Linky linky


Handful of blog posts, while I’m off hammering more words on the novella:

-Ekaterina Sedia on “Challenges of Writing Alternate History Set in Other Cultures”. Some very interesting stuff–like, yeah, I could do an alternate history in which Gia Long’s eldest son acceded to the throne instead of Minh Mạng and Việt Nam was softer on Christian missionaries, but conveying the turning point and its consequences gracefully would require a looot of footwork to make you understand (and I can do the same with “obscure” bits of French history, too, and it would be hard too, though French history is less obscure than Vietnamese).

-Jess Nevins on “The ‘Problem’ with Asian Steampunk”. I’m a little… ambivalent about this? There are a lot of cool ideas here, but by and large they take the tropes of Victorian steampunk (the treasure hunter, the PI, the pirate) and make them more culturally appropriate than a mere cut-and-paste–basically, this is taking the blatant Orientalist out of steampunk, but I should think there’d be ways to do Asian steampunk with uniquely Asian tropes instead of warmed-up Western/Victorian ones (how about Chinese scholars trying to survive the upheaval of the Ming/Qing transition? Vietnamese building steampunk boats in order to resist the French encroachment?)
Yes, it’s the extremist in me again. I’m not against better “crossover” steampunk that uses this kind of trope (and some of these would definitely make for very interesting stories); but I’m also in favour of going yet further afield, and using the culture(s) more effectively? I’m thinking of Shweta Narayan‘s awesome steampunk series, which make good use of the Indian motifs of tales-within-tales even as they draw on Mughal history; but I’m pretty sure there are/will be others (if anyone wants to recommend good Asian steampunk? [1]).
At any rate, that’s my ambivalence towards lists like those, because they go, “ooh, check out those cool stories” without explaining what makes them cool. In this particular case, although you can argue some of those tropes are also appreciated in Asia (the martial art school, for instance), the sum total of them is a list of cool Victorian/pulp adventure tropes, which are more Western than anything else. Yes, I know, me splitting hairs again. It’s a tricky line to draw…

[1]Defined as “does not make me want to tear my hair out by exoticising or white-washing its protags”.


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