An International Round-Table Discussion
When I first heard about the Steampunk: Hands Around the World events, I knew I had to participate. Coming up with an idea (several, actually) was a fun challenge.
With Steampunk enthusiasts all around the world it’s hard to imagine the different experiences and the different interests that everyone brings to the collective table… so why imagine it? Why not dive right in and see what the world has to offer?
I contacted a few ‘old’ friends and found some new ones to participate in our Round Table…
Above is an image of THREE of our participants… and throughout the Q n A you’ll see the rest of our Cast of International Characters… let’s chat!
1. How did you first ‘discover’ Steampunk?
Paworn: It was 2008. I saw photos of Datamancer’s modified computers. I’d been interested in Victoriana and anachronism in general long before that, however.
Suna: I didn’t, in a sense. And I think it worked like this for many others besides myself. I have always been into Victoriana, the arc of the Industrial Revolution and the types of fiction this sparked, paired with a general interest in world history, maritime history, Victorian fashion, phantasmagoria, a certain type of surrealistic art, not to mention an obsession with the likes of Poe, Lovecraft and their ilk. The list goes on. In any case I suddenly looked up and there was a genre which had kindly formed an umbrella (or perhaps, a parasol) to cover everything, called Steampunk.
My first exposure to what I would call actual Steampunk probably reading Michael Moorcock’s ‘Dancers at the End of Time’ about twenty years ago. The book involves, among a vast host of other wondrous strange things, quirky contraptions, time travel, and an exquisite cameo by H.G. Wells himself.
In 1995 there was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, (the first installment of the His Dark Materials series, known as ‘The Golden Compass’ in the US), in 1999 Alan Moore and Kev O’Neills first installment of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out.
Both books had strong what I can now call Steampunk elements, but I even then hadn’t heard the term yet, though it had been around since the 80s.
It was the character of Nemo in LOEG that put me on my own course to write specifically Steampunk. I’d always written, but within this genre of alternate Victorian worlds, populated by Lovecraftian terrors and wondrous contraptions, Nemo’s Indian background was made much of by Morre and O’Neill. It’s their fault, really.
Because they created an expectation. I was waiting for more of the same.
More characters within this genre for me to have an affinity with. Their series certainly delivered, especially when they introduced Janni Dakkar, Nemo’s daughter.
But other than that, similar characters were few and far between. Characters of Indian heritage, or at least half-caste ones or strange cuckoo’s like myself, who were genetically a direct product of the British Empire through their ancestors having been shipped all over the globe. (In my case the link is my great-grandfather from Madras, who ended up as an indentured worker on a plantation in St. Vincent and married an Aruban girl, whose daughter ended up in Europe.)
It became such a bugbear of mine that I started creating characters and settings for what I should like to see within Steampunk, until, inevitably, I started writing them down.
I’ve always written, but writing Steampunk fiction – my flavour of it, at least – is a development of the past three or four years.
Utelo: I was brought to ‘real world steampunk’ by friends, as the movement was rising in France. Before that my first references were comics, such as ‘Le Régulateur’, ‘Horologiom’ or ‘Le Réseau Bombyce’.
Liz: Many moons ago, I read Gibson and Sterling’s amazing The Difference Engine and Tim Powers’ excellent The Anubis Gates, and it stuck. More recently I’ve found Gail Carriger’sSoulless series a fun way to reconnect with the genre.
Marcus: I had come across Steampunk literature first in 1992 through Michael Moorcock (A Nomad of the Time Streams) but did not know it was Steampunk. Steampunk as a scene I discovered via a forum for goth music, they were talking about Abney Park. I looked around for stuff about Abney Park, ended up on www.brassgoggles.co.uk and was immediately hooked.
Aiyana: Steampunk is something I first became interested in when Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy came out. I was about twelve, I think, when I read Northern Lights and it just stuck with me. I read voraciously by that point and, as we had the internet, was also able to start looking up the aspects of novels I enjoyed and beginning to understand more about them. There wasn’t really a great deal ‘out there’ about Steampunk at that time (c.1996), or at least if there was I didn’t pick up on it. It wasn’t until my late teens I really started to understand that this was an actual genre, and not just a few cool books that had things in common. Once I did I devoured anything and everything I could find. James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus is the first thing I recall purposefully buying as ‘Steampunk’, that was when I was about sixteen. It was a while before I began writing in the genre. Unlike fantasy, truly good Steampunk novels are few and far between, and so it took me considerably longer to get a real feel for it than it had Fantasy.
Ayra: I actually discovered Steampunk via the Japanese fashion style Lolita. The style takes it’s inspiration from the Victorian age and basically looks like porcelain dolls. I’d already been two years in that scene when I saw a photo of a girl describing her own style as Steampunk lolita. That’s where I got curious and started researching.
Ace: By the turn of the century adventure stories, steam punk or otherwise, including Burroughs, Verne, Wells – even Stoker and before him, Shelley – these are the basis of today’s steampunk stories. And what a base!
Ray: I’d seen the ‘word’ for a few weeks and called up an old roomie from college, Carrie Vaughn, I threw myself on her virtual mercy and asked “What is Steampunk?” About an hour later I had a name for something I’d always liked… always wished was a ‘thing’… and that’s when the full fledged ‘addiction’ started.
2. In what way(s) do you participate in the Steampunk Genre/Fandom?
Paworn: I’m lazy so I just look at pictures and share them. And maybe paint Nerf guns.
Suna: I am a member of both the Edinburgh and Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society and try to attend meetings and events when time allows, which unfortunately isn’t as often as I’d like.
Mostly, I am here in my corner quietly writing and creating photo galleries for my website. The photoshoots are a way to work out characters for the fiction and to give interested folk something to look at.
Utelo: I am a tinkerer, I like to construct things from scratch ; clothes, leathercrafts or props, I try to build stuff on my own so I can discover new tricks (and build more stuff!). I am also a member of the Steam Rocket, where I mainly deal with party organization and propose crazy/stupid ideas.
Liz: I read a lot of steampunk and have included steam stories in the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror that I’ve been editing for the past three years with my co-editor Talie Helene. I’m in the midst of editing steampunk romance anthologyKisses By Clockwork which will be released later this year. I also love the costuming look, and have made a couple of steampunk costumes over the years.
Marcus: Mostly through blogging (my bi-lingual blog is at www.daily-steampunk.com). I also help in organising EuroSteamCon, manage the website and have contributed articles to a number of online publications. I also participate in a number of groups on Facebook.
Aiyana: I’m a writer. My first novella, Encante, was released at the end of October last year, and the second in the series,Honour, is set for release at the end of March this year. There are two more novellas to come in the same series, and then at least one novel. I also write short stories in the genre, one of which is soon to be published in an anthology, All The Night-Tide, by Aädenian Ink.
Ayra: I write for the German Steampunk magazine „Clockworker“ (http://clockworker.de/) and also for my own blog Ruffles and Steam. I do a lot of event reviews for both. I am also part of the administration team of the German online forum Rauchersalon (salon.clockworker.de)
With the Steampunk Expeditionsgesellschaft (steampunk-expeditionen.de) I set up camp at different Fantasy- and steampunkevents in Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. And as if that wasn’t enough I’m also one of the organisors of our local steampunk regulars’ table.
Ace: Calgary has a vibrant Steampunk community and they’re always active and in costume at When Words Collide which is an annual writers and readers festival.
Ray: Hawaii’s Steampunk community is like tidepools… separate with some ‘flow between’ when the tide gets high enough. My first connection to Hawaii Steampunk was through someone online. Steamdust Studios clued me in to a Steampunk jewelry maker in Hawaii, Designs by Friston. Both Friston and I knew a lot of the same folks from local Theater and I helped him with a show here in Hawaii. Primarily I’m a writer, so that doesn’t always connect me to the cosplay/larp folks and pretty much I’m left out of most Hawaii events. While I’ve been sewing stuff for my son to wear, I haven’t made anything for myself. My only writing friend that lived here and enjoyed Steampunk recently moved away… sniffle sigh.
3. What are your favorite ways to connect with other Steampunks?
Suna: I enjoy corresponding online and take pleasure in my connection with very diverse people all over the world. I attended the Steampunk Garden at Castlefest in the Netherlands in 2013 and made the acquaintance of Dutch Steampunk society the Steampunk Objective. They were incredibly warm and welcoming and very appreciative of my alternative interpretation of the genre.
Utelo: I like to meet and talk, online of course but much more during social events. Going to a party is the best way for me to share good moments with complete strangers, and make friends!
Liz: SFF conventions, mainly. It’s great to connect in person!
Marcus: Two stages: 1. Meet people on the web and exchange ideas. The further away they are, the better. 2. Travel there and meet them in person. Right now I mostly connect via the web.
Aiyana: Mostly the internet. There is a vast online community, however I do enjoy attending festivals and conventions when possible – which isn’t as often as I’d like.
Ayra: Normally we stay in contact via our own forums, facebook and skype. So basically through the aethernet.
Ace: Mostly through reading their books and visiting websites. There are so many people doing so many cool things around the world.
Ray: My connections are primarily online. Through my blog and my communities that I belong to.
4. Since your introduction to Steampunk, have you learned more about the history of other countries besides your own?
Paworn: I’ve always been interested in Western history. Won’t say it’s because of Steampunk. Having said that, I think there might be some people who see Steampunk and think, “Hey, that’s cool,” and continue to learn more about the subculture and the historical periods that inspire it.
Suna: Yes. I have always been a bit of a history buff, but have done more in depth research into, for example, the background of the Opium Wars, the relationship between China and India and the history of the Silk Road, specifically because of Steampunk.
I have a vested interest in South India, the history of the Caribbean and the Indian slavery there, due to my own family history.
Utelo: Not really. Thanks to some friends that sew I saw nice costumes from North Africa, Indonesia and Japan, all of them circa 1900, but that’s all. It is not as if I am not interested in history, but I prefer to discover it through objects and everyday life facts.
Liz: Yes, mainly the UK, although I’ve come across a few Japanese and Chinese steampunk worlds which have helped explore a bit of Asian history.
Marcus: That’s a big yes. Mostly about India, Spain and Russia. I would also like to know more about the Latin American countries and every country that used to be a colony.
Aiyana: I’m aware that there is a large contingent of Steampunk fans in both France and Italy, however I don’t speak either language and so know very little about their actual Steampunk works. I would be very interested to read a French or Italian Steampunk novel.
Ayra: I think yes, especially about the different fashions during the victorian age. (Which is the Wilhelminische Zeit in Germany or the Ringstraßenzeit in Austria.)
Ace: China and many of the countries that people in Victorian England affected.
Ray: China for the Shanghai Steam Anthology, I’ve also been studying other countries as well, but mostly I’ve been learning a lot more about period scientific ideas
5. If you wear Steampunk clothes, have you mixed other cultures into your clothing?
Paworn: That’s an interesting idea, but also tricky to pull off. There’s a fine line between genuine appreciation for a culture and fetishised appropriation of it. I’m not saying one shouldn’t do it, but there should be at least some research involved. That’s why I haven’t done that yet! (I’m lazy, after all.)
Suna: I am the founder of Steampunk India, so all my clothing involves traditional Indian dress combined with Steampunk related elements.
Utelo: Good question, I actually never thought about it ! I think I unconsciously go to an american way of dressing, at least what I think it could have been. For example, some of my ‘worker characters’ wear short pants, big shoes, braces and stripes (as you can see on the picture). I don’t know if any American guy ever dressed like this in history…
Liz: I don’t often wear steampunk clothes, but when I do I usually stay close to interpretations of Eurocentric fashions.
Marcus: No, since I dress up very rarely. I have not thought much about mixing other cultural styles into my steampunk wardrobe, except for a Japanese Hakama or a Fez.
Aiyana: I wear a lot of Steampunk style clothes, although not all the time. I have a great love of tophats, and have quite the collection going now. Boots are another weakness and Steampunk style boots I simply adore.
Ayra: Definetly Yes! As I came to the steampunk style via the lolita fashion I almost everytime mix those two in my outfits.
Ace: I’d like to have a collage of items from each of the continents.
Ray: I have lots of plans but so far I’m sewing for other people.. I need to get a little selfish and make something for myself.
6. Have you met new International friends through Steampunk? From which countries?
Paworn: Not through Steampunk itself, not yet. But then I’ve met a lot of friends from the Goth subculture. Goths and Steampunks sometimes overlap, so I usually meet someone from the Goth scene and discover later that they like Steampunk also. I think these subcultures, be they Steampunk, Goth, Metal, etc., are a great way to meet new people from around the world.
Suna: Oh, yes, indeed, from all over, too many to list off the top of my head but I’ll try: Hawaii, Chile, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, India, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Russia, Chile, Eastern Europe…
Utelo: With the events of the Steam Rocket I had the chance to meet Samantha and Scott from the band ‘Frenchy and the Punk’, when they came to France in June 2012 ; also Bob, Anouk and Big Machine from ‘Victor Sierra’, and finally J-C Jeauffre, the head of ‘Jules Verne Adventure’, each of them being really kind persons I like to meet again. And of course, the last EuroSteamCon and this ‘Hands Around the World’ project let me connect to many people around the world, even if virtually ; I hope I can meet some of these people one day!
Liz: Not specifically through Steampunk – more through general science fiction and fantasy fandom.
Marcus: Yes, from these countries: Spain, France, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Austria, and I hope to expand the circle in the future
Ayra: Writing for the Clockworker I met a lot of awesome people from merely all over the world. I’ve got quite a few friends in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France and one of my best (Steampunk) friends is from Belgium.
Ace: United States, Hong Kong.
Ray: Yes! All of the other participants on this post are all new or relatively new friend and all from Steampunk! A lot of great people are online and their countries of origin just widens the web!
7. Steampunk Settings – What is the most interesting International setting have you read about/seen in art?
Paworn: Steampunk’d China from Tai Chi 0, I guess. I’m not a big fan of that movie. Too light. But I have to admit that the visual is really nifty.
Suna: I read a great story in the Mammoth Book of Steampunk which was set in South America and incorporated Aztec mythology. I know he himself does not regard his novel as Steampunk, but I highly rate Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl, which is set in Thailand.
Utelo: I am amazed by big crazy events – the bigger one for me being The Burning Man. I doubt I could ever get there once but still I cannot get the ‘Neverwas Haul’ rolling in the desert dust out of my mind.
Liz: The various Asian settings I’ve seen have been the most interesting to me, since they’re more uncommon than the Wild West or Victorian England.
Marcus: Hands down: Everything James Ng expresses in his art. I would also love to see genuine African steampunk art (I am a big fan of African literature), sadly Steampunk does not seem to have caught on in Africa at all.
Aiyana: I really enjoyed Cherie Priest’s vision of Seattle in her Clockwork Century series. I love modern Seattle anyway so it was very interesting to me to read this re-imagined version of a past, post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden Seattle.
Ayra: I’m absolutely a fan of Indian Steampunk or multicultural steampunk in general. I love to see how people incoorperate their own cultural backgrounds into their steampunk charakters. It’s not all British high society.
I also like how German and Austrian steampunks start to set up their stories around the Kaisers instead of Queen Victoria.
Ace: China and southern Asia were places from which there were very few stories. That’s why we created the anthology Shanghai Steam and asked for stories with a wuxia component. Interestingly enough, stories were set in China, North America (various locations) and on fantasy worlds. Steampunk, done well, can be set anywhere.
Ray: Asia, definitely… James Ng’s art – he did the cover art for Shanghai Steam – is AMAZING… his creativity is only matched by his ability to make everything seem ‘real’ – also images from around the world have really caught my interest. Most recently Steampunk India, that introduced me to Suna, is so rich with imagery… It really inspired me.
8. Steampunk Settings – What new settings or under-represented settings would you like to see in Steampunk stories/art?
Paworn: I don’t know. I haven’t read much Steampunk fiction. (I’m more interested in the visual and musical aspects of the culture.) So I don’t know what is or isn’t under-represented. Has there been a post-colonial Steampunk story set in South East Asia yet?
Suna: How about all of them? I would simply like, – she said naively -, for the whole spectrum of cultures and cultural strata to be represented. If I have to name a few, India naturally. And perhaps Mongolian, Caribbean, Trinidadian, Aboriginal, or Borneo Steampunk should be interesting!
Utelo: I think I would like to see more persons/characters from Native American, Zulu, Inca or Aboriginal people in a steampunk world, which would maybe lead us a bit away from the industrial aspect of it.
Liz: Being an Australian, I’d love to see more Australian steampunk!
Marcus: what new settings or under-represented settings would you like to see in Steampunk stories/art? See above, Africa. I would also love to see more out of India or an Aboriginal perspective for Australia.
Aiyana: Scotland. Don’t ask me why but I’d love to see a good Highland Fling with a SP twist.
Ayra: I’d really like to see a bit „dirtier“ steampunks. They can’t be all lords and ladies. There are also people doing the hard work.With the steampunk expedition camp we decided to work with the theme „scoundrels, dodgers and rapscallions“, to make up a new side of steampunk (which does not mean, we can’t have a fallen lady or deserted captain 😉 ) More Punk at Steampunk1
Ace: I’d like to see it set in South America. Steampunk space opera intrigues me.
Ray: Any country that existed during the Era… just because most people call it the Victorian Era… there were other countries in the world that could have risen to such power. It’s all fair game!
9. How would you like to see Steampunk grow or change?
Paworn: I’d like it to explore social issues. The Victorian era, great as it may have been, gave birth to many issues we still face today, like modern class and racial inequality. By providing alternative versions of history, Steampunk can explore and educate people about those issues. Also, keep being punk. Keep the DIY spirit alive. I’d like to see Steampunk continue to be an expression of creativity and individuality, not mass-produced goods. And above all, stay fun!
Suna: Ah, this old chestnut. I’d like it to grow by incorporating a more diverse spectrum of cultures and represent every part of society, too. And when change does occur, I’d like Steampunk to react according to what the genre itself purports to be: by being creative, flexible, adventurous and brave. Without nitpicking and fierce socio-dynamical tugs of war.
Utelo: I still consider myself as a newcomer, so I would be a bit pretentious to ask for change ! Funnily enough Steampunk is quite new to Europa, and it is growing now. I guess we will soon get to the mainstream point, before another wave rises and takes the scene. My wish would be that after this point we could still gather, wear fascinating costumes and props but most of all have fun.
Liz: I think steampunk is growing and changing organically, as people explore new aspects of it, and I’d like to see that continue to happen freely, without participants feeling that they need to fit the mould.
Marcus: I have come across an unusual amount of elitism recently, too many people are telling newcomers “how to do it right”. I really do not like this, Everybody should discover their own path to steampunk, noone is a better steampunk than anybody else. I would also like to see more international things going on such as EuroSteamCon or Steampunk Hands Around The World.
Aiyana: Grow yes, change, no. I have noticed in recent years that it is a genre that has started to gain popularity, and this is a very good thing, however I’m quite selfish, and don’t want it to become too popular, because I like the fact it is niche. I like the fact we are our own little subculture and I would never want it to become mainstream for fear it would lose something critical. I would however love to see it continue to grow, in the sense that I’m enjoying seeing more SP books being published, more films making the odd nod to the genre.
Ayra: I’d love to see bigger Steampunk only events around where I live. Most of the events are bigger ones with a small steampunk area, but I’d like to see Festivals with international guest around here…
Ace: There’s a need for more anthologies and those anthologies need to be placed in schools. Young readers love the mixture of fantasy and science once they discover steampunk. They need to know that steampunk lives beyond Jules Verne and the classics. That’s my mission – to get young readers involved and to do that, I’d love to put out more anthologies.
Ray: Nothing specific. We have our ‘trolls’ like every other group online, I’m just tired of having to justify myself being ‘in’ Steampunk. There’s room at the table for EVERYONE.
10. Are you participating in or facilitating any activities for Steampunk Hands Around the World?
Paworn: No. But they sounds like an interesting group. Cheers to them!
Suna: I am participating online. On the 14th of February, I will upload an exclusive Valentine’s Day story to my website, which will be relevant to the themes of Steampunk, Multi-Culturalism, Sharing and Community. I also have a video which I shot originally for EuroSteamCon, in which I was asked to express what Steampunk means to me. As what I say there is rather pertinent to the aim of Steampunk Hands Around the World in wishing to unite as many diverse people, I will probably upload that as well to add emphasis and enthusiasm!
Utelo: Yes ! My team and I decided to illustrate two of the aspects of this event, the first being the will of sharing and the second being the open-mindedness of the steampunks. To this end we will share one foreign page about steampunk a day, so french people can appreciate what is going on out in the world, and we also propose a collaborative picture project called ‘Invite the world to discover yours’, where any steampunk can send a picture of him or her inviting the rest of the world to discover his/her place. It will be online starting February 2nd, so anybody can enjoy.
Liz: Not so far.
Marcus: Well, I am a member of the planning group, have given an interview for Mundo Steampunk, am tweeting (#steampunkhands), have written an article for El Investigador and produced a podcast episode for my blog. I have been busy concerning Steampunk Hands around the World, and hopefully will be for the rest of the month.
Ayra: I will run several articles about how Hilde (my friend from Belgium who writes for the UK-based Steampunk Gazette) and I work together for articles, about my steampunk year 2013 and what will come 2014. And there has been a call for papers at the clockworker where every German speaking steampunk can tell others what he/she likes so much about the genre and I’m preparing a survey.
Ace: My broken ankle precludes me from any physical activity this year but I’ll be checking the steampunk sites and savouring the international connections and communications. And, kudos to Kevin Steil for his hard work to make this happen. I love reading steampunk and in celebration of this month, I will read nothing but steampunk and watch any show or movie I can with a steampunk element.
Ray: I have two posts going up at the Steamed! Blog (I’m a contributor that posts on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of every month). I’m a guest ‘professor’ on SteampunkU this month as well. So much more… but just look around.. you’ll find me somewhere 😀
Thanks for stopping by!
Where can you find our lovely players?
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Location: Paris, France
Name: Liz Grzyb
Location: Perth, Western Australia
Name: Ace Jordyn
Location: Calgary, Canada