I have this really big pile of unread books and comics in my office, but I was delighted when the anthology The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia finally got to the top. It came from a successful Indiegogo campaign that I backed some time ago, and it feeds into my desire to read Steampunk set anywhere but in England. (Full disclosure: One of the editors took my “Crowdfunding for Independent Creators” class.) Coming from an aesthetic very different from British-dominated neo-Victorianism and Steampunk, these stories explore technology, alternate history, and retrofuturism from a Southeast Asian viewpoint. I’m happy to say that each of these stories succeeds in their own way.
The stories range from the fanciful to poignant. My favorites were “The Consequence of Sound,” “Spider Here,” and “Petrified.” In “The Consequence of Sound,” a young Filipino woman trains to fly sky whales not knowing that failure is not an option. “Spider Here” takes off-track betting to a new and refreshing place with automated spiders built by a genius Malaysian girl, and “Petrified” introduces us to the new Republic of Nusantra where airship pirates and automatons band together to stop a new threat to their independence.
Each of these stories is unique and fresh, and I enjoyed them all. I will admit that I probably missed some cultural nuances since I am not that familiar with Southeast Asian culture and mythology; however, it certainly inspired me to learn more about it. My only quibble is with the art at the chapter breaks. In my opinion, some of it really wasn’t up to the standards of the stories which clearly got a lot of love and attention by the editors; however, that’s not what this anthology is about.
These stories not only enlighten the uninitiated to alternate Steampunk visions, but fill your imagination with what could be or should have been. As a hardcore science fiction and fantasy buff, I strongly recommend reading outside your usual list of favorite authors, and this would be a good place to start.