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

In 1893, Archibald Campion believed he created an invention that would “prevent the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations”: the Campion Mechanical Marvel, later to be known as Boilerplate the Victorian-Age robot. Constructed with the aid of close friends and inventors Edward Fullerton and Nikola Tesla, Boilerplate was unveiled during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that summer and fought in several major combat missions between the Spanish-American War in 1898 until its disappearance in 1918 on the battlefront of World War I.

Of course, Boilerplate never really existed except in Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett’s book Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, published by Abrams Books last month. Based on an extensive website that had created and expanded upon the Boilerplate character since 2000, Boilerplate the book is an illustrated history of this Victorian curiosity, who fought in several wars, traveled from China to Saudi Arabia to the brink of the South Pole, and even had his own series of dime novels and silent movies.

My general reaction: the book was a joy to read. It's chock full of interesting historical details and many ingenuous illustrations, many of them cleverly manipulated to look like authentic images of the robot alongside familiar historical figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia.

The book trailer for Boilerplate

What is just as interesting as these photos is the way Guinan and Bennett used Boilerplate’s story to highlight marginalized histories, emphasize the pursuit of social justice issues during that time period, and dispassionately narrate the full consequences of American expansionism.

Cut for spoilers )

Additional linkage

Boilerplate official website
Boilerplate’s MySpace
Boilerplate Historical Society on Facebook
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.
Image taken from the original illustrated edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Image courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library

Swashbuckling sky pirates are an iconic steampunk archetype (or cliche...), but the genre's most famous pirate did not rule the uncharted skies but the seven seas. Captain Nemo, Jules Verne’s most infamous underwater sea captain, has raised much discussion about whether he would serve as steampunk's #1 pirate and antihero. Read More below )
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I got interviewed for by Jaymee Goh. Check us out dishing about the SRS BZNZ of steampunk.

Am preparing to attend Bakuretsucon this weekend with the Penny Dreadfuls. We'll be hosting several events and panels this weekend, and I'll get to see some ol' VT buddies there.

And am working on my next post for Beyond Victoriana before I leave tomorrow. much to do, so little time...
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This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

Technology Eastward—A steampunk exploration
The Industrial Revolution (And How It Ruined My Sci-Fi)

(props if you get the song reference)

One of the big differences between neo-Victorian and steampunk is the level of technology incorporated in the aesthetic. Steampunk’s historical literary origins include both Victorian pulp fiction tropes and glorification of the Edisonade, the young inventor and his machinery. Perhaps, then, this is why steampunk, since its conception, has always been associated with Victorian England, and, by extension, the West: because of the apparent dearth of non-Western technological advancement. This advancement, of course, associated with the two Industrial Revolutions. (Note: There isn’t only *one* Industrial Revolution, but two historical periods of industrialization that came one after the other. The first Industrial Revolution occurred primarily in England starting as early at 1730—the dates are still up for debate—and lasting until 1850, and the Second Industrial Revolution emerged from that and lasted from 1850 through the 19th century and until the early 20th, spreading through Europe and the United States. The term “industrial revolution” itself is not limited to those historical periods either, but is a term that can be applied to any country going though industrialization. Later the 20th century, for instance, China and India went through their own industrial revolutions, and developing countries are going through their own as we speak.)

The issue isn’t the fact that these Industrial Revolutions had occurred; I’m not debating the reasons how or why modern technology developed first in the West (both questions however, have been interesting matters of academic scholarship in technology transference, history, and economics).

The issue I’m interested in exploring is the two-pronged legacy that these Industrial Revolutions created–and its effect on how we conceptualize technology in steampunk:

1) Historically, the Industrial Revolution started in Europe and spread throughout the world through Western expansion. This resulted in the spread of these technologies in the lands under European influence/dominance—which, in some cases, lead to the destruction of indigenous technology in favor of Western forms. On the other hand, however, industrialization also instigated the cross-fertilization of non-Western technology with Western tech. And, of course, this technological transference isn’t something that happened exclusively during this period of time or was exclusively one-way stemming from Europe, but had been evident throughout the history of technology between various parts of the globe.

2) Culturally, because it had come from the West under the auspices of European superiority (white man’s burden) the effects of industrialization contributed to the notion held by Westerners at the time that non-Western civilizations had to be taught how to be civilized. Moreover, it implanted the idea that Westernization equals industrialization—one that lingers on today.

That, in turn, effects how artists and writers conceptualize alternative historical civilizations and their technology. Because most writers have been introduced to tech and their trappings from a perspective of Western dominance, imaginative tech implies a Eurocentric feeling, or else they are not “legitimate” technology. And—at least for Western artists and their audiences—it is challenging to conceptualize possibilities when all of the most prominent historical examples are from the West, which contributes to the invisibility of non-European cultures in the spheres of sci-fi (and steampunk!)

So let’s spin the dial back from West to East and, in this post, start off with tech examples from China (in later posts tech from other parts of the world will be covered too). Because not only did it exist, but many iconic symbols of steampunk technology actually have their roots in the Middle Kingdom. Read more... )

Hope you enjoyed reading!

Want to see a topic featured on Beyond Victoriana? Drop your suggestion on the announcement page here.

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Steampunk Magazine’s Professor Calamity Arrested

People have talked about the intersection of steampunk and politics, but does this marks another evolution to the steampunk subgenre? Go to the article above and already you get a debate in the comments about the relevancy of associating steampunk with political protests.

Personally, I don't know whether I agree with Professor Calamity's politics, but his arrest bring up a couple of issues for me, steam and non-steam related:

1) It really opens my eyes to how the mainstream can view steampunk culture. While we have cosplayers and tinkerers fiddling with gears and scrap metal, junk parts, and power tools, those same items used for creativity can be seen as markers of dissent. As noted in this news article of the arrest, items taken from the raid included gas masks, corked glass vials, beakers and test tubes -- relevant items that fall under "potential terrorist" but also items that anyone SP who identifies as a mad scientist would have. We already know the SP obsession with fantastic weaponry; what would happen is an officer mistook a modded toy gun or a Ray Blunderbuss for an actual working weapon? Ridiculous, certainly, but in the heat of a police raid where they think you're a potential Unibomber? It can happen.

2) There's also the whole debate on the extent of politics in steampunk. Steampunk Magazine is firmly political, but I understand how others want to remain as apolitical as possible. An incident like this can be seen as one steampunk faction co-opting the use term steampunk to rally people to their cause, or it can be seen as the evolution of what has been a mostly aesthetic trend into an active subculture with serious political and social aspirations.

3) In a non-steampunk sense, I find this incident fascinating in relation to the idea that Twitter helped the Iran revolution. In this case, social media was used for protests on American soil; while people have praised its use against oppressive regimes, it's interesting how quickly our own government jumps in retaliation against this latest example of social media and politics. I personally get a creepy Big Brother sense of it; the more people put themselves out there on the Internet, the easier it is for others--including the government--to monitor us.
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I suppose Jha has outed me in the comments here.

For the past few weeks I’ve been planning a series of posts to focus on non-European steampunk. I’ve enjoyed G.D. Falksen’s historical posts (& a link to his site), especially where he touches upon non-Western cultures. I’d love to see some more cultural expansion in the fantasy world of steampunk, especially in light of Racefail and its repercussions on how individuals and communities are working towards addressing the issues of marginality, tokenism, ignorance, and outright racism in the SF/F community.

So, here are the guidelines for myself (and for you), about this series:

- The focus will be on non-Western European cultures (Asian, Hispanic, African, Middle Eastern, First Nation peoples, etc). North American (i.e. US & Canada) examples may count, but I don’t want the posts to be too North American-centric. Eurasian cultures (the Caucuses, Russia and the former USSR) count. Cross-cultural or transcultural examples definitely count, and I’d be interested in exploring how steampunk addresses this.

- There will be a new “Beyond Victoriana” update once a week, every Sunday. I know that’s slow in interwebz-time, but that way, I’ll be sure to keep on top of updates. Once my posting becomes more consistent, then I’ll consider updating it more often. Posts will be long or short, depending on my sanity.

- The time period will be within Victorian & Edwardian eras (1837 – 1910), but I’ll consider outside this period, if I think it’s quite BV worthy.

- Posts will relate to the fields of history, literature, fashion & the arts, or science and technology, but must have some sort of retro-future/fantastical slant or relevance (otherwise, we'd just be doing history lessons!)

- Feel free to comment on this post if you find something BV worthy items that you want to see featured! ^-^

The first “Beyond Victoriana” post will start October 25th.


Addendum to a Preface (initially posted in Beyond Victoriana #1 on October 25th, 2009; added here on December 26th, 2009.)

First, I think it’ll be beneficial to explain my intentions with this weekly series, especially since it has garnered so much interest since its announcement.

The posts will focus on different aspects of non-Eurocentric steampunk.

1) Examples of past history, literature, fashion & the arts, or science and technology that can be considered inspiration for non-Eurocentric steampunk
2) How non-Eurocentric steampunk is represented in the genre today

At turns, posts will be pedantic; other times, it’ll be nothing more than an interesting blurb I unearthed from somewhere. Using this approach, I hope to engage in the discussion of non-European steampunk on multiple levels: from recognizing individual examples to a more intellectual approach to discuss ideas that are steampunk-worthy.

Or sometimes, a linkspam will have to do. ^-~

The intention of this series is to start conversations with steampunk enthusiasts, to expand cultural mindsets, to question the stereotypical representations of “steampunk,” and to let me learn about random things. I like random learning.

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In my previous about steampunk and British Colonial America, I mentioned the mystery game group Steam Century as an positive example of people re-envisioning steampunk North America and the role of Native peoples in their game. After catching my post on Racialicious, Kerry, the historian for the group, contacted me and we had a great exchange of e-mails where she explained the construction of Steam Century's Native-empowered world in more detail and their game play (some information about their map and the Native American territories is explained in this post on the Steam Century LJ too). Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation; for the sake of reader clarity, I restructured it into an interview format.


Read more... )
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A blatant plug for an interesting article about British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, whose work is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Though it's not steampunk per say, he's doing what I'm aiming for in my steampunk expression--

Headless Bodies From a Bottomless Imagination

Excerpt from the article talking about Mr. Shonibare, years in art school and his tutor's suggestion that his work be more "African"--

[Mr. Shonibare]: “I should have actually understood all along that there is a way in which one is perceived, and there’s no getting away from it. And I realized that if I didn’t deal with it, I would just be described forever as a black artist who doesn’t make work about being black.”

Right then, Mr. Shonibare said, he found his artistic raison d’être. “I realized what I’d really have to deal with was the construction of stereotypes, and that’s what my work would be about.”

In search of authentic African-ness Mr. Shonibare visited an African fabric shop in the Brixton market in South London, discovering, to his amazement, that the best African fabric was actually manufactured in the Netherlands and exported to Africa. Further, the Dutch wax prints, as they are known, were originally inspired by Javanese batiks.

This idea, that a fabric connoting African identity was not really African, delighted the budding conceptual artist. “The material was the idea,” he said. From that point forward the African fabric was his medium and his message.

He used it first as his canvas — stretching the prints, then painting on them — and later to make his costumes, which are usually Victorian, the Victorian era being the period of British history when Africa was colonized, thus providing him not only with ruffles and bustles but also with what he called the “lovely irony” of contrasting fabric and style.

“My tutor wanted me to be pure African,” Mr. Shonibare said “I wanted to show I live in a world which is vast and take in other influences, in the way that any white artist has been able to do for centuries.”

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“In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on.”- Jean-Paul Sartre


When I first became interested in steampunk last year, I posed a question to one of my friends.

Me: “So… I was wondering about steampunk, where does colonialism fit in?

Friend: “Colonialism? Like in the Colonies?”

Me: “Like being from the colonies.

Friend: “Oh, you can do that. They’re different types of subgenres in steampunk, and it can take place in America.”

Pause right there. I wasn’t referring to America. Or was I? Yes, my friends and I are from the US and steampunks, and most identify our personas as being from the “Colonies.” Yet their idea of what the Colonies represented in steampunk—aka an alternative America that was still under control of the British Empire during the Victorian Era—and my interpretation of the colonies—aka the actual ones that had existed during the Victorian Era—were vastly different. Which leads to the questions I’d like to explore here. Why is the concept of the United States as a colonized America so appealing to steampunks? Is this notion damaging to steampunks of color (SoCs), whose histories are negatively intertwined with the realities of colonialism? Does the idea of a colonial America promote or denounce the imperialism that existed during the Age of Empire?


Read more... )
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Note: This was originally written in my personal blog, but I’ve revised it and initially posted it on my steampunk persona blog on MySpace in participation with The Asian Women Blog Carnival. This post had no relation to the rest of my MySpace site which is a fictional blog for my steampunk character.

I've re-posted the essay here to consolidate more of my thoughts on steampunk. I’m interested in having fellow steampunkers (and other curious folk!) read this, however, and add any contributions to the discussion I’m starting here.

Essay history:
Originally written 3/22/2009
Revised and posted to MySpace: 3/25/2009
Reposted onto Dreamwidth: 6/25/2009


I finally sat down and started to read through the whole whole big RaceFail09 drama over in the sci-fi writing world. I had read the first bits on Elizabeth Bear’s blog back in January, but now saw now much it had morphed into this huge, sleep-depriving read.

When I first read it, it brought up a lot of concerns I had been having about steampunk. Particularly about “Where am I?” in steampunk culture. After all, steampunk is all about the sci-fi, and if people of color (PoC) are having issues with sci-fi in general, then would the turf here be any better?
Read more... )

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