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When I agreed to write the series about Bulgaria under the Ottoman rule as a suitable stage for the steampunk genre, I underestimated the challenge these articles present. I want to deliver a portrayal of a complicated and cruel span of five centuries in Bulgarian history. At the same time I’m dealing with controversial and sensitive material, given that the Ottoman occupation has hindered Bulgaria’s access to Europe during the time of the Industrial Revolution.1



Even more so, given that this article deals with the cruelest tactic from the Ottoman empire to ensure its armies never lacked man power, while at the same time assured the assimilation of all conquered lands: the ‘enichari’ corps. 2. The word ‘enichar’ means ‘new soldier’ and refers to an Ottoman military class, which consists from non-Muslims. During the 14th century, the Ottoman conquests resulted in a sizeable amount of conquered territories and the aching need to expand the empire’s armies.



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The City of Light is the journal of the travels of Jacob D'Ancona, a 13th century pious Jewish merchant. Readers follow Jacob on a three-year journey, starting from his hometown of Ancona in present-day Italy, overland through Damascus and Baghdad, and then by sea, stopping at various ports and places until he reaches the city of Zaitun, modern-day Quanzhou, where he stays to buy goods and talk to the scholars of the city. It consists of equal parts travelogue/memoir and a philosophical discussion of medieval Jewish and Chinese ideas.

This was a time when Jews had restricted access to jobs or freedom to run their own lives. In medieval Europe, Jews often had to wear physical signals of their faith: yellow stripes or stars. Jews had restricted job and social opportunities: they were often forbidden from interaction with Christians. In Muslim lands, the restrictions for Jews were somewhat more relaxed, but Jews still paid higher taxes than Muslims did -- though not as high as those paid by the non-"People of the Book".

Jacob himself is an interesting exception to many of the typical rules. He travels with both Jews and Christians, and frequently mentions his young female Gentile servants' romantic lives. Furthermore, Jacob is a jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times. He's a traveler, a merchant, a scholar, a physician, an authority who is consulted by Jewish and Chinese communities alike. He speaks and writes in fluent Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Nearly everyone who meets him likes him. He's a bit too good to be true: in modern terms, he's a pretty big Mary Sue.

But the most compelling parts of the book are not Jacob, but the world he's seeing for the first time. The descriptions of Chinese life are vivid and lengthy, and the variety and extensiveness of the Chinese market was stunning and often unbelievable to European eyes. Jacob engages in lengthy discussions (through a translator) with Chinese scholars and even spends several weeks stuck in the sordid underworld, full of gambling, prostitutes, and illicit sex.

There's also political intrigue, and the threat of very real danger: At this time, northern China was under the rule of Kublai Khan and there was a very real threat of invasion by the "Tartars" -- for Europeans and the southern Chinese alike. Meanwhile, the Chinese community of scholars was divided itself between old and new ways of thinking.

Jacob finds many points of contact and connection between himself and several of the Chinese scholars, especially a man named Pitaco, who like Jacob was worried about the lack of respect in the younger generation, the stability of the country's morals, and the justification of trickle-down economics. Perhaps most fittingly for a book about contact and conflict between Western and Eastern cultures, Jacob's habit of pontificating ends up rubbing many Chinese scholars the wrong way. As the inhabitants of the city get upset about the amount of influence the foreign Jew has in the city, Jacob concludes his business and leaves in a hurry, fearing for his life.

There's really just one problem with the narrative: Jacob D'Ancona may have never existed.

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ca. 1909. Sikhs from India at the Calapooia Lumber Company, Crawfordsville, Linn County, Oregon, 1905-1915. (Crawfordsville is about 30 miles north of Eugene, Oregon). (Photo courtesy of Stephen Williamson www.efn.org/~opal/indiamen.htm)

In California at the turn of the 20th century, a community grew in southern California with an interesting history: Punjabi-Mexican families of the Imperial Valley. This unique community stemmed from the effects of British colonialism, transnational labor immigration & American economic opportunity (and American anti-Asian discrimination laws). Many multi-generational families in the area today can trace their multicultural and multiethnic histories back over a hundred years, and refer to themselves as "Mexican Hindus", "Hindu" or "East Indian" today.

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Note: Read Part 1 of this essay here.


Cartoon from The Wasp. Image courtesy of Berkeley University. Click for link.

Historical and cultural trends fed into the development during the 19th century of the Yellow Peril in the United States and Europe. The first Asian immigrants to the United States were the Chinese who took part in the Gold Rush in California in the late 1840s. They were the first free nonwhites to arrive in the United States in large numbers, and the racial, religious, cultural, and linguistic differences between white Americans and the Chinese immigrants, as well as the perception that the Chinese were taking jobs away from white Americans, led to hostility and racism directed at the newcomers. Among the manifestations of this hostility was a new set of anti-Chinese stereotypes. (The lack of Japanese immigrants in America as well as the perception in America that Japan was an ally of the West kept stereotypes about the Japanese to a minimum until the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905).

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A portrait of Malik Ambar signed by Hashem (C 1624-25); photo courtesy V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; A painting showing Jehangir shooting arrows into the severed head of Malik Ambar signed by Abul-Hasan (C 1616), © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (www.cbl.ie)

Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to a discussion on ‘India’s Elite Africans' held at the University of London:
“The dispersion of Africans is generally associated with slavery and the slave trade. Most Afro-Asians have been written out of history. Within this scenario, how was it possible for Africans to rule parts of Asia, not just for a few years but for three and a half centuries? Three scholars will address this issue and consider the current status of Elite Africans in India today.”

Due to my interest in Afro-Asian history, I know of relations between India and Eastern African states and kingdoms in history; however, I remained largely ignorant of elite Africans in Indian history. Malik Ambar is perhaps one of the most well-known Elite Africans due in part to his important role in Ahmadnagar history and to standing up to the Mughals.

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Note: Jess Nevins' entry on the Yellow Peril was just too fascinating to be abridged, and so it will be posted in two parts. Follow along next Wednesday for Part II.

Film poster for The Face of Fu Manchu, who is one of the best known examples of the Yellow Peril stereotype. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Yellow Peril. Although the anti-Asian stereotype of the “Yellow Peril,” the threat posed to the West by Asian countries and peoples, was made commonplace in the 20th century, the source of the modern Yellow Peril stereotype lies in the literature and cultural trends of the 19th century.

There are actually two different Yellow Perils. The first is of Asians as a group, and though usually applied to the Chinese or Japanese does not differentiate between nationalities and ethnic groups and has been applied to Indians, Vietnamese, and Slavic Russians. This stereotype, of Asians en masse, portrays them as a faceless horde of decadent and sexually rapacious barbarians. The roots of this stereotype lie in the historical threats posed to Western Europe from Eastern Europe and Asia: Visigoths and Huns from the 3rd through the 5th century C.E., and Mongols in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Although the practical threat of a Mongolian or Asian invasion of Europe was nil by the mid-15th century, the unexpectedness of the Mongolian attacks and their vicious thoroughness left a deep impression on the Western psyche, so that the stereotype of an Eastern threat to “civilization” remained common in the Western for centuries.

In contrast, the more modern Yellow Peril is an individual: the evil Asian mastermind who schemes to conquer the West. Although there are numerous sources for this stereotype, its origins lie in Italy in the 14th century C.E.

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Image from the Gerstäcker Magazine from the Gerstäcker Museum, featuring his illustrated Westerns. Click for source (in German).

Assowaum was created by Friedrich Gerstäcker and appeared in Die Regulatoren in Arkansas ("The Regulators of Arkansas, 1845"). Gerstäcker (1816-1872) was a German who went to America in 1837. For six years he lived a checkered life in America, working as a schoolteacher, chocolate maker, silversmith, fireman, woodcutter, hotel manager, and, for the majority of his time, a hunter in the Arkansas wilderness. He returned to Germany in 1843 and began writing novels for children and novels for adults set in the American frontier and in the South Seas. The Regulators of Arkansas remains his best known novel. It was first published in English as “Alapaha the Squaw,” “The Border Bandits,” and “Assowaum the Avenger,” in American Tales 67-69 (23 July-16 September 1870).

The Regulators of Arkansas is set in Arkansas in the early years of statehood, in the 1830s, when murder was common and bad men more so. Opposing them were local vigilante groups, the “Regulators.” The main characters of The Regulators are searching for a particularly violent gang of thieves who are involved with Rawson, a sociopathic Methodist minister who marries and then kills women. Rawson is engaged to Marion Harper, a sweet woman who only knows him as a devout Methodist. Rawson and his gang steal a band of horses, and when the Regulators pursue them, aided by Assowaum, a native warrior, Rawson murders Alapaha, Assowaum’s wife. The Regulators pursue Rawson and the horse thieves and corner them in a farmhouse, where they are holding hostages, including Marion. Assowaum helps the Regulators break into the farmhouse, and the gang is captured. All of the thieves are hanged with the exception of Rawson, who is burned alive by Assowaum. Marion marries Brown, one of the Regulators, and they live happily ever after.

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Vathek was created by William Beckford and appeared in Vathek: An Arabian Tale from an Unpublished Manuscript, with Notes Critical and Explanatory (1786). Beckford (1760-1844) was one of English literature's real oddities. He lived a life of scandal and extravagance, both financial and sexual, and even in the 21st century his name retains the faint air of scandal. But more important than Beckford’s personal life is the fact that he wrote Vathek, one of the greatest of all Gothic novels.

Vathek, the grandson of Haroun al-Raschid, is the Caliph of Samarah. He is dedicated to sensual pleasure and has built five palaces, one for the enjoyment of each sense. Vathek has a “pleasing and majestic” figure, and a keen intellect. When angered his glance can kill. He has an enormous amount of determination and is willing to sacrifice much for his goals. But he is magnificently dissolute and addicted to pleasure, sensuality, and new sensations. He is enormously self-centered and considers the lives of others small prices to pay for his own happiness and the achievement of his goals. He is unable to resist temptation, and his own “unquiet and impetuous disposition” will not allow him to be content with the wealth and comfort he already has.

Vathek builds a mighty tower to better pursue his interest in astrology and to penetrate the secrets of Heaven, and Mahomet Himself sends genii to help Vathek, but the tower only shows Vathek how much he enjoys looking down on humanity from the its summit. But one day an intensely ugly creature arrives at Vathek’s court bearing wondrous objects, knives that cut without the hand being moved and sabers which harm those who the wielder wished harmed. The stranger does not speak to Vathek, so the hot-tempered Vathek has him imprisoned, only to find him vanished the next morning and his guards slain.

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This Monday is the first night of Pesach, or Passover. In the days when the Temple was standing, every Jew was required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple and make an offering there. Around the world and on six continents, Jews still follow the same structure for a Passover seder, as outlined in the Haggadah nearly two thousand years ago. But Jews are not monolithic: each community adds its own variations and customs to the mix.


A picture from the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world. The Haggadah is the text that contains the order and the ritual traditions of the seder meal.

 


There are roughly three different strains of Jewish cultural movements, all of which have many different subgroups. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans forcibly removed Jews from their homeland and scattered them throughout the Empire. Thus, three distinct cultures emerged. The Ashkenazi Jews come from Central and Eastern Europe, and make up between 70 and 80% of the worldwide Jewish population. The Sephardi Jews settled in Spain and flourished under Muslim rule there: after the expulsion of Jews in 1492, many fled to Portugal, the Netherlands, and Southern Europe, including the Ottoman Empire (especially present-day Turkey and Greece). Finally, Mizrachi Jews, from the Hebrew word for “east”, were descendents of Jews who lived in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

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Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn't necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn't necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they've always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother's friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

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One representation of Agartha, based on writings of Raymond W. Bernard, which assumed that Agartha existed inside the Earth with an opening entrance in the Himalayas. Click for source.

Agartha was created by “Saint Yves d'Alveydre” and appeared in Mission de l'Inde en Europe, Mission de l'Europe en Asie (Mission to India from Europe, Mission to Europe from Asia, 1885). Joseph Alexandre Saint-Yves, Marquis d’Alveydre (1824-1909) was a French thinker and mystic, similar to (if less influential than) Eliphas Lévi. Agartha is an ancient underground kingdom in Tibet.

The kingdom has a strange effect on outsiders: they either do not notice it as they travel through it, or they forget about it once they have seen it. Even so, there are many rumors about Agartha. It is said that its capital, Paradesa, holds the University of Knowledge, where the occult and spiritual treasures of mankind are guarded. Those in charge of these treasures are the Secret Masters, superior beings who are the spiritual leaders of humanity. They are in telepathic communication with enlightened humans around the world, who in turn try to spiritually uplift humanity until “the Anarchy which exists in our world is replaced by the Synarchy,” the proper system of government for all of humanity.

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Image courtesy of Phountains. Click for source.

Hagar Stanley was created by Fergus Hume and appeared in Hagar of the Pawnshop, The Gypsy Detective (1898). Hume (1859-1932) was born in England but grew up in New Zealand and moved to Australia to practice law. In 1886 he published The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which became the best-selling detective novel of the 19th century. But Hume did not retain the rights to Hansom Cab and did not become rich by it, and his later attempts to duplicate the success of Hansom Cab were not successful.

Hagar Stanley is a Romany (Gypsy). She is the niece of the miserly pawn shop owner Jacob Dix. While young Jacob had taken a Romany wife and brought her to London. They had a son, Jimmy, but his wife could not stand the air of London and died, and Jimmy grew up to be a brutal man and a scoundrel who left his father and took up with the Romany. Hagar was of the same Romany tribe as Dix’s wife, and was happy in the New Forest, but then Goliath appeared:
"He is half a Gorgio and half Romany—a red-haired villain, who chose to fall in love with me. I hated him. I hate him still!"—the woman's bosom rose and fell in short, hurried pantings—“and he would have forced me to be his wife. Pharaoh—our king, you know—would have forced me also to be this man's rani, so I had no one to protect me, and I was miserable. Then I recalled what the chal had told me about you who wed with one of us; so I fled hither for your protection, and to be your servant."

Dix is an awful person to be around, but he values her servitude and keeps her at his shop. In a short time Hagar became as clever as Jacob himself, and he was never afraid to trust her with the task of making bargains, or with the care of the shop. She acquired a knowledge of pictures, gems, silverware, china—in fact, all the information about such things necessary to an expert. Without knowing it, the untaught gypsy girl became a connoisseur.

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Cahina was created by Leo Charles Dessar and appears in A Royal Enchantress (1900). Dessar (1847-1924) was a New York judge who was a part of the corrupt Tammany Hall political system.

There was a real Cahina (alternatively, “Kahena” or “Kahina”), a Queen of the Berbers in the 7th and 8th Century C.E. who fought against the Muslim invasion. Gibbons wrote about her in Volume 2, Chapter 514 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The Greeks were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars, so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammed. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph. After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy.

"Our cities," said she, "and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people." The proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, fertile and populous garden was changed into desert, and the historians of a more recent period could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors. Such is the tale of the modern Arabians.


In the foreword to A Royal Enchantress Dessar wrote that he was struck by Gibbon’s passage: “the meager account of this beautiful Prophetess Queen of the Berbers was inspiring, yet irritating: it suggested so much, yet told so little.” From this Dessar spun an entertaining historical fantasy.

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International Women's Day logoDuring the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, causes for gender equality were being raised by men and women throughout the world. In 1909, under the helm of the Socialist Party of America, the first National Women's Day was celebrated in the United States on February 28th. In 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, influential German socialist politician Clara Zetkin proposed that a day be set aside in every country where women can organize and advocate for their demands for social equality. The following year, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland celebrated International Women's Day on March 19th, 1911. About 1 million men and women attended rallies in those countries and others to advocate for equal rights and pay.

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1871 title page. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Did Verne create “steampunk” characters in his novels? Though I cannot define Verne as being a steampunk writer, I can say that Verne’s works, while written in a cut and dry cataloguing style, nonetheless emphasizes moral and social qualities as much as it does scientific ones. Given these circumstances, I will consider what are considered important values that a person should have according to the characters in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1 and The Mysterious Island. 2 Moreover, by investigating the value systems these characters hold, we can compare how they hold up to the characters in today’s modern steampunk books.

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Tokeah, or The White Rose opening page

Tokeah was created by “Charles Sealsfield” and appeared in Tokeah; or the White Rose (1829). “Charles Sealsfield” was the pseudonym of Karl Anton Postl (1793-1864), a German novelist. Sealsfield’s life is for the most part a mystery, largely of Sealsfield’s own making. He was a Moravian monk who fled from Metternich’s regime in Austria and emigrated to the United States under mysterious circumstances. He wrote journalism and a number of novels. Historically Sealsfield is important in German literature as a post-Sir Walter Scott (see: Rob Roy, Edward Waverley) writer of historical novels. Sealsfield attempted to widen the scope of his historical novels beyond what Scott had attempted and wrote about political movements on the national level in addition to individual characters. Tokeah began the tradition of German novels about the American frontier, a tradition which became a cultural obsession and which has only slightly diminished today.

Tokeah is the chief of a band of Oconee Indians in Georgia. Tokeah and his men discover a white baby girl, and they bring her to Copeland, a white trader, for safekeeping. After seven years of war with Anglos Tokeah takes the girl back from Copeland and renames her “the White Rose.”

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Hajji Baba enjoys the company of Zeenab. After Ḥabl al-matin Persian tr., Calcutta, 1905, opp. p. 142. Caption & Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Iranica. Click for source.



Hajji Baba was created by James Morier and appeared in Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824) and Hajji Baba in England (1827). Morier (1780-1849) was a British diplomat, adventurer, and author. He first went to Persia in 1807 and visited it and surrounding countries several times over the next decade. His desire to write something in the Persian style of Arabian Nights produced Hajji Baba of Ispahan.



Hajji Baba is a charming rogue, someone who began life as a barber/surgeon but whose wanderlust and desire for money led him to leave home on a caravan when he was only sixteen. But the course of roguery doth ne'er run smooth, and he is almost immediately captured by a band of Turcoman bandits. Hajji Baba lets himself be captured a second time by a shahzadeh (prince) and is taken to Meshed, where he becomes a water carrier. Hajji Baba sprains his back carrying water–his boastfulness leads him to take on far too much weight, including that of his main rival–and so he becomes an itinerant vender of smoke. But he cuts his tobacco with dung once too often and is caught by the Mohtesib (“the Mohtesib is an officer who perambulates the city, and examines weights and measures, and qualities of provisions”) and bastinadoed for his fraud. So Hajji Baba becomes a dervish, telling colorful stories and shaking down listeners for money; he stops in mid-story, just when things are getting good, and asks for donations in exchange for his continuing. He then becomes a doctor to the Shah of Persia, a position he loses due to an imprudent love affair. And so on and so forth, for hundreds of pages, through colorful stories and attractive boasts and genial swindles and painless mendacity and jovial hypocrisy and maidens fair and wry observations at the foibles of the mighty and the poor.



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For Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), I'm spending the day with my family (and getting in gear for TempleCon.) But I wanted to leave a little note for today to those who celebrate Lunar New Year's in any manner.

Most people would recognize that today is Chinese New Year, and that it is the Year of the Metal Rabbit.

For the Vietnamese, however, Feb 2nd was the start of our New Year, the Year of the Metal Cat.

Either one sounds pretty steampunk, though.


teampunk rabbit ring. Click for link.


Andrew Chase's cheetah. Click for link.

After the jump, check out some more info about how Lunar New Year is recognized around the world.

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Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories is a very unique anthology for a variety of reasons. By unique, I'm not stating that this anthology is tailor-made for only a specific target audience (though it may scream "niche" to the average reader.) Still, upon first impression, a reader might wonder: would someone who isn't queer or female or a romance lover still enjoy this book? Torquere Books, known for its queer and alternative literature, may be jumping onto the growing steampunk bandwagon that is gaining speed in the publishing world. And, some people might fear the worst after steampunk Palin-- is Steam-Powered just another trend-hopper?

No, it is not. To think so would do a great disservice to the quality of work contained within this volume, and the literary thoughtfulness from both the contributing authors and Steam-Powered's editor JoSelle Vanderhooft.

These stories feature the work of several prominent and up-and-coming writers in the SF/F world. It starts off strong with N.K. Jeminsin's "The Effluent Engine," previously published on her blog for the A Story for Haiti fund-raising campaign, and also includes the work of Georgina Bruce, D.L. MacInnes, Sara M. Harvey, Beth Wodzinski, Rachel Manija Brown, Shira Lipkin, Matthew Kressel, Meredith Holmes, Teresa Wymore, Tara Sommers, Mikki Kendall, Shweta Narayan, Mike Allen, and Amal El-Mohtar.

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Kala Persad was created by “Headon Hill” and appeared in The Divinations of Kala Persad (1895), a collection of short stories. “Headon Hill” was the pseudonym of Francis Edward Grainger (1857-1924), an English author of romance, mystery, and detective fiction.



Kala Persad is a wizened old Indian man, “at least sixty...he must have been a grown man as far back as the Mutiny days.” Persad is being pursued by a trio of “bad Mahometan budmásh” (evildoers) when he stumbles across Mark Poignand, an Englishman who has come to India to investigate possible murder attempts against a friend. Poignand, an overly-self-assured young man, does not do much to save Persad. Poignand simply stands there and watches as the murderers, “seeing that they had a Sahib to deal with, vanished without more ado across the adjoining fields.” Persad is so grateful for Poignand's “help” that he solves the mystery of who was trying to kill Poignand's friend. After that, Poignand presumes on Persad's gratitude and returns to England with him.



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