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A spot of bad news that I think is necessary to share, especially for the folks who follow me on Beyond Victoriana.


Last week, I received word that my responsibilities at Tor.com have changed, and I will no longer be responsible for maintaining Tor.com Steampunk Facebook and Twitter feeds. I will remain, however, on-board as Tor.com’s blogger for all things steam-worthy and thensome.

I’m saddened by this news, especially since I highly enjoyed seeing both Facebook & Twitter grow exponentially since I was first given the responsibility last December. But I also know that the publishing industry is going through some belt-tightening times. It’s an understandable and ugly reality in this economy.

Nevertheless, I look forward to continuing my working relationship with Tor.com as I’m involved in the steampunk community. Beyond Victoriana, of course, isn’t going anywhere (and you can follow on Facebook too!).  Additionally, I’m working on a new venture with Tor to spotlight steampunk events & announcements and am still interested in press releases for anything steampunk-related for consideration to post on Tor.com, and the steampunk links will still be coming via my personal Twitter at writersyndome. Press releases and publicity outreach can be sent to me at attic.hermit@gmail.com.

Thanks, everyone, for your understanding & support through this transition.

 
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These are the old archives for Beyond Victoriana blog series, which has now moved to:

http://beyondvictoriana.com

The old archives have also been transferred and can be found on the Site Index. Please link back to these posts, and update your bookmarks accordingly.

Beyond Victorian
a's old archives are also mirrored on LiveJournal. Both site links are included here.

The Index

#1 Technology Eastward DW LJ
#2 The Great Nemo Debate DW LJ
#3 Boilerplate: Readdressing the Victorian Era DW LJ
#4 "For Science!" in the Muslim World DW LJ
#5 The Wild, Wild East DW LJ
#6 A Chat About Brazilian Steampunk with Bruno Accioly DW LJ
#7 Yinka Shonibare MBE: Revealing the Transnationality of Culture DW LJ
#8 Captain Sakuragi's Underwater Warship DW LJ
#9 First Nation Sci-Fi & Technology Resources DW LJ
#10 An Interview with Sunday Driver DW LJ
#11 From One Other to (An)other: Review for Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass DW LJ
#12 Sneak Peek at Steampunk Comic "The Seven" DW LJ
Beyond Victoriana Special Edition: Odds & Ends #1 DW LJ
#13 Black Victoriana and Thensome DW LJ
#14 The Wind-Up GirlGuest Review by Jaymee Goh DW LJ
Beyond Victoriana Special Edition: Odds & Ends #2 DW LJ
#15 Ghosts and the MachineA Review of Dan Simmons' Black Hills DW LJ
#16 Post-Apocalyptic Math Musical! The Hidden Sky DW LJ
#17 The Semantics of Words & the Antics of Fashion: Addressing "Victorientalism" DW LJ

& read more at beyondvictoriana.com!



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In the wake of the Steampunk Kurfluffle that started with Charles Stross' complaint against steampunk, Tobias Buckell wrote an interesting response about fantasy’s tendency to romanticize the past and mentioned his own work:


But ultimately, I share Stross’s discomfort, which is why my steampunk plays have often been about adopting the style and nodding to the history. Crystal Rain, what I called a Caribbean steampunk novel, is about Caribbean peoples and the reconstituted Mexica (Azteca in the book) of old with a Victorian level of technology, using the clothing/symbols of steampunk, but making their artificiers black. Sadly, Crystal Rain, written in 2006, seems to have come out just before all the hotness, as it rarely gets mentioned as a steampunk novel whenever these celebrations happen.

So, now that my curiosity was piqued, I had to go out and get the book to see for myself how he handles steampunk before “the hotness.”


Read on BeyondVictoriana.com

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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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Mind you, we love our useless brass bits an' superfluous lenses an' all, but panel six takes it for the win! Oh Dr. McNinja, how I adore you so.
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

Steampunk's "era that never was" is often placed during an enlightened mechanical age of the past, when technological innovations mix with historical mores. In a romantic sense, technology is humankind's hope for a better world; nostalgic steampunk celebrates the sense of wonder and accomplishment people feel in the presence of functionality. But steampunk, though commonly placed in optimistic contexts, can take a darker turn. The genre, after all, is cousin to cyberpunk, that over-engineered world where technology has escaped the understanding of the common man. The darker consequences of steampunk technology is rooted in the imperfections of steam: environmental pollution from burning fossil fuels, the intense human labor (and lost lives) involved in dangerous factory work, global arms races as nations compete to develop their tech. Post-apocalyptic steam combines the hope and the tragedy of progress: society struggling to build itself again in a ruinous world, often after some technological disaster. The City of Ember books, the Unhallowed Metropolis RPG, and the videogame Bioshock are all examples that fall under post-apocalyptic steam.

Post-apocalyptic steampunk exposes the raw conflicts inherent in creating technology. Once everything we knew has been lost, can we ever regain that same world again? We need technology to survive, but how can we not commit the same mistakes that caused our downfall?

Musician and composer Peter Foley asks these questions in his chamber musical The Hidden Sky. Based on Ursula K. LeGuin's short story, "The Masters," The Hidden Sky takes place in a world where is civilization has been destroyed and the sky forever obscured under a dark haze. The survivors had created a sun-worshiping religion centered around the mysterious "face of God" that hid itself in the wake of humankind's downfall, and in order to prevent calamity from striking again, the priests had banned all forms of math and science. The only ones allowed "forbidden" knowledge are the Engine Masters, those who build and maintain the steam engines they need to survive. In this society, Ganil is the newly-anointed Engine Master who yearns to learn more, and she risks everything in order to pursue her love of mathematics, with grave consequences.

The Prospect Theater of NYC recently ran a production of Foley's musical. Their vision of a post-apocalyptic world--one that shies away a from Eurocentric setting--expands the definition of both post-apocalyptic storytelling and the steampunk genre. Telling a story that is dark in content but feels ethereal in execution, the Prospect Theater Company's production of The Hidden Sky succeeds in creating a specific post-apocalyptic world that touches upon universal themes of exploration, survival, and sacrifice.

Cast & Crew talk about The Hidden Sky and its concept design based upon a ravaged multicultural world:

The Hidden Sky from Jaime Vallés on Vimeo.



Taking place at the West End theater in a converted church, The Hidden Sky's combination of the spiritual and the secular is immediately apparent. With respect to LeGuin's unspecified geographical or cultural setting, the cast dress in a mix of African, medieval European and south Asian-inspired dress. The characterizations, if not the plot, has been explored further than what was in the original short story, with most of the songs focusing on Ganil's mental and emotional discoveries about what she learns. This fits with the mix of music that range from choral pieces to full-out ballads.


The singing and performances were all remarkably strong. Victoria Huston-Elem plays the modest but curious Ganil and I liked how her unconventional looks gave her that geeky air. Both Ganil and her secret teacher Yin (Joy Lynn Matthews) are played by women, which is different from the original story, and adds a feminist slant to their struggle. Ben Gunderson plays the passionate Mede who first opens Ganil's eyes to the power of numbers, and Mark Mozingo is the gentle and loving Lani, Ganil's fiancee and newly-appointed Sun Priest. I especially liked the love triangle between the two men over Ganil, where the crux is both men fighting over Ganil and not Ganil "having to choose" between them, which is what's been happening too often in romances these days. And, in the end, she chooses neither, which is also refreshing (though her last scene with Lani broke my heart).

And another casting decision that caught my eye is the talented Nadine Malouf as Ganil's double. The role is unique because it gives the chance for Ganil to contemplate her inner world while the scene goes on with her double interacting with the real world. Her double also represents Ganil in dream sequences and plays out both her hopes and her fears. Having a woman of color play Ganil's double adds another dimension to her character while also dismantling the concept of a static racial Other that could have happened if her double represented only one aspect of Ganil. Instead, the casting choice plays with the concept of public versus private selves in an effective and engaging way.

This has been a strong show from The Prospect Theater Company, and I hope to see more work from them in the future.

I also encourage others to look into producing The Hidden Sky. Below are links for more information.

***

The Hidden Sky on Peter Foley's website

The Hidden Sky at Prospect Theater

An Interview with Ursula K. LeGuin about the Hidden Sky

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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.

This weekend I'll be at Wicked Faire (where will YOU be?) and so here is another edition of Odds & Ends to keep you occupied in the meantime.

The Reads

I've gotten a lot of feedback from my Black Victoriana post, including these suggestions:

Black Science Fiction Society - a community dedicated to black sci-fi on Ning

Afrikan Steam/Afrosteam: an updated Tumblr link page maintained by HuemindFantastic

Also related is the self-published book Wonderdark (also available for purchase through Tumblr). It is self-described as an "Afro-Asiatic Steampunk/FaeryPunk/Afropunk meets plant-eating (and in some cases of Anansi-kind: bookeating) tradition of thought-craft and Higher-lense opting. Like just about any book kissed with Steam ethos, it's unconventional, and will not open a door for you to the usual, the 'norm'... the 'generally accepted', etc. Instead, it will open up a door in your mind to higher possibilities, the under-reported splendor of cruelty-free alts, and hope reinstilled for your inner-child that dreams emerge because they're seeking birth. It's not just your imagination... at least not in the way you might think."

Also, there is Cory Gross's presentation about Steampunk & Anime on Crunchyroll. On his blog Voyages Extraordinaire throughout the month of February, Cory is writing a series of posts about Japan during the Victorian era. Notable posts that are especially steampunky include an overview of Japanese Scientific Romances, a tour of the Studio Ghibli museum, and feature about Hayao Miyazaki's Daydream Note.

And not that we need permission from anyone to promote non-Eurocentric steampunk, but here is an observation writer Tim Ayers made about where steampunk is going that I thought was worthy of passing on.

The Buys

Now I don't want to get into the habit of promoting vendors on this blog, but I think is exception is made here for Tess Fowler, who I interviewed about her comic The Seven. Fact is, she has new shirts featuring art from the comic available for purchase on Zazzle. Go check them out!

The Pics

Here is an oldie but goodie, and a source of personal inspiration. The Coalition of Rather Unusual Denizens or C.R.U.D in California is a multiracial group of cosplayers and they all look amazing. A full album of their pictures is at photographer Ed Pingol's site.

Check them out under the cut )
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

Kicking off my crazy February schedule, this week is Beyond Victoriana's small contribution toward Black History Month.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated in February, but in England, this month is in October, so I guess I'm giving away my biases a bit, eh?  Now, a linkspam about African/African-American history would be easy to do. And there are many great black figures who lived during the Victorian Era who should be mentioned right now.

But instead, I'll review an interesting book about a view of black history that I don't hear about as often: a series of essays about the lives of both extraordinary and everyday Black Brits in Victorian England called Black Victorians/Black Victoriana, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina.

Book Description:

Black Victorians/Black Victoriana is a welcome attempt to correct the historical record. Although scholarship has given us a clear view of nineteenth-century imperialism, colonialism, and later immigration from the colonies, there has for far too long been a gap in our understanding of the lives of blacks in Victorian England. Without that understanding, it remains impossible to assess adequately the state of the black population in Britain today. Using a transatlantic lens, the contributors to this book restore black Victorians to the British national picture. They look not just at the ways blacks were represented in popular culture but also at their lives as they experienced them-as workers, travelers, lecturers, performers, and professionals. Dozens of period photographs bring these stories alive and literally give a face to the individual stories the book tells.

The essays taken as a whole also highlight prevailing Victorian attitudes toward race by focusing on the ways in which empire building spawned a "subculture of blackness" consisting of caricature, exhibition, representation, and scientific racism absorbed by society at large. This misrepresentation made it difficult to be both black and British while at the same time it helped to construct British identity as a whole. Covering many topics that detail the life of blacks during this period, Black Victorians/Black Victoriana will be a landmark contribution to the emergent field of black history in England.

Also check out her book Black London as well.

My Review:
The essays in Black Victorians/Black Victoriana are varied and fascinating, ranging from the everyday lives of African Brits to the portrayal of blackness by the British, and, in turn, how the British defined themselves by their whiteness. The topics of these essays are divided into three general areas: the black experience in Britain, the interaction between Africans, African-Americans, British, and African-Brits, and representations of being black in Victorian culture. I enjoyed the essays that focused on aspects of the black experience--nevermind Victorian-- that I had never even considered before. Joan Anim-Addo's "Queen Victoria's 'Black Daughter', examines the life and circumstances surrounding Sally Bonetta Forbes, a young orphaned West African child whom the King of Dohomey presents to Queen Victoria as a "gift" in 1850. Sally was the first of a long line of Empire adoptees who entered the Queen's household as "properties of the crown" and were raised as the Queen's proteges. Other interesting essays included about the black experience is a profile on Pablo Fanque, a black circus proprietor who ran the most successful circus in England for 30 years, and the biracial classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The conclusions each of these essays make about race relations during Victorian England vary, even contradict each other. Fanque, for instance, is widely respected and defended by the general public as a performer, and Coleridge-Taylor's historical biographers skid more about his white mother's illegitimate parentage and servant class than his Nigerian father's background. On the other hand, other pieces such as "Mrs. Seacole's Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands and the Consciousness of Transit" (titled after her memoir of the same name), focuses on the prejudice the Crimean War heroine and nurse Mary Seacole faced from the British medical establishment --and from Florence Nightingale's all-white company of nurses--when on the front lines. And the essay "The Blackface Clown" explains the roots of blackface in England, framed around the concept of "blackness" as the racial Other onto which white Brits transposed everything they considered "unBritish."

The most interesting essay in the collection is Neil Parsons' "No Longer Rare Birds in London," a record about the travels of four different African envoys to England. Representatives from these African kingdoms visited England in order to petition for various reasons, from protesting British occupation to appealing for protection against other European powers. Parsons gives a detailed itinerary account of what each group experienced. Some incidents during their journey were very telling of the conflicting views of black and Africans in Victorian England. For instance, when King Cetshwayo of the Zulu visited in 1882, he was whisked away in a special train because the colonial ministers didn't want the public--who were only familiar with "Zulu warriors" as depicted by mostly African and African-American circus performers and from the news of the crushing British defeat by the Zulu nation in 1879--"to make a spectacle of him." The king, however, was unexpectedly received by cheering crowds and enjoyed being recognized in the streets as the leader of the battle. The envoys reactions to England are also intriguing. Many compared the packed urban sprawl of London to locusts and the Ndebele envoys remarked how the British "worshiped the god of money while they spoke of the God of Love" and how "the hands of the European never tire of making things. It is for this reason that white men's faces are often so fatigued and sad. They wage war with each other not for virile glory or to test their strength, but for things."

Overall, a fascinating book and highly recommended for scholars and history buffs alike.

***

Another treasure came at the suggestion of Miriavas from the Steampunk Empire: Okinawa Soba's collection of nineteenth-century photos. He features three collections portraying different perspectives on the black experience during this time period.  Below is a sampling from each collection, but I encourage you to go through his galleries yourself.

Click here for the pics )
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there. This week's feature came to me from MySpace (yes, I still have one, and keep it updated...sorta).  From the steampunk community there, I friended Tess Fowler. She'd done some gorgeous steampunk erotica work in the past, but I noticed that she began posting character designs such as these:

The Seven

Yannick   Nguyen - the Gentleman

Cue the double-take on the names. Characters of color in my steampunk? And (gasp) one of them is Vietnamese-?

Since then, I've been following Tess and her progress on The Seven for months. The project is still in its development stages, but, dying to know more, I had a recent conversation with Tess and The Seven's writer Chris Gutierrez about The Seven and what inspired them to create a multiracial steampunk world.


*** Read the interview under the cut )
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

The intelligent automaton—one of the many symbolic Others in sci-fi literature.  When characterized sympathetically, the automaton represents humanity without being human, the lone outsider puzzling the world around it.  The Othered Automaton pops up in steampunk lit too, like Boilerplate and Mattie from The Alchemy of Stone. In both cases, the automaton finds camaraderie with people who feel similarly alienated by the societies they live in; Boilerplate had his Buffalo Soldiers, Mattie had her mechanic dark-skinned lover Sebastian.  But what Jaclyn Dolamore brings to the table is a new perspective to this relationship in her fantasy steampunk novel Magic Under Glass: the protagonist is not the Othered Automaton, but that of Nimira, the human Other seeking her fortune in a strange land.  

In this YA novel, Nimira travels west from her Middle East-inspired homeland of Tiansher to the Victorian-esque Lorinar, a land where an uneasy conflict is brewing between it and the neighboring fairy realm. Lorinar, however, isn't as welcoming as she had hoped. Its citizens are familiar with Tiansher only as the "exotic Tassim" and Nimira can only find work at a cheap sideshow as a "trouser girl" singing her country's native songs to ignorant audiences. That is, until she meets Hollin Parry, a sorcerer who takes her in to sing alongside his clockwork automaton.  The previous girls Parry had hired left, claiming the machine to be haunted. Nimira discovers, however, that the automaton is not a possessed machine, but an elaborate prison. Inside is Erris, a fairy prince long thought dead. Now, Nimira must figure out a way to free Erris before war breaks out between Lorinar and the fairy world.

What makes Nimira so memorable is her resilience against the daily prejudice and ignorance she faces. What makes Magic Under Glass commendable, however, is the fact that her outsider struggle is not the point of the novel, but another layer of social complexity that Nimira must navigate through in order to accomplish her goals.  Nimira, for her part, does not forsake her identity to assimilate into Lorinar culture: she carries the world of Tiansher inside her, drawing strength from her memories of home. On the other hand, she also has to deal with those who try to exoticize and diminish her existence, such as when she's asked to perform in her "trousers" instead of her elegant Lorinar dress during an important performance. Her complicated feelings toward her employer are another case in point: echoes of Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester resonate in the relationship between Nimira and Parry, but I along with Nimira questioned the root of Parry's fondness toward his "Tassim" girl.      

Her position as a foreigner in a Western-based culture is more interesting to read than the reverse—that of the "Eurocentric" traveler in the "Othered" foreign land, which is more frequently represented in fantasy.  Moreover, her background paves the way for her sympathy toward fairies and Erris. Nimira also wins major points for being a strong character that doesn't wait passively for the action to happen, yet she can still show vulnerability and cry when she needs to.  All the women in Magic Under Glass are sharply defined; only the villainous Miss Rashten seems a bit flat.  Also Parry, as misguided as he is, earned my sympathy.

The magic of this novel is a bit sketchy for my tastes, and I'd rather have more detail about its system and details about the fairy world. The vagueness I encountered can be explained by the open ending that's the set-up for a second book. Usually I'd be upset by this, but I'm more than willing to wait for the next installment of Nimira's journey.


***

On another note, I first heard of this novel because of the US cover's whitewashing controversy, and after reading the book, I find it even more insulting to the reader and disrespectful to the author that Nimira was represented as a light-skinned white girl instead of her dark complexion. However, the YA blogosphere unleashed a furious wave in response, culminating in Bloomsbury's announcement that the hardcover jacket will be changed immediately.  That is why, for the curious, I linked the UK cover instead of the US one for now. I can't wait to see the revised cover, though.


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When I first commented on Bloomsbury's Racefail with Liar, I was going to provide additional commentary about the theme of whitewashing covers in the publishing industry. My blogging ball had dropped at the time, but now I find it both sad, infuriating, and a bit ironic that there is NOW a part 2 to this Racefail. More whitewashing by the same publisher.

I first read about this controversy on the Reading in Color blog. Jaclyn Dolamore's debut novel, Magic Under Glass, has a protagonist of color who had been whitewashed on the cover.

Of course in light of all this discussion, I want to read the book to see how much the character's racial and ethnic identity plays a role in the storyline and, looking at its description on Amazon, it looks like a book right up my alley:

 
Nimira is a foreign music-hall girl forced to dance for mere pennies. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to sing with a piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new and better life. In Parry's world, however, buried secrets are beginning to stir. Unsettling below-stairs rumors swirl about ghosts, a madwoman roaming the halls, and Parry's involvement with a league of sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. Then Nimira discovers the spirit of a fairy gentleman named Erris is trapped inside the clockwork automaton, waiting for someone to break his curse. The two fall into a love that seems hopeless, and breaking the curse becomes a race against time, as not just their love, but the fate of the entire magical world may be in peril.

According to the author's personal illustrations of Nimira that I found on her website, she is definitely a dark-skinned character of color with a non-Eurocentric ethnic identity.
 
So, we have a book with a character of color as a protagonist set in a steampunk-influenced fantasy world? Major co-sign from me. I'd gladly review the book (with a library copy; I refuse to buy the book, but respect the author's work) and write a feature on it for Beyond Victoriana. If only the publishers supported the author's vision when marketing this book....

ETA: On a happier note, the YA blogosphere has certainly taken note (and talks about what we can do about this situation), and at the beginning of this year, Collen Mondor wrote this wonderful piece about how YA readers can help by demanding more diversity in publishing.



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

Sunday Driver


Carnival Catalyst
over at The Steampunk Empire first brought my attention to Sunday Driver, and later that same day, I read Libby Bulloff's glowing praise for their work (and smelled a snowball effect coming on. And, boy, do I like making snowballs. So I checked out their site and brought In the City of Dreadful Night
from iTunes to hear for myself and was blown away. From the fusion spin on traditional Indian chant in "The Gayatri Mantra" to the smooth-to-edgy variations in "Heroes" to her darkly whimsical jazz croon of "Rats," lead singer Chandrika "Chandy" Nath gives a strong and varied performance on this album, with strong instrumental support from band members Joel (Guitar & Sitar), Kat Arney (Harp, Clarinet(s),Spoons), Matthew Sarkar (Tabla - though recently Rahul Ghosh has taken his place), Melon (Bass), Chemise (Guitar), and Scot Jowett (Drums).




Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Chandy
with the occasional pop-in answer from Joelabout their music, their band, and their views on steampunk.


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Image courtesy of cyborgnecromancer

Merry X-mas to all, and Festivus for the rest of us!
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.
Image courtesy of Kory Lynn Hubbell

One of the interesting challenges non-Eurocentric steampunk faces is how technology can be re-imagined for peoples that did not develop industrialized technology during the nineteenth century. Case in point this week: First Nation peoples. There has also been the assumption that First Nation peoples “lack” technology, and so therefore what role can they play in any science fiction genre, nevermind steampunk?

Notwithstanding the imaginative block (and racist subtext) implied by those who say FN peoples didn’t have technologywhich is argued against by Kay Marie Porterfield in her article Ten Lies About Indigenous Science – How to Talk Back concepts like time travel, tech, and alternative histories aren’t confined to any particular culture. This week is a linkspam featuring discussions concerning First Nation peoples in sci-fi and reading suggestions to get those mental gears turning.

For research resources, I have included a selection of articles concerning FN sci-fi, history, and technology at hand; for reading suggestions, I’ve listed examples that can also be considered under general sci-fi, alternative history, or Weird West.

UPDATED 15 February 2010: I've updated this post with the most relevant suggestions given by readers included below. Enjoy!

Read more below the cut )
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

 

When Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was published in Japan in 1878, science fiction fever infected Japanese writers, and within a few years, imitations of Verne's mysterious submarine and its Captain Nemo cropped up in their adventure stories. The most famous is Captain Sakuragi from Oshikawa Shunro’s six-part series Kaitei Gunkan (The Underwater Warship, 1900-1907).

 

Like much of Japanese sci-fi literature at the time, one of the prevailing themes of the Captain Sakuragi series reflected Japan’s rising nationalism and its own imperialist goals to defeat foreign threats in order to safeguard Japanese interests.

 

The premise of the first novel begins with a frustrated Captain Sukuragi leaving the Japanese navy when he decides his country is weak against the potential threat of Western governments. Moreover, he considers the West in competition with Japan’s expansion into Asia. With a group of fellow scientists, he flees to a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean and builds the Denkotei (also translated as denkopan): an underwater battleship similar to the Nautilus in design, complete with its own rotating screwdriver-like horn.  The Denkotei is decked out with torpedoes and bombs, and, on a private martial mission, Captain Sukuragi and his crew set off to confront those set against Japan. In the first novel, they successfully fight pirates interfering with Japanese shipping, but later confront British, the French, and Russian forces, defeating them all. Later on, the Denkotei even fights alongside Filipino nationals against American occupation.  

 

This series was highly popular in Japan, especially when the novel’s battles against the Russians predicted the country’s own victory in the Russo-Japanese War. The unintended irony in the captain’s battling the “foreign imperialists” is how the books stridently promoted Japanese imperialism over others’. As Owen Griffith’s notes in his academic article Militarizing Japan: Patriotism, Profit, and Children’s Print Media, 1894-1925:

 

“Oshikawa’s purpose was to ‘oppose those who oppressed freedom’ and to inculcate in young readers ‘the spirit of resistance at all costs.’ Yet neither Ito nor Oshikawa himself acknowledged Japan’s own imperialist endeavours or its brutal treatment of its own subject peoples. The tendency to lionize one’s own and demonize the other has many antecedents in Japan and elsewhere.”

 

Later, Captain Sukuragi’s underwater warship inspired a live action film in 1963 (titled “Atragon” in the US) and the anime OVA series Shin Kaitei Gunkan in 1995.


 

Linkspam:

 

Oshikawa Shunro on Wikipedia

 

Atragon on Wikipedia

 

Kaitei Gunkan’s trailer and info page on IMDB.com

 

Shin Kaitei Gunkan on IMDB.com

dmp: Taking a stroll in my finery (Default)
This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there. (Note: I've already mentioned him on this site once before when his work came to NYC, but he's been a personal inspiration for my creative approach to steampunk and more people should know about him!)

Yinka Shonibare, MBE, a self-described “bicultural” artist, was born in England but raised in both England and Nigeria. He is best known for his series of art pieces where coffee-colored mannequins are outfitted in eighteenth-century clothing made from brightly designed “African” fabrics.


Image courtesy of yinka-shonibare.co.uk


Image courtesy of yinka-shonibare.co.uk


I put “African” in quotes because the fabrics that Shonibare uses are not made in Africa at all, but are Dutch wax-printed fabrics he purchased in Brixton Market in London. When he found out the origin of these fabrics on a shopping trip, they inspired him in creating this project.

“But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think,” says Shonibare in an interview. “They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture—it’s an artificial construct.” (Quote from interview by Pernilla Holmes, Art News Online, October 2002)

Read more below )
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.
Conselho SteamPunk
Awhile back, a couple of readers tipped me off to an interesting article they saw on Wired.com about Those Irrepressible Brazilian Steampunks. I read Bruno Accioly's letter to Bruce Sterling and was immediately struck by his enthusiasm and ambition in establishing a steampunk social network in Brazil. So I contacted Bruno, one of the founders of Conselo SteamPunk, to talk about this exciting venture and what steampunk is like where he's from. Read the interview below )
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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
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.


Image courtesy of BiblioOdyssey

“For Science!” is one of the many catchphrases of steampunk and mad scientists everywhere. Yet I’m sure this phase must’ve been muttered long before in lands east of England—in fact, here’s a little linkfest primer on science in the Muslim world.

These examples are from the Golden Age of Islam, also known as the Islamic Renaissance, a period of history that took place roughly between the 9th and 15th centuries marked by an influx of discoveries and innovations in the arts, science, literature, technology, agriculture, and several other fields.

Read more here... )

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