fantasy · own voices · speculative fiction · steampunk

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia

25362894Steampunk takes on Southeast Asia in this anthology

The stories in this collection merge technological wonder with the everyday. Children upgrade their fighting spiders with armor, and toymakers create punchcard-driven marionettes. Large fish lumber across the skies, while boat people find a new home on the edge of a different dimension. Technology and tradition meld as the people adapt to the changing forces of their world. The Sea Is Ours is an exciting new anthology that features stories infused with the spirits of Southeast Asia’s diverse peoples, legends, and geography.

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia 

Edited by: Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

Genre: Steampunk

Publication: November 1 2015

Source: ARC via Netgalley & Rosarium Publishing

Thoughts:

It was refreshing and eye-opening to read steampunk stories from a non-eurocentric perspective. The Sea is Ours was everything I could have asked for and more. It holds a wondrous handful of speculative stories.

This collection opens with Timothy Dimacali’s ‘On The Consequence of Sound,’ which is prefaced with a legend around sky whales floating over Mount Taal in Philippines. It creates a starting point for a bittersweet coming of age tale, which also brings together two wishes from my childhood: 1) A wish to fly combined with my love for mythic creatures. 2) A wish to find speculative stories with people like me in them.

I grew up in Australia, so I didn’t find any Filipino characters in the stories I read until I was 16. I remember when my English teacher shared a short story from White Turtle because it widened my imagination and reading world to include people like me in it. The Sea is Ours evoked that same feeling of recognition. We all treasure the books that become gifts and mirrors in our lives.

Back to this anthology: I’ve grouped the following short stories under very loose shared elements for the review to organise my haphazard thoughts –

On re-imagined creatures:

I loved the aswang (a Filipino vampiric creature) who takes parts in an anti-imperialist stand in ‘The Last Aswang’ by Alessa Hinlo. I appreciated the speculative take on sustainable domes in Saigon and the wondrous appearance of a certain creature in ‘Life Under Glass’ by Nghi Vo. I also liked the visceral repairs to the fighting spiders in the Singaporean markets of ‘Spider Here’ by Robert Liow.

On rebellion:

I was hooked into the working tensions between the New Manila princess and the independent airship crew in ‘Chasing Volcanoes’ by Marilag Angway. Ivanna Mendels’ ‘Petrified’ builds a layered story about re-formed pirates, mythical creatures and runaway inventors around the Indonesian coast. There is also a seductive blending of music, rebellion and augmented bodies in ‘The Unmaking of The Cuadro Amoroso’ by Kate Osias.

On diaspora:

In ‘The Chamber of Souls’ by ZM Quynh, I was pulled into a cloud-ridden speculative world, which touches upon assimilation from the perspective of a Vietnamese refugee. Olivia Ho’s ‘Working Woman’ follows an array of estranged characters (who have been forced to migrate) with keen senses and a certain steampunk-invention related flair in Singapore. I really loved getting to know the characters in this action packed story.

On family:

Colonial movements, mythic creatures and steampunk inventions contribute to familial tensions in ‘Between Severed Souls’ by Paolo Chikiamco. There is also a playful take on a disagreement between two brothers who took different paths inside and outside of Thailand in ‘Ordained’ by L.L Hill. I enjoyed the sharing of family secrets and the clever paths taken in the final story of this collection: ‘The Insects and Women Sing Together’ by Pear Nuallak.

I wanted some stories to be longer but I hope there are a few steampunk novels brewing because I loved the depth of each speculative world. To echo the introduction of the anthology, there is no limit to the diversity of stories rooted in the Southeast Asian region. This collection only shows a sample of what is out there. I can’t wait to read more.

– For more SFF stories –

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14 thoughts on “The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia

    1. Thank you for sharing the bibliography list (and co-editing this collection)! I didn’t realise the IndieGoGo campaign was still live – I’ll definitely check it out.

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  1. I don’t read a lot of anthologies, even though so many of their premises sound so glorious to me. This one particularly sounds excellent, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Yay, non-eurocentric steampunk!

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    1. I didn’t read many anthologies in the past but recently, I’ve stumbled across a few great ones! I loved the creativity and inclusivity of this one.

      Also, Thank you for hosting the diversiverse challenge – I can’t wait to check out everyone’s reviews/recommendations.

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    1. I definitely recommend the stories set in Singapore! Though I’ve only been there once. This collection is to be published under Rosarium Publishing in the US: http://rosariumpublishing.com/rosarium-books-the-sea-is-ours.html

      The Sea is Ours was first crowdfunded on indiegogo – it’s an ongoing campaign, so you can also get a copy depending on the donation perk: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-sea-is-ours-tales-of-steampunk-southeast-asia#/

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  2. Ooh! I want this now! See, I don’t read much steampunk because it is just another way to make colonizers interesting and ignore colonized people and their culture. This looks like it could be a much more fun experience for me! Thanks for reviewing! ❤

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    1. I completely agree about certain problematic areas of steampunk literature (especially when the romanticisation of empires glosses over the effects of colonisation). I think you’d really enjoy this one! It really flips the hegemony through this change in perspective.

      I also loved how The Legend of Korra had some steampunk elements in it but their world.

      I’ve recently heard of a new term called ‘silkpunk’ which you might be find interesting too: http://io9.com/author-ken-liu-explains-silkpunk-to-us-1717812714

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  3. This really sounds fantastic, Glaiza- I’m so happy to have read your review. You always bring the most amazing sounding books to my attention. I will forever be indebted to you for Tanith Lee!
    I adored this review. The different stories sound so intriguing and I’m incredibly keen to get into them for myself. I think we’ve discussed, before, Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, which is a collection of collaborative short stories by artists and creators from Australia and India, and it was incredible. The mix of those cultures and the way they came together was really beautiful. I don’t tend to go so well with short stories and anthologies, because I never connect so well with the world/characters, but I’m not going to stop trying. This sounds like a gem, for sure. xx

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    1. Thanks Romi! I love reading your reviews too. A Bride’s Story was so wonderful. Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is definitely on my list of books to buy. *Happily fangirls over Tanith Lee.*

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