Anthology of upbeat steampunk fiction from Singapore: Steampowered World

On IO9, Jess Nevins reviews The Steampowered World, a Singaporean anthology of steampunk short stories published by a "micropress" called Two Trees. The editors put out a call for upbeat stories ("No depressive ending, no preaching, no agendas, no angst-ridden misery."), noting that "depressive endings with angst‑ridden misery is prevalent here in local (Singapore) publishing. The bestsellers tend to be depressive woe is me cultural stories."

Judging by Nevins's descriptions, the result was a collection of impressive fiction that sounds well worth your while.

"Captain Bells and the Sovereign State of Discordia," by "scientist-turned-writer-turned-video-journalist" J.Y. Yang, is less traditional in a number of ways. About the pursuit and capture of the captain of a nation-state zeppelin by a pair of trackers in the employ of the Lord Overseer of the Malayan Colonies, "Captain Bells" takes several of the usual steampunk tropes and upends them: the trackers are lesbians rather than heterosexuals, steampunk's usual fetishistic obsession with imperialism is replaced with a disgust with the cruelty of imperialism, and the trackers ultimately join the revolutionary zeppelin captain and his independent country zeppelin rather than maintain the status quo. In less capable hands "Captain Bell" would have read as a programmatic paint-by-numbers story, but Yang's anti-colonialism, and the trackers' same-sex relationship, are nicely understated. For Yang, the story came first, and it shows.

Claire Cheong's "No, They Dream of Mechanical Hearts" is the story of a maker of "labori" (androids) and how one of labori achieves independence. Cheong's passion for social justice shows in her examination of how android servants might be treated, and her characterization of the protagonist is strong. "Mechanical Hearts" is not as smoothly told as the other stories in the collection, nor is the plot particularly complicated, but Cheong is 16 years old, and I think the story is impressive considering her age. She will be an author to watch in the future.

"How the Morning Glory Grows," by Mint Kang, a Singapore-based freelance writer, examines one possible way in which police work would be conducted in a steampunk Singapore. Hackers, mecha, bio-engineering morning glories, and overworked and underappreciated police populate the tale. "Morning Glory" is an entertaining combination of police procedural and steampunk which Kang treats with a light touch which enhances the story.

A Steampunk Anthology from Singapore — With No Misery Allowed