Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Diversify Your SteamPunk Day 8:The Future of SteamPunk with Jaymee Goh

So does anyone remember the popular hashtag #DiversityinSFF? We discovered this amazing writer/social activist during that amazing hashtag and we noticed she had an insane passion for diversifying everything that is fiction ESPECIALLY Steampunk!!!

Her life is dedicated to righting social injustices and exploring how important diversity is in not only books but all media outlets. She's really amazing as she sounds and we're looking forward to getting to know her better from here on out, but for now for those that don't know her, we'd like to introduce you to Jaymee Goh.

1. You're pretty well known in the twitter realm as well as the SFF network for your work on but for those who know a little about you, care to give us a little glimpse of who Jaymee Goh is?

Ha, well, I'm not sure about being well-known, but who Jaymee Goh is really depends on who I'm talking to. Baha! Generally I describe myself as a Malaysian-Chinese middle-class grad student, a SFF writer (and looks to be, an editor! Just like my grandfather before me), and an aspiring publisher. Currently I live in Riverside, California, after spending ten years in Canada, where I do a PhD in Comparative Literature at UC Riverside. My academic background is informed by my blogging background, and my writing was initially shaped by epic fantasy novels but is now shaped by RaceFail conversations about identity, social justice and world transformation spectulative projects. I am also a proud member of the Carl Brandon Society For the Promotion of Diversity in Spectulative Fiction, and of course, a member of the feminazgul legion.

2.On your blog Silver Goggles, you focus a great deal on the SteamPunk movement with a strong concentration on promoting Steampunk that features Poc. What was the inspiration behind your blog?

To me, steampunk is an aesthetic that is very much influenced by what its members know of the 19th century, especially the industrialization period then. Most of this tends to be centered around the British Empire--and I'm sure most POC will agree that the British Empire was not so good for many of us! I grew up lionizing England without really knowing why.

So, I saw the alternate-history and technofantasy aspects of steampunk as a way of taking back history from the colonizers. If you can control the narrative of history, you can control the narrative of the future--offer a different viewpoint of history, and you help create different options for how society can evolve in the future. Otherwise, we're stuck with "well that's the way it's always been and always be" which is a very defeatist approach to speculative fiction. What is your science and magic for if you can't change the world?

These were some of the things I was thinking through, and decided to go back to grad school to write a Master's thesis for. I used Silver Goggles as a platform to share my thoughts about postcoloniality and steampunk, and how they would interact. Initially it was just me talking at the aether about postcolonialism in steampunk, but I realized I had to walk the walk and not just talk about the potential of POC in steampunk--in the Steampunk Bible POC in steampunk are talked about as "the future of steampunk" and I realized that no! We're NOT THE FUTURE! We are HERE! We're the present, we always have been, and it's waaaaay past time to show that off.

We know that we need role models to encourage us, so after my MA was underway (and you can read the PDF of it here!) I decided it's time to create a showcase of all the POC currently doing steampunk, and in their own way that may or may not depart from mainstream steampunk. The important thing is to prove that steampunk doesn't have to be white, nor does it even have to START white.

3.So we have to ask why Steampunk? What attracted you to the genre?

I like big machines and giant guns covered in brass and silver filigree that could wipe my enemies off the face of the planet. I also like alternate-history possibilities that put these beautiful things into my hands, and not the hands of my oppressors!

Well, all right, that was kind of glib. But the shiny! the costumes! the lavishness! I am secretly a Decadent Bourgie at heart, so a lot of the excessthat steampunk indulges in is very appealing. But I do not lie, in that when I first realized that there could be more to steampunk, and this thanks to Ay-leen the Peacemaker's wonderful post "Steampunking Asia" in 2009, I fell in love with the potential. In many ways I'm still in love with the potential, the promise of something better. And it tickles me to see that unfurling of that potential in the works that steampunks of colour have been bringing in.

I think being able to re-imagine our history into something more empowering for ourselves is a powerful tool to shape our future with. I am also a lover not really of history in terms of facts, but a lover of history in terms of tracing ancestry and genealogy, which differentiates steampunk from my other SFF interests.

4.There seems to be a small wave of writers(Hope to be a lot more) abandoning the typical "Victorian"era/setting, creating their own Steampunk sub-genres that incorporate different cultures. Why do you think that is?

There're a few strains. One is, people are getting kind of bored of the Victorian aesthetic. It's sort of everywhere, and "multicultural steampunk" seems to have the right dose of exoticism to make the aesthetic exciting again.

Another is that some folks are starting to realize how imperialist and white supremacist they sound if they make a steampunk that is all white all the while and they actively try to move away from that. How they do it has various results--we know, of course, that white liberals who don't unlearn racist habits keep falling right into the same trap even when they mean well.

And another strain, the one I belong to, is mostly a fierce desire to put ourselves, as POC, firmly on the map and remind folks that we exist and we have important stories to tell too. We don't always succeed well--how can we, when so many of our histories and stories have been lost through cultural genocides and other forms of whitewashing? But I think it's important that we shape our own self-image rather than have other people write them for us.

5.What have been some great Steampunk books you've read that include diverse lead characters in the Steampunk genre?

A little hard to say--I mean, I feel this question is a bit hard to parse because "diverse" really ought to mean a wide cast of characters who're different from each other. In which case, I think Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century books really try for that; she has such a wide variety of racialized characters that I almost forgive her for having so many white leads.

If by "lead characters" you mean very important characters who are different from each other, racially and culturally, then I suggest Ekaterina Sedia's Heart of Iron; it's a YA novel about a Russian aristocratic girl who gets embroiled in politics, particularly the British-Russian-Chinese triangle in the 19th century. 

Her two main love interests are an Englishman and a Chinese fellow student. That's not a combo one sees very often, and the Chinese love interest isn't exoticized the way most Anglo writers tend to carelessly do with Asian characters.

If by "diverse lead character" you just mean non-white, well, one cannot go wrong with Balogun Ojetade's Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, which I have not read but well, just look at that title.

By and large the most enjoyable way to get a diversity of characters in steampunk has been to read anthologies, and the widest range of characters I have seen in an anthology are the Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories books, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft.

6.Have you experienced any negativity while trying to be an advocate for diversifying steampunk? We're sure you get a lot of fan mail, so what's the best compliment you've heard so far in terms of being one of the voices that support diversity in steampunk?

If you are trying to be anti-racist and you don't receive any pushback, you are probably doing something wrong! I fortunately haven't had much negativity that I can't handle--unless you count an author (who shall not be named because he Googles himself and I shan't inflict him on you) trying to defend his indefensibly racist novel in my comments section as a lot (we are talking thousand-word-long comments, four in a row, here), which, yeah, kinda. I gave up after the second wave because you cannot talk to people like that. I mostly get clueless-but-well-meaning white folks.

Strangely enough, I do not get a lot of fan mail! My rate of fan mail has maybe been one every year or so. If I want compliments I have to look at my blog comments.

7.What are some themes, topics or cultures you're dying to see in the Steampunk movement but haven't yet seen?

Hard to say, since I don't think in those terms. I think things are all tied up very intimately with each other that I can't really say "I would like to see more of X" as if X were a discrete subject. I do have a list of things I don't want to see though.

What I do want to see? More People of Colour. More Writers, Artists, Cosplayers, Makers and Producers of Colour, re-inventing steampunk to reflect our historical realities and daily ambitions more faithfully. (I was going to say "daily realities" as well but if steampunk has to be a form of escapism, let it be our utopian dreams, not those imposed on us!)

8. Where can readers learn more about your passion for diversifying Steampunk, connect with you on related topics and secretly cyberstalk you? :)

I am pretty active on Tumblr. I think my Silver Goggles contact page has a list of my myriad social networks for easier cyberstalking. But to make things easier, here's where I tweet, @Jhameia, check me out @ LiveJournal and I also have a Dreamwidth!!!


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