Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"On Wooden Wings" by Paolo Chikiamco

So once in a while something interesting pops into my inbox, about POC, by POC, and Paolo Chikiamco's short story from the Philippine Speculative Fiction 6 anthology happens to be one of them. Paolo runs Rocket Kapre, a spec fic imprint dedicated to Filipino speculative fiction, and edits Usok, RK's webzine.

"On Wooden Wings" is one of those interesting stories I like to read, because while it has an accessible plot, there are nuances to the story which are best appreciated by local readers. And I'm not a local reader, so there're probably things I'm not picking up, and which are inaccessible to me, and that is cool, too. 

The action takes place not in a landed city per se, but on the ships of the Fleet of Wisdom, a floating academy of sorts that moves from port to port, educating students, providing them with workshop space and allied to the Qudarat Sultanate of Jolo (which I can't suss whether it's a fictional Sultanate based off the Sulu Sultanate or actually real. It's actually a very interesting problem because if you give a shit about historical tidbits at all, you Google and Google to find out and learn other things along the way. Besides which, Chikiamco being Filipino himself has the lateral advantage of representing his people from his perspective, not from the White Gaze, which has the qualitative difference of who controls what the reader is viewing. Given the continued history of colonization the Philippines still deals which, this is pretty significant in terms of power differentials).

The main characters are Clarita Leschot Esteybar, a Moro of mixed descent and the best student in the Fleet, and Domingo Malong, a Tagalog artist. And here we see an interplay of the conflict that comes about from the history of Spanish colonization in the Philippines, made complex with issues of mixed heritage:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Present from Allison Curval

This is a random plug! 

This is a free download until Jan 1, 2012. Holiday message from Allison runs thusly:

Looking back at the past four years of The Clockwork Dolls, I can’t help but think to myself: "Wow, I was a part of this." To imagine that it all began with two kids outside of a theater taking a smoke break between shadow casting a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and led to performing in front of packed audiences from World Steam Expo, Steamcon III, and other conventions of which we could only have dreamt.
A personal milestone of my own was gracing the stage of the beautiful Gaylord National Resort at Katsucon and high fiving the audience as we marched triumphantly up the side of the stage to perform in front of the gathered masses. Not to gloat or anything, but it was pretty rockstar.
As the year 2011 winds down and the band is on a much needed break, I can’t help but look back at where we came from and remember just how innocent and humble our beginnings were. We were just a two kids with a cheap midi keyboard, a handful of borrowed gear, and a heck of a lot of moxie.
It’s with these thoughts that I’d like to share with you the full instrumental collection of The Clockwork Dolls. That’s right, you’ll hear everything from the first demo I pitched Helene to the full instrumental cuts in Dramatis Personae, and finally a the latest track that’s hanging around the old studio - appropriately called “The Finale Mix” of Maiden Voyage.
I hope you enjoyed listening to those tracks as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. In order to preserve the full “demo” experience, and because I’m a lazy person, the tracks have undergone minimum mastering. Regardless, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say, “Wow we’ve grown ... a lot.”
-Allison Curval
Congrats on a great four years, Clockwork Dolls, and cheers to more years of wonderful music! 

Hope ya'll're having a wonderful holiday season =)

We Interrupt Very Srs Blog Bzns To Bring You Search Engine Lulz

So sometimes I get really bored and have time to kill, so I look up Google Analytics, and check out where people are linking to this lil' ol' blog from.

And then sometimes I check out the keywords that bring people here! They're usually really boring, like "silver goggles jaymee goh" or "silver goggles" or "silver goggles blog" or something equally similar.

But occasionally, I get some.... amusing ones. Let's have a look and see what keywords people on what looks to be very interesting Internet quests use to get to Silver Goggles:

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Implications of Less Devastated Empires

So let's talk about Scott Westerfeld's Goliath, ya'll. Did you like it? I liked it, just like I liked Leviathan, and I liked Behemoth, and I thought Goliath was very well done indeed. The slow dawning realization of Aleks that his best friend is, after all, a girl and the OMG AWKWARD chapters afterwards and the EVEN MORE AWKWARD chapters when he realizes Deryn is in love with him was indeed super-awkward and I enjoyed that, possibly to an unwholesome degree.

I was a bit iffy with the visit to Japan, but ehh, it's Japan, weird shit happens there all the time, I guess, and I thought it was nice that we took a trip down to Mexico and met General Francisco Villa. The little rivalry between the journalists was fun, and I, too, wished to punch Eddie Malone when he also discovers Deryn's secret and gets to writing all about it. And I love how Aleks puts himself out there to protect Deryn, because you know, that is what best friends do! 

And yes, I laughed out loud at that middle-of-the-book chapter where Aleks is really really really realizing that Deryn is, indeed! for realsies! a girl! And then Deryn takes advantage of it! And I was like, yea Deryn, you go for it girl, life's too short to spend it not kissing boys. Also, Dr. Barlow / Count Volger -- I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP, understand? 

And Lilit! My revolutionary anti-patriarchy homegirl! I knew in Behemoth that she was going to get sent away. If possible, get your hands on Marilyn French's From Eve to Dawn series; it's a history of women from as much recorded history as possible, and is French's ten-year opus. In it, French points to how so many times, women become involved in movements that will help everyone, and they get with them specifically because they see potential, and are told, all the time, "wait your turn, let us get rights for the men first" and when the men get the rights they want, they set the women aside, telling them, "you're asking for too much." Women constantly contribute to political movements led by men only to get shafted as soon as the men's goals have been achieved, and women's needs are ignored in due course. I was sad to see this happen to Lilit, but it still made sense to me, and isn't it sad that it made sense to me that this was the logical way her patriarchal movement would play out?

Fine, yeah, okay, Deryn isn't a princess by the end of it, and Aleks goes into obscurity instead of taking up the throne, that's cool (although I sometimes have misgivings about this; I'd rather thought Aleks had proven himself as a good leader and could've found some way of returning to his people while still abdicating, but, whatever, I'm the kind of person who still believes in huge honking scapegoats ultimate martyrs vain and useless things symbolic functions of royalty.

And of course Westerfeld, whenever we exchange tweets, is a cool dude, and it's nice to have him out at #steampunkchat, and I teethgnash at having missed meeting him earlier this year in New York City (where he ruined his feet walking at BEA and thus missed the Steampunk Bible signing as a result), bla bla obligatory this-white-dude-is-cool-by-me disclaimer bla-di-bla.

Now that that's out of the way, I can move on to talking about what I really want to talk about. Also, spoilers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

We Interrupt Very Srs Blog Bzns to Bring You A ToC: The Steampowered Globe

So, there hasn't been that big a buzz about this everywhere, because firstly, The Steampowered Globe is a collection of steampunk short stories from Singapore, and secondly, it's published by Two Trees, a tiny little press in Singapore itself, with the succint description, "Two-person family business making books that we want to make because we can." These people are already out for my heart after making me burst out laughing with its website's layout.

The anthology is the result of a collaboration between the Happy Smiley Writers Group, edited by Maisarah Bte Abu Samah and Rosemary Lim. And here is the table of contents! oh my goodness will you look at that nary a white surname in that list.

"Ascension" by Leow Hui Min Annabeth
"No, They Dream Of Mechanical Hearts" by Claire Cheong
"Morrow's Knight" by Viki Chua
"Colours" by Yuen Xiang Hao
"The Morning Glory Incident" by Mint Kang
"Help! Same Angler Fish's Been Gawking for Eight Minutes!" by Ng Kum Hoon
"Captain Bells and the Sovereign State of Discordia" by JY Yang

Maisarah tells me that she has very much to say about the selection process, so stay tuned!

You can order the Steampowered Globe from Two Trees. Dead-tree versions only, it seems, alas, BUT, they WILL do international shipping! Prices are SG$ 18 for locals, SG$20 for folks in Asia, and SG$25 for those of us in the rest of the world! I know, I know, not enough time for stocking stuffing, but! You can order them anyway.

Singaporean writers, Singaporean editors, Singaporean press. Yes, technically I'm supposed to hate on them, since they're on the wrong side of the Causeway, but they are kind of on the other side of the Pacific anyway, so, bagi chance lorrr.... ;D

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dear White People, You CAN Say "People Of Colour"

There is this thing Ay-Leen and I do at our Steam Around the World presentation, and it's when we get to talking about racism. We get the whole audience to yell, "RACISM!"

This is what I like to explain as a speech act. Here's a thing explaining what speech acts are, and how we like to rely on obfuscation rather than stating outright what we really mean. The bit I like the most is the recounting of the conversation from When Harry Met Sally, where Harry tells Sally she's attractive (7:10 - 7:26)  and she says, "It's already out there." it then goes on to talk about the profound consequences of this mutual knowledge about what we're all talking about, that it enables a shared platform for which we can begin to have meaningful dialog about the same subject, and there's a great thing about the Emperor's New Clothes (8:56) enabling a collective challenge to the Emperor's assertion that his new clothes are awesome.

When you use precise terms, and you know their history and their meanings, the implications of saying them, it becomes a lot easier to have conversation. So when we get the audience to say out loud, "RACISM!" it means it's out there now. We can totally say it, and because we can say the word, we can now have a conversation about it.

I unfortunately use obfuscating language on this blog, because I try for a message that people can find themselves in, in as varied a subject position as possible. It's not always useful or helpful, of course. Which probably explains the lack of comments, haha.

But anyways, there is something to be said about being able to use the term "people of colour" in public to identify racialized persons, or people who self-identify that way.

Anecdote time!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Conversations with Ghosts

A lot of times, I have imaginary conversations in my head where I have to explain the approach I take with steampunk, because while most people have some sort of fuzzy notion of what it means to think about racial representation in steampunk, it’s rather more difficult to grasp with how it’s done. Among the many different ways to do steampunk is using steampunk—the idea of messing around with history—as a way to engage with the past.

I think Martha Swetzoff put it best when she said, “steampunk is a conversation with the past” because it fits nicely with my favourite notion: when we look to the past for cool stuff to learn about facts, the injection of our imagination, of anachronistic technology and knowledges, forces us to consider how the past would reply back—would it have been acceptable? What would it take for such a modern way of thought to be acceptable? What would have hindered such a trajectory, and how does it differ from how it played out in our history books?
Derrica, in Spectres of Marx, uses the metaphor of the ghost (Hamlet’s father’s ghost, in particular) to demonstrate a kind of engagement with the past. He was talking more generally about Marxist theory and the application thereof in this era, since the ideal Marxist trajectory didn’t come to pass and thus, Whither Marxism? (Aw, poor Marxists.) He begins by explaining what a ghost is, the implications of a ghost’s presence (the haunting), and possible interactions with the ghost (and there is some mucking about with economic materialist theory that is more or less beyond me, but someone else better than me will be able to explain, I’m sure).

You see where I’m going with this: steampunk is a conversation with the past, but the past is what has gone before, yes? Therefore, when we engage with it in steampunk, we are speaking to a ghost—like Derrida’s spectre, the past, even the alternate history, that we speak to in steampunk can only “begin by coming back” (11) through our efforts to bring it back, into our present consciousness. For many of us, this is how we begin doing steampunk.

For some of us, though, the past, like the ghost in Hamlet, has already come back. It keeps on coming back: the patterns of erasure, of discrimination, our histories coming back in the violence revisited over and over. Each new generation gains new ghosts from the different manifestations of past haunting.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Special Responsibility Not So Special

The first time I wrote about disability in steampunk, I got a comment which basically ran, "but these are problems everywhere. Why should steampunks be charged with greater responsibility for them?"

Anecdote time! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

"The Path Without End" by Elizabeth Lameman, Anishinaabe/Mètis

Elizabeth Lameman, an Anihinaabe/Mètis creator of the graphic novel "The West Was Lost," made this video after she was "fed up with the inability of words to capture [her] interpreation of Native Steampunk." You should pop over to her blog to read about the process behind making this animation, which is a retelling of Anishinaabe stories about Moon People. The soundtrack to the video, "Prosperity," is by Cris Derksen, a Cree cellist.

The result combines multi-textured visuals, made with familiar objects such as beads, with a narrative about interplanetary travel that could take place in any time period, a story that has been handed down for generations, and a soundtrack that also does its own work of combining different kinds of sounds.

Please go check out Beth's commentary on making this video, and leave her comments on Vimeo if you have an account! When I first watched it, I... I had no idea what was going on, and she explained to me, that it's about "travel back and forth between worlds and the Wetiko chasing us wherever we go." And it was amusing for her, because her kid, who's three, knows exactly what's going on, but an adult who didn't grow up immersed in Anishinaabe culture, like yours truly, has a much harder time understanding what's being depicted.

It makes me tip my hat all the more, actually, that it is so recognizably steampunk, and yet so culturally specific. It makes me really happy to see more of this kind of work out there!

Elizabeth Lameman, Anishinaabe/Mètis, everybody! 

Ruminations on the Broken System

So here's a thing I was thinking about.

I've been reading a few books lately. I mean, I've been starting to read some books, and by the 50th page I put them down. They were steampunk books, even, which just goes to show how sick I am of mainstream right right now, and by mainstream, I mean stories stuck in the straight white cis able-bodied "rational" male paradigm that so much of the world is steeped in.

(Look, I know there are some steampunks wailing about mainstream getting into our steampunk, but hrrnngghh, what does it take to explain that much of what comprises steampunk is already mainstream?)

And because I am a simple-minded person, I think right now in terms of spectrums and stories.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Conversations Steampunks Are Not Immune To, Part 2

White Person: Look at this cool thing!

POC Friend: Dude, that cool thing completely misrepresents POC ish.

White Person: Aw, sorry I goofed, but I totally didn't mean it that way!

POC Friend: Well, here are the ways that it does.

White Person: All right, thanks. How's this?

POC Friend: Dude, you just completely erased POC ish from the picture instead.

I wonder why race matters in steampunk, do you?

At my first ever steampunk-themed event, I looked around, and I was the only visible POC there. Same time, Ay-Leen would go to a con and at a crowd of over a hundred, maybe more, only two people in the crowd would be visible POC.

Recently, two little boys were called racial slurs in class. They're not the first, and won't be the last.

In the Netherlands, a tradition of blackface continues. Darker-skinned people face prejudice at the same time that people declare this blackface tradition is not racist. 

Back home in Malaysia, a trans woman friend of mine confesses that she feels normal when a child calls her a "Cina babi" -- Chinese pig -- because it means she's considered normal enough as a woman that people are just racist towards her, not transphobic.

Well-meaning white people tell me and Ay-Leen to our faces that it should be okay for them to say and do racist shit because it's just an act, and people should be able to recognize it for what it is, except, of course, if I'm on the receiving end of racism, how am I supposed to know it's an act?

White folk can come to this blog and ask me to explain why should racism matter in steampunk, why steampunk should be purposefully anti-racist, while by-passing my 101 Reading List, and tell me my experiences don't validate the existence of racism nor the necessity of anti-racism in steampunk. 

They do the same thing at Occupy, they did the same thing during RaceFail, they probably did the same thing at every single major turning point in history where racialized peoples try to raise awareness of racial injustice. 

Meanwhile, people tell me that I can't use steampunk to talk about racism because steampunk is supposed to be fun and fantasy. They tell me my presentation isn't as good as it could have been because I talked about issues and stopped having fun. To my face, even.

People think "non-Caucasian" is a good way to say "person of colour" and obviously have never had to think about the words they use to talk about race. 

Hollywood whitewashes more Asian films, cutting off chances for Asian-Americans to star in favour of white actors who look more "American".

Folk have the temerity to tell me that "racism will always exist" and apparently I should fucking accept this. Yes, I and all POC like myself should accept racial injustice embedded into systems of employment, education, healthcare, housing, access to basic standards of living. 

Somehow people can understand that the world is made of different cultures, different nations, different social groups, different genders, different this different that, but think everyone should be treated the exact same way anyway.

I get called a "racist" very casually for wanting to meet people who identify with these differences of theirs.

At my own party, to my face, again, when I say, I don't believe in tolerance, because tolerance is no longer useful in gaining equality, I am equated to Matthew Shepard's killers. (FYI, that was not a problem of tolerance. That was a problem of hatred.) At a steampunk convention.

Just a few things off the top of  my head that demonstrate how racism is an everyday part of life. Does steampunk happen in some alternate dimension completely insulated from everyday life? If so, please direct me to this magical portal.

And somehow, all through this, people honest to God do not see why conscious anti-racism is necessary, in any fandom at all, and think it's okay if people just aren't obvious assholes to each other's faces. 

Oh gee. I cannot imagine why.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Conversations Steampunks Are Not Immune To

Within the last week alone I've had to have the following conversations.

White Person: Look at me with this cool thing!

POC Friend: Dude, that cool thing is not cool.

White Person: Oh, sorry. Will stop doing it. What's wrong with it?

POC Friend: It's terrible in X, Y, Z ways.

White Person: I thought it was A, B, C.

POC Friend: Maybe you saw it that way, but there are other cool things which do A, B, C without doing X, Y, Z.

White Person: Wow, didn't think about that. Sorry I goofed. Will do better next time.

Compare and contrast to the following exchange:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hey, hey, Mr. Stirling!

I got your comments.

They're sitting in moderation.

And if you didn't care about my criticism and don't give one whit, then why the hell are there four long comments responding to simply one comment of mine sitting in moderation?



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell

I'd been excited to read Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain for a while, for several reasons: 1) It's got a pretty bitchin' cover, with a dark-skinned man with a hook for a left hand and a flying ship; 2) it's a POC-centric novel, and I was curious to see how it worked out; 3) Tobias Buckell identifies strongly as POC, as Caribbean, despite passing as a generic white American dude.

I did not get around to reading Crystal Rain for several reasons: 1) grad school; 2) I somehow couldn't find a way to get my mitts on it on Amazon (Buckell's store only offers a hardcover); and 3) grad school (seriously, moving to a new city and getting used to grad school sucks up your time. Things nobody tells you). Also, priorities and all that meant that I had to pick other texts to read that more strongly coded as steampunk, and I wasn't sure whether Crystal Rain did.

Well, it kinda does and doesn't.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Things This Blog Doesn't Cover (But Wishes It Could)

So I was saying to Adrienne Kress the other day while hanging around the autograph table at SFContario, that there have been three separate incidents throughout this year, at three separate cons (that'd be Nova Albion, CNSE, and SteamCon), that have something in common: at each con, someone has asked me, if I knew anything about Jewish steampunk. 

My first reaction is always an awkward, "well, um." The first time, I spouted Ted Chiang's story in the first Vandermeer Steampunk anthology. The second time, I listened to a woman tell me about the difficulty of researching Yiddishness, particularly from Eastern Europe where her family is from. The third time, was during a SATW presentation and all I could say was, "there is some."

I write a lot about literature and analysing it, as well as analysing practices in the steampunk subculture, mostly focusing on the rhetoric people spout in defense of racist practices like cultural appropriation. I write about tropes and common ideas that are harmful. 

I think a lot about decolonizing the mind, which tends to be a deeply personal thing for me. It's tied to my history as a Malaysian, in which I have to question what it means to be a product of colonialism. I have to ask myself what is racist about my upbringing and what I was surrounded with and how to combat that in a productive manner that promotes dialog between the races living in my country. I have to criticize the people I was brought up to respect and obey. I think about the colonization of my people and how it has continued, even after we were "independent." Because, make no mistake, our independence is relatively modern, and although the economic neocolonialism of our wealth and resources come from other sources beyond the traditional British, the reasons why my people often uncritically and unwittingly embrace these memes that deprecate and demean us, that tell us that we are lesser (because we are not rich enough, according to white standards, because we are not pretty enough, according to white standards, because we are not cultured or civilized enough, according to white standards) are rooted in hundred of years of a foreign presence that persisted in maintaining a military and a culture war against us as national, political, tribal and ethnic entities.

But there are other stories to talk about, too.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Decolonizing Geography, Starting with Names

"What's in a name?" as Shakespeare wrote, and then he goes on with some claptrap of how roses smell the same. Except, of course, that's not how communication works: the essence of a thing is always communicated through a lens, and the lens will be affected by a lot of other things, including but not limited to, what any given thing is called.

Names are important.

This is a post brought to you by this excellent list of names of the Caribbean islands as called by the natives before the colonizers popularized the names used today. So if you don't want to read what's under the cut, you should at least go have a look at that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Philippine Steampunk: High Society

So some of ya'll may be aware of this by now, but apparently my head's been in the ground for the last while (between studying for the GRE, NaNo, depression, and PhD apps) so I missed the release of High Society on Amazon!

Written by Paolo Chikiamco, and art by Hannah Buena, this story is set in the same 'verse as Chikiamco's "On Wooden Wings," which can be found in Philippine Speculative Fiction 6.

From the Amazon description: 
Take your first step into a world of automata, magic, and alternative history! The year is 1764, and, for the first time in nearly two centuries, the Spanish forces have been repelled from the great walled city of Manila. While the Spaniards are quick to lay the blame at the feet of the invading British and their clockwork machines, the secret to the success of the Filipinos may lie closer to home, with an ally that is both ancient and new, mythical and mechanical. “High Society” is a stand-alone steampunk comic book in the “Wooden War” series.

And if that is intriguing, there is a giveaway (closes Dec 18) at Tinamats of a Kindle version! She also has a review.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More Links of Interest: Historical Tumblrs

Because apparently I live on Tumblr, I come across interesting historical bits that I doubt I would have found on other media. I get such things on a lesser degree on Twitter, but let's just say Tumblr is summat superior.

Now, I can't perfectly vet these Tumblrs, so I don't know how accurate they are or how good they are as representations. I do try to pick Tumblrs that are run by POC, and POCs who identify specifically with that history they are showcasing, but I can't always tell identity just by what they choose to reblog or feature. I also try to pick Tumblrs that have text-heavy posts, rather than just pictures. 

So anyway, linkage:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Link of Interest: One Hundred Percent Mixed

Some of ya'll might be on Tumblr (and possibly some of you follow me on there too), therefore, you might have heard of this new Tumblr which takes submissions: One Hundred Percent Mixed.

One Hundred Percent Mixed is "an illustrated documentary on what it means to be mixed", with questions relating to the mixed-race POC experience, with some optional questions on how being a mixie intersects with other issues too, such as gender and sexuality.

I've been chatting to quite a few folks about what it means to be mixed and identify strongly with one identity or another and how it feels quashed by another, but there're other some others who identify firstly as mixed, such as Dov Sherman, which is a different mindset and experience that takes place outside a more essentialist identity.

So if you identify as mixed-race (as in, someone asks you, what are you, and you can't give a simple reply like "Asian"), hop on over to represent, or see yourself represented. Or pass it on to other mixed-race folk you know. Or just plain check it out, to edjamacate yourself more on how people navigate the world. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Quote of Interest

In my previous post on multiculturalism, replyhazy asked, "but what can I do?" which is not a question I don't hear, and often comes from people who really really really want to be able to play in the sandbox and dress up as POC and they've done their research! 

In "Restarting Clockwork Game: A Self-Examination of White Privilege Through an Ongoing Work," Jane Irwin writes about how her desire to write her graphic novel turned into a research project on Orientalism. Here's an excerpt:
"My imperfect understanding of the subject matter stemmed from a combination of cultural ignorance and lack of research, or rather, a blinkered focus on only one kind of research. After reading through the first hundred or so essays in RaceFail09, I realized that while I'd spent hours looking up clothing and wigs and scientific discoveries of the day, I'd devoted almost no time at all to the politics of the era, politics clearly visible to a sizable portion of my audience. ... I'd been so hung up on examining the Uncanny Valley and seeing the automaton only in terms of man versus machine that I'd completely failed to address the equally large issue of how 18th century Europeans chose to depict and interact with the Mysterious Orient."
I doubt it'll help any of you white people directly, but I hope it'll make ya'll feel slightly less alone. There ARE conversations on what white people can do and have been doing to make safe spaces for POC. Part of your job is to actively go looking for them

This has been your Tip For White People To Not Be So Faily Of The Day. Don't expect another tomorrow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

We Interrupt Very Srs Blog Bsnz To Bring You Story Ideas

So tonight in #steampunkchat, we were talking about queer steampunk, and author Nisi Shawl said, "Sex and war move technological progress. Sex includes queer sex, right?" 

And something just PINGED in me, you know, as in, "OMG! A setting where sex drives the technology, not war!! ALL KINDS OF SEX!"

And I hear this whole "conflict drives technological innovation!" meme so much, it's really fucking tiresome. Technology adapts to our needs at the time, which doesn't have to depend on conflict. Assuming that conflict is the only way to drive forward technological innovation is a kind of tired old trope that just has us falling back on war as a setting and doesn't paint us as very imaginative creatures who can dare dream about progress without ridiculous notions of bravery and nobility through slaughtering each other.

So NaNoWriMo is right around the corner and if you were looking for a challenging setting to work with, here's my challenge, write a steampunk world where technology is inspired by, not conflict, but sexual activity. ANY KIND OF SEXUAL ACTIVITY! As Nisi continued to say, "yes, the vibrators and milking machines belong in queer steampunk." Hell, vibrators and milking machines belong in ALL STEAMPUNK! 

So maybe it's my being single and not getting laid for just about two fucking years now, but I really want to see this happen! Like, Chester 5000 XYV, except society-wide! 


We now return you to your regularly scheduled srs blog bsnz.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Culture, Not a Costume

Oh hey, it IS about close to Halloween, right? I know it is because I've been seeing more anxiety about people dressing up as racist stereotypes than usual. I mean, I have this anxiety all the time! I do steampunk! Non-white steampunk, even. 

But all this stuff I do in steampunk? It's just a continuation of stuff that happens outside of steampunk. Dressing up as something from a different culture? Happens every year on a pretty mass scale!

So here are two related but separate links about cultural appropriation during Halloween which I think are extremely pertinent for steampunk:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Blogiversary to Beyond Victoriana!

It is! I know! Yeah, our blogiversaries are only a few days apart! No it's not because we're sekrit twins or anything like that (though we HAVE confused people before by our similar-but-not-same content)! 

Ay-Leen, as you may know, began writing about steampunk and being Asian in steampunk MUCH earlier than this first official Beyond Victoriana post, aaaaand she's also been a lot more disciplined about getting a post out every Sunday, on schedule. She's also featured some terrific people on the scene, such as Jess Nevins, and Evangeline Holland, as well as people overseas such as Eccentric Yoruba (who is one of my favourite people to follow on Twitter). Since then, Beyond Victoriana has grown, won awards, and gained recognition all over the place, and still kicks ass. 

It's terrific and exciting and I'm glad to be sharing the Internet with her! Happy Blogiversary, Ay-Leen!! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

SteamCon III: Starts with a mugging, ends with dog poop

OK, these things did not happen to ME, but I think that's kind of indicative of the mixed bag that was my first SteamCon experience.

The mugging actually happened to Pablo Vasquez, a con-chair of Aetherfest, also known as Mr. Saturday. You should ask him about this story sometime, as it involves himself being a Panamanian and getting lost in Bellevue, and the mugging didn't actually follow through, ending with Pablo receiving a free bowl of chili. This was Thursday night, while I was out having dinner with Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil, Steampunk Workshop owner Jake von Slatt, Out From Behind the Curtain founder Phineas Von Stitch, and Seattle-based writer and Steam-Powered 2 contributor Nisi Shawl.

From left: Kevin, Nisi, Jake, Phineas, all in civvies

It's on this weird note that my SteamCon experience began, with several ups and downs, meeting new people and getting re-acquainted with folks I'd met before, and gnashing my teeth at not having had enough time with others.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl is one of my fucking favourite people, and I am so honoured to share a TOC with her! She wrote a very useful book on Writing the Other, and has a short story collection or two. She's part of the Science Fiction Writers Association, has a LiveJournal, and recently got Twitter and Facebook, even.  In Steam-Powered II, she writes us a story called “The Return of Cherie.”

A two-sentence summary: 
Twenty years after she helped found a socialist Utopia in the Belgian Congo, Lisette Toutournier returns to the nation of Everfair with urgent advice about its role in Europe’s fast-approaching “Great War.”  And despite their ages, Lisette also hopes to rekindle the love she once shared with another co-founder still living there, Daisy Albin.

How did your characters come to be? 
Three of “The Return of Cherie’s” five characters are loosely based on historical figures: Matty on Peter Pan's creator, J.M. Barrie; Lisette on Colette; and Daisy on children's author E.M. Nesbit.  Rima is a sort of mash-up of Josephine Baker and Zora Neale Hurston.  Fwendi evolved from photos and anecdotes of several sub-Saharan children and women; the histories of indigenous peoples in that area are pretty much eradicated, so I have to use lots of references as her armature.  Her name is a phoneticization of the nickname a young playmate gave to Barrie, which he eventually elided into Wendy.

Why this setting? 
I chose this setting because it’s where most of Everfair, my novel-in-progress takes place, and the story is a fragment of said novel.  And I chose this setting for Everfair because King Leopold’s devastation of Equatorial Africa is one of the most extreme examples anywhere of the costs of Victorian technology, which is the fetish and domain of most current steampunk. 

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
In emerging pan-African culture at this time, in this world, I’m positing grudging acceptance.  Lesbianism is okay, but it’s not great.  Like burned toast—scrape it a little and it’s edible, with lots of jam.  Everfair is of much the same opinion on “inverts,” with a thin layer of liberalistic tolerance sprinkled on top. In Europe (which Lisette just left) lesbianism is simply shameful.  Think “Well of Loneliness.”

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece?  
What has been the most fun about writing “The Return of Cherie”?  It's hard to choose between the research and the characters.  And then there’s researching the characters.  I’ve wanted for years to write about Colette and E. Nesbit and J.M. Barrie.  I love them so much!  Lisette’s voice is an emulation of Colette’s, in this story and in Everfair.  She’s so sense-oriented, and that makes her scenes are tremendously engaging for me—and, I hope, for our readers.  Thinking of the project as a whole, research has in some ways been a nightmare, because much of the material I’d like to draw on for indigenous viewpoints is gone.  Millions of people died during King Leopold’s reign of terror.  History is told by the unslaughtered, so there are huge gaps in our recorded knowledge of this time and place.  However, there are material traces of Kongolese culture, museums full of looted goods.  I have a book on these museum collections (African Reflections, edited by Enid Schildkrout and Curtis A. Keim) that has helped me immensely.  Of course I want more—I could spend thousands on an Everfair library.  I’ve already spent over a hundred, even though I’m also using lots of the supplementary information available on the internet.

A random ramble? 
“The Return of Cherie” is a reference to two of Colette’s best known novels, Cheri and The Last of Cheri.  Colette’s Cheri is a young man in love with an older courtesan.  I’m 55, and I think about age and love a lot.  In my story, Daisy’s 55 and Lisette is 41, and there’s some concern that the advancing years may be putting an end to their amours.  Race is also a factor.  As for the technological aspect of steampunk in this story, there are gears, and gleaming brass, and dirigibles, and rubber fittings, just like in most current genre works—but it’s what people do with these icons that matters most.  It matters to me and it matters to them.  I hope it matters to you. 

And this concludes this round of author interviews! By this time you should have enough information to make a decision whether or not to pre-order, so I shan't ask again. Thanks to all the authors for answering these questions, and thanks everybody else for reading!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Today's Steampunk RaceFail: Wolsung

Via my friend bankuei comes this, uhm, delightful example of casual racism dressed up as entertainment.

Bankuei's only posted the two images, and it's possible that there may be more egregiously racist images that I'm not seeing. 

Now, I get that this is a Polish RPG game, so there may not be a whole lot of African, indigenous, or Asian peoples there who have lived there long enough to find these kinds of racist caricatures of their home cultures insulting. But this is, in fact, an example of what I'm talking about when I say steampunk is not a form of escape for many, and is not immune to racism. Here we have caricatures of... I don't know, pygmy Africans? Carib natives? And then there is, of course, the pinch-faced caricature of Chinese people, complete with pointed ears; this hobgoblin figure draws on the Fu Manchu character (as well as an exaggeration of other Chinese characteristics). 

I don't really know what goes on in Poland in terms of race relations, but that doesn't really excuse the fact that it draws on racist stereotypes of what Foreign Peoples look like, stereotypes that render the Foreign People looking Not Human or Completely Barbaric. And thus the tradition of dehumanizing the non-West by cultural producers continues to feed the ignorance of folks who may likely never interact with these stereotyped peoples on a personal basis, to see folks like us as, you know, normal people. 

Which is why it's so important for us POC to be creators of our own worlds, where we won't be these kinds of caricatures. Because these stereotypes live on, and sometimes in us. How many of us are working hard to decolonize our minds of what has been taught to us about our own people, as inferior to Westerners? How many of us are products of the White Man's Burden to civilize us? How do we re-invent ourselves to be free of that? 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Alex Dally MacFarlane

Alex Dally MacFarlane is another of those rare souls among us with a .com URL and stuff and a prolific writer to boot. Her story is “Selin That Has Grown in The Desert.”

A two-sentence summary: 
Dursun, a teenaged girl in 19th century Central Asia, must soon be married—but she is starting to realise that she only wants to be with other girls.  

How did your characters come to be? 
Even without the lesbian parameters of the anthology guidelines, I would have wanted to write about women.  Their stories are too often ignored in favour of male endeavours.  The lesbian aspect immediately gave me more details: my character is a lesbian, and I quickly decided she would be young, grappling directly with the difficulties of being a lesbian in a time and a place where such a concept was not acknowledged.

Why this setting? 
My starting point for the story was actually my quite strong disinterest in most of the steampunk I've ever read.  In short, it's very male and Victorian, with a great deal of glorification placed on Victorian England (and a lot of terrible attempts to write in Victorian prose).  JoSelle asked me to write a story for the anthology, but I didn’t really want to write a steampunk story.
At the same time, I was reading a really beautiful manga, Otoyomegatari (A Bride's Story) by Kaoru Mori, set in 19th century Central Asia.  I loved the domesticity of the story, how it focused primarily on female relationships and day-to-day life.

These two combined, giving me the idea of a story set in a part of the world where steampunk was at best irrelevant, at worst an indicator of foreign imperialism.  And I wanted to focus primarily not on the technology, but on the people of Central Asia.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
As far as I can tell from my research, lesbianism was simply not a concept in 19th century Central Asia as it is in a number of present-day countries.  Women married men and bore children—and that was that.  Dursun does not want to fit into this norm, and the story is about how she deals with this problem.

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece?
Research!  I've spent many hours in the British Library, reading about Turkmenistan past and present, and many more hours online, sourcing pictures and snippets of historical texts and travel stories and Turkmen-authored information—it is not an easy place or period to research in the English language, and I enjoyed the challenge (and still do). 

My greatest find so far has been Carole Blackwell’s Tradition and Society in Turkmenistan, which collects several hundred folksongs sung by Turkmen women and recorded throughout the 20th century, now translated into English.  It is a rare and wonderful resource—far too often, women's voices are simply not written down, and are gradually lost over time. 

A random ramble? 
I am now turning the story into a novel, which I am really excited about.  I even have an idea for a second book, narrated by someone else—also a young Turkmen woman, with a story of her own that connects to Dursun's.

Hey, hey, hey! Less than a week to Steam-Powered II's release! [HINTHINTHINT]

Happy Blogiversary

So, about two years ago, I started up this blog and made the basic housekeeping items. Two years later, I'm still writing on it, and I feel it's been underwritten. This is mostly my fault: I started the blog, liked doing the subject of steampunk and postcolonialism so much, I took it to grad school, which sucked up my time, and I never made much effort to update here, except to let ya'll know when I would be at conventions and such. 

My bad =(

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Using the term "multiculturalism"

I'm currently re-reading Angela Davis' Abolition Democracy, and her interviewer, Eduardo Mendieta, in response to her reiteration that "we need a new age--with a new agenda--that directly addresses the structural racism" (30) about multiculturalism: "very smart strategies are being used, ones that displace attention from issues of racial justice by speaking in terms of multiculturalism" (31).

Over the last year or so, I've become incredibly disillusioned with how the term "multiculturalism" is used in various spaces, including steampunk.

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Beth Birdsall

Beth Birdsall's main internet presence is at LiveJournal, and she brings to us the story “Journey’s End.”

A two-sentence summary: 
In an alternate 1910, Chief Engineer Dolores Salas has spent her career working on sentient, aetherium-powered airships.  When her airship’s time to die comes, Dolores agrees to accompany her into the unknown—but the sky contains more surprises than the certain death she thinks she’s sailing towards.

How did your characters come to be? 
I wanted to explore a character who was blue-collar, from an immigrant background, and not an aristocratic officer from a privileged upbringing.  Dolores is the child of Mexican immigrants, and a no-nonsense woman who’s spent her whole life working with her hands and navigating a world that may not be actively against her, but also isn’t set up for her success.  For Mabel, her sort-of-potentially love interest, I wanted another working-class character, but one from a different background—she’s mixed-race, daughter of an ex-slave, from California—who grew up in a different setting, and had slightly different challenges in life.

Why this setting? 
I wanted to do a steampunk take on a fantasy trope, and I settled on the idea of ships sailing into the west, and into the epilogue, and what happens when a character gets to live into her ‘epilogue.’  Airships were the logical choice.  I didn’t want to rework an active war, and I didn’t have time to do as much research as I would have wanted to do a setting I didn't know as well as the US—but I definitely wanted to address the blue-collar side of the military that a lot of military-set history ignores.  I also liked the slightly claustrophobic self-sufficiency of a vessel on a long voyage, and this version of airships let me play with that to an extreme.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
It’s a semi-accepted, semi-ignored subculture of Dolores's US Navy—basically, an officially ignored open secret.  Women refer to it as being "old maids together" or "particular friends" or similar, but because the US military accepts women and forbids them to be pregnant or married while enlisted, there’s a large proportion of women who for various reasons aren't interested in heterosexual marriage.  Some of them are asexual, or heterosexual women willing to postpone marriage in favor of a military career, but women who are interested in other women have pretty good odds in the military, and a subculture has grown up around that.

The civilian world varies a lot.  In the town where Mabel grew up it’s fairly similar, except with less statistical assurance that the ladies around you may well be amenable.

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
The science!  *laughing*  Both fun, and frustrating, which made it a really interesting challenge.  The aetherium propulsion system is pure handwaving, of course, but I did a lot of work on figuring out whether what I was proposing for high-altitude life could actually kinda-sorta work.

The other funnest part doesn’t show up in the story in any detail, but it was designing a 1910 naval uniform for women.

A random ramble? 
I don’t often listen to music when I'm writing, but nearly the entire time I was writing this story, I listened to Dougie Maclean’s “Ready for the Storm” on loop.  When it comes up on my iTunes now, I still have to repeat it a few times before I can move on to another track.  It’s habit, and it makes me think of Dolores.  I’m very fond of her now!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Back from SteamCon!

There is no con report yet because my brain is way too fried.

Highlights include Pablo of Aetherfest's near-mugging, a jellyfish family, music, and KW Jeter talking about leather and dog poop. 

There are a ton of pictures. And this report will also get cross-posted to too, so it don't make no nevermind to me where you read it first (I don't often check comments that-a-side, though). 

I'd like to thank everybody who made it out to my 9am program items. I know that's a pretty early hour to be talking about heavy issues in steampunk, and those of ya'll who came out for "fun" just to "check it out", I really appreciate it. Also, thanks Russ for the bottle of wine; it made for a great way to continue the Social Issues Roundtable after we ran out of time! 

If you liked the programming, feel free to contact the SteamCon programming committee to tell them to bring it back next year!

And if you just wanted to say hi on this blog now that we're all safely ensconced behind our computers, feel free to do so. I know some people find me kind of, um, intimidating in real life. 

Or, you know, say nice things about stuff that happened during the panel, or bad things, I don't care, just let me know you're out there.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable: S.L. Knapp

S.L. Knapp can be found cross-posting between LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, and she brings us a really cool set of answers about her story that features Cuba, “Amphitrite”

A two-sentence summary: 
An engineer from newly-independent Cuba must recover her stolen submarine. While crossing the open ocean, she has just the plan to evade anyone who might try to claim her vessel.

How did your characters come to be? 
I knew I wanted a submariner and a mermaid and had the basic plot structure laid out, but they really came into existence as I wrote the story. Two paragraphs in and I knew the sort of woman Consuelo was. I mentioned Amphitrite, and I knew that at age twenty, Consuelo had met this rough-around-the-edges older woman who taught her what’s what. Twenty years later, she does the same thing for the naive but earnest Aurelie.

Why this setting?  
I don’t see much about Cuba in fiction and I wanted to put more out there (I’m also lazy and it required less research). I set the story a bit later than traditional steampunk, but the War of Independence was a fascinating time, especially for Cuban-American relations, and it’s fairly close to when my great-grandfather graduated from medical school and had female classmates. I figured a woman engineer would be historically believable. You know, if Cuba were building a fleet of super-subs.

 You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
In the confines of the story, being queer isn’t that big a deal. That’s not historically accurate in larger society, but a lot of women flew under the radar this way—Consuelo’s an inventor and engineer, she’s probably a spinster being single and over 40, and nothing more is said. Consuelo knows what’s up, and that’s all that matters. I just wanted to set a story where being a lesbian is normalized, even if it isn’t in society.

 What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
The submarines! I went a bit overboard with the Jules Verne-y fantastical elements but that’s the sort of universe I was hoping to evoke: a little more science-flavored magic than science itself. Can the machine work? Probably not. Do I care? No. It’s pretty in my head, just like the Nautilus. I mostly relied on my knowledge with sailboats to write it, and some reading up on historical submarines, which were mostly pedal or diesel-powered.

 A random ramble? 
My grandmother studied medicine during the Cuban revolution. She has stories about fights she’d have with the guard at a US hospital she worked at because “only doctors can park here” and seeing as she was a woman, she couldn’t possibly be a doctor. Whereas, in Cuba, her father’s class in medical school graduated three women (in the 1920s). According to my grandmother, a lot of women didn’t go into medicine, but there were really no institutional barriers to stop her from doing so if she wanted to like there were in the US. I found the disparity interesting, given how often I’m told that I come from a culture brimming with machismo and sexism by fellow Americans. I used to take it for granted that a given patriarchal society (especially in the West) behaves in similar ways to others—but the nuances that come up in the differences have been really interesting to me. So that colored my decision to set the story in Cuba, too, and how I wanted to frame some political relationships.

As an aside, gender norms re: occupations varies so much in different countries! In Malaysia, we're fairly evenly split in the IT field, so I was really surprised when I got to North America and found that there're so few women in IT. Mind-boggling. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! C.S.E. Cooney

C.S.E. Cooney, also Claire Cooney, lives at LiveJournal, and brings to us a piece reminding us of the source of steam power in C.S.E. Cooney on “The Canary of Candletown.”

A two-sentence summary: 
A burnt-out revolutionary’s kindness awakens the passionate devotion of a young mining laborer. But the Candletown Company is careful to stomp out any flame ignited underground. 

How did your characters come to be? 
It started with the name Kanarien, which is the German for canary. I’ve always been haunted by the idea of sending a singing thing into the dark, then waiting for it to stop singing. And I really like the name Dagomar. I didn’t necessarily want two German characters, so I played with the idea of a girl growing up in the mines without a name, and also what it would mean, suddenly, to be given one by the first person to care about her.
Why this setting? 
I share my morning commute with a very clever Belgian named Thomas. One day, we had this conversation:
Thomas: What are you reading?
Me: Steampunk’d. I have to write this story, and I'm trying to get a feel for the genre.
Thomas: What is steampunk?
Me: Still figuring it out, myself.
Thomas: (looking up the definition on his smart phone) Ah. I dislike the literature of the aristocracy. Where does steam come from?
Me: (getting goosebumps) Coal.
Thomas: Where does coal come from? Earth. Who digs it? The people. Children. This is the era when Dickens was writing Oliver Twist. Zola's Germinal...
It was at that moment I had an idea for a story that might have to do, rather than with the great inventions of air and industry that were possible because of coal, with the coal mines themselves.
You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting?
 These characters are the lowest of the low. They’re so far down the social ladder, they’re underground. Nobody cares about them, or what they do, so long as they get their work done and don’t raise dust. They have no one and nothing else to care about than each other. They’re best friends and lovers and family—and none of that matters in a world where they are already invisible. 

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
I wrote mine at the same time, and in the same room, where Patty Templeton wrote her “Fruit Jar Drinkin’, Cheatin’ Heart Blues.” She was letting me sleep on her couch for the month of April, and she’d bring home these huge bags full of research material from the library. We were writing in sort of the same time period, in a generally similar geographical location, and we’d each discover these interesting (or sickening) things in our research and say to each other, “AAUGGH!!! If you don’t use that, girl, I’m gonna!” 

So that was fabulous. 

But then! Then, later, writer Delia Sherman offered out of the blue to beta-read my early draft. I don’t think I’d ever spent an hour on the phone talking about writing that blew my mind quite so far into the stratosphere. She has a way of making previously nebulous ideas diamond-clear. Her encouragement was incredibly heartening during the mire of the draft process. 

Two fabulous things. Both were the funnest. 

Whaaaat, a little under two weeks before Steam-Powered II comes out? How exciting! Didja get your order in yet?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Rebecca Fraimow

Rebecca Fraimow is also one of us dual-denizens of LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, and wrote the Mid-Eastern-inspired piece “Granada’s Library.”

A two-sentence summary: 
In an alternate Emirate of Granada that never fell to Christian Spain, a great mechanized library has for centuries peacefully guarded the wisdom of three faiths. But as the spirit of the Enlightenment starts to reach Al-Andalus, Chief Curator Pilar—a woman who has her own secrets—finds herself at the center of a battle for the library's future.

How did your characters come to be?
I knew that I wanted to write about an established couple who were very secure and comfortable with each other, because that’s something I always want more of in fiction than I get. From that point, I started to develop Pilar and her lover Zainab, older women in positions of authority who know each other very well and can communicate with each other very well, and whose duties and responsibilities play an important role in their relationship.

Why this setting? 
The golden age of al-Andalus provided an incredibly rich and exceptionally tolerant intellectual atmosphere for philosophical and scientific development, with scholars from all over the world taking inspiration from the work being done there—and that was circa the year 1000. Once I started to wonder what would have happened if the Reconquista had played out differently and that culture had lasted through the Renaissance and into the Enlightenment, it seemed to make perfect sense that al-Andalus would have managed to develop sophisticated clockwork technology before our Europe ever did!

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
I wanted my characters to feel comfortable in their sexuality without having to angst about it, so I set up the library as an almost entirely-female space in which the existence of homosexual relationships is a fairly open secret.  Nobody in this context is going to particularly care if two librarians develop a “special friendship,” although it isn’t something they could be public about in the wider city.

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
I have a total weakness for stories about THE REVOLUTION, so I had a lot of fun taking the kind of idealistic young revolutionary women that normally I would be all over in fiction, and then showing them from the perspective of older women with completely different priorities who are really uncomfortable with all these excitable teenagers running around trying to pull their world down around their ears!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! A. Tuomala

A. Tuomala has a novel, Erekos, from Candlemark & Gleam. Her Internet home is here, and her story featuring a Moroccan mercenary lady is “Dark Horse”:

A two-sentence summary: 
The evening before her mercenary company departs for the Balkans, Suhailah al-Saghira bint-e-Azzam meets a desperate stranger: Prudence Crewe, who claims to be searching for her runaway husband. Before they’ve exchange three words, Suhailah knows that the steely-eyed Mrs. Crewe is trouble—but Suhailah has a taste for trouble, and she could never resist a woman with a secret.

How did your characters come to be? 
I’ve been looking for a home for Suhailah for some time. I created her ship and crew over a year ago, when I thought I’d be writing a comic book about her captain; unfortunately, that project never panned out, and the Ebony Horse’s crew had to wait for another war. When I saw the call for submissions for Steam-Powered II, I thought, “Yes! Finally, a chance to bring out my Moroccan mercenaries again!” The engineer Suhailah was always my favorite, with her keen mechanical mind and her need to uncover secrets. I put together Prudence Crewe as a foil for Suhailah—someone who would engage her curiosity and make her fierce intelligence work. I got a stunning James Bond of a woman for my trouble, and I couldn’t be happier.

Why this setting? 
I’m terribly fascinated by 19th century Balkan warfare; if you check who allied with whom at any point in the drawn-out slugfest between Russia and Turkey, you could get a reasonable idea of European politics in the day. I knew when I started this story that I wanted to play with those shifting alliances in an urban, commercial space—a space as potentially potent in the steampunk imagination as Victorian London (but alas, woefully underused!). For me, Istanbul was that space: a commercial hub mediating between numerous confluent cultures, modern and urban and ready for war.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
“Dark Horse” takes place in a kind of alternate history and culture, like many other steampunk works; in this alternate Istanbul, I’ve treated lesbianism as largely a non-issue when it occurs in private, sex-segregated spaces. Female mercenaries make coarse jokes about it in coffee houses, after they’ve driven out the people who usually drink there, and Suhailah feels comfortable making an advance to a stranger in that enclosed space. Part of what thrills Suhailah about Prudence, though, is how brazen they can be together—kissing in the market, of all places! I wish I’d devoted more time to this aspect in the story, because lesbianism is an important cultural phenomenon as well as an interpersonal one.

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
I’m a huge language geek, so I really enjoyed playing with Istanbul as a multilingual space. It was also fantastic devising Mr. and Mrs. Crewe’s coded messages, which was a bit like piecing together a language of my own from mythological and literary references.

Little over two weeks to Steam-Powered II's release! Get yer orders in!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Nicole Kornher-Stace

Nicole Kornher-Stace, besides having an impossible name, has an actually functioning website complete with bibliography and stuff, as well as LiveJournal. I don't know if this needs saying, but LiveJournal is still cooler than Facebook, ya'll. She wrote “Deal,” another steampunk western.

A two-sentence summary: 
Alt-western silver-mining tall tale. Midwife vs. Pinkertons!

How did your characters come to be? 
I don’t remember when or how I realized I wanted my narrator to be a midwife. I know I wanted her to be a Strong Female Character who specialized in something that’s traditionally very much women's work. I don’t see enough of those so I thought I’d try making my own. As for Deal, she’s a rabble-rouser and a would-be revolutionary because those tend to crop up in almost everything I write. Together they fight crime. Not really. But they’re fantastic at pissing off the Pinks.

Why this setting? 
Well, earlier this year, I wrote a poem in a similarish setting/voice (“The Witch’s Heart” in Issue 21 of Apex) and had an absurd amount of fun with it. I wanted to get back in there and play a bit more. Also, Claire Cooney read my mind and reminded me—though she hadn’t known—that I’d always wanted to write a Western. And then I got to thinking how much fun it would be to write a Western steampunk story using traditional tall tales as a framing device. Somewhere along the line, the story decided it wanted to take place in a failing silver mining camp. After I got all that squared away, the rest pretty much wrote itself.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
The story takes place in an alternative California in the late 1800s, where it seems that what with race, gender, and class issues running high and none-too-subtly, lesbians were probably lumped in with the rest as “secondary” citizens and didn't really stand out as much more or less “inferior.” To write “Deal,” I did a lot of research into the time period in that part of the country and didn’t really come across anything suggesting otherwise. I’ve been meaning to read more into this topic, actually—I’m curious as to what the actual answer for real!California might have been, but I couldn’t find much on it at the time. Now I’m extra-curious.

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
Oddly, there was nothing frustrating about writing this one. I loved playing with the narrator’s voice, with the language I picked up in my research of 19th century mining towns, with writing my own tall tales. Really, it was the most fun I’ve probably ever had writing anything ever. I hope it shows!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steampunk is a Subculture, not Escape

Whenever people talk about steampunk as "an escape," I used to snarfle out loud. Of course I'm usually reading such sentiments, so my obnoxious laughter is usually kept to myself, and in offline contexts, I strain a smile. I don't really want to ruin anybody's fun, you know?

I've said it before, and I've said it again, there's something very apt about the term "subculture," which we should be paying attention to. It means that steampunk is a part of a larger culture. I've yet to hear steampunk referred to as "counter-culture," and I suspect the reason runs along the lines of how we don't wanna end up vilified like the goths, or we don't want to be seen like those angry punks. Not that all of us are averse this, of course.

I could go on with theory on how steampunk is not counter-cultural (check out, for example, Brian Ziff and Pratima Rao's anthology Borrowed Power: essays on cultural appropriation), but I want to keep to the community aspect of steampunk for the moment and speak to concerns that I suspect many people aren't thinking about when they say, "steampunk is an escape."

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Shveta Thakrar!

Shveta lives on LiveJournal, and her story is “Not The Moon But The Stars.”

A two-sentence summary: 
What would’ve happened if Buddha had never become Buddha? In its way, it’s a tale of first contact.

How did your characters come to be? 
I was gazing up at the full moon as I drove home from work one night last fall, and the thought struck me how much it looked like a silvery pendulum at rest. Not long after, I typed out that image, and before I knew it, I was writing about a jeweller who loved the moon and wanted to recreate it in her own style. Her lover soon followed, unintentionally bringing the seeds of conflict with her.

Why this setting? 
Siddhartha Gautama, the man who didn’t become Buddha, is very much a product of his world. Besides, ancient Nepal seems like it would have been an exciting place to be, especially when you bring in steampunk technology.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
Definitely accepted. I wanted to write a story where sexual orientation wasn’t an issue, so the characters, who were already in a loving relationship, could go on to have rollicking adventures, solve mysteries, save the world, and all that good stuff.

 Also, even if Siddhartha didn’t go on to become Buddha, I imagined he would still be a wise and compassionate man, so his kingdom should reflect that in its acceptance and empathy. (Whether that’s actually the case or not, well, you’ll have to read the story to find out!)

What was the funnest, or most 'hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
I’ll go with option B. Oh, wow, the characters came so naturally, but trying to get the plot together was something else. It sprawled in all directions, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I was seriously close to tearing out my hair; just ask my critique partners! But somehow, after much gnashing of teeth, I eventually found the story’s heart and built it into a more coherent foundation, embellishing from there. (My critique partners could not be more grateful that they don’t have to hear about this anymore.) 

For your dignity's sake, do NOT confuse her with Shweta Narayan, who was in the first Steam-Powered anthology! To see how different their stories are, you can get the first anthology here, and pre-order the second here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Steampunk Postcolonialist at SteamCon

Yes, folks, I will indeed be attending SteamCon III. I'm not crazy about how they define steampunk (really? "Victorian science-fiction"? Really?) but since it's the biggest one out West, I figure I should give it a go. On the way there, I'll be stopping by San Francisco to visit Roget Ratchford, whom I met at Nova Albion, and will spend Monday, Oct 10, swanning around San Fran like a tourist. If anybody has any ideas for me, or would like to hang out that day, let me know! Then it's off to Seattle to visit Nisi Shawl, who will be in Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories. Nisi is one of my heroes and I'm glad to be sharing a TOC with her! 

So! Here's my nefarious itinerary for SteamCon:

Friday, 6pm - 7pm, Regency B - Cheng I Sao, Queen of the (pre-)Steampunk Pirates, moderating Beth Wade and Margo Loes. We'll be discussing this legendary lady, starting from some generalities, to historical specifics. Beth will provide some comparisons to show how awesome she is. We'll finish with some discussion on how to include her into your steampunk narratives. SANS FAIL. 

Friday, 8pm, Sepiachord Music Lounge - Performance by Unwoman. This will then devolve into absinthe tasting and general alcoholic socializing. I will have a bottle of Kittling Ridge ice wine and brandy on me. Feel free to ask for a sip, because I ain't finishing that on my own. 

Saturday, 9am - 11am, Grand Ballroom J - Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana. A presentation, which some of ya'll may be familiar with. But I'll be glad to see some familiar faces!

Saturday, 2pm - 3.30pm - Amphitrite Annual Tea. I'm there to watch Erica, really. I missed all her solo performances at GearCon so I'm compensating.

Saturday, 9pm - Nautilus Concert. Well, yeah fuck yeah I'm going to get my dance on.

Sunday, 9am - 11am, Regency B - Envisioning a Better Steam Society: Social Issues in Steampunk. This is a roundtable discussion. Some of ya'll know what this is, feel free to come again. =) I'll be a bit more focused this time, with a specific frame for racial issues, because I hear Seattle is another Whitelandia, and sounds like ya'll could use some practice. 

Sunday, 1pm - 2pm, Grand Ballroom J - Evolution of Steampunk, moderating K.W. Jeter. I haven't actually talked to the man yet, so I have no idea what will go down, but generally, what the title says. 

I leave for the airport around 4pm, because I'm very tetchy about timing. 

See you there!

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! Zen Cho

Zen Cho is the other Malaysian writer in this anthology. She's based in the UK, is a loyar (as we say) by trade, and her work's appeared in Strange Horizons and Expanded Horizons. She can be found on LiveJournal, Dreamwidth and Twitter. Her story is “The Terracotta Bride.”

A two-sentence summary: 
Siew Tsin died young and has been trying to avoid surprises ever since. But her hopes for a quiet death are destroyed when her husband brings home a new wife—a beautiful terracotta automaton who comes with secrets that may overturn the order of the universe.

How did your characters come to be? 
They arose naturally from the setting. The viewpoint character being Chinese Malaysian was a bit of a departure from that setting, but I like to include Malaysian characters in my stories where I can.

Why this setting? 
Since I first encountered Eileen Chang's short stories, I've been wanting to write an elegant, tragic story about glamorous Hong Kong women leading miserable lives poisoned by family and love. Plus, robots! I can’t remember how Hong Kong morphed into a version of the Chinese afterlife plucked from TVB series and a Singaporean amusement park, but it probably proves that I’m not very good at being Eileen Chang.

The great thing about working off a vision of the afterlife derived from Hong Kong TV is that it allows for deliberate anachronism, which is very steampunk if you think about it.

You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
Lesbianism is marginal, but not unacknowledged. I had the idea of a romance between wives before I read Shen Fu’s Six Records of a Floating Life, but in it, he describes how his wife seeks to arrange for a singsong girl to be his concubine because she’s in love with the girl herself. The point is made by a reference to “Cherishing the Fragrant Companion,” a Qing era play by Li Yu about a married woman who successfully conspires to have her husband marry her female lover so they can be together. (This is still performed as an opera, the Fragrant Companion.) So it’s obviously a bit of a cliché!

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
Nailing down the terrifying but vague childhood recollections I had of the Chinese hell (thank you, Haw Par Villa) by research. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think conversion might not be such a bad idea. At least the Christian hell only features one pit of flame...