The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia Hardcover – January 28, 2016
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Some of my favorite stories were:
"Spider Here" by Robert Liow had vivid descriptions of the cyber-augmented creatures it focuses on, and created a wonderfully immersive world.
"The Last Aswang" by Alessa Hinlo held promise of a creepy tale just based on the title, and I was not disappointed! (If you don't know what the aswang myth is, I recommend waiting to Google it until after you read this tale to give the surprise it's full impact.)
"The Unmaking of The Cuadro Amoroso" by Kate Osias was an emotional roller-coaster and probably the story that held my attention the tightest, keeping my eyes glued to the page as I waited for the dramatic ending.
"Chasing Volcanoes" by Marilag Angway hit a perfect spot for me between using some common steampunk tropes and adding wonderful new aspects to this vision of technology. Powering tech on volcanic emissions is exactly the sort of crazy concept I love seeing in steampunk tales.
Steam, airships, cyborgs, gleaming metals, magitech, adventure, robot bugs, these things you might expect in an anthology of literary quality steampun. These elements are just as entertaining as you expect them to be. But this collection delivers so much more!
Beginning with a powerful critical introduction that will be of use to readers as well as students of literature and steampunk, this anthology takes Steampunk into some of the diverse peoples, geographies, and storytelling heritages of Southeast Asian cultures. Women really shine in this diverse collection of stories, driving narratives and building strong interpersonal relationships of family, friendship, and much more. While I loved some stories more than others, I enjoyed every one. I found each one engaging, immersive, and magical. This book is a fun one to have on your nightstand, and digest in one-story-a-night chunks. I strongly recommend it on its merits and entertainment value alone.
That said, you students of anti-colonial transnational literature can also purchase this book because this collection is an important move into multicultural, anticolonial, transnational steampunk that is not defined by Victorian culture, western progress narratives, and romanticized colonialism. Editor Jaymee Goh says in her introduction that it is "imperative that we have volumes dedicated to our own voices, projects not of postcolonial melancholia, but of decolonial determination. Our psyches cry for justice for lost names, lost stories, lost histories, all lost to globalized systemic racism, lost to imperial dreams imposed upon us too long. In the absence of time machines to recover them, we turn to re-creating, and creating anew. Thus, we use steampunk to have that conversation with our histories, our hearts and dreams." In sharing these stories with a world-wide audience, the diverse storytellers here are inviting all steampunk and fantasy fans to be part of that important conversation. By purchasing, reading, talking about, and spreading enthusiasm for great stories like these, readers can enable more and more diverse storytellers to tell more amazing stories, and booksellers to stock their shelves with them.
But perhaps more importantly to your concerns, purchaser of books, these stories are just plain great reads. Did I mention the SKY WHALES? ROBOT BUGS?
This was a book I was sad to finish, and I'll be looking for more from these authors.
For me the standout story was by Pear Nuallak and I will be looking for writing from others as well.
Top international reviews
By all means get angry that publishers jerked you around, but do most people really think “steampunk” must include some reference to how awesome Empire was? Okay, the deck’s been stacked against you, and that’s horrible, but surely genre fans are going to be receptive enough to what you're trying to do? If they’re so intent on collecting writing that deals with “de-colonial determination”, how come so many of these stories fixate on ancient enemies getting their comeuppance?
This isn’t to imply people shouldn’t talk about these subjects, just that they shouldn’t lean on them to the detriment of everything else. Several of the stories - particularly the first third of the book - deal in laundry lists of turgid exposition about how awesome country X is, piling on the local flavor for no real reason other than preaching to the choir. The better ones still tend to the simplistic, or enigmatic in a half-hearted way.
Ngih Vo’s "Life Under Glass" has its moments, with a grace that’s sadly lacking elsewhere, but it’s almost literally “I’m sad. Hey, look, a metaphor! Now I’m happy!”. Even the highlights feel like less of a pleasure when lumped in with the strident activism on display - Olivia Ho’s "Working Woman" is an entertaining read, but its heartless British villains victimizing the “savages” ring a little less true when the intro contends these authors aren’t focused on the past, nuh-uh.
It’s telling the one story that’s far and away the best of the bunch, "The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso", seems to have been published first elsewhere. Kate Osias’ tragic poly-amorous lovers are fleshed out far more elegantly and her writing feels far more polished (several of the other pieces could have used a tad more proofreading).
A noble cause, then, but very little here manages to live up to the lofty mission statement, and the book does a poor job of explaining itself, on the whole. We already know genre fiction means (or should mean) anyone can tell whatever stories they want, but that doesn’t mean we’re all actively holding any of these people back, and it doesn’t automatically make their stories worth reading.