content by

Jaymee Goh

More Lesbian Steampunk Stories: A Roundtable with Steam-Powered II Authors

If this week proves anything, it’s two things: steampunk is still going strong as a trend, and it’s growing. And if this anthology proves anything, it’s that we really like lesbians. After Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories came out last year, Torquere Books realized it was pretty popular! And thus JoSelle Vanderhooft signed on again to bring us Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories (with an implicit promise that she’ll bring us another, and another, and another…). Steam-Powered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories comes out October 26 from Torquere Books, and you can place pre-orders by emailing JoSelle directly. If you like lesbian fantasy anthologies in general, JoSelle has edited a whole lot of them.

So, what can we expect from this new anthology? Let’s hear it straight from the authors themselves, answering a few questions on their stories, starting with two-sentence summaries:

[Read more]

Series: Steampunk Week

Steampunk Abstractions: The Inevitability of Imperialism

Earlier this year, I wrote a brief essay on imperialism, questioning the idea that “of course steampunks are going to dress up as colonists and imperialist explorers” because Victorian-inspired steampunk is set during an imperialist time. The logic goes: if steampunks are going to fashion personas after character tropes from that time period, they’re going to dress up in ways that harken back to imperialist ideals and reenact said ideals.

[I don’t know how sound this logic is; maybe you can help]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Steampunk Abstractions: On Commodification

Hey, ya’ll, remember the last time I wrote about the post-modernity of steampunk? If you didn’t, don’t worry about it; it was pretty insubstantial (like exuberance!) because I was out of schoolbooks. But this time, I got ‘em and I have theorizin’ to do with you! You are free to join in with your own understanding of post-modern theory as it applies to steampunk, and to tell me where I’m wrong, of course. 

I’ve been thinking about commodification in steampunk recently, and how it feels that so much of the steampunk subculture is stemmed in stuff we make or buy, the outfits we pull together. The visual aesthetic is incredibly important, and it does feel that if you don’t have the right kind of costume, you might as well be invisible in steampunk.1

[Ready? Set! Theory!]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Airships! Beasties! Clankers! Darwinists! A Review of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy Thus Far

Okay, so there is no way to go about reviewing Behemoth if nothing is said about Leviathan, even if both books stand on their own well enough. Except if you read Behemoth first, you’d want to go right back out and get Leviathan anyway, to make sure you got the full experience.

Leviathan is set at the beginning of World War I, with the death of Archduke Ferdinand by Serbs. As such, we can’t exactly pin it down to the era of steam technology, so it’s more fittingly dieselpunk. Nonetheless, the historicity and scale of tech retrofitted into the past fit nicely into steampunk conventions.

Within this history, it’s obvious that Westerfeld has done his homework, down to little details that add a delicious accuracy to enhance certain scenes, while being very clear where he has strayed. As such, there isn’t one break-off point between this story and recorded history, but a blend of both.

The two major factions within the new geopolitical landscape are very reasonably set: in the bits of Europe that is Catholic, the predominant tech is mechanical, with hulking machines that are deeply reminiscent of HG Wells’ land ironclads. The British, by contrast, are Darwinists, with the conceit that Darwin discovered DNA and developed the technology to harness it, to the point that the British fabricate their own biological ecosystems in a fashion that serves their purposes.

This is how we get Leviathan, which is, to put it bluntly, a flying whale.

[Yeah, I said it. A flying whale]

Review: Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee

Gaslight Dogs is many things. It is definitely genre fiction. It is definitely speculative fiction, and all the hard stuff that it entails—a social commentary, an imaginative piece of work, a secondary world that has uncomfortable parallels with ours, and a ripping good story besides.

In Chimamanda Adichie’s talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” she notes:

“The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, ‘secondly.’ Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story.”

[What could possibly deserve such a great reference as that?!]

Sense, Sensibility, Sea Monsters: Rendered Insensible

By now, most of you would have noticed the Jane Austen re-writes on the market. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies started the whole thing. Then came Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters. (Separate from the Quirk Classics, but in a similar vein, is Mansfield Park & Mummies.)

I picked up Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (henceforth called PPZ) on a lark. The concept of marrying Jane Austen’s story to one of today’s most favourite literary trends sounded like an exercise in being clever. Although for some, “being clever” is tantamount to “being a jerk,” I generally have more trust in my fellow creatures than that, and looked forward to a thoroughly enjoyable read.

[A general rant and possible spoilers ahead, but PPZ was good]

Return to the Written Word

This is a shameless self-promotion post. Not of myself, but for you.

You see, when I was a wee English major, some wise professor told me, if I was stuck, I should “go back to the text.” Being an English major, my job was to interact with what I was reading, and focus my thoughts and responses to the text, into a coherent manner. It’s the basis of critical analysis, and it brings to the fore what I already knew and how I understood the text.

Steampunk, as we know, began with the literature, as an off-shoot of cyberpunk, a kind of bastard-child that its literary predecessors might not have embraced but had its own charisma and gained its own following. (Well, you know, if you can’t get along with your own family, you find friends to fill that gap, right?)

It is, unfortunately, not the most visible part of steampunk now, and even while plenty of people read steampunk works, there are few who actually take it seriously to critically engage with the texts beyond “it was an awesome book” or something equally inane like that. Yeah, it was awesome, but how? I’ve always firmly believed that a work should stand on its own, and in order to be a great work, it must withstand critique and criticism.

So, under the cut, I’ve listed the few bloggers I know of that engages with steampunk in a truly hyper-academic way. I really admire these folks, so I thought I’d share. And you should, too.

[Here be intelligentsia]

Series: Steampunk Month

With this Steam-Powered Prosthetic Arm, I Could Be As Strong as… A Normal Person

Whenever I talk about steampunk, I usually wander around to the issue of race (you may have noticed this; it’s kind of a thing). Sometimes I use the term “person of colour,” or “steampunk of colour,” or “visible minority.”

I was thinking of the latter term: “visible minorities” and I realized that there has been a subset of people who are definite visible minorities, as well as invisible minorities, that aren’t often thought about.

The terms are various, according to region: people with disabilities, disabled person. Each term has its own socio-political implications. A bit like how steampunk means something vastly different to various people, heh. I’ll be alternating between the two in this article, because I find pros and cons in both terms.

Before I move on to how this intersects with steampunk, I’d like you to take a minute or two to read about the Spoon Theory and the Social Model of Disability. The former offers a metaphor for able-bodied people to understand their privilege in relation to those suffering from disabilities. The latter is a model which offers a mindset with which to understand the social structures in place which continue to hinder people with disabilities. It will also enable you to understand the purpose of writing this article in the first place.

[Now, for the intersection!]

Series: Steampunk Month

The Roundtable of DOO- I mean, of Race and Steampunk

Hello, folks, and welcome back to another exciting discussion about race and steampunk! This time around, I will not be shooting my mouth off randomly about how I angst about the issue, but discuss it with my good friend / intellectual companion / partner-in-crime, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker. People from NYC may have seen her around—her steampunk persona is a Tonkinese assassin wearing a modified ao-dai and she carries a big gun—wait, that’s not exactly a good identifying factor, never mind. Ay-Leen is also closely associated with the Penny Dreadfuls, so you may have seen her running with them at cons, too.

Ay-Leen and I have been in contact for several months, a little after RaceFail, during which we spent many long emails hashing out issues of race within steampunk, strategies on how to make it more diverse, how meaningful steampunk is to us, and just plain old ranting about cultural appropriation, Orientalism and other such D:-inducing moments.

[Onward! Just, uh, watch out for the Big Gun]

Series: Steampunk Month

Experiments in Comics with Sydney Padua

Have you read 2D Goggles yet? No? Well, you should probably go check it out. Because this article is going to be all about 2D Goggles and its creator, Sydney Padua. 

2D Goggles was created in response to a call for blogposts on Ada Lovelace. Can we just get an “amen” on what a great fucking idea it was to respond to this call for posts with a comic on the origins of Ada Lovelace? Which in turn launched into an alternate history concept that is definitely way more fun than reality? Look at that face. How can you not want to pledge undying loyalty

Because I am a complete suck-up (for reasons that will be revealed later!), I am going to talk about why you need to read this comic.

[Let’s crunch some numbers!]

Series: Steampunk Month

New Lit! About Sir Thomas Riley

The first thing I noted about Nick Valentino was that his email address was a reference to Watership Down. I always figure that anybody with a love for an epic about bunnies would dream big, and Nick Valentino does.

He’s a quiet fellow, Nick Valentino, and like most first-time authours, eager to talk about his first book. Sir Thomas Riley will be released by Echelon Press, October 23rd. Unlike most amateur authors waiting to be discovered, he understands that he can’t sit back and just wait to be discovered, nor is he about to just move on to another project without trying to reach out to people first. It’s refreshing. Except for the plan to take over the world.

It’s always the quiet ones.

[Now to reveal his evil plan!]

Series: Steampunk Month

Everybody Line Up!: Berít New York

Generally, if people ask me about costuming or steampunk fashion, I’m the first one to not pay attention. I can sew buttons, but I can’t design, and any costuming I do is a mishmash of anything I can find in stores. DIY costuming ethic, I has none. Which really doesn’t stop me from admiring the wonderful fashions coming out of the steampunk fashion scene. 

However, when I discuss racial diversity, I do acknowledge that the best way to get steampunks of colour involved is to show that there already are steampunks of colour in existence, who proudly wear and weave their heritage into their method of participation. It’s even better when it’s something as visual as fashion, because being able to wear the clothing is very much a draw, and to be able to wear clothing that isn’t Victorian-inspired is even better.

So, I introduce to you, Britney Frady-Williams, founder of Berít New York. Britney is proud in acknowledging her Cherokee blood, and it really shows. You’ll see her around organizing fashion shows, and the Berit New York store will be open soon!

[Click for more on this fab fashionista]

Series: Steampunk Month

There is Totally Punk in Steampunk

At a con, you will see a ton of us steampunks running around having a ton of fun. That’s our thing, having fun. There is a lot of shiny in steampunk.

Things get a little less shiny when people start asking, “Where’s the punk in steampunk?”

A lot of steampunks often decry the –punk suffix, claiming that bringing in political discussion would inevitably alienate swaths of the community. This, in turn, alienates those who do believe there is a definite punk aspect to steampunk.

I know we’re very different from the typical image of punks, who are apparently disaffected youth rebelling without a cause. For one thing, steampunks look good. And we’re mostly very civil, well-spoken people. That doesn’t mean none of us feel any identification with the –punk suffix. (And anyway, it’s not like there’s nothing in the world to not be disaffected about.)

Because I’m a bit of an asshole, I am going to point out a few things why things aren’t so shiny all the time.

[Why do I even have to write the obvious…]

Series: Steampunk Month

An Ode to Lady Ada

So I was kind of calculating in my head the awesome personages involved in steampunk, right after Queen Victoria, who isn’t even a steampunk personage–the era is named after her because she ruled so bloody long–and I was trying to see if who we could look up to, all told.

And like in many other fields, the names of men generally dominate the lists of greats, and there aren’t many. It’s a bit depressing. So today, I want to devote a bit of attention to Lady Ada, born Augusta Ada Byron, later Countess of Lovelace, actual girl genius of the Victorian era.

[Let’s go!]

Series: Steampunk Month