Make my funk the steamfunk

Steamfunk is, as author/publisher Milton Davis says here, “steampunk from an African, or African-American perspective”. It’s one response to some of the wasted potential of the steampunk genre, which so often doesn’t escape its neovictorian roots, remains mired in the unconscious attitudes that shaped the real 19th century. As P. Djeli Clark puts it, steamfunk attempts to correct that:

One of the ways speculative fiction can work against racism and decolonization is to re-imagine our past, altering the power dynamics that we are accustomed to in order to illuminate hidden histories and silenced voices.

The Steampunk genre, with its retro-futuristic focus, seems especially suited for this. Set in an era of gender inequity, colonialism, slavery and other defining elements of the Victorian Age, one would expect Steampunk to be a fertile ground for such explorations. Only for a long time, it hasn’t been. Mainstream Steampunk seemed content in dressing up in bustles and colonial pith hats and even Confederate gear, without nary a thought about the larger issues of the time. What did it mean to be Native American in a 19th century Steampunk America? What was it like to be woman of color, or poor, or LGBQT, or ALL of those at once, in the Old Weird West? What was it like to live in a China beset by steam-powered English and French opium dealers? How would a Sepoy Mutiny shake up the oppressive Raj in a Steampunk British Empire?

That sounds both like a worthy goal as well as a recipe for more interesting stories than you might get with standard steampunk; truly they had me at steamfunk. So once I stumbled across this nascent genre, the first thing I did was buy Milton Davis’ novel From Here to Timbuktu:

The year is 1870. As the young country of Freedonia prepares to celebrate fifty years of existence, a young bounty hunter by the name of Zeke Culpepper is hired by a wealthy businessman to find a valuable book. In the kingdom of Mali on the continent of Africa, veteran warrior Famara Keita has been assigned to find that same book and bring it back to its rightful owner. And in the newly formed nation of Germany, an ambitious Prussian officer seeks the book as well for its secrets that could make Germany the most powerful nation in the world. The result is an action adventure like no other!

Doesn’t that sounds like a book you want to read?

(One of the side effects of the whole Sad Puppies mess is that it swallows up a lot of fandom attention that should be spent on making our fandom and science fiction more diverse and open, leaves less room for new initiatives to get attention. Therefore I’ve decided to write one positive post showcasing some book, project or thing that makes science fiction more diverse.)