Tag Archives: transnational

Challenges of Writing Alternate History Set in Other Cultures by Ekaterina Sedia on Tor.com

The Decembrist Revolt by Vasily Timm

Steampunk and alternate history have a lot in common; in fact, one might conceptualize steampunk as a branch of alternate history (at least, the steampunk set in the real world.) As such, we accept that some sort of change has occurred in the real world to cause a departure resulting in all sorts of exciting gadgetry and possibly airship pirates. While dealing with steampunk set in Victorian England or the United States, most western readers can easily recognize the references, and have at least some sort of an idea of what the original was like – and that enables them to spot the differences popping up in the steampunk-y alternate past.

[Read more on Tor.com’s Steampunk Week] 

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#90 The Halcyon Trilogy: Transforming Steampunk –Guest blog by Joseph Robert Lewis

So, if you’re here then you probably like steampunk, but you’re also probably just a little tired of seeing the same old English professor or American cowboy riding his clockwork horse to save western civilization. Me too. And after following the Racefail discussions back in 2009, I set out to create a steampunk series that would be different in every way I could imagine.

I started with research. Lots of it. I learned everything I could about the history and cultures of North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean to create a time and place for my series that was original and fantastical, and yet thoroughly grounded in reality. Instead of drawing new maps, I looked at ancient maps. Instead of inventing emperors and wars and nations, I discovered the real ones from history (although none of them had appeared in my high school classes, disappointingly). And I carefully knitted them all together as the backdrop for my stories.

Here’s what I came up with.

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#88 Pakistani Fashion Designer Ali Fateh’s “Steampunk Elegance” Collection

When steampunk hits Pakistan’s fashion scene, what does it look like?

Well, designer Ali Fateh gives us an idea.  He recently came out with his handbag collection “Steampunk Elegance.” Fateh, a prominent designer known for his luxury handbags, premiered this collection back in July. The handbags boast elegant lines, bejeweled designs, and metal motifs.

Image courtesy of Maram & Aabroo. Click for more info

Fateh received his degree in fashion from the International Fine Arts College in Maimi, Florida, and then lived and worked in New York as a designer for several years. In 2002, he decided to return to Pakistan. There, he spotted a rising trend in luxury items, especially handbags, and turned his design skills to creating a distinctive line of goods featuring sleek designs and vibrant colors. As his international reputaion grew, his work has been featured on runways for Paris Couture Week, 2007, Bridal Asia, Delhi, Hong Kong, New York , Fall/Winter 09 Bahrain Fashion Week, Fall/Winter 09 Dubai Fashion Fiesta, and Islamabad Fashion Week 2011.

Image courtesy of Maram & Aabroo. Click for more info.

What remains equally gorgeous to his handbags is the photoshoot created around them, featuring talented work from accomplished women in their respective industries: photographers Maram & Aabroo and actress Aamina Sheikh.
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#86 The Kaifeng Jews–Guest Blog by Historicity (Was Already Taken)

Note: This was cross-posted with permission from Historicity (Was Already Taken).

Late nineteenth century photo of two members of the Kaifeng Jewish community

When people think about Jewish Diaspora communities, they probably think of Fiddler on the Roof style Jewish communities, inquisitions, and lynch mobs. They forget that the Jewish Diaspora was not one singular event, and that it sent people in every direction across the globe, and not just to Europe. Many went east—there were vibrant, ancient Jewish communities across the Middle East up until the mid-twentieth century. And some went further east, to China.

There are many theories as to when and how Jews ended up in China. In my opinion, the most accurate theory is simply that some Jewish merchants followed the Silk Road as it rose to prominence in the third century CE, and ended up in China.

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#85 Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi: Bringing Jujitsu to the West

To compliment my recent article about bartitsu over on Tor.com, here’s a spotlight on Yukio Tani & Sadakazu Uyenishi.

Yukio Tani, demonstrating a flying armbar lock on William Bankier

In 1900, two young men took on an offer from Englishman Edward William Barton-Wright to take their art halfway across the globe, as two “Japanese wrestling” instructors at his Bartitsu Club. At 19 years-old when he arrived in England, Yukio Tani’s upbringing is unclear, but it is thought that he trained at Fusen-ryu dojo as well as Osaka’s “Handa School of Jiujitsu.” His fellow instructor, Sadakazu Uyenishi, was a year older and originally considered training for the military before deciding to go to England. He was knowledgeable not only in jujitsu, but also in rokushakubo and hanbo (types of staff fighting), horseback riding, sumo wrestling and kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship). Tani’s brother and another fighter named S. Yamamoto also arrived to teach at Barton-Wright’s school, but left after a year to return to Japan. Tani and Uyenishi ended up leaving a lasting mark upon England, being two of the first to bring jujitsu to Western Europe.
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QUAINT #27 Arbaces from “The Last Days of Pompeii” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

A depiction of the destruction of Pompeii from the documentary special Pompeii: The Last Day

Arbaces was created by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron of Knebworth (1803-1873) was a popular, productive, and influential writer for over 40 years. His reputation has unjustly suffered for many decades. Bulwer-Lytton also created Monsieur Favart, Margrave, Mr. Richards, Vril, and Zanoni.

The Last Days of Pompeii is about the lives of several characters in Pompeii in the final days before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Two friends, Clodius, an effete Roman, and Glaucus, a popular Greek, are walking to the public baths when they see a beautiful, blind flower girl. She is obviously Greek, and this reminds Glaucus of another Greek woman he knew, who he had fallen in love with but had lost contact with. As Glaucus and Clodius speak they run into Arbaces, the Egyptian priest of Isis, a figure of power in Pompeii but one who is unlikable, and both Glaucus and Clodius detest him. Arbaces thinks little of either of them, for he hates the Romans and the Greeks and secretly prays for the return of Egypt to power. Until that time, however, he plots and schemes to accumulate personal power and indulge his own depraved tastes.

Arbaces is an Egyptian living in Pompeii. He is a magician, the “Lord of the Burning Girdle” and “he…from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.” In Pompeii he is a figure of fear and respect, in large part because he is rumored to wield the Evil Eye. He has contacts everywhere, especially among the Priests of Isis, whose chief Calenus is his servant and into whose company Arbaces personally inducts a number of priests. Arbaces is far more intelligent than everyone else around him, and even though his magic is humbug he is cunning enough to fool everyone with it.

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Bartitsu: More Fashionable than Fisticuffs

“When we hear martial arts today, we hear Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan; we forget that the Western arts have also existed,” Professor Mark P. Donnelly, striking in his black vest and shirtsleeves, began his instructional seminar last Saturday in a New York midtown fighting studio. “It didn’t look anything like kung-fu and karate but it was certainly martial arts.”

What did Western martial arts look like? About 20 students ventured out in the excruciating heat to find out, particularly about bartitsu, an obscure Victorian martial art that’s been getting more pop culture attention lately. Most of the students that day were dressed in street clothes, though some sported vests, long skirts, or bloomers to fit the class theme. Despite two fans running and the AC on full, sweat had already broken out on many brows in the room. Still, we were ready for combat, Victorian-style.

Read the rest over on Tor.com

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#83 Enichari Corps: Slaves in the Ottoman Military — Guest Blog by Harry Markov

Enichari military outfit

When I agreed to write the series about Bulgaria under the Ottoman rule as a suitable stage for the steampunk genre, I underestimated the challenge these articles present. I want to deliver a portrayal of a complicated and cruel span of five centuries in Bulgarian history. At the same time I’m dealing with controversial and sensitive material, given that the Ottoman occupation has hindered Bulgaria’s access to Europe during the time of the Industrial Revolution.1

Even more so, given that this article deals with the cruelest tactic from the Ottoman empire to ensure its armies never lacked man power, while at the same time assured the assimilation of all conquered lands: the ‘enichari’ corps. 2. The word ‘enichar’ means ‘new soldier’ and refers to an Ottoman military class, which consists from non-Muslims. During the 14th century, the Ottoman conquests resulted in a sizeable amount of conquered territories and the aching need to expand the empire’s armies.

Before the ‘enichari’ corps to exist as a concept, the Ottoman empire enlisted volunteers from the enslaved countries and the corps consisting from those were called ‘yaya.’

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#78 Fact or Faked: The Travels of Jacob D’Anacona–Guest Blog by Rachel Landau

The City of Light is the journal of the travels of Jacob D’Ancona, a 13th century pious Jewish merchant. Readers follow Jacob on a three-year journey, starting from his hometown of Ancona in present-day Italy, overland through Damascus and Baghdad, and then by sea, stopping at various ports and places until he reaches the city of Zaitun, modern-day Quanzhou, where he stays to buy goods and talk to the scholars of the city. It consists of equal parts travelogue/memoir and a philosophical discussion of medieval Jewish and Chinese ideas.

This was a time when Jews had restricted access to jobs or freedom to run their own lives. In medieval Europe, Jews often had to wear physical signals of their faith: yellow stripes or stars. Jews had restricted job and social opportunities: they were often forbidden from interaction with Christians. In Muslim lands, the restrictions for Jews were somewhat more relaxed, but Jews still paid higher taxes than Muslims did — though not as high as those paid by the non-“People of the Book”.

Jacob himself is an interesting exception to many of the typical rules. He travels with both Jews and Christians, and frequently mentions his young female Gentile servants’ romantic lives. Furthermore, Jacob is a jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times. He’s a traveler, a merchant, a scholar, a physician, an authority who is consulted by Jewish and Chinese communities alike. He speaks and writes in fluent Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Nearly everyone who meets him likes him. He’s a bit too good to be true: in modern terms, he’s a pretty big Mary Sue.

But the most compelling parts of the book are not Jacob, but the world he’s seeing for the first time. The descriptions of Chinese life are vivid and lengthy, and the variety and extensiveness of the Chinese market was stunning and often unbelievable to European eyes. Jacob engages in lengthy discussions (through a translator) with Chinese scholars and even spends several weeks stuck in the sordid underworld, full of gambling, prostitutes, and illicit sex.

There’s also political intrigue, and the threat of very real danger: At this time, northern China was under the rule of Kublai Khan and there was a very real threat of invasion by the “Tartars” — for Europeans and the southern Chinese alike. Meanwhile, the Chinese community of scholars was divided itself between old and new ways of thinking.

Jacob finds many points of contact and connection between himself and several of the Chinese scholars, especially a man named Pitaco, who like Jacob was worried about the lack of respect in the younger generation, the stability of the country’s morals, and the justification of trickle-down economics. Perhaps most fittingly for a book about contact and conflict between Western and Eastern cultures, Jacob’s habit of pontificating ends up rubbing many Chinese scholars the wrong way. As the inhabitants of the city get upset about the amount of influence the foreign Jew has in the city, Jacob concludes his business and leaves in a hurry, fearing for his life.

There’s really just one problem with the narrative: Jacob D’Ancona may have never existed.

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“The Sikh Pioneers of North America”: The Punjabi-Mexican Americans of California

ca. 1909. Sikhs from India at the Calapooia Lumber Company, Crawfordsville, Linn County, Oregon, 1905-1915. (Crawfordsville is about 30 miles north of Eugene, Oregon). (Photo courtesy of Stephen Williamson http://www.efn.org/~opal/indiamen.htm)

In California at the turn of the 20th century, a community grew in southern California with an interesting history: Punjabi-Mexican families of the Imperial Valley. This unique community stemmed from the effects of British colonialism, transnational labor immigration & American economic opportunity (and American anti-Asian discrimination laws). Many multi-generational families in the area today can trace their multicultural and multiethnic histories back over a hundred years, and refer to themselves as “Mexican Hindus”, “Hindu” or “East Indian” today.

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