Tag Archives: literature

Black Empire: George Schulyer, Black Radicalism and Dieselpunk–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

[Note from Ay-leen: Cross-posting P. Djeli Clark’s blog The Disgruntled Haradrim]

blackempire3232011Sometime in the 1930s, a black journalist is kidnapped in Harlem by the charismatic Dr. Henry Belsidius, leader of the Black Internationale–a shadowy organization determined to build a Black Empire and overthrow the world of white racial hegemony with cunning and super science. Journalist George S. Schulyer’s fantastic tale was written in serials in the black Pittsburgh Courier between 1936 and 1938 under the pseudonym Samuel I. Brooks. It quickly found a loyal following among African-American readers, who saw in Dr. Belsidius and the Black Internationale a heroic, sci-fi tale of black nationalism, triumph and race pride. The newspaper was surprised at the serials’ growing popularity, and pushed for more–sixty-two in all. Yet no one was as surprised at the story’s success than George Schulyer who, disdaining what he saw as the excesses of black nationalism and race pride, had written Black Empire as satire.

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Victorian Monsters–by Diana Vick

Many of our classic monsters were born in the dark and foggy streets of Victorian London. Literary or legendary, so many monsters seem to have been conjured up or at least written prominently about in that wonderful time. It’s no wonder that steampunk is also a product of that fertile era, the birthing ground of science fiction and horror, kindred genres.

[Read “Victorian Monsters” on Tor.com]

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Queer Cogs: Steampunk, Gender Identity, and Sexuality–by Lisa Hager

Illustration by Keith Thompson

As an academic who specializes in Victorian literature and a steampunk who enjoys taking on the persona of Dorian Gray on occasion, I get a lot of questions and not a few strange looks from my colleagues and students when I explain what steampunk is (or at least try to) and why I so thoroughly enjoy being part of this subculture and avidly devour its fiction. Though most people are definitely interested in steampunk or pretend to be for my sake, I often get the sense that they wonder why a “serious” academic like myself is interested in steampunk culture and literature – that I have crossed some sort of academic nerd line in the sand and may be slightly strange for doing so.

What this attitude misses is how speculative fiction and the subcultures that embrace it, most especially steampunk, can welcome diversity and difference in ways that rare in mainstream culture and give both energy and verve.

[Read “Queer Cogs: Steampunk, Gender Identity, and Sexuality” on Tor.com]

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Beyond Victoriana Special Edition #10

Here be some links and news of note that caught my eye. And, if you have any to share, don’t hesitate to share them on Beyond Victoriana’s Facebook page, or email me.

First of all, a glimpse at the early cover for the upcoming academic anthology Steaming into the Victorian Future, edited by Julie Anne Taddeo, Cynthia Miller, and Ken Dvorak and published by Scarecrow Press.  I’ve contributed a piece to this volume, and you’ll also find writings from other well-known steam academics, including Dru Pagliassotti, Mike Perschon, Catherine Siemann, and an introduction by Jeff Vandermeer, all commenting about steampunk as a subgenre and as a subculture.

And I finally gave in and got a tumblr for Beyond Victoriana (Jaymee, you’re welcome). Follow me, drop a message in my Ask Box, or watch me re-blog to my heart’s content. There isn’t much on there yet as I figure out themes and suchlike, but that will soon change.

Oh, and if you are planning to go to San Deigo Comic Con next week, I won’t be there, but my fellow compatriots at Tor.com will be! Plus, they will be giving away newspaper editions of Tor.com that feature a variety of articles, including my essay about Vietnamese identity and steampunk “The Ao Dai and I.”

Enough with the self-promotion — more links after the jump!

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#94 Luis Senarens, Penny Dreadful Author from Brooklyn–Guest Blog by Miriam Rocek

An illustration from Jack Wright and his Electric Stage; or, Leagued Against the James Boys published in 1893

It’s no secret that what we currently call “steampunk” has its roots in the speculative, imaginative fiction of the 19th century. People often cite Jules Verne as the founding author of the steampunk genre, but he was one of a number of authors who wrote fiction dealing with elaborate, futuristic technologies. During the 19th century, there was one man referred to as “the American Jules Verne,” whose works are full of quintessentially steampunk elements. There’s a steam-powered mechanical man, racing across the American plains, a bullet-proof, electrically powered 19th century stage-coach, hot in pursuit of the Jesse James Gang, not to mention an electrical flying machine. The stories revolve around a boy-genius inventor, and all of them are set, and were written, before 1896. The author’s identity was appropriately exciting to the imagination; he wrote under the intriguing pseudonym “Noname,” a mysterious, unknown presence, producing fantastic works at an astonishing rate, including twenty-six stories in 1893 alone.

Before there was television, before there were movie theaters, before there were comic books, there were dime novels. Called “penny dreadfuls” in England, these were cheaply printed, floridly written adventure stories, lurid, exciting, and intended for a popular audience. They were read by children and adults, men and women. They were working class entertainment, easily purchased, easily hidden from a schoolteacher or other disapproving authority figure, and easily devoured in a single day. They ranged from romances to detective stories, from horror to western, covering every genre that might appeal to readers eager for excitement. The works of Noname were wildly successful dime novels, telling stories of adventurers and inventors.

What is interesting about Noname, apart from the stories he created, is that he was two people. Much like the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Noname” was a pseudonym that was handed down from one man to another. The second, and by far the most prolific of these two men was in reality Luis Senarens, a Cuban American man from Brooklyn, who was just sixteen years old when, in 1879, he took over writing a series of dime novels about a boy inventor and adventurer named Frank Reade.

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Steampunk Gilgamesh: The Annotated Version by Mike Perschon on Tor.com

The origin of this exercise is perhaps as odd as the idea itself: while weeding my devastated Mad-Max-style front yard in preparation to lay sod this past summer, I was listening to the audio version of Stephen Mitchell’s lovely Gilgamesh: A New English Version. As I listened, I imagined the how the story would look if it were steampunked. Who would Gilgamesh be? What would Enkidu look like? What city would replace Uruk? I never seriously pondered writing it down, until I hit 800 followers on Twitter, and decided to celebrate the landmark with 80 tweets comprising an outline of a steampunked Gilgamesh. As part of Steampunk Week here at Tor, here is that outline with annotated explanations.

[Read the Rest on Tor.com’s Steampunk Week]

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QUAINT #26: He Yufeng from “The Gallant Maid” by “Yanbei Xianren” (a.k.a. Wen K’ang)

From the Chinese film version of "The Gallant Maid" titled "The Heroine"

He Yufeng was created by “Yanbei Xianren” and appeared in Ernü ying xiong zhuan (The Gallant Maid, 1851-1879). “Yanbei Xianren” was the pseudonym of Wen K’ang (1798- 1872), a local official in Anhui who came from a prominent Manchu family and was appointed imperial agent to Lhasa. The Gallant Maid is little-known outside of China but is popular inside it, having inspired sixteen sequels.

The Gallant Maid is about He Yufeng (“Jade Phoenix”) and An Ji. An Ji is the son of the righteous official and Manchu bannerman An Xuehai. An Xuehai is in charge of the repair of a dam, but a flood destroys the dam and An Xuehai is made the scapegoat for its destruction. An Xuehai is imprisoned and ordered to pay a large fine. An Ji travels a long way to help his father, carrying a large load of silver to ransom him, but he repeatedly runs into misfortune, with his donkey drivers and later some evil monks both trying to rob him. Both times he is rescued by He Yufeng, who also frees an old farmer whose wife and daughter, Chinfeng (“Golden Phoenix”), had been captured by the monks. He Yufeng explains herself to the farmer. Years ago her father, General Ho, had been killed by sorcery. General Ho had been a high official of the Solid Yellow Banner, but his superior had ordered him to marry He Yufeng to the official’s son. The son was crude and barbaric and was unworthy of He Yufeng, who is beautiful and educated. General Ho refused to countenance the wedding, so his superior had him jailed on false charges and then killed him via sorcery. He Yufeng, loyal to her father in the proper Confucian way, retreats to a rustic village with her mother and then goes to the underworld and trains herself as a nüxia, or female knight-errant, to avenge her father. While her mother is alive, however, He Yufeng cannot carry our her revenge, and instead makes a good living robbing corrupt and evil government officials. He Yufeng is so strong and such a good fighter that all the other outlaws greatly respect and fear her. In the underworld she is known as Shisan Mei, “the Thirteenth Sister.”

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QUAINT #25 Pedro Arbuez d’Espila in “The Torture of Hope” by Villiers de l’Isle Adam

Inquisition Scene by Francisco Goya

Inquisition Scene by Francisco Goya

Pedro Arbuez d’Espila was created by Villiers de l’Isle Adam and appeared in “The Torture of Hope” (Nouveaux Contes Cruels, 1888). “The Torture of Hope” is in many ways the quintessential conte cruel.

There was a real Pedro Arbuez d’Espila, Don Pedro Arbues de Epilae (1441/2-1485, one of the most notorious and vicious of the Spanish Grand Inquisitors. Arbues engaged in compulsory baptism of Jews and used judicial torture to ensure that the conversions were sincere. Arbues was killed by a group of Jews in 1485; Pope Pius IX canonized Arbues as St. Peter of Arbues in 1867.

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QUAINT #22: “Les Xipéhuz” (The Shapes) by J.H. Rosny

Close up of Danae Stratou's "Desert Breath", which would be an apt illustration for this novelette. Image courtesy of io9. Click for link.

The Xipéhuz were created by “J. H. Rosny (aîné)” and appeared in “Les Xipéhuz” (“The Shapes,” L’Immolation, 1887). “J. H. Rosny (aîné)” was the pen name of Joseph Henri Honoré Böex (1866-1940), a French author. For many years after his death Böex was forgotten, primarily because the majority of his work was written in disrespected genres like science fiction and the prehistoric romance. But in recent years critics and academics have begun paying him more attention and giving him the credit he deserves. Böex produced some remarkable science fiction and is considered (with Jules Verne) to be one of the most influential figures in the development of science fiction in France. “Les Xipéhuz” is one of his most famous, and best, stories.

“Les Xipéhuz” is set in the Middle East, circa 5000 B.C.E. A nomad tribe, the Pjehu, discover a group of “translucent bluish cones, point uppermost, each nearly half the bulk of a man…each one had a dazzling star near its base,” clustered around a spring. When the Pjehu draw close to the cones, or “the Shapes” as the narrator calls them, the Shapes attack them, killing many, although they only target warriors and avoid killing women, children, the sick and the aged. But the Shapes do not pursue the Pjehu beyond a certain distance and ignore them if they leave the Shapes alone. The Pjehu, shaken, consult a group of local priests who decide that the Shapes are gods and that they must be sacrificed to. But the Shapes kill those priests who approach them.

The priests experiment with slaves and determine the distance beyond which the Shapes will not pursue humans, and then the priests set that boundary with stakes and decree that the Shapes are to be left alone. But other tribes are not told about the priests’ decree or ignore it, and members of those tribes cross the boundary and are massacred. Then the Shapes begin expanding their territory. When the tribes try to resist, hundreds of their warriors are killed by the Shapes. All the tribes of Mesopotamia begin fearing for the existence of Man, and some men turn to dark cults.

The tribes’ wise men at last consult the hermit Bakhun. Long ago he had abandoned a nomadic life for a pastoral one, and in so doing flourished. Bakhun believes in odd and unusual things, like the sun, moon, and stars being “luminous masses” rather than gods, and that “men should really believe only in those things tested by measurement.” Bakhun tells the wise men that he will dedicate his life to studying the Shapes. He does so, and draws a number of significant conclusions, most important of which is that the Shapes are living beings rather than spirits or gods.

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QUAINT #19 Roots of the Yellow Peril, Part I

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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