Steampunkin’ Around the World

It’s been an interesting voyage the last two weeks in the aetherweb for your Airship Ambassador. I was looking for new steampunk ports of call beyond those I knew of in the US, Canada, and Great Britain. Steampunk is growing all around the world, and after hearing hints here and there, I was ready to find those other communities.

 

My journey started with #steampunkchat on Twitter where the evening’s topic was “Multiculturalism in Steampunk”. It was a good discussion about the desire to write and read multicultural steampunk stories. As previously discussed, steampunk provides a rich tapestry of ideas, and as such, stories need not be limited to London, England as a setting, or as a singular cultural perspective. Stories can include Spanish, Romanian and Egyptian characters and cultures, as well as Chinese, Samoan, and Peruvian, among so many more.

 

After being primed by that discussion, and armed with a website translation site, I headed for one site I already knew about but hadn’t had time to explore – Rauchersalon, or The Smoking Lounge, in Germany. There are several ongoing discussions, and links to other groups and events.

 

The next site on my list for German was Clockworker. There are many good blog postings and pictures, and a few links to more information.

 

Continuing in a haphazard jaunt around the globe, I came across Australian Steampunk, French Steampunk, and Steampunk Brazil, which is another site I had long wanted to read through. This last site was created by the Conselho Steampunk (Steampunk Council) which includes Bruno Accioly, Raul Candido, and Carlos Felippe. Bruno talks about the formation of the Council and the other related sites here.  Those other sites include a social network, artists and craftsman, cosplay for women and men, and a literature group with over 200 members.

 

Bruno list just a few of the many steampunk writers in Brazil, one of whom is Fabio Fernandes, who recently helped, with Larry Nolen, provide the English translations for Excerpts from Vaporpunk, recently posted on Beyond Victoriana. There is a good review by Fabio of how Vaporpunk: Relatos Steampunk Publicados Sob As Ordens De Suas Majestades (Vaporpunk: Steampunk Reports Published Under the Orders of His Majesties) and another book, Steampunk: Histórias de um Passado Extraordinário (Steampunk: Stories from an Extraordinary Past), came to be. These are two books I’m eagerly awaiting the English translation.

 

After a quick stop to see what is new with my friend, James Ng, I followed a link for one of his earlier interviews before mine and found a bonanza of information at Russian site, Steampunker. WOW! I spent six hours reading through this site and really only got through half of it. There are so many great artists listed, profiled and linked to, that it was easy to get distracted. I can easily see a whole weekend being dedicated to reading the rest of the postings and exploring the links on this site.

 

One of many, many artists that I found on Steampunker was Vadim Voitekhovitch, and I fell hard for one of his paintings, Past Future. The soft blue colors lend a relaxed quality to the work, and it was enjoyable to spend time not only examining the picture’s details but also exploring it, comparing and contrasting the transportation technology throughout – airship, train, carriage, and foot.

 

There’s much more to come, so please check back for more steampunk site visits around the world!

 

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Published in: on December 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Ay-leen the Peacemaker – Part 2

Welcome back for part 2 of our interview with Ay-leen the Peacemaker, the creator and writer of steampunk blog, Beyond Victoriana, “…a blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism–that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework.”

Part 1 can be read here.

AA: You’ve been a speaker at some conventions recently; how did that come about and what were those topics?

AtP: Convention speaking came about when I initially got involved in the steampunk community. My friends who also were interested in steampunk (a group formerly called the Penny Dreadfuls, but now are running separately as the SS Icarus and The Wandering Legion) performed at various sci-fi, anime, and gaming cons as steampunk convention speakers. I’d help them out and we’d hold a series of panels about Steampunk 101, costumes & props, steampunk in the media, etc.

I still help them out at cons in this manner, but since starting Beyond Victoriana, I’ve gotten a chance to focus on my specific interests in steampunk. I’ve run two panels in the past with assistance from Jha: “Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana” and “Envisioning a Better Steam Society: Steampunk & Social Issues.” Both premiered at Steampunk World’s Fair to great success. At the moment, I’m also traveling with my “Steam Around the World” panel; I’ve just presented it again at ConnectiCon this July in Hartford, and I’m hoping to work with Jha again soon at another con later this fall (not announcing it now ‘til the details get worked out, but cross your fingers!)

Airship Ambassador: Speaking of the Steampunk World’s Fair in May. What did you think of it and what were your favorite highlights?

Ay-leen the Peacemaker: This was the first all-steampunk convention I attended and I thought it was spectacular! There was just so much going all at once: performance, music, workshops, lectures, demonstrations, dancing, readings—whatever you wanted to go at a con times a hundred. The entire hotel ended up being taken over by steampunks, and I never felt like I belonged more anywhere at a convention than I did at SPWF. And not only was there an outburst of creativity at the fair, the people in general were more courteous and friendly than I had met up with at other types of cons. No unwashed, “con zombies” or “geekier-than thou” attendees there.

My favorite highlight really was the music. Usually, a convention has a band or two playing as an alternative to going to the masquerade; SPWFs had dozens of musicians playing multiple times throughout the weekend. That was a great idea; so if you missed out on one performance you could see a performer again later on. And it gave the performers great exposure too. I ended up seeing about four or five different bands, and I usually never go see music at a con.

I also had the opportunity to hang out with some really awesome people. It felt like every steampunk who I had met touring across New England, New York and New Jersey, hightailed it down to Jersey for the fair. I also got to meet Jha face-to-face, which was a moment full of squee. Jake von Slatt brought his bus in, and we ended up having some really fascinating discussions about cultural appropriation. And I also connected with the folks at Outland Armour. They had lost a good portion of their stuff during the Tennessee floods that happened earlier in May, so my steampunk friends took part in a fundraiser for them and the Red Cross. Plus, there were the amazing folks who attended my panels, who brought so much insight and who were such great listeners.

In a nutshell, I can’t wait until next year’s!

AA: Sounds like a great experience and now I’m really sorry I missed it! Between the blogs and conventions, what kind of feedback are you getting from people?

AtP: I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about Beyond Victoriana, which is great, and offers to contribute, which is even greater. ^-^

I also gotten feedback that conventions should give my panels more time—I always end up going over and having people continuing the conversation outside. Which is what the best sort of panels/discussions should be doing anyways.

AA: Here’s the Wish List question – if you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one item you’d leap at to blog about or do?

AtP: Well, let me mention that if I had the money, I’d give my blog a technological booster shot. It is actually fairly nice as it is, but I would love to have my own web server and upgrade my blogging platform to a more professional standard.

As for blogging, I would take the time to do more heavy cultural analysis work and media analysis of steampunk. I mean, I’m already doing it now, but that’s squeezed between all my other commitments. Sometimes I feel that affects the quality of my work.

I’m currently starting the grad school application process in part because I like analyzing patterns in society and art and would love to dedicate more time to that. Specifically I’m looking into performance studies, a field where I’d be able to combine my love of subculture/fandom, theater, new media, community interaction, and identity politics all into one crazy artistic/academic dish of intellectual goodness.

AA: With your writing and editing experience, what advice or suggestions do you have to people who want to write their own blog?

AtP: Well, I already gave my four big blogging bits of advice before, so I’ll just say this: writing is like good wine—it gets better with time. Same applies to blogging.

AA: Aside from Beyond Victoriana and conventions, what other steampunk things are you involved with?

AtP: Oh, too many to name!

I have a lot of different sorts of steampunk friends, but I’m mostly involved with The Wandering Legion. But since they are based in the New England area, I have a whole other group of New York/NJ people who I know as well.  My con touring around New England has become more of a “work-hobby,” though, while my NYC stuff is more “fun-hobby”. That, however, is slowly changing the more I get recognized for being in the steampunk scene. For example, at Book Expo America, I got stopped by a reader while wandering the floor – and I wasn’t even in character or in my steam gear. It was quite startling to be noticed “in my civvies!”

I also make various blogosphere contributions when I can; in the past, I had contributed to both Racialicious and Steampunk Magazine with articles about multicultural aspects of the subculture. I’ve also contributed to the online magazine All Things Steampunk and will have something for Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders. In addition, I have hard-copy publications; in the fall. I have an academic article coming out about steampunk fashion co-written with Jha, and also a couple of articles based off interviews I had with Jeff Vandermeer fir his latest Steampunk anthology and The Steampunk Bible. My current listing of steampunk writings can all be found on Beyond Victoriana under “Press & Publications.”

On the more artsy side, I’m currently working on a collaborative photoshoot project that will be unveiled later this year. Plus, I’ve modeled for artists doing steampunk projects (some of which are being displayed at the Steampunk Bizarre in Hartford, CT this July).

AA: Looking beyond steampunk, what other interests fill your free time?

AtP: Hmmm, I’m a theater geek and have dabbled in performance, political theater, and playwriting. I’m a big sf/f reader and manga/anime fan too. And my sekrit interest? I’m actually a Russophile; Russian was one of my majors in college and I studied abroad in Moscow during college. My dream novel, actually, is to write about werewolves in the KGB. ^_^

AA: Wow, those are some wide-ranging interests. Do you find any overlap or influence of those interests with your steampunk writing and activities?

AtP: I think all of my interests have bled into how I approach steampunk, especially how it relates to my thoughts about performing identities. Even my interest in Russia, too, is reflective. Russia was viewed for a long time (and still is, by some political thinkers) as the great “Other” in geopolitics, as something that Western countries were Not. Even now, Russians still debate about how their country should interact with “the West” and doesn’t consider itself entirely Western or Eastern, but a cultural blend of the two.

AA:. It has been really great talking with you and getting to know you better. Thank you again for making the time for this interview. Are there any final words you would like to share with our readers?

AtP: Thanks for taking the time to interview me, dear Ambassador, and thanks to all you readers out there!

If anyone wants to drop me a line, I can be reached at attic.hermit@gmail.com. ^_^

Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 9:04 am  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Ay-leen the Peacemaker – Part 1

This week, we have part 1 of 2 of an interview with Ay-leen the Peacemaker, the creator and writer of steampunk blog, Beyond Victoriana. I first came across Beyond Victoriana while writing the Getting Out of London post, and read the guest posting by Michael Redturtle. With each new posting, I learn something new and gain a better, wider and more balanced perspective.

 

Airship Ambassador: Hi Ay-leen, you’ve been keeping very busy lately with work, blogging and conventions, and I wanted to thank you for taking the time for this interview. Let’s start with basic terms – How do you describe steampunk

Ay-leen the Peacemaker: That’s the big question at the moment, isn’t it? To me, steampunk is being defined on two different levels: how people use it and the relationship it has with other subcultures and pop culture as a whole. Aesthetic-wise, I define it as a “science fantasy” inspired by 19th century styles (I first heard this word from Whisper Merlot of the SS Icarus and have seen others, like Steampunk Scholar Mike Perschon take on a similar definition with his term “technofantasy”). Culturally, steampunk is a nascent post-modern subculture that has been used to question the norms of modernity and the progression of technology in industrializing societies.

Yeah, can’t you tell I’m an ideas sort of gal?

I also view art as a reflection of one’s relationship to society and how society treats people. Thus, I’m very much interested in the political nature of art. I’m quite fond of the Catastrophone Orchestra and Art Collective’s steampunk political definition of “colonizing the past so we can dream a better future.” Essentially, steampunk is about history and its subversion. Not only subversion on a technological level— with steam-powered computers, dirigibles, and shiny brass ray guns—but on a social level too. Steampunk is chance to re-write the typical white, male-oriented, European- dominated past to reflect voices that had been silenced, ignored, or oppressed. Moreover, it is the creative opportunity to question the modern standards created by the legacy of Western cultural hegemony.

 

AA: With that interest in the art and possibilities of steampunk, how did you get started with Beyond Victoriana?

AtP: Beyond Victoriana was first conceived as a pet project back in during the summer of 2009. I had been emailing my friend Jha (“Jaymee”) Goh for a few months about how cool it would be to have a space for marginalized peoples in the West and from non-Western cultures in the steampunk community. At that point, we were knocking about an idea of starting a Ning community, but I couldn’t make the time commitment of maintaining a social network site (which is why I really think highly of those who do). And it was that point when I really wanted a space where people of color and allies could post content that directly addresses the issues of race, representation, and the challenges surrounding the cultural relationships between West and the non-West in steampunk. There’s steampunkdebate on LJ and the occasional history post by G.D. Falksen on steamfashion, but neither had the right focus I wanted: a space that can be used as a credited resource and platform to investigate these issues.

And then Jha outed my project plans on Tor.com, and so I thought, “Well, now I have to commit to this project!” ^-~

 

AA: Isn’t it great to have friends who forcibly encourage us to follow up on our potential? LOL. With a guiding idea in place, what became the defined focus of your blog?

AtP: The nutshell explanation on the blog says it best, so I’ll start with that:

Beyond Victoriana is a blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism–that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework. All of the steampunkery here focuses on non-Western cultures, underrepresented minorities in Western histories (Asian / Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, First Nation, Hispanic, black / African), and the cultural intersection between the West and the non-West.”

However, I also want to add that Beyond Victoriana also encourages guest contributors and is not just me on my aethernetz soap box. I strongly believe in the power of the mind-meld, and I, personally, have an insatiable curiosity. So, if someone wants to contribute to Beyond Victoriana with an essay, an interview, a review, or whatnot, I’m more than happy to offer Beyond Victoriana as a platform for them to use.

Essentially, by focusing the content on the “fringe aspects” of steampunk, I hope that the blog would give greater credibility to the idea of multiculturalism and recognize the challenges that it faces in fandom and steampunk.

 

AA: Those are all great goals and personally, I think they are being achieved and certainly give people something to think about. How did ‘Peacemaker’ become part of your moniker?

AtP: Well, I can tell you two different stories to this one. The short answer: it’s actually the name of the gun that I use at conventions. Ta-da!

The longer answer: I first got into steampunk through cosplay and Ay-leen the Peacemaker initially started off as my steampunk character persona (aka steamsona). She is a Buddhist assassin-for-hire from the colony of Tonkin who carries around a huge Chinese steam-powered hand cannon as her signature weapon and is paid to shoot French imperialists (or anyone else for a Large But Reasonable Fee).

A lot of steamsonas you see in the steampunk community are based off of types from Victorian pulp fiction and steampunk literature (and almost all of them based on Eurocentric caricatures): the Airship Pirate, the Edisonade, the Explorer/Adventurer, the Upper-Crust Aristocrat, the various Military types, the Wildean Fop. There aren’t any equivalent “Asian types” (or any type that can be coded as specifically non-white) in steampunk—unless you count the detrimental stereotypes that were created in the Victorian era like The Dragon Lady, the China Doll/Geisha Girl, Fu Manchu. Steampunk is problematic that way, I think—the fact that it revels so much in pulp fiction and in glorification of the Western-European ideal while also overlooking why that Western-European ideal exists in the first place.

So I didn’t want to be a walking Asian stereotype, or become “Eurocentric-inspired” by taking on a typical steampunk type, or be a more “historically accurate character” like a coolie or a railroad worker or a rice farmer.

I wanted to invent a steamsona that I wished actually existed in Victorian pulp fiction that had relevance to my life. Someone tough and kickass, but still larger than life and ridiculous. I admit my love of anime played a big part in why Ay-leen is an assassin who carries a huge gun and dressed in awesome clothes other than the utilitarian black a real assassin would don.

 

AA: That is a great way to think about creating a new character, or characterization – a well established archetype reimagined in a more personalized environment based on your own experiences and background. And for steampunk, I love that your steamsona is a formidable force in fabulous outfits! Back to the writing, how did previous experiences prepare you for blogging?

AtP: I’ve edited for college newspapers and literary magazines and I currently work in publishing, so I have quite a bit of writing and editorial experience. And, like any child who grew up during the Internet Age, I’ve already been blogging since I was a teenager. But Beyond Victoriana is the first blog I’ve maintained that had a “serious” focus with an intended audience outside of friends and family. I admit I was intimidated by this blogging process but am slowly getting more comfortable in the role. I only hope that this is also reflected in the work that gets out there!

 

AA: With that writing and editing background, what do you think are the qualities a person needs to be successful in this type of position?

AtP: Wow, you make it sound like I actually get paid to do what I do! ^_~

Anyone can blog, of course, but to do it well and to do it in a way that captures an audience I think you need four things: organization skills, perseverance, community engagement, and passion.

Organization is key, because you want to be sure you have a consistent flow of quality material for your audience or else you’ll lose their attention. Perseverance is important because building an audience takes time. By community engagement, I mean constant interaction both with your audience and, in my particular case, with people you want as contributors. You don’t expect to post something and have people come running to read it automatically, after all. You have to go out and read other people’s work too and share with them so they will share with you. That’s the key to a successful blog: one that can form a community around itself.

Most important, though, is passion. I started Beyond Victoriana because I was interested in experimenting with and expanding the current conception of steampunk. I’m really surprised and grateful all of the attention the blog has gotten and I’m glad to have gotten to know some wonderful people because of it.

 

AA: I think your passion really shows in your writing and dedication to having new content. What are some challenges of maintaining your own schedule and standards for the blog?

AtP: Being disciplined. I really admire bloggers like Mike Perschon, Evangeline Holland of Edwardian Promenade, Cory Gross of Voyages Extraordinaire, and Matt Delman of Free the Princess for being able to come out with great intelligent stuff at a set schedule. And I know it’s because they are super disciplined and focused writers.

Because the intent of Beyond Victoriana is to serve as a community platform as well as a personal one, I do plan posts in advance, but I also want to maintain the blog’s flexibility for outside contributors.

Time management is also another challenge. As I mentioned before, I make no money off of any of my work for Beyond Victoriana, but dedicate a lot of time to blogging. At the same time, however, I’m also balancing a real life job, a social life, and my other writing (which I hope to make money off of someday…) Plus, I know as much as I love to blog, that it is only an interesting side hobby so I try not to let that encompass my entire life (though that can be hard!)

 

AA: To balance things out, what are the rewards of publishing Beyond Victoriana, what do you look forward to?

AtP: My rewards so far are entirely self-motivated: I feel proud when people respond to the blog in a positive way. And I also get a lot of pleasure being able to interact with people—interviewing authors, working with contributors, brainstorming about a certain topic at midnight.

 

AA: With the wide variety of topics and guest blogs, how do you prepare for a post? Where do the ideas come from?

AtP: Beyond Victoriana is very open, conceptual-wise. I mostly write posts inspired by things I read or see in the media or the current steampunk community. I also try to keep a record of historical content that people can use as a resource.

But the best moments are when I’d be walking through the library or reading about something totally outside of the steampunk community and find something that hits me as being absolutely relevant to Beyond Victoriana and worth blogging about. I adore serendipity.

 

AA: Aside from guest writers, do you talk with other bloggers or authors to trade ideas?

AtP: I certainly do! Jha Goh has been a close intellectual comrade-in-arms in the steampunk community, actually, (I laugh when people think we’re the same person!) I personally keep in touch with the folks at Steampunk Magazine, Steampunk Workshop and Mike Perschon (and keep track of several steampunk blogs/websites too). Lucretia Dearfour of The Wandering Legion is also someone I constantly bounce ideas off. I’m not too fond of forums, but work much better with email and G-chat when talking with fellow steampunks. I’ve also gotten in touch with several professional sci-fi authors and editors through steampunk, which has been very exciting too.

There are also blogs that I follow that aren’t steampunk but inspire me a lot in my blogging work.

Racialicious – A site dedicated to the examination of race in pop culture

Threadbared – A blog run by two fabulous clotheshorse academics Minh-ha Pham and Mimi Thi Nguyen, who discuss fashion and politics

Tor.com – The online magazine & sci-fi blog site.

SF Signal – Another standard when it comes to sci-fi websites.

Bibliophile Stalker – Charles Tan, Filipino writer, editor & blogger keeps tabs on the SF/F world and conducts great interviews with the best in the business.

World SF News Blog – Run by author Lavie Tidhar, this is another great resource about the international state of sci-fi.

 

AA: With all the great content you’ve published so far, what are some of your favorite pieces and people on Beyond Victoriana?

AtP: I like learning, and so the best contributions I’ve gotten or requested are about topics I know very little about. Then later on, when I’m working on editing the piece with a contributor, it’s a very exciting and interesting journey for the both of us.

I feel the same way about interviews, because I love hearing people’s stories.

 

End of Part 1 (A cookie from Ay-leen to everyone for getting through all of it.)

Join us next week for Part 2.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

 

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 8:25 am  Comments (13)  
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