simply must, and need, to let you know of an event that I attended recently that has reset the bar for all Steampunk fetes. I have attended many many conventions over the last three plus decades and DJed nearly countless events in about the same amount of time but Up in the Aether [UitA] has created new expectations and hopes for all such Steampunk Conventions [and I do need to attend more to see if they are ALL so incredible]. Both as a guest and as an attendee I found this convention to be incredible.

The weekend after our Victoria Day, accompanied by my noble and trustworthy soundman and fellow DJ, Danr, I traveled over the world’s longest undefended border to the city of Detroit to attend and DJ at Up in the Aether. I had recently relocated cities and so found the trip would now take a further four to five hours and, combined with my temporary financial situation due to moving cities and seeking common employ, I initially turned down the offer of being a guest. Mr. Wiggins, however, was very insistent and did a fantastic job of convincing me to set out on this adventure, and I am glad that he was so persuasive. And so we journeyed off to this four day happening as it was the weekend our Southron neighbours call Memorial Day Weekend.

There were occasional issues throughout the convention and I am sure others discovered challenges which I did not but it was how the convention folk dealt with these small things that made all the difference.

After a rather lengthy trip, with gratitude to our road construction workers and all those other drivers who felt a need to be on the road with no knowledge of how to drive properly in order to keep traffic flowing well, we arrived on the Friday evening at the Double Tree hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. Our room keys were presented promptly though, being guests, it took a touch of walking about and asking after various people to ensure we were properly tagged and badged and ready to enjoy the weekend.

They had wisely booked all of the DJs and bands together at one end of a hallway that we could make as much noise as we desired and so Saturday night we hosted a three-room room party with the Steampunk Mixologist and a reasonable bar [which shall grow next year] as well as music and conversation throughout the rooms and hallway.

It is estimated that between seven hundred and one thousand attendees accompanied us though due to the layout of the hotel and the large selection of panels, workshops, concerts and other attractions it never truly felt crowded: my own guess was that perhaps four hundred or so had strolled through the door.

There were, methinks, about a half dozen or more tracks of panels and workshops including writing and publishing [with readings by several authors], clothing and fashion [of course], food and alcohol and tobacco [with sampling], a well supplied makers’ room with ongoing discussions and teachings, Steampunk socials, a Port Party, a room dedicated to Self Defence particularly as regards sky pirates, and many, many more. There was constantly something interesting happening. Outside in a spacious tent was a near constant line up of incredible musicians, bands and DJs including Voltaire, Eli August, and many others ranging from Steampunk duets to a Steampunk Heavy Metal band.

The dealers’ room simply must be mentioned: it was a reasonable size to not take an entire afternoon to explore, was never so crowded that one could not walk comfortably and was filled with such high quality fare end to end that I boggled. The offerings were varied and diverse and of exquisite craftsmanship. Incredibly desirable. I believe I spent my entire month’s pay-cheque seven times over, fortunately only in my thoughts but next year I shall attend with a large amount of coin of the realm.

There was a kaleidoscope of clothing from the simple day-wear to intricate evening fare. There were uniforms [it was VERY pleasing to find three others sporting the Queen’s Scarlet besides myself and my companion], work clothing and sporting-wear, brass and steel bits, and a very wide range of appearances.

If you desire then you can find the pictures here:
[And do note that though ’tis my Facebook all pictures are set to public access so everyone can enjoy them! I would also like to state that I am not a photographer but I do try]

The DJing was extremely fun particularly when all four guest DJs faced off on the Sunday night at Midnight to provide hours of dancefloor energy. It was an honour, a privilege and a definite pleasure to work with gorgeous and talented DJ Psycubus, the genial and skilled Doctor Q and the intense, brilliant, and accomplished Vorteque. I have played with, for and beside many great DJs in North America but these folk, these incredible, artistic people, in a modern vernacular, bring it!

If you are interested in knowing what songs I, personally, played throughout the weekend then you can find them here:

Those who spent time in the Music Tent enjoyed the offerings muchly, particularly Voltaire on Saturday night and the “Steampunk Rave” on Sunday night. The dancefloor was wonderfully delicious.

The staff: the organizers, the wranglers, the helpers, the committee; were to a single person the most incredible group I have ever had the joy of working both for and with. Nothing was impossible. We were treated like royalty, truly. The Guest Wrangling Matron, an exquisite lady I knew only as “V”, had a team who were beyond awesome in being informative and helpful. Any issue, anything requested, any question or need was met by V’s motto: “I Have This.” She owned her department and every situation that came her way. Her staff would stop, in passing in the hallway, even as they were arms-loaded with items to ask if there was anything we needed or any way they could assist. I am oft treated very well but V and her people offered a level of service that was beyond stunning. And throughout the convention I saw this style and level of service provided to guests and attendees at every level and in every capacity.

We left tired and sore from watching the sun rise each and every morning, from dancing like fools and maniacs to many bands and DJs, from learning at panels and watching incredible low budget/high production independent movies and from the high energy socializing. We left leaving behind friends and new family. We left knowing that in a year’s time we will return and nothing can stop us from doing so.

I do not know that I have enough positive and glowing adjectives to properly convey how amazing this convention was.

Next year, good reader, when you are planning your convention schedule and wondering where you should visit and what you should commit to pen in your daytimer I must insist that you give Up in the Aether your strongest and most serious consideration. Do come find us and I shall happily hoist a glass with you at the most amazing event of the year.

H.A. Higgins-Keith


Toronto’s Best Kept Convention Secret

I attend many conventions through a regular year. Most of the conventions that I frequent are, naturally, Science Fiction/Fantasy affairs and most occur in Canada though I am always happy to amble across the border to enjoy our southern cousins’ offerings.

There is one convention, however, which I find to be an absolute favourite. Not an easy thing to select given the enjoyment, the entertainment, the wonders and the peoples that I find at all the conventions which I am able to attend, but this one particular convention seems to have the rightness that I, personally, look for in a gathering: Ad Astra.

Ad Astra is a general science fiction/fantasy convention with a very heavy focus on the literary side of things. Thirty-two years of age, she has had her lean years and her fat but she has always offered an incredible experience and this year no less so than any other.

First of all one must look at the people and the social adventure. The folk are friendly and welcoming, they are fun and intelligent and always up for an intriguing discussion. There are many many room parties as well as a convention hospitality suite of a large size and excellent placement and, for the special guests, a green room that offers a wonderful place to sit and chat. Alcohol is abundant but handled in a very mature manner [and for those visitors from the United States may I note that our drinking age here in Ontario is 19!] Conversations break out in rooms, hallways, the smoking area, the parking garage and anywhere that two or more fen meet. It has a relaxed atmosphere which encourages an atmosphere of greater fun and less stress than some conventions I have been to.

Ad Astra is one of the few conventions at which I enjoy meeting the special guests as none here are pretentious or standing atop a pedestal and all seem more than pleased to be able to chat with anyone and everyone. This year’s included Jim Butcher, Stephen Hunt, and Ben Bova as well as a host of other wonderful people among which were to be found Guy Gavriel Kay, Julie E. Czerneda, Kelley Armstrong and Robert J. Sawyer. And many were the writers and creative peoples of all ilk and diversity.

The dealers’ room was well layed out and balanced, presenting books, collectibles, jewellery, clothing and many other items in a neat, compact area. Selection was varied and prices were more than fair.

There are readings, tastings, anime screenings, and gaming as well as a broad selection of panels including relevant fashion design [from corsets to costumes], quite a few on writing [from how to write to crowdsourcing to promoting to finding an agent and more], several steampunk topics, some science, prop making and current trends and topics.

Two items of special note:

The masquerade is well run and not at all large with, generally, about a dozen entrants. This is the perfect place to strut your stuff for the first time in front of an audience who loves to be entertained as well as a great venue for showing off your masterpiece to a very focused group. With Ad Astra occurring at the start of the SF Convention season it’s also the perfect place to test drive your new costume and presentation.

The karaoke on Friday night was just pure fun and those who know me also know that I tend to dislike karaoke quite a bit. However the host, the song selections and the singers made it a perfect way to wrap up the evening before hitting the room parties. I must admit that I truly enjoyed it.

Overall I must highly recommend this convention to anyone who is interested in being a writer, to everyone who enjoys a good social weekend and to all fen who just like a darned excellent convention. I would, and do, offer Ad Astra a very solid 8 out of 10 with their expressed intent to continue improving until they reach the pinnacle.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

[For more information do feel free to visit their website at ]

Perceiving A Book By Its Cover

Good morning, gentle readers.

I do trust that your winter, where-ever this season should find you, has begun in fun and adventure. And for those of you what celebrate Yule I hope ’tis a joyous one and promises you the next year will be one of wonderful things.

While I have been, at times, serious in my tone and my content I have also attempted to keep things light and friendly. I find humour is an excellent thing to keep the conversation enjoyable and the occasional chuckle makes discussion more vibrant. Today, though, I am going to write on a topic that has been making me increasingly angry. It is a topic I have touched upon before [please reference “Around the World in 80 Minutes” from September of 2011] and I’m afraid that this time I am going to be firm.

Please keep your misperceived white-guilt political correctness out of my Steampunk. Oh, dear reader, I shall freely admit to being strongly opinionated in many things but there is a certain oft presented point that truly stokes the furnaces of my ire. There are enough gender arguments, heated discussions of the socio-political Victorian influences in Steampunk, and other poorly stated comments to truly make a person wonder, at times, just why they may ever do more than just show up in appropriate dress, sit quietly with a tea in a corner, and go home after the poetry reading without ever speaking to another. And yes, things I’ve heard uttered in sincerity such as “Steampunk is where goth discovered brown” and “Steampunk is… well, have you seen ‘Wild Wild West’?” both get my dander up but this one topic truly makes me wonder.

It is something I have heard fair frequently and tonight it began with a gentleman stating: “It’s been my experience that us whites only understand cultural appropriation and could never grasp multiculturalism. (joking.. kinda)”

I call complete and utter PC bullshit on this, pardon my language, ladies.

Much like many of the other subcultures in North America and Europe the Steampunk community is, in the majority, Caucasian. I know a handful of folk from different ethnic backgrounds but it is, indeed, a group that is primarily what is called “White” [though in all honesty I am still sometimes confused by the term “White” and muchly prefer Caucasian, thank you very much]. This is true of the goth/industrial as it was and still is of the punk subcultures. It is true of the science fiction/fantasy fen and convention goers. Strangely, though perhaps not, I also find it true of the North American anime/manga subcultures though here my experience is only truly from a handful of cities and a couple of conventions. This is likely a geographically influenced occurrence as I have no doubt that the various subcultures in Japan, for example, are primarily populated by Asians.

So let us speak of cultural appropriation, shall we? And, as this deals with Steampunk, let us look at the Victorian era.

As has been pointed out to me by a very intelligent and learned young lady during my earlier writing there was a fascination among the Caucasians of this period with those things that belonged to other cultures. The Victorian era saw world travel and exploration as it had never been before. Dark areas on map were being explored and opened up. Adventure was available for those who could afford the time and money and it was written about to be shared with everyone who could read [or be read to]. It was a time of excitement. Archaeology was truly established during the reign of Queen Victoria and the fascination with history and past cultures was equaled by the fascination with current cultures that were not “our own.” And it was a two way street, ladies and gentlemen.

Trade flowed around the world and thus trinkets, keep-sakes, artwork, fabrics and materials danced between countries. Indian silk, Chinese fans, African carvings, Egyptian antiques, paintings of Indians [in talking with several who I count among my many friends I’ve discovered lately that most do not like the term “Native Americans” though I’ve yet to discuss the why of it] and many other interesting ‘foreign items’ poured into the heart of the British Empire through her vast trade networks. And things British flowed out.

The visiting Briton appeared often to the members of other countries as a very successful creature. He had tools of metal, clothing of strange fabrics and intricacies, amazing medicines, machines that performed astounding feats and created amazing things.

Take a few minutes and, rather than just relying on my words, do some research. Google is a good place to start though your local library is possibly better for it. Look for pictures from the Victorian era and focus on those photographed or painted in and from other countries. You will see many non-Caucasian peoples sporting top hats, waistcoats, morning coats, tailcoats and carrying walking sticks and parasols. They did this in imitation and in respect to the “powerful people of the mighty British Empire.” The thought was, and it is still true today, that to dress like a successful man was to become a successful man or to, at least, gain respect from other successful men. The British, during this period, were seen as the most successful, particularly by those who had less. The British Empire was powerful so it is not a surprise that others desired to be a part of that, to gain some of that power for themselves and to do so they imitated what they saw.

And yet by our own definition this was and is “cultural appropriation.”

Oh, indeed you will see pictures of British military wearing turbans and other ‘native’ headwear of different ethnicities, or sporting a very non-British outfit. In many cultures trading was a sign of friendship, of welcoming, with personal gifts being exchanged. The British caught on to this and headwear was oft traded with natives of other countries.

Who could resist a few mementos to bring home after a long military or trading tour? In our modern world it is often photographs or post-cards or little tourist-junk that is brought home from vacation as a reminder of the fun, the adventure. At the least during the Victorian era what was brought home wasn’t made in some factory by underpaid labourers.

Besides the exchange there were two other reasons for Caucasians of that period to ‘appropriate’ the ‘native appearance.’

The first was simple geography and, resulting from that, climate. Standard British wear during this period tended to be multiple layers and those layers were mostly either linen, cotton or, more popularly, wool. I have worn a British uniform on the kind of hot day one may experience in India, in southern Spain, in the middle Americas and it is not at all comfortable. The native fabrics and clothing styles took climate into account, naturally. I have worn a Victorian gentleman’s attire in 90 degree heat and it was not pleasant, and I found myself longing for the flowing, cooling robes of an Arabian.

The second was called “going native.” Again, I would recommend doing a little bit of Google research and you will find that though this is now perceived as not being common, it happened frequently enough to be, at times, a concern. While particularly an occurrence in North America it also happened in many other countries of the world including Russia, India, Egypt, Africa, and most of Asia. Going native was often voluntary in the case of adventurers or military who became either enamoured of the culture in which they were placed or who “deserted” their company for one reason or another. It also happened that, through some tragedy, a young Caucasian would be raised by native parents in some country and thus would grow up acclimated to that culture.

Is a Caucasian who joins a culture therefore guilty of appropriating the trappings of that culture?

It was more cultural exchange and less appropriation.

Let us see. Appropriation – ap·pro·pri·a·tion [/əˌprōprēˈāSHən/] Noun: The action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.

And if permission is tacitly given or understood through action? Who gives permission for an entire culture? With historic precedence set is there a need for permission?

As a closing note I have spoken with several people of non-Caucasian culture and ethnicity and they see nothing wrong with a Caucasian steampunk dressing up in a non-British period outfit or adding non-British touches as long as it is done tastefully and with respect. It seems an almost purely Caucasian thing to call someone out on “cultural appropriation” and it is, I feel, not our place to do so.

Finally, I am going to quote myself from that September writing: “However, I would note that if you do decide to add in some item or style belonging to another culture that you are aware of what it is you are wearing, the why of it, and how to explain it respectfully. There are those who get upset with past issues [even though there are enough current issues that they do not seem to care for so much] that in public one MAY be approached and called on the borrowed bits.
There is nothing wrong with exploring other options than the most often seen British/American characterizations from the Victorian period in your Steampunk wardrobe and presentation. Just remember it is to be both fun and respectful.”

Be well, good readers, and I hope that you enjoy a wonderful holiday season, a joyful Yule, a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a fantastic solstice or whatever it is that you celebrate at this time of year.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

A Little Midnight Mental Meandering.

Good morning, dear readers.

I truly must apologize for my absence of late but the real world has been demanding much of my attention of late and thus the virtual world suffers. And, to be quite honest, I’m not sure on what I should write next particularly with regard to men’s fashion or etiquette or some such topic. Have you any suggestions? Is there anything that you are wondering? Shall I write next on ties and ascots? Perhaps on styles of jackets? Or of the military look in fashion and its constant resurgences?

While you ponder that I do believe that I shall take a moment to explain a little bit more about my own thoughts with regard to politics. I oft state quietly that I am a somewhat right leaning imperialistic bastard. Now this is not totally true as my parents were indeed married well before my birth. Nor do I always and constantly favour imperialism as much as I am a bit of a monarchist at heart.

Why am I a monarchist? Well, I suppose it is time for me to once more blow a breeze up some petticoats as I have read some very strong anti-monarchist writings in the last few weeks what with it being Elizabeth’s Diamond anniversary of her rule.

Let us look at the ‘government du choix’ that is waved about like a flag in this current age: democracy. While communism and anarchy both have strong numbers of supporters it is obvious that neither work in large groups and with the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. we are now, globally, frequently all and only about democracy. Most democracies aren’t, but are rather more along the lines of a strange form of representative republic or polyarchy. I apologize for digressing.

The basic theory behind the democracy is that every individual of a certain age is permitted the vote to determine the government because we should all know what our country needs. This would be at least a little reasonable if everyone who was allowed to voted but they do not. Speaking very generally the voter turnout is usually quite abysmal which is extremely unfortunate. As a result the elected government is not truly a representation of the voters as much as it is a representation of the voters who actually got off their duffs and took the small bit of time to go show some identification and check off a small box.

The second problem I have with democracy is that it believes that an idealistic student, a farmer focused on his life’s style, a business owner and I all have the same knowledge of politics and the issues of our country and will vote for the ‘best candidate’. This is not so. We will vote based on the tried and tested ‘popularity contest’ method based on who we like which is often and regularly an emotional and subjective thing. I will not vote as the idealistic student would because I have experienced more of the world, more of our country and more of our government and am, at heart, a realist even if an optimistic one. I understand that fast change can bring damage and that my own priorities are not those of the country. I shall not vote necessarily as the farmer would as I am not a farmer and have a different focus to my own personal world and life though I do have farmers in my family so we may have many similar thoughts. I likely know more about the politics of my country than does a business owner who has no time to keep up with what is happening as I do have the time to keep myself reasonably informed. So we get together all of the idealistic students, all of the farmers, all of the business owners and all of me and we get a government determined by whom, exactly. It becomes a numbers game if everyone votes. But they do not. Thus it becomes a random and unpredictable numbers game. Democracy assumes that we are all rational, well informed and intelligent and unfortunately this is not so, particularly in large groups.

A further personal frustration that I experience with democracy is the limitations placed on terms of office both in the time permitted and the frequency allowed. The long term must be taken into account and many of the better plans are not easily accomplished in two to four years or perhaps, if one is elected a second time or even a third, in the time allowed. One can indeed see this occurring in many countries where changes are abrupt and short term with little thought as to the effects that will be felt in the next decade or the next generation. There are and have been some very wise politicians and some very well organized political parties who have been able to effect long term change somewhat but this is very, very rare. And speaking strictly of my own country, Canada, I would like my fellows to consider how many good Prime Ministers we have had in the last three decades. I frequently hear how few there were, if any. Insisting on a time limit merely makes people feel rushed to make quick changes now. The good ones pop up and are swiftly gone replaced by someone who is not necessarily able.

Democracy also tends to foster self serving agendas and greed. A politician has an expiry date and thus the approach is frequently to get as much as one can while one is in office. Most have forgotten that it is a service and it is about serving the country and its peoples. Elections are more frequently mud slogging, cat calling, finger pointing contests in which one tries to make the other sides look bad rather than trying to make one’s own side look good.

Onward to monarchy and to match each of my previous points.

A monarch is, one would expect and hope, properly raised and educated to know about the country one is a monarch of. Their entire life is aimed at knowing what the country needs and desires and how to make its people prosperous and powerful. A trust is given and fair treatment is expected. I am aware this is not a deal that is always held to but we are speaking in generalities at the moment so do please wander down this path with me for a few moments more and continue reading. Monarchs have but a small group of other monarchs to know and have years and decades to get to know each the other’s particular characteristics, strengths, flaws and quirks. Many monarchs are related and thus, as in any family, while you do get the bad you get all the wonderful parts of family as well. While in a democracy an ambassador may need to learn about a new President every four years a monarch may be involved in their country or sit a throne for decades allowing a familiarity and comfort in working with them.

A monarch should and does, in good instances, care about the idealistic student, the farmer, the business owner and I but also knows how to balance all of our needs and concerns so that while none of us wins at the expense of the others it is equally true that none of us loses. A monarch can hand pick a team to assist in the running of the country and this team shall both be unlimited in term and be of like mind in serving the needs of the country and its people. And if one of the team is ineffective or damaging it is fairly easy and simple to shuffle them out and bring in someone who is beneficial. I would expect that the monarch knows much more about running the country and dealing with other countries than would the idealistic student, the farmer, the business owner or myself.

A monarch has no real expiry date save through natural or unnatural causes be it death, revolution or accident. Or even simply desire. A good monarch, such as the Queens Victoria or Elizabeth II, Louis XIV, Meiji, or Suleiman I may last decade after decade continuing to have a beneficial impact on their country, steering it towards greatness. Indeed there have been bad and wicked monarchs and a few have lasted quite some time atop their thrones but many were forced to remove themselves or were ousted through one means or another. Revolting against democracy is, as we are discovering currently, a very very difficult thing to do short of an actual civil hot-war.

Yes indeed, I recognize that there have been monarchs who have been wicked, wicked people or who have been mentally unstable but one can say much the same of politicians in a democratic system. And once again I would like to point out that sometimes removal of a damaging monarch is ever so much easier than the removal of a damaging democratic representative or party.

A monarch, and the goods ones are like this I believe, is raised with the awareness that what they do in service to their country is a service. They are not really the top of the pyramid as much as they are the base on which the pyramid rests [imagine flipping the pyramid upside down so that it rests on its pointy little peak]. They are there for their country and not for themselves. While there are monarchs who have forgotten this there are those who never neglected this philosophy.

I shall leave you with three little thoughts that are mine.

I actually think that a proper representative republic which combines a monarch with an elected assembly, each to watch the other, is a rather stable and solid way to govern a country. It allows the people to have their voices heard, it offers checks and balances and it gives the benefits of both systems. Short of a benevolent dictatorship this is, in my own small opinion, the best form of government in a real world.

I am right leaning as I believe that a small government should be given the powers that it needs to do its job without all of us busybodies who have no true idea of how to run a country sticking our noses in and buggering up the works. If you think you could do better than the politicians than please do run for office. Do you appreciate people coming into your workplace and complaining, pointing out how to properly do your job and making constant noise? I would think not, yet this is what we constantly do with our own governments. I do agree, however, that with power comes responsibility and our elected governments act too often like children with a key to the candy store. I do not wish to run my country nor any other and I do not wish to have to keep checking on those that do. Apparently, though, I am strange in my trust of other people to do their tasks in a reasonable manner.

I frequently hear about those who have moved to Canada from other country and wish to become citizens complaining that they will not take the oath because the Queen is in it. This is Canada. The Queen is part of our history and part of our government in a certain manner. If you do not wish to take the oath required to become a citizen then don’t become a citizen. There are many other countries who do not have a monarch involved and perhaps you should look at becoming a citizen in one of those.

And again I shall ask, dear reader, what shall I write on next that you may avoid reading my own strange approach and thoughts on politics [or making tenuous connections between such writings and Steampunk only because Queen Victoria was mentioned].

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Class In Session

Good morning, mesdames et messieurs. I do hope that this night finds you well and, at this time, likely asleep.

An interesting thought that has been bouncing around within my skull of late has been one of classism: then and now. Everyone acknowledges the Victorian period one in which classism was rampant, strong, the way of life. There are occasional comments that in this modern world classism has nearly been defeated or destroyed or some-such but I find that this is not so, and others agree very loudly. With this in mind let us take a comparative look, shall we?

Yes indeed, the Victorian period was one of societal and economic classes. There were the lower, the middle and the upper classes. Additionally one could be in a ‘class’ based on employment particularly if it was familial/generational in nature. The rules were rigid but were also fairly well defined and this is an advantage that we do not currently enjoy. I did indeed say ‘enjoy’ and if you read the rest of this examination then you may see the sense of it, or I may just be misguided and in need of further education.

To get this particular burr out of the way being a woman was nearly as much a class as it was a gender. The Victorian period still saw women as person within the family unit who ran the home, raised the children and handled many of the social and economic responsibilities of the family. Within the upper class the role of women was somewhat broader. During this period more women were accepted into the working population but only in certain areas of employ.

Within nearly every class most jobs were almost perceived as hereditary. If your father was a clerk or a smith, a merchant or a machinist, a carriage painter or a mason it was oft expected that the son [usually the firstborn but often more than one] would enter the same or a related field. Apprenticeship, sometimes within the family, was often a way of life and on the passing of one’s father the son could and often did inherit the family business. The expectation was to have a life slightly better, slightly more comfortable than one’s parents. A member of the lower class would expect to remain in that class, working as a chimney sweep or a household servant as did his father before him. There was some movement among employments but there was nearly as much progression in a generational manner.

There were two or three easy ways to shift to a couple of positions that were both within the class system and outside of it: the military, the priesthood or through higher education.

Within the military there were two classes: those with commissions [the officers, usually drawn from the gentry] and the non-commissioned [your fighting man or soldier, and certain low levels of officers]. The allure of the military, particularly for the lower classes, was that it offered consistent access to food and a roof of some sort over one’s head as well as a possible pension if one lived out his term.

The priesthood did not have a recognizable class structure but advancement and access to perks was based as much on politics and social connections as the movement within any other class. During the Victorian period, however, it was not the sole source of education.

Universities grew remarkably during this time period and were taken advantage of by certain peoples which both created new members of the middle and upper classes as well as allowing people who knew how the system worked to shift their own position upwards; one very excellent example is the explosion of Scottish engineers during the Victorian age.

And knowing the system? Ah, here we come to the advantage. When there is a set of established and acknowledged rules then there are those who can find the little ways and means to skip around the system using these very rules and the loop holes that they do not completely cover or hide. There are many stories from the Victorian period of those of both genders who rose up in the ranks through fame or fortune, through the military or through education, or by learning the ‘rules’ and utilizing them. Of course it took risk and intelligence to even try and thus many did not, accepting their futures as their parents had before them.

And while everything I have said so far is true of periods preceding the Victorian it was during this particular age that the greatest movement happened, though even that was more an exception than a rule.

The Steampunk world truly takes this system and its advantages and spreads it wider and larger, introducing women adventurers and mechanics, spies and pilots and quite a number of ‘folk of humble means’ who became heroes.

Now let us examine the modern age. The classes still exist though in most parts of the world and very truly in North America the middle class has been nibbled away at until it is a slender portion of the population with a greater segment being defined as the upper class, to one extent or another, and a very large group now firmly ensconced in the lower class. Movement among the classes does still happen but it is more risky, more chaotic and a single person can rise and fall several times in their own life in a fairly easy manner, particularly in the falling.

The problem as I see it, and this is merely this writer’s own opinion, is that during the Victorian period each of the classes had their own rules, knew the rules of the other classes, and even if they were not written out [though in some cases some small publications did address these rules] they were there, they were accepted, and they were rather rigid. In our modern world it is really only the upper class that accepts that there are rules with the middle and lower classes rebelling through ignorance or denial. The rules are amorphous and poorly defined, subject to change usually at the whim of the upper class, and difficult to understand. Thus one can climb and claw upwards only to find that the cliff face has suddenly changed to a treacherous sheet of ice mid-scramble. It has become more of who you know and less of who you are, which is extremely evident when one compares the relative proportion of written contracts versus verbal/hand-shake agreements during the two periods and the pervasiveness of those employed in the legal fields in our current age versus those in Victorian times. Acceptance and trust have both lessened greatly though it’s a big of a ‘chicken and egg’ issue as to which came first, honestly. I think they’ve fed off each the other.

Like many other socio-political/economic topics that are focused on by various people and groups in the Steampunk community, such as gender roles [which I will touch on another day when my skin is thicker as I will no doubt be shouted loudly at], colonialism, imperialism, industrial advancements and other hot-button topics it must be noted that people do like to focus on the negative to the exclusion of the positive and I feel, myself and personally, that while the opportunities of the Victorian class system were not often nor well used there were some very strong advantages over the class system of today.

That and, given the nature of man, a truly classless system is a utopian ideal which will never work nor occur. But that is a topic which is part of a greater discussion and best left for another time.

H.A. Higgins-Keith