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Note from Ay-leen: This is part 2 of Noah Meernaum's essay about minority representations in Weird West. Part 1 can be read here. For those interested in the Works Cited resource information for the full essay, please contact me.




7. Occidental Outlines – Asian defacement in American popular periodicals, run from the story papers and bound ‘yellow-backs’, to the periled portrayals wrapped in America pulp. 1

For even as the Occident regards the Far East, so does the Far East regard the Occident, - only with this difference: that what each most esteems in itself is least likely to be esteemed by the other.--Lafcadio Hearn/ Koizumi Yakumo, Kokoro 2

The stereotyped imprint of Chinese immigrants was initially contentedly rendered in the pictured accounts in mid-nineteenth century America through publications such as Harper’s New Monthly in the 1850’s that showed the distinctive pig-tail and conical basin hat of “John Chinaman’” and this picturesque “Celestial” was a widespread Western rendition in American periodicals, drawn from imparted occidental accounts of the “mystical men of the Orient”. 3 With the increased influx of Chinese people entering the American west, specifically within California, in search of golden prospects, promises of abundant land, and industrious opportunity their expanding population was leading to unsettling the sedate Western imprint of removed mysticism shown of oriental representation as the advancing closeness of Chinese residents were informing fearful features upon its distantly complacent cast.

Read the rest here.
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#30 Anti-Racism in 19th Century Britain–Guest Blog by Sandrine Thomas

Ida B. Wells-Bennett. African-American activist who worked with anti-racist
British Quaker Catherine Impey. Image courtesy of eqadams63. Click for
source.

 

The concept of the British Empire arouses pride, pomp, and nationalism, but the darker side of the spread of English customs and mores across the globe was the specter of racism. Though British society focused more on class than race as their home-grown minority population remained small, and the relationship between the ruled and the rulers ran more towards paternalistic respect, racism and race prejudice cannot be denied. Much of the conditioning to promote and advance Imperialism had the tinge of social Darwinism, and the growing interest in eugenics (1890s-1900s) further enhanced the notion that race was biological, and whites were biologically superior to “savage blacks and yellow.” Since post-colonial studies are more interested in breaking through the influence (bad or good) the British had on their colonial possessions, it ignores the existence of people who actively fought not only slavery but racism.

 

Read here.


***

Beyond Victoriana #31 Wounded Range, Part 1 -- Guest Blog by Noah Meernaum


Note from Ay-leen: This is the first of a two-part essay from Noah Meernaum of the Steampunk Empire about the history of Weird West. Part Two of this essay will be posted next Sunday.

Wounded Range: A backtracking survey into the outlandishly penned or set trail of the Weird Western in American popular culture proposed to readdress its multicultural representations, taking in its past shadowed forms cast of lone two gun heroes, (or antiheroes), curious carriages, disfigured renderings, dying curses, sundered souls, vengeful spirits, and other unnatural varmints sifted from lost lore to the ragged pages of dime novels, pulps, and other two bit books. A notorious twisted trail turned inward with an outlook toward its past and present course.

 

Read here.

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I admit, I kick the old adage in the face when it comes to book covers: I don’t hesitate to judge and judge fiercely. That’s being said, if a book cover intrigues me, I will pounce on it like a kitten goes to capnip. When the book-world blogosphere was reeling over the whitewashing Liar controversy, which was then followed by the Magic Under Glass fiasco – instances where the main protagonist of color was portrayed as white and light-haired – Orbit did a cover launch for THE GASLIGHT DOGS featuring this lovely example of Covers Done Awesome:



The Gaslight Dogs



But it would be months until I got get my hands on the physical book, and was quite pleased when I finally did. Karin Lowachee's publishing career began when she was won a first novel contest judged by Tim Powers (yes, fellow steampunks, *that* Tim Powers, author of The Anubis Gates) and had her book WARCHILD published in 2002. WARCHILD was the first of a trilogy that continued with BURNDIVE and CAGEBIRD, and both WARCHILD and BURNDIVE were nominated as finalists for the Philip K. Dick Award.

But enough singing of praises for her previous work. THE GASLIGHT DOGS, a fantasy set on the wild borderlands of the frozen North where, in the epic words of the back cover: "an ancient nomadic tribe faces a new enemy - an empire fueled by technology and war." Sjenn, a young spiritwalker from the Aniw tribe, is taken prisoner for murder by the Victorian-esque Ciracusans settlers and meets Captain Jarrett, a brash soldier with daddy issues and a terrible gift. The two of them and the steadfast Whishishian native guide Keeley must work together to master a deadly power or else everyone - both colonialist and native - will suffer dire consequences.

I devoured this book in two days after getting it, and was able to get in touch with Karin for an interview about writing THE GASLIGHT DOGS.

Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

I had the chance to get an advanced copy for Dan Simmons' latest book Black Hills, which pubs this month, a book that easily falls into several bins: historical fiction, supernatural suspense, and Weird West. In fact, Dan Simmons is one of those writers who has spanned multiple genres in his career, leaping easily from sci-fi to horror to historical to crime thrillers and even blending them all at once. Much of his success lies in his clever inspirational play between classical forms and fantastical content. After all, he's best known for the Hyperion Cantos, a four-book space opera that's structured after Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, and his sci-fi epic Illium/Olympos draws from Homer's Iliad. Recently, the settings for his latest novels have roamed throughout the nineteenth century. The Terror, which landed Simmons on the New York Times list and gave his publishers an excuse to market him as "speculative fiction", is about the ill-fated lost voyage of Sir John Franklin's expedition to find passageway through the Arctic in 1847. His next book, Drood, is a Victorian gothic mystery thriller narrated by Wilkie Collins as he tries to puzzle out the mental stability of his friend Charles Dickens, who had taken a turn for the worst after surviving a horrific train accident. Now in his latest book, Black Hills, Simmons continues his fascination with the nineteenth century, but this time, he writes about the heartwrenching life and times of Paha Sapa, a Sioux Native American who lived through the bloody days of the American West.

The drama of Paha Sapa's life begins when he's a child on the battlefield of Little Big Horn (in a place he knows as Greasy Grass), "counting coup" to prove his bravery. Paha Sapa, however, is no ordinary child; he had experienced moments of "small-vision-backward-touching"times when he'd accidentally absorb people's memories or suffer from visions of the future. After witnessing the death of one of the officers, he goes to "count coup" and instead of a mere touch, he feels the ghost of the dead man flow into him. And it turns out not to be just any dead officer now living inside him, but the soul of General George Custer himself. Thus, Paha Sapa is literally and figuratively haunted by the legacy of the white man throughout his entire life as he tries to figure out a way to fight for the Sioux (who call themselves the Lakota). His lifelong efforts culminate at the construction site of Mount Rushmore, where he plots to save the sacred hills he was named after by blowing them up in front of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
 
Despite being an interesting twist to the narrative, Custer's ghost only serves as a foil to Paha Sapa's perspective and never becomes fully a character of his own. But that is Simmon's intent from the start: Paha Sapa is the focus and his struggles provide the emotional drive of the novel as the story jumps constantly between different time periods of Paha Sapa's life. Obviously, it's rough going at times; Paha Sapa finds happiness and joy, but a lot of the time, he just never gets a break.  He fails his vision quest, gets separated form his people, witnesses the destruction of his homeland, suffers from discrimination from other Natives and white men alike, and slowly loses everything he ever knew in the name of progress and some mystical fate.

In fact, if there were characters who earned a place beside Paha Sapa, they are Progress and Technology. Paha Sapa is fascinated by machines and engineering; as part of the plot, he becomes a powderman who works with dynamite in order to build Mount Rushmore. Simmons spends great portions of the book talking about a various technical details about mechanical things but they, surprisingly, don't drag the story down. The only times that I felt he was tangenting a bit too much was when Paha Sapa visits New York and then relates the story of how his former boss built the Brooklyn Bridge. Still, Paha Sapa (and, in turn, Simmons) manages to engage and I was impressed about the meticulous amount of research that went into the book, both in describing the development of nineteenth century technology in America and the nuances of Lakota culture (there's a substantially long Acknowledgments section at the end of the book for the academically curious). Simmons also uses the technique of incorporating Lakota words into the book, but they don't feel like window dressing and actually has significance in the novel, especially when Paha Sapa talks to his half-white, half-Lakota wife Rain.

In this book, Simmons also proves that there are no small roles, only small actors. The other characters are portrayed vividly, from the wistful and occasionally sardonic Custer to the proud and violent Crazy Horse to the cheeky and intelligent Rain and their brilliant son Robert. The best character moment for me was Rain's: on her first date with Paha Sapa at the Columbian World's Exposition, they both ride the Ferris Wheel and she stands on top of a chair when their car stops at the top of the wheel so she could beat least for a few momentsthe highest person in Illinois. With dozens of moments like that scattered throughout the book, it made me wish that these characters played a larger role. Also, Simmons takes care not to fall into the "noble savage" trap, especially with a sympathetic character such as Paha Sapa. For as much discrimination and hardship Paha Sapa faces in the white man's world, Lakota culture is not painted as the bright and sunny antithesis but deeply flawed with its own complex problems as well.

As the book comes to a close, Simmons takes an especially sci-fi twist to the narration that feels like a heavy-handed silver lining painted around the dark cloud that pervaded Paha Sapa's life. But then Simmons blurs the lines between historical characters doing fictional things and present people doing real things in a way that was still satisfying at the end.

Linkspam

Dan Simmons discusses BLACK HILLS on YouTube
Dan Simmons' official website
Dan Simmons on Wikipedia
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there. A few weeks ago, Jha Goh wrote a post about whether steampunk Westerns could be considered non-Eurocentric, arguing that as long as the narrative is in the hands of the “neo-Europeans” aka, those people whose culture had derived from Europe, then these narratives are still “Eurocentric,” even if they take place outside of Europe.

Taking this into consideration, I’d argue that although Western narratives can be considered “Eurocentric,” the themes that are within the Western genre are non-Eurocentric and has evolved to become less Eurocentric. For this argument, I’ll examine Western filmmaking in particular, although other forms of Western genre exist in books, games, and other media.

The themes of Westerns include a focus on frontier lawlessness, the struggle for survival, vigilante justice, the struggle of good versus evil, the conflicts that occur during the process of industrialization, and the fight for independent living—these themes that have occurred in many places and times in history. Thus, the Western genre over time became co-opted by other filmmaking cultures which then created their own forms of “westerns.” Examples include Russian “Osterns,” which focused mainly on the Russian Civil War era after the Russian Revolution and took place in the steppes of Siberia and central Asia; interestingly enough, they are also Stalin’s favorite film genre (I consider Russia not a European, but a Eurasian country). Another is the recent Indian film Sholay that has been dubbed a “Curry Western.”

Moreover, as the Western genre evolved, its influences have drawn upon non-Eurocentric sources. One of the biggest ones upon the genre (and an influence for many other filmmakers in general) is Japanese cinema icon Akira Kurosawa and his samurai films. Kurosawa had a love for American westerns, which directly influenced several of his films. The Western motif is prominent in Seven Samurai, which, in turn, directly spawned The Magnificent Seven. Also, Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the sequel Sanjuro with its “no name” protagonist influenced Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing, featuring Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” character. There is even a listing dubbed “Kurosawa westerns” that feature several major films and their Kurosawa influences.

This cross-cultural cinematic relationship continues today. This week, I’ll review three “Asian westerns” that have come out in the past couple of years and examine how each film puts its own cultural spin on the traditional Westerns. And, of course, I think each one has its own potential for qualifying as Asian “Weird West.”

Spoilers ahead for Sukiyaki Western Django, The Good, the Bad and the Weird, and Dynamite Warrior )

Linkspam:

Overview of the Western film genre on filmsite.org

Western genre on Wikipedia

Scholarly information and analysis of the Tale of Heike - A website dedicated to the tale of Heike created by Stanford alumni John Wallace

Syllabus for the class Samurai, Cowboy, Shaolin Monk: National Myths and Transnational Forms in Literature and Film A class that was part of the Expanding East Asian Studies program at Columbia University. If I had gone to Columbia University in four years ago, I would’ve totally signed up.

Kurosawa’s samurais Article on flickerfilm’s Blogspot

Kurosawa’s Lasting Impact on Western Film - Article about the directors influences in Western cinema on Buzzle.com

December 2012

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