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?