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.