Con or Bust! 2012 Auction has Opened

| February 11, 2012

Con or Bust!, the fundraiser that helped me get to WisCon34 back in 2010, has now opened for bidding on its various items! I also has an item up for bidding: The Steampowered Globe. If you would like to get a copy of this Singaporean steampunk anthology delivered to you personally from me and donate to a worthy cause at the same time, place a bid!

You can find most general information about Con or Bust at its site but I would like to give my own perspective on why you should bid, or perhaps even donate, to Con or Bust.

I tend to see people ask, “what do we do to help racism go away?” Or “what can we do to encourage POC participation at events?” And sometimes infuriatingly, “yeah we know racism is bad: what are you doing about it?”

Racism being less just insults or individual prejudices and more a system of excluding people of colour from acts of self-empowerment and equal participation, requires a mass action on the parts of many individuals. It requires acknowledgement of exclusion and active movement to address this exclusion. It requires a communal effort of raising ourselves and each other and a pooling of our already-scarce resources.

When I asked for funding to go to WisCon, I indirectly also used that money to fund my trip to Steampunk World’s Fair, 2010, because it was just two weeks before, and I didn’t feel like traveling back into Canada and out again, when I could just stay in the States. After SPWF, I traveled from New Jersey to Wisconsin, and stayed with a friend of my father’s, before checking into the Concourse for WisCon34.

I actually did not honestly expect to get as much money as I did for my trip down: I simply told Kate Nepveu, who runs the show, the breakdown of expected costs for my trip. And somehow, that is what I got. I’ve actually been feeling quite guilty about that since then, because I was expecting maybe half of the amount, or less. “Whatever you can spare,” I told her.

Happy Lunar New Year!

| January 23, 2012

So this post is scheduled way in advance since I probably am not going to have Internet connectivity at all this day, for reasons of Holidaying With The Nuclear Family. I am probably somewhere in the vicinity of the African continent at the moment (I believe our destination is South Africa), but I thought I would make sure to get some good New Year greetings wishing you all joy and prosperity and other cool stuff like a steampunk Lunar New Year. Good food, new clothes, money!

So, wherever you are, 恭喜發財 to my Chinese readers! I have no idea what dialect ya’ll use, so you get the generic Chinese characters to read whatever way you wish; my family says kong hey fatt choi / keong kee huat chye / kong hee wa sai, depending on who we’re talking to, but to the rest of you and yours, 新年快乐!
And a special shout-out to Ay-Leen at BeyondVictoriana.com, hope you have a very wonderful Tết! Chúc mừng năm mới! 

Dear White People, You CAN Say "People Of Colour"

| December 19, 2011

There is this thing Ay-Leen and I do at our Steam Around the World presentation, and it’s when we get to talking about racism. We get the whole audience to yell, “RACISM!”

This is what I like to explain as a speech act. Here’s a thing explaining what speech acts are, and how we like to rely on obfuscation rather than stating outright what we really mean. The bit I like the most is the recounting of the conversation from When Harry Met Sally, where Harry tells Sally she’s attractive (7:10 – 7:26)  and she says, “It’s already out there.” it then goes on to talk about the profound consequences of this mutual knowledge about what we’re all talking about, that it enables a shared platform for which we can begin to have meaningful dialog about the same subject, and there’s a great thing about the Emperor’s New Clothes (8:56) enabling a collective challenge to the Emperor’s assertion that his new clothes are awesome.

When you use precise terms, and you know their history and their meanings, the implications of saying them, it becomes a lot easier to have conversation. So when we get the audience to say out loud, “RACISM!” it means it’s out there now. We can totally say it, and because we can say the word, we can now have a conversation about it.

I unfortunately use obfuscating language on this blog, because I try for a message that people can find themselves in, in as varied a subject position as possible. It’s not always useful or helpful, of course. Which probably explains the lack of comments, haha.

But anyways, there is something to be said about being able to use the term “people of colour” in public to identify racialized persons, or people who self-identify that way.

Anecdote time!

I wonder why race matters in steampunk, do you?

| December 7, 2011

At my first ever steampunk-themed event, I looked around, and I was the only visible POC there. Same time, Ay-Leen would go to a con and at a crowd of over a hundred, maybe more, only two people in the crowd would be visible POC.
Recently, two little boys were called racial slurs in class. They’re not the first, and won’t be the last.
In the Netherlands, a tradition of blackface continues. Darker-skinned people face prejudice at the same time that people declare this blackface tradition is not racist. 
Back home in Malaysia, a trans woman friend of mine confesses that she feels normal when a child calls her a “Cina babi” — Chinese pig — because it means she’s considered normal enough as a woman that people are just racist towards her, not transphobic.
Well-meaning white people tell me and Ay-Leen to our faces that it should be okay for them to say and do racist shit because it’s just an act, and people should be able to recognize it for what it is, except, of course, if I’m on the receiving end of racism, how am I supposed to know it’s an act?
White folk can come to this blog and ask me to explain why should racism matter in steampunk, why steampunk should be purposefully anti-racist, while by-passing my 101 Reading List, and tell me my experiences don’t validate the existence of racism nor the necessity of anti-racism in steampunk. 
They do the same thing at Occupy, they did the same thing during RaceFail, they probably did the same thing at every single major turning point in history where racialized peoples try to raise awareness of racial injustice. 
Meanwhile, people tell me that I can’t use steampunk to talk about racism because steampunk is supposed to be fun and fantasy. They tell me my presentation isn’t as good as it could have been because I talked about issues and stopped having fun. To my face, even.
People think “non-Caucasian” is a good way to say “person of colour” and obviously have never had to think about the words they use to talk about race. 
Hollywood whitewashes more Asian films, cutting off chances for Asian-Americans to star in favour of white actors who look more “American”.
Folk have the temerity to tell me that “racism will always exist” and apparently I should fucking accept this. Yes, I and all POC like myself should accept racial injustice embedded into systems of employment, education, healthcare, housing, access to basic standards of living. 
Somehow people can understand that the world is made of different cultures, different nations, different social groups, different genders, different this different that, but think everyone should be treated the exact same way anyway.
I get called a “racist” very casually for wanting to meet people who identify with these differences of theirs.
At my own party, to my face, again, when I say, I don’t believe in tolerance, because tolerance is no longer useful in gaining equality, I am equated to Matthew Shepard’s killers. (FYI, that was not a problem of tolerance. That was a problem of hatred.) At a steampunk convention.

Just a few things off the top of  my head that demonstrate how racism is an everyday part of life. Does steampunk happen in some alternate dimension completely insulated from everyday life? If so, please direct me to this magical portal.

Happy Blogiversary to Beyond Victoriana!

| October 25, 2011

It is! I know! Yeah, our blogiversaries are only a few days apart! No it’s not because we’re sekrit twins or anything like that (though we HAVE confused people before by our similar-but-not-same content)! 

Ay-Leen, as you may know, began writing about steampunk and being Asian in steampunk MUCH earlier than this first official Beyond Victoriana post, aaaaand she’s also been a lot more disciplined about getting a post out every Sunday, on schedule. She’s also featured some terrific people on the scene, such as Jess Nevins, and Evangeline Holland, as well as people overseas such as Eccentric Yoruba (who is one of my favourite people to follow on Twitter). Since then, Beyond Victoriana has grown, won awards, and gained recognition all over the place, and still kicks ass. 
It’s terrific and exciting and I’m glad to be sharing the Internet with her! Happy Blogiversary, Ay-Leen!! 

Tor Book’s Steampunk Week – 3rd to the 7th of October!

| October 4, 2011

The good fellows and ladies at Tor.com have launched Steampunk Week (starting today), hosted by the indubitable Miss Ay-Leen the Peacemaker!  Chock full of excellent Steampunk articles, insights, and intriguing banter, a visit is most certainly a must – to do so, please follow the link, and do begin with Monday’s collection, at: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/10/steampunk-week-2011-on-tordotcom

Additionally, Barnes and Noble will present a Steampunk “Picks of October”, highlighting established and new authors in the genre, located here… http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/10/barnes-and-noble-booksellers-picks-for-october-steampunk-edition!

(Now if you’ll excuse me, there is an excellent article on the website, regarding mechanical pooping ducks, that I must indulge in!)

Con Report: Nova Albion, March 25 – 27 2011

| May 15, 2011

Originally written for and posted at BeyondVictoriana.com’s Nova Albion Convention Extravaganza. This is the graphics-less edition.  


So, Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition, ya’ll. I’m going to start at the beginning, which is way before the actual convention itself. You may not like what you read. In fact, ya’ll might accuse me of negativity. Fair ’nuff.
I’ll state upfront that Nova Albion is the second steampunk con I’ve attended, and the fourth fan convention. I’m not really big on conventions. I think costumes are expensive (fun! but expensive) and unless I feel like I’m actually contributing to something (my presence does not count) I don’t feel like it’s worthwhile subjecting myself to so many strangers. I am a misanthrope like that.
Ay-Leen and I were invited to be guest speakers at Nova Albion, and we were quite flattered.
Until we saw the theme: Wild Wild East. This was my first reaction: “Do these people grasp the potential for Fail with such a theme?”
Neither Dan nor Ariane struck me as anything other than white, and when a white-led group tackles a theme as this, I don’t trust them to handle it well. This would not have been my reaction years ago, before I was involved in anti-racist activism. Just something I have picked up from years of being involved with other PoC who have been failed by white-led groups and events, time and again. Considering my work is on how badly misrepresented and underrepresented Asians and other minorities in white-dominated spheres are in steampunk, my defenses went right up.
But still, Nova Albion is in California! And I heard California is like, land of Asians in the realm of America! We both made suggestions that the organizers look up local organizations to speak at the convention, because, what an opportunity to highlight the local Asian populations! Bring in history that’s rarely discussed in mainstream spaces! Or just lend exposure to local Asians who might not have such a platform otherwise! I was looking forward to meeting some awesome Asian intellectuals and academics and, of course, fellow steampunks! 

ISSUES, THERE WERE SOME
The problems started early: the Guests of Honor were Cherie Priest, of the Clockwork Century books, and Paul Guinan and Anina Bennet of Boilerplate fame. I have nothing against these fine folks, and I think very highly of Cherie Priest in general, but neither of them have work that directly pertained to the theme — Wild Wild East.
In the meantime, James Ng’s art was used to promote the convention. Ay-Leen and I were trying to scrape up money to afford to go. The implication that actual Asian folks of the steampunk scene had to fret to attend an Eastern-themed steampunk convention didn’t sit well with me. Fortunately, my university gave me some funding, so I could afford hotel for both Ay-Leen and myself.
Why wasn’t James Ng immediately Guest of Honor of this convention? Perhaps because Cherie, Paul and Anina had been confirmed before the theme was set. Perhaps the organizers didn’t think they had the monies to bring James in from Hong Kong. Whatever the reason, it looked bad, and I was unimpressed, and a little insulted. This was a tiny papercut.
Then we had programming assignments. I immediately started counting the number of identifiably-Asian names I could find and came up with two: myself and Ay-Leen. (So imagine my relief when I found out Jean Martin and Jade Falcon were actual Asians.)
Then, what left me cold: the presentation Ay-Leen and I had pitched had been renamed, and I was suddenly the only person presenting it. I understand that reading comprehension skills deteriorate under stress, it happens to the best of us, but under these circumstances? Renaming “Steam Around the World” to “Steampunk Beyond Victorian England” is deeply insulting: we named our panel what we did for a very specific reason—to communicate that ours was a showcase of international steampunk, with no particular focus. To rename it “Beyond Victorian England” is to center steampunk in Victorian England, which is the anti-thesis of the presentation. (We would later discover that the description we had supplied was changed too. I’m not sure why this was necessary. It probably happened because the organizers lost the email which had our original description, and it’s silly because it creates more work for the sod putting together the program. I will say, though, that the new description was also quite insulting.)
Thirdly, the Wild Wild East, if one were to judge by the panel names, apparently consisted only of China and Japan. There were no panels on India, nor on Arabia, nor Africa.
And speaking of The Wild Wild East Is Only China and Japan, Ay-Leen was slotted in to deliver a lecture on China in the 19th Century. Now, whilst Ay-Leen did cite “Asian Studies” as an interest, that’s not really a reason to immediately assume “China!” especially when she’s Vietnamese-American, and doesn’t even identify as Chinese.
I was slotted onto the Sexual Politics and Suffragettes panel, which was a little awkward because it overlapped with another panel I was slated to be on, Steampunk as a Philosophical Arena. The overlap was less of a concern compared to: a) the fact that out of the four panellists, two were men, and b) “suffragettes” is a particularly UK/US term, which centers us right back in the West, rather than, you know, what the theme signified.
Also, another panel Ay-Leen was on? “The History of Tech: How the less developed West overtook the more sophisticated East”? Not impressed: an assumption that this happened through merely tech, rather than politics and colonialism; a reified dichotomy of East vs West; and the choice of panellist looked pretty… antagonistic? Like Ay-Leen was meant to represent The East, and Roget was meant to represent The West, with Chris Garcia mediating between the two…. (Roget turned out to be fabulous, Chris turned out to be a good guy, but I didn’t know this going in.)
We suggested name changes for the following panels:
  • Sexual Politics and Suffragettes

The Steampunk Postcolonialist at Nova Albion

| March 21, 2011

Heads-up, faithful readers! Uh, if you’re still reading that is. Silver Goggles has been neglected in favour of grad school and until term papers are done and dealt with, there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. I’ll post my final MRP proposal if that’ll make you happy, though. I also have some thoughts about steampunk and Judith Halberstam’s notion of queer time. 

Anyway, this is a general announcement that I will be at the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition this weekend. My schedule is as follows:
Saturday:, 1pm – 2.20pm – Steam Around the World (presentation with Ay-Leen the Peacemaker of Beyond Vctoriana)
Sunday, 11.10am – 12.20pm: Steampunk as a Philosophical Arena (panel with Liz Gorinsky and Francesca Myman)
I plan on attending Vernian Process‘ concert on Friday night, so I’ll either be napping on Friday afternoon or sleeping in on Saturday morning. Ay-Leen and I arrive at the hotel late Thursday night (I’ll be running straight from class to home for my airport shuttle), and leaving Monday evening. So, if you see a chick dressed like this or this, the likelihood that it’s me is pretty high, so feel free to say hello. If you do not find me on my lonesome, I’m more or less likely hanging around James Ng, Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil, or Ay-Leen. This does not foreclose the opportunity to say hi, though. You may also want to bring cash, because Ay-Leen might well rope me into selling these awesome buttons to fundraise for Shelterbox!

MRP Adventures: And the question is…

| November 9, 2010

What can postcolonial criticism do for literary steampunk?

I’ve been working on narrowing down exactly what I want to do for my MRP. Coming off Tor.com’s Steampunk Fortnight and seeing these wonderful posts by Nisi, Amal, and Ay-Leen (and seeing them being cited in relevant places), and reading further commentary from Jeff Vandermeer (who, bless him, has been working really hard to showcase what I think really is the best of steampunk thus far), I really do think applying a postcolonialist approach to what’s currently out under the steampunk banner in the form of literary criticism is totally in order to tease out the difference between progressive, interrogative narratives that really reflect the anxieties and aspirations of our time and old-skool skiffy.
So, really, basically, what I’ve been doing on this blog, but I want to map out antecedents and theorists that people can hark to when approaching literary steampunk with a critical eye. And what the results might be. 
This of course means I really need to up the ante in my reading and gather a list of primary works that would serve this purpose. 
I have a wonderful book called Unthinking Eurocentrism which I bought for a class (“Feminist and Orientalism”) that we ended up not using, and it’s a fascinating read (thanks Dr. Heffernan!). I think I quote it extensively in my section of “Colonial Chic or Stylish Subversion?” that Ay-Leen and I co-authored for Shira Tarrant. There’s a great section called “From Eurocentrism to Polycentrism” (and after that it goes on to dissect cinema narratives) which really informs a lot of my thinking. I’m also reading up on more postcolonial theory (ya’d think I’d’ve learned more of it while in undergrad) with regards to literary criticism.
What I want to know is, would postcolonial theory find steampunk lacking? Would postcolonial theory rip it apart? In a bad way, even? I’m working from the assumption that it wouldn’t, that instead, postcolonial theory can tease out sites of resistance in steampunk from which it can grow as a subgenre, adding on layers to the aesthetic. But how would it do this? What’s in the steampunk postcolonialist’s toolbelt, so to speak?
Merf. My goggles, they need polishing. 

Quick Links: Steampunk Fortnight @ Tor.com

| October 21, 2010

Sci-fi and fantasy blog Tor.com is taking another stab at Steampunk after their fantastic Steampunk Month series last year, which you might want to check out!

There’s not much up yet, but the fabulous Ay-Leen the Peacemaker has a beautiful essay on the Ao Dai, which made my inner costume nerd giddy with joy, and there’s an interview with the author of the Steampunk Bible which talks about some of the issues we like here – race, class, sustainability, consumerism, and the like.

They’re promising other exciting things like comics and giveaways to come, so keep an eye on it for the next couple of weeks!

One Year!

| October 20, 2010

Ya’ll! 

Exchanging emails with Ay-Leen last night, I realized that today is the first anniversary of Silver Goggles! Isn’t that fabulous? 
I know I don’t update often, which is more for my health than lack of interest. But I just want to thank everyone who reads Silver Goggles.