Friday, November 12, 2010

MRP Adventures: Usable Primary Works

I'm not one to re-invent the wheel, so when Ay-Leen asked me in the last post (the srs one, not the squee one) about how I would define steampunk literature, I immediately thought to Mike Perschon's well-defined-oft-redefined definition of steampunk: an aesthetic that evokes neo-Victoriana, technofantasy and retrofuturism. I'm not that much of a masochist that I'd try to create my own definition, and I tend to agree with Mike on this definition. It is, thus far, one of the most useful definitions out there that allows for applicability to a great variety of works without being draconian, but is still pretty easily sighted. 

But this is a project that focuses on race and representation in steampunk literature, as well as the potentiality of postcoloniality, which means that although I've read some nifty-ass books that use the steampunk aesthetic (Court of the Air being a wonderful example), I need to narrow down the literature. 

Firstly, of course, the books I'd use would have the steampunk aesthetic. This isn't a big deal. Mike Perschon has done most of the legwork in maintaining a list of primary works that are canonically considered steampunk, so I'll be ripping off his list shamelessly. 

Secondly, the books would have a strong sense of alternate history attached to it as well. Postcoloniality is a state of departure from a particular official narrative; the books I'm looking at should also attempt to depart from history as we know it.

Thirdly, the books would ideally, in order of importance: A) take place in a non-Western European / Western European-derived / white setting for some significant length in the story, AND/OR B) have significant non-Western European / Western European-derived / white cast members with speaking lines, AND/OR C) depict interaction between white characters (if any) and non-white characters in some significant length in the story, AND/OR D) address issues of colonialism / imperialism. (Henceforth, using this system: A [], B [], C [], D [])

Fourthly, they'll have been published within the last ten years, i.e. starting from 2000. This is to narrow down my problems in hunting down books. I'd love to do a literature review of all books that fulfill the above requirements, but I only get 40 - 50 pages for my MRP, so that'll just have to remain a blog project. I'm not averse to books that'll be published within the next 7 months. 

Thus far, the list looks like this:

Peshawar Lancers, by S.M. Stirling -- A [Y], B [Y, by all reports], C [dependent on B so, Y], D [?]

Mainspring, by Jay Lake (sigh) -- A [Y], B [Y], C  [Y], D [N]

Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi (sigh) -- A [Y], B [Y], C [Y], D [Y]

Tentatively, these are the books I would like to add but am not quite sure yet:

Clockwork Century novels, by Cherie Priest:
Boneshaker -- A [North America as constructed by colonizers], B [N], C [Y], D [N]
Dreadnought -- A [North America as constructed by colonizers], B [Y], C [Y], D [~Y]

Gaslight Dogs, by Karin Lowachee -- A [secondary North America that is beginning to be colonized], B [Y], C [Y], D [Y]

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld -- A [half-half], B [Y], C [Y], D [Perhaps]

Books that have potential but since I know too little about them for now, I can't file them yet:

Crystal Rain, by Tobias Buckell (I have to say though, that cover is SPIFFY)

Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve

I'm kinda annoyed that the books under Tentative are the books that I would file in the Doin' Shit Right folder.

I am not averse to using short stories as primary texts, either:

Pimp My Airship, by Maurice Broaddus -- A [Y], B [Y], C [?], D [?] (Will be filled soon; I need to re-read it)

The Effluent Engine by NK Jemisin -- A [New Orleans, with alt-history Haiti], B [Y], C [Y], D [Y]

The Last Rickshaw by Stephanie Lai -- A [Y], B [Y], C [Y], D [N]

Brilliant, by Georgina Bruce -- A [Y], B [Y], C [Y], D [N]

These short stories, however, are significant because they don't only include POC perspectives, the way Windup Girl and Gaslight Dogs do, but actual center non-white characters as the focal characters. Because they center these characters and have few or no white characters, the discussion of imperialism is less important. I do want to have a section specifically about this sort of fiction as examples of how a postcolonial approach benefits writers using the aesthetic to FAIL LESS. I do think postcolonial steampunk can deliver very sound critiques of imperialism, but I think, honestly, in the end, the point is to imagine a world where we don't have to critique imperialism. I mean, I like kicking sand into the eyes of white colonizers trying to take over the sandbox, but ya'll, sometimes I want to be left alone to build sandcastles without colonizers knockin' 'em over, y'know?

We Interrupt the Very Srs Blog Bsnz To Bring You Squeez!: Steam-Powered

I've been remiss on this, but just to make sure you know: Steam-Powered pre-orders are available until (USian) Thanksgiving!

Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories is an upcoming collection of 15 short stories, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft, from Torquere Press, with an ETA release date of January 2011. Table of contents as follows:

N.K. Jemisin: "The Effluent Engine"
Georgina Bruce: "Brilliant"
DL MacInnes: "Owl Song"
Sara M. Harvey: "Where the Ocean Meets the Sky"
Beth Wodzinski: "Suffer Water"
Rachel Manija Brown: "Steel Rider"
Shira Lipkin: "Truth and Life"
Matt Kressel: "The Hand that Feeds"
Meredith Holmes: "Love in the Time of Airships"
Teresa Wymore: "Under the Dome"
Tara Sommers: "Clockwork and Music"
Mikki Kendall: "Copper for a Trickster"
Mike Allen: "Sleepless, Burning Life"
Shweta Narayan: "The Padishah Begum's Reflections"
Amal El-Mohtar: "To Follow the Waves"

I've been reading through the ARC (very slowly) and am only done two stories, but I must say that I have very high hopes for this anthology! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

MRP Adventures: And the question is...

What can postcolonial criticism do for literary steampunk?

I've been working on narrowing down exactly what I want to do for my MRP. Coming off's Steampunk Fortnight and seeing these wonderful posts by Nisi, Amal, and Ay-Leen (and seeing them being cited in relevant places), and reading further commentary from Jeff Vandermeer (who, bless him, has been working really hard to showcase what I think really is the best of steampunk thus far), I really do think applying a postcolonialist approach to what's currently out under the steampunk banner in the form of literary criticism is totally in order to tease out the difference between progressive, interrogative narratives that really reflect the anxieties and aspirations of our time and old-skool skiffy.

So, really, basically, what I've been doing on this blog, but I want to map out antecedents and theorists that people can hark to when approaching literary steampunk with a critical eye. And what the results might be. 

This of course means I really need to up the ante in my reading and gather a list of primary works that would serve this purpose. 

I have a wonderful book called Unthinking Eurocentrism which I bought for a class ("Feminist and Orientalism") that we ended up not using, and it's a fascinating read (thanks Dr. Heffernan!). I think I quote it extensively in my section of "Colonial Chic or Stylish Subversion?" that Ay-Leen and I co-authored for Shira Tarrant. There's a great section called "From Eurocentrism to Polycentrism" (and after that it goes on to dissect cinema narratives) which really informs a lot of my thinking. I'm also reading up on more postcolonial theory (ya'd think I'd've learned more of it while in undergrad) with regards to literary criticism.

What I want to know is, would postcolonial theory find steampunk lacking? Would postcolonial theory rip it apart? In a bad way, even? I'm working from the assumption that it wouldn't, that instead, postcolonial theory can tease out sites of resistance in steampunk from which it can grow as a subgenre, adding on layers to the aesthetic. But how would it do this? What's in the steampunk postcolonialist's toolbelt, so to speak?

Merf. My goggles, they need polishing. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"The Water Weapon" by Brenda W. Clough

You find very surprising nifty things in places you don't expect, you know?

One of the first books I bought for my Kobo eReader was the Dragon and the Stars anthology, edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi. It's a collection of stories from all over the Chinese diaspora, by authors who are Chinese or have Chinese roots. I don't dig all of them, obviously, having my own taste. A few stories have links between Asian-Americans/Canadians and Native/First Nations, which was neat to read about.

But this is a steampunk blog, and I just read a short which pretty much qualifies as steampunk, on many levels.

"The Water Weapon" is set in the Great Exposition of England, 1851. It follows Mrs. Grace Stulting, a missionary woman who has been recruited by a local inspector, Mr. Bucket, for her proficiency in understanding and speaking Mandarin, in order to listen to the Chinese delegation at the Great Exhibition because there have been rumours of magic in Regent Park. And obviously the Chinese are at the bottom of it.