For Steampunk Hands Around the World, it’s my pleasure to chat with co-editor Marian Womack about her and James Womack’s newest anthology The Best of Spanish Steampunk.
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.
Check Ediciones Nevsky’s Steampunk Collection.