Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The SEA is Ours edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

Found this in the library and decided to borrow it for the SEA Reading Challenge! Like the title says, this is an anthology of short stories set in Southeast Asia, largely by Southeast Asian authors (from the back it seems like at least half the authors were born and raised in Southeast Asia while the rest have Southeast Asian roots). There are twelve stories in this anthology and they are:

The collection starts with a short introduction that, to be very honest, left me with a bad impression of the book before I started reading (good thing I borrowed the book without reading the introduction). It felt so angry and I didn’t really understand why - as far as I could tell, they were angry at the tropes in steampunk (Victorian England) because of diversity. Not sure how they connect but the anger was palpable.

There are twelve stories in this anthology and they are:

1. On the Consequence of Sound: This was about flying and flying whales! Very cool and I liked how Tagalog was woven into the stories - I was asking Jo Jie Jie about the sentences. It’s a pretty haunting story about ambition and sacrifice and a strong start to the collection.

2. Chasing Volcanoes: Another story set in the Philippines and another really good one! It’s set on an airship and has two strong female characters - the captain and the rebel princess who’s trying to save a village.

3. Ordained: This seems to be a family drama but to be honest, it was too short and I couldn’t grasp the story.

4. The Last Aswang: My brother and I have been talking about aswang with Jo Jie Jie and so I was really excited for this story. Unfortunately, it was a letdown. Perhaps it was the influence of the introduction (I really don’t like activist fiction, it’s not my thing) but this felt like an “our culture is better than the colonial culture” sort of story. Which could be good if done well (the story Devil Wind from Young Warriors is a good example), but in this case, it felt like the author started with a message in mind, which totally did not appeal to me.

5. Life under Glass: This was a short story about hunting rare creatures. I kind of wish it was longer because I didn’t get a chance to connect with the main character.

6. Between Severed Souls: It took me a little while to get into this story about a Filipino Pygmalion in the midst of a civil war but when I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The steampunk elements fit in well and I felt like all the characters had their own motivations and hurts, which made them come to life.

7. The Unmaking of Cuadro Amoroso: This was pretty good - three genius students plan and execute their revenge after the fourth in their group dies. Again, it took me a while to understand what was going on but the ending was very satisfying.

8. Working Woman: A steampunk story set in colonial Singapore, with triad lords and half-machine Samsui women. This was definitely one of the strongest stories in the book and one of my favourites because it had plot, it had strong characters, and it was in a world that was strange yet familiar. Would definitely recommend this to people looking for a Singapore steampunk story.

9. Spider Here: Another Singaporean steampunk story but this one wasn’t as strong was Working Woman. The world was intriguing, with the idea of ‘threads’ in living creatures that can be manipulated and a protagonist in a walking chair, but I wasn’t clear about what was happening even by the end of the story.

10. The Chamber of Souls: This was Vietnamese steampunk and one of the stronger stories in the collection. It deals with a group of refugees who are accepted into what seems like paradise - until they’re under attack. Add in a robot whose main purpose is to serve tea and store souls and you’ve got a story that kept me interested until the end.

11. Petrified: Another story taking place on a steamship, this was a fairly enjoyable (but also sad) tale with automatons that can pass for human. It felt like most of the action took place off the page (told to us in a recap) but I liked the concept, start, and ending.

12. The Insects and Women Sing Together: The last story in the collection was, sadly, a weak ending. Like with Ordained and Life Under Glass, I didn’t understand what was going on, even at the end.

Overall, this was a pretty uneven collection. It’s a pity because I am always for tropes being broken in a smart manner, but some of the stories didn’t connect and/or make sense to me. There were some good stories, but I went into this collection expecting an anthology as strong as Track Faults and Other Glitches and sadly, I didn’t find it.


  1. I enjoy steampunk from time to time. Was the person who wrote the introduction upset that there isn't much diversity in steampunk? It can be rather limited, unfortunately. I am glad to see a collection of stories outside the usual Victorian England setting, but it is too bad this wasn't a stronger collection.

    1. It was something like that, although the point wasn't very clear.

      Yes, I was disappointed that the collection wasn't stronger either - I think there was a lot of wasted potential.


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