Islam and Science Fiction has been a resource in the SFF community for 10 years, and it’s with great pleasure that I got in touch with its founding editor, Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad. Since 2005, Islam and Science Fiction‘s goal has been to gather depictions of Islam and Islamic themes in science fiction and spotlight science fiction written by Muslims. Muhammad has even co-edited an anthology about the topic, A Mosque Among the Stars,with Ahmed A. Khan. In our interview we talk about the state of Islam in sci-fi, its global reach in speculative fiction, and much more.
Category Archives: Interviews
1) What was your motivating factor behind assembling the Best of Spanish Steampunk?
Steampunk is currently a very popular genre within speculative fiction, especially in Spain, and so I thought that one of the ways in which I could carry out my more general project, which is to make people in the English-speaking world more aware of what is happening in Spanish writing, would be to create an anthology that was both popular, but also focussed, not simply a general introduction to Spanish speculative fiction (Where would you begin? Where would you end?), but a more focussed, more directed anthology that was in some senses able to give a view of speculative fiction in general as it is being written in Spain, but from a particular perspective. Also, one of my initial intentions, right from the start of the project, has been to interpret the term ‘steampunk’ as widely as possible.
2) You had previously edited a steampunk anthology STEAMPUNK: ANTOLOGÍA RETROFUTURISTA. Is there anything you wanted to focus on or change when working on this new anthology project?
The concept of STEAMPUNK: ANTOLOGÍA RETROFUTURISTA was slightly different. It was a project that came into existence at a time when steampunk was really quite little-known in Spain, and so the editor of the book (I was just the publisher), Félix J. Palma, commissioned stories from contemporary well-known authors (and a couple of debut writers) who were not necessarily people who dedicated themselves to ‘genre’ writing, but who were being hired to write in this genre. This book functioned quite well, and showed that there was a lot of interest in the topic. What I did next was to edit a second volume in which I invited writers who were known for their speculative fiction to write slipstream steampunk stories, approaching their normal material from perhaps a slightly ‘higher’ literary perspective (I hate these terms, but they work if you don’t think of them as evaluative). This book, RETROFUTURSIMOS: ANTOLOGÍA STEAMPUNK, was the flipside to the original anthology, and both books ended up meeting somewhere in the middle of the literary continuum. The material contained in these two anthologies formed the core material for THE BEST OF SPANISH STEAMPUNK. Internationalising steampunk and making it more multicultural was also a part of my approach, but more about this later…
3) Many authors included in this book are still young in their writing careers. What was your process for finding them?
We had the two anthologies to work with, which gave us some clear examples of texts that in some sense had to be in the anthology, but we also very clearly wanted to have as wide a range of authors as possible, to be as inclusive as possible, so we sent out an open call for submissions and worked our way through whatever was sent us. Of course, we asked for information about previous publications and so on, but essentially we allowed the stories that were sent to us to guide us in making our choices. And some very good things appeared in this way: one of the stories, one of my favourites, is Rocío Rincon’s ‘The Lady of the Soler Colony’, which is the author’s first publication in any medium: she’s in the rather odd position of having a story published in English before publishing anything in Spanish. Finding diamonds in the slushpile was one of the great joys of this project.
4) Do you think Spanish culture has any particular preconceived notions about the 19th century that you hope steampunk breaks down?
The Spanish are very aware that the nineteenth century was one which they did not ‘win’, if you can put it that way. The nineteenth century was a time in which a previously great empire was in its death throes, in which the general level of education and culture was, except for the few, fairly low. The nineteenth century in Spain is now in some senses being repurposed as a time of resistance and rebellion: consider for example the elaborate celebrations, books and public events that took place for the two hundredth anniversary of the failed Dos de Mayo uprising in Madrid in 2008. I think steampunk is used by quite a lot of the authors in the anthology as a way of addressing this new understanding of the nineteenth century: lots of the stories, for example the ones by Rafael Marín or (although this is approaching the twentieth century now) Jesús Cañadas repurpose and redevelop key moments in modern Spanish history, making them a little more defiant, a little more aggressive. History being rewritten by the losers, perhaps.
5) Why do you think the steampunk genre is becoming more popular in the Spanish-speaking countries?
Steampunk is everywhere, it’s in the air. It is popular in e.g. France, and starting to be more popular in places like Russia as well. What I would say is that most English-language steampunk starts from what might broadly be identified as a post-colonial perspective: works such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series use the figures and characters of straightforward jingoistic Victorian writing in order to poke sly fun at their own assumptions and ideas. In some ways, it is less surprising, obvious perhaps, that steampunk should find a home in countries such as Mexico and Venezuela where the assumptions of a long-standing master / subaltern relationship are being challenged far more directly. Spanish-language steampunk, particularly the stuff that comes from places outside Peninsular Spain, is able to use this new and responsive genre to speak in some ways slightly more directly to historical injustice.
6) What is the most exciting part of the anthology that readers can look forward to?
My hope personally, and my hope as a publisher, is that people will discover new writers working at a high level whom they are then tempted to keep an eye on, go and discover more writing by and so on. The anthology is a wedge, a wedge many hundreds of pages thick, designed to in some senses break into an environment that has not been very welcoming in the past to translated literature (although the speculative-fiction-reading public is much broader-minded that certain other cohorts of readers, of course). The excitement in compiling the anthology was in discovering these new voices, and knowing that they would be sent into a new environment where, if there is any justice, they will find a welcoming home. And I hope that’s the part that appears most exciting to the reading public too.
Thanks for your time! Readers interested in purchasing The Best of Spanish Steampunk & Ediciones Nevsky’s other steampunk anthologies can see the links below.
- Buy this book on AMAZON (Kindle format)
- Buy this book on BARNES & NOBLE (Nook format)
- Buy this book on EDICIONES NEVSKY web (Epub format)
Check Ediciones Nevsky’s Steampunk Collection.
Audio Recordings from TeslaCon & SE Wisconsin Festival of Books! Plus, Announcing THE BEST OF SPANISH STEAMPUNK
Before 2014 comes to a close, a couple of brief updates!
Back in November, I attended TeslaCon and the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books as a guest. Below are the audio recordings of some of the panels I did at both, for your listening pleasure. If you’d like a copy of the audio file, contact me and I can email this to you.
Steampunk: A Genre Discussion (audio)
A panel discussion at the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books at University of Wisconsin – Waukesha
Featuring Professor Lisa Hagar of University of Wisconsin-Waukesha
How to Publish Your Steampunk Novel (audio)
Featuring Kevin Steil, the Airship Ambassador & blogger at TeslaCon V in November 2014.
Additionally, The Best of Spanish Steampunk is coming out in early 2015. I’m thrilled to have been asked by editor Marian Womack to contribute an introduction to this new anthology of compelling steampunk fiction.
A brief description:
The Best of Spanish Steampunk will be the first English-language anthology to showcase the talented Spanish writers working in the Steampunk genre. It will be available in January 2015.
We are living a time of fast-paced change, in a decadent society in serious need of a rethink of its ethical and social principles. The values of our way of life, the system we uphold, are reaching their natural exhaustion point. The Steampunk sensibility has found fertile ground within the community of Spanish SF authors, who, in order to understand the problems of a country ravaged by the economic crisis, huge unemployment levels and frustration with the political and social system, are turning towards two major literary currents : the dystopian novel and Steampunk.
As Bruce Sterling has suggested, “Steampunk’s lessons are not about the past, but about the instability of our own times … Steampunk is popular now because we are unconsciously realising that the way we live has already died”. This is a succinct description of Spain’s approach to the genre. By engaging with a writing that focuses on the “glorious past” of an idealized Victorian age, Spanish authors are trying to highlight their disenchantment with their future. These are the inheritors of the first “wave” of English-language Steampunk.
Other trends are even more critical, connecting directly to the social and political commentary inspired by Steampunk’s forefather H.G. Wells. This second trend focuses on a conscious reimagining of our history as a direct literary comment on our present, in order to find in the past answers for the current situation, and in our present possible ways forward. Spanish writers are “critically” reimagining key moments of our modern history, such as the Spanish-American Cuban war, or the Anarchist revolts of the 1930s in Andalusia.
Steampunk’s engagement with these topics offers an invaluable opportunity to reevaluate our world, the choices which have brought us to the situations we are facing today. In its key position between the present, the future, and the past, together with its critical heritage, Steampunk becomes one of the key cultural movements for going forwards into the XXI century.
A quick plug for FanBros podcast:
Sex, Lies, & Steampunk. We actually talk about two of these things on the latest episode, and you know we never lie to you. We welcome Diana Pho the celebrated author, blogger and steampunker genius to speak on all things steampunk, steamfunk and steamsex. No wait I’m lying. We do discuss sexual and street harassment in the cosplay and geek worlds, and why cosplay is not consent. Stay with us as we continue to cover all of the topics and news that you need to know about. It’s the award winning FanBrosShow.
And while in the mood for plugging, this Sunday, I’ll be speaking on a panel for The Steampunk User’s Manual in NYC
“We need to talk about diversity,” has been the conversation starter in SF/F as of late. But the best fiction, as the saying goes, shows, not tells. The anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, reveals representation as more than a tally-count concerning diversity, and highlights how the act of reading across difference can be an intensely immersive experience.
Reading Long Hidden very much felt like sitting in on late-night conversations in a room full of strangers, darting from one conversation to the next. I might not immediately recognize the context of one tale or another, nor did I feel pressure or ridicule for not knowing something beforehand. What was important was recognizing the generosity and trust in which these stories were being told, and letting the conversation flow.
I’ve had the pleasure of conducting such a conversation with Rose and Daniel after my read. We discuss their challenges and joys during the editing process, the logistics of outreach and crowd-funding, and the impact of marginalized voices in the future of speculative fiction.
This article is part of Steampunk Hands Around the World international event, running between Feb 2nd and Feb 28th. For a full listing of events, check out the Airship Ambassador blog.
Over the years in the steampunk community, I’ve seen its potential to work together for more than shared fandom reasons to impact the larger world around us. The community’s Maker influence could be a cause why: if people like to fiddle around with machines out of junk, their tinkering becomes a physical demonstration of how people can re-think an object to make it work better, breathe new mechanical life into it, as well as making it aesthetically pleasing in its functionality. I’ve seen that attitude transfer to other works that steampunks have done. On top of that, the types of people who are involved in the community — tinkerers, artists, educators of all stripes — create a space where ideas bounce off of one another, and perhaps, that creativity which stirs up a person’s inner initiative to try and change a bit of their own lives then spreads into other aspects of life too.
It’s not surprising then, that several initiatives have started up in the community with the aim of social and public betterment. I won’t deny that I have a certain perspective about this, given the people that I associate with tend to value ways that explore social causes, whether it be through increased artistic literacy, media critique and representation, environmental or political causes, or education. Many of these people are friends of the blog and you can check out their work here. Various steampunk conventions also have had a charity fundraiser at their event, as what usually happens at events such as TeslaCon, Dragon*Con’s Alternate History Track, and Steampunk World’s Fair. For Steampunk Hands Around the World this month, I wanted to highlight some various ways that the steampunk community is giving back, to show that we’re more than a group with a retrofuturistic side hobby.
I was recently interviewed for Sounds of Steam — the episode is now available for download!
Sounds Of Steam, Steampunk to Reality: Making Your Dreams Come True
We all have dreams that we would love to have come true. Some want to be writers, authors, and songwriters, others want to sing or start a band, and some just want to decorate their house to look like the inside of the Nautilus. Those things are too much to ask, are they? But they seem so far away, and almost impossible to achieve. How can you make them happen? Where do you even start?
We know a bit about making dreams come true, and we draw upon the even greater knowledge of our guests, Warren and Betsy Talbot of ‘Married With Luggage’, and Ay-leen the Peacemaker (winner of Steampunk Chronicle’s Reader Choice Awards of ‘Best Politically Minded Steampunk’ and ‘Best Multicultural Steampunk’) , to help us give you ideas and ways, that are proven to work, to make your dreams become reality!
Music by The Bewitched, Birthrite, The Blibbering Humdingers, The Cog is Dead, Crimson Clocks, The Aeronauts, Automaton, The Electric Swing Circus, Doctor Steel, The Extraordinary Contraptions, Escape the Clouds, BB Blackdog, Alexandra Hamer, Klaxton, Victor Sierra and more!
Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, contacted me about her senior project: a film about steampunk, steamfunk, and the role of African Diaspora in these subcultures. The final result is her animated short “Steamfunk & Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy” which I’m happy to share here. Also featuring the wonderful Balogun Ojetade speaking about steamfunk!
The inspiration for Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy derived from an event inspiration board that I came across online. The board, which featured an intriguing medley of metals, vintage artifacts, and African jewelry, was entitled “Afro-Steampunk,” and its description read, “If Erykah Badu and Sherlock Holmes had a wedding.” The visual juxtaposition of these unexpected sources of inspiration led me to delve into more research on the concept of Afro-Steampunk to see if this striking aesthetic could be found elsewhere. My search exposed me not only to more fascinating representations of Black and African aesthetics coalescing with the steampunk genre, but also to a unique set of politics and critiques associated with them.
Closing Credits Music produced by Briaan L. Barron
Striking. Powerful. Imposing. These are some of the words that come to mind when viewing a costume piece by Maurice Grunbaum. Maurice, an artist based in Paris, is well-known in the French alt and cosplay community for his amazing detailed costume and prop work, and images of his outfits have circulated throughout the steampunk aethernetz. I first noticed him in group shots with other steampunks of color (he’s the masked gentleman on the right).
On his Facebook, you can find detailed cosplays from Bioshock, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and other steampunk-inspired sources. On the rise nationally in France, his art was included in the exhibition “Future Perfect: Retrofuturism/ Steampunk/ Archeomodernism” («Futur Antérieur: Rétrofuturisme/ Steampunk/ Archéomodernisme») at the Agnes B. Galerie in Paris (watch the museum trailer below for a clip of Maurice talking about steampunk).
When I read his interview included in the exhibit’s catalog, I was blown away by his articulate passion for everything steampunk and his need to broaden the definition of steampunk to include influences outside the Victorian and the French «La Belle Époque». So with a little help from a French friend-of-the-blog, I was able to get an interview with Maurice.
Meeting representatives from international communities is always one of the great pleasures of running this blog, and recently, Luke Chaos stopped by my Inbox to introduce the Tokyo Inventors Society and the seasonal event that they run: Steam Garden. How can I describe the event? On their website, their 4th Steam Garden event reveals that they are extremely interested in exploring different alternate histories while retaining a sense of high adventure:
It is now clear that the time-travelers are leaping across parallel worlds, where history is different every time. Somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, they arrive in a world where the Celts survived the Roman Empire, in their secret druidic villages. After a disastrous “steam war” during the industrial revolution, Europe goes dark and the Celts reclaim the British Isles, ruling from New Dublin. Here, the airship has to make a forced landing!
Don’t believe me? Well, check out their video trailer to boot.
I got to chatting with Luke and his partner-in-crime Kenny Creation about the steampunk and how the Tokyo Inventors Society see things from the land of the rising sun….