Steampunk World Anthology Takes on Multicultural Steampunk

When the Kickstarter campaign for Alliteration Ink’s Steampunk World multicultural fiction anthology launched in December 2013, it immediately had my attention. Steampunk stories NOT written from Victorian England or American Wild West perspectives? A whole book of them? I was sold. After donating to the campaign and waiting nearly seven months for my hard copy to arrive, I have not been disappointed.

SP World Hans

With cover and interior artwork by James Ng and an excellent forward by Diana Pho of the Beyond Victoriana blog, the 19 tales that make up Steampunk World include some of sci-fi and steampunk’s top writers of color. “Steampunk stories tend to resemble each other a lot,” says the anthology’s editor Sarah Hans, who also edited Alliteration Ink’s Sidekicks! “Including other cultures gives us a chance to expand our horizons as readers and consider the impact of steam technology on societies all over the world. I thought it would be fun to see what kind of fresh, new perspective could be brought to the genre with a multicultural focus.”

There’s so much to love about this book, but the biggest reason it won my heart is that so many of the stories are rooted in and/or examine ethnic lore specific to a country, region or place in time that seems to hold some significance to the author. This type of world building is fantastical without any of the erasure of people of color that so many works suffer.

Ken Liu’s “Good Hunting” takes elements of Chinese mythology and wraps a steampunk aesthetic around it, and his demon-hunting father-son duo are as interesting as anything you’d see on television these days. Balogun Ojetade’s “The Hand of Sa-Seti” references Sekhmet, the Egyptian lioness-headed goddess of war and destruction. Nisi Shawl, who has a Congolese steampunk novel called Everfair coming out this year, mixes warring African factions with steam technology in “Promised.” And in “Hidden Strength,” Jaymee Goh (founder of the Silver Goggles blog and co-editor of the upcoming southeast Asian steampunk anthology The SEA is Ours) explores the lives of a working class couple from one of jetty clans of Malaysia in which the main male character is given iron lungs after a life-threatening accident.

Editor, Sarah Hans.

Editor, Sarah Hans.

These are touchingly simple stories of alienation, love, survival and triumph that mostly ignore the upper class adventurer narrative. That isn’t to say that adventure is missing from these tales; it’s just amplified by the focusing on not only the fantastical but the comings and goings of the every day lives of the people who inhabit them.

“I think it’s important for fiction to reflect the culture that inspired it,” Hans says. “Steampunk is one of the most welcoming, inclusive cultures I’ve ever been a part of, and I wanted the stories we read to reflect that inclusiveness.”

Telling steamy stories rooted in the diversity of the world around us, past and present, makes Steampunk World about educating as much as it is about entertaining. Let these stories give you both in one sitting.


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