Wly Wednesday

The SEA is Ours – Interview with Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

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Following up on the review of The SEA is Ours (see below), I got in touch with the curators of the anthology, Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng, and asked them if they would be willing to give me an interview. They were happy to and I am delighted to present the interview here, now.

And please, if you have not done so yet, get yourself a copy of The SEA is Ours: tales of Steampunk South East Asia!

 

Please give us a quick introduction about yourselves.

 

Joyce Chng hails from Singapore. She writes mostly science fiction and YA and things in between.

 

Jaymee is a writer, poet, and academic, from Malaysia, currently living in the United States, where she is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside.

 

Where can we find you on the web?

Joyce can be found at A Wolf’s Tale: http://awolfstale.wordpress.com/ She tweets as @jolantru on Twitter.

Jaymee’s steampunk blog is Silver Goggles: http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/ her “normal” writer blog is http://jhameia.blogspot.com/ You can also find her on Academia.edu under Jaymee Goh in the University of California, Riverside, Comparative Literature department.

 

What is your involvement with steampunk?

Joyce is a writer mostly and more intrigued by the aesthetic of steampunk.

Jaymee is primarily a writer and a critic. She writes a postcolonial steampunk blog that picks apart representations of race and racism in steampunk work, and offer up questions to consider when ‘doing’ non-Euro steampunk. She also used to run a monthly interview series of steampunks of color, and travelled the convention circuit over North America to present on multicultural steampunk. She writes steampunk short stories, and a few of them are set in an alternate-history Malayan Straits that was never colonized by the British. In 2012, she co-edited The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk’s Shakespeare Anthology for Doctor Fantastique Books.

 

How prominent is steampunk in Southeast Asia?

It’s a growing trend. In Singapore, you can see people in steampunk costumes during conventions. In Malaysia, there are pockets of fans here and there interested in the concept of steampunk and how to do it. There is a Singaporean steampunk anthology, and sporadically we get steampunk stories from the Philippines, like Paolo Chikiamco’s “On Wooden Wings” and Kate Osias’ “The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso” (which we have reprinted).

Can you point us to any SEA Steampunk websites?

Jaymee used to run http://steampunk-nusantara.dreamwidth.org, and there is a Melaka-specific Tumblr. The artist who runs it calls it “seampunk” because she thinks of Melaka (a state of Malaysia that used to be a very important sultanate) as a seam of the world, which is pretty great: http://melakaseampunk.tumblr.com/

 

How long did it take to get The SEA Is Ours going (from the initial idea to the final anthology)?

 

We were tossing ideas about starting an anthology or a publication for SEA people by SEA people. We were definitely kicking the idea around as early as 2012, and put the idea on the backburner. Rosarium got in touch in 2014, and we ran a call for submissions from February to June 2014. We edited and edited until early 2015, when we commissioned artists to draw illustrations.

How did you find the authors?

We had a list of people we sent the call for submissions to and personally invited them to submit. These are folks from all over the world—science fiction writers always find each other somehow. They then forwarded it to people they knew. We also had a general call for submissions page, on the publisher’s website, on Tumblr, and on our blogs. But the bulk of the work in finding the authors really depends on having made friends in the various Southeast Asian SFF communities we could think of reaching, and communicating clearly our vision for a diverse anthology that is Southeast Asian-centric. Rose Lemberg has an important post on how to encourage diversity in submission slush piles: http://roselemberg.net/?p=830

 

Sorry, that this is such a loaded question, it is not intended to be: Do you think, European/North American Steampunk literature engages in “glossy colonialism”, i.e. they focus on the glory parts of that era for the usual countries (the colonial powers including the US) while glossing over all the horrors that happened?

No worries. We have to confront the racism embedded within steampunk itself and that it stems from – you guess it – colonialism. Indeed, colonialism might be flashy, shiny and full of gear bits, but it is true that Eurocentric Steampunk focuses on the glory parts. Most of the literature takes the pov/perspective of the colonizer. Of course, if you are the victor, you write the history. The voices of the colonized have been swept aside and even erased altogether.

Certainly there are books out there which do so uncritically, and many books which attempt to problematize the colonialism but still don’t push it all the way. There are also books out there which focus on the horrific parts of colonialism for sheer shock value too, in order to seem profound (also because the suffering of the colonized is considered entertainment, still). You will find books which gloss over the horrors of colonialism because their characters simply aren’t in a place to witness them. You will find books which resist the urge to glorify colonialism, but still indulge in a decadent impression of the era.

 

What has the feedback been like so far?

There seems to be a warm reception (and a great need for) to the anthology itself. Perhaps people want different perspectives now and with the cry for diversity, filling a large gap. Thus, so far, pretty good.

We have some very happy reviews on GoodReads (and even the 1-star review is very telling about the success of the book). People are really excited about the anthology. We even got a Starred Review on Publishers Weekly, which is apparently a very big deal! People from all over the world have tweeted or wrote us in support.

 

Did you encounter any racism from the Steampunk scene so far in response to the anthology?

None so far, regarding racism from the steampunk scene. Steampunks in general are very supportive, and those who aren’t know how to mind their own business!

 

Are there any follow-up anthologies planned or already in the works?

We’ll see! We didn’t get stories from/about half the Southeast Asian countries, so we are definitely interested in having another volume with wider range.

 

Thank you very much for your time, it has been an hour and a pleasure and I hope there will be another anthology set in South East Asia.

 

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