The Best of Spanish Steampunk features stories from Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Chile, as well as from writers in Spanish living in Germany, Dubai and the UK. They are authors who write from the margins, using Steampunk to investigate themes such as the ethical questions posed by scientific and technical developments in our globalised culture of rapid change, and how that leaves countries not from the dominant culture behind. Through Steampunk these authors are offering alternative retellings of their countries' histories, "critically" reimagining key moments such as the North-American-Spanish Cuban war, the Mexican war, or the Anarchist revolts of the 1930s in Andalusia. They are also attracted to a genre that foreshadows our actual economic problems, high unemployment levels, and frustration with increasing social inequality.
But alternative histories, dystopia and 'punk' are not the only focus. Steampunk in Spanish is overshadowed by the ever-present influence of Victoriana. Issues of identity, both cultural and social are posed by this collection of stories, highlighting the ongoing search for a Steam identity, with classical gaslight romance set in nineteenth-century England, or airship fights directly influenced by Michael Moorcock. Still, stories set in Asturias, Cataluña, Andalusia, or the Imperial reign of Felipe ii are high points in a collection of stories that finds a place for itself in the ever-growing world of multicultural Steampunk, while sharing an engagement with the steampunk canon that, ultimately, moves them beyond their chosen setting.
Steampunk offers an invaluable opportunity to re-evaluate our world, and thechoices we have made that have brought us to the positions we are facing today. Steampunk is a canvas on which to re-imagine what could have been, and show us what we could become.
Marian and James have devoted their time and energies into several worthy translation projects. We applaud them for showcasing the Spanish approach to Steampunk and showing the world that Steampunk does indeed come in many different flavors. These are the same good people who translated and published Karin Tidbeck's Jagannath through their press Ediciones Nevsky in Spain. Their press is known for specializing in European slipstream in Spanish translations. They have exceptional taste, also bringing Bulgakov's The Master and Margherita to Spanish-language readers. This is their first book in English. (In addition, Marian is quite a talented fiction writer.) – Ann VanderMeer
"If you're looking for many hundreds of pages of steampunk that mix the tropes we know and love with settings and histories you might not have encountered before, Best of Spanish Steampunk is definitely worth a look."– Steampunk Magazine
by Diana M. Pho The historical inspiration for Spanish steampunk arrived on October 22, 1867, the day that Ictineo II, the steam-driven submarine, made its first successful test run. Invented by Narcís Monturiol i Estarrol in Barcelona, Spain, this wooden submarine was an invention ahead of its time. The Ictineo II's steam-powered engine was created using a chemical reaction that simultaneously heated the water for the steam while also emitting oxygen as a by-product to benefit the cabin passengers' air supply. A double hull helped the vehicle submerge and maintain its interior cabin pressure for its crew of six. Ictíneo II was demonstrated to the public twenty times, and at its longest, it stayed underwater for eight hours at a depth of fifty meters.
The purpose of this invention, interestingly enough, sprung from an incident Monturiol experienced decades before in 1844. During a stay in Cap de Creus, he was walking along the beach when he encountered a group of coral divers struggling to save a drowned colleague. Monturiol saved the man's life — using gravity, he held the man up by his feet and the force managed to expel water from this lungs. Afterward, Monturiol was determined to figure out a method by which coral divers could perform their job safely: a sort of "underwater boat" that he coined Ictineo, using the ancient Greek words for "fish" and "boat." The invention of the submarine, then, began as a idea to help fellow underprivileged people.
Building this "fish boat" would prove to be no easy task, especially for someone with no professional experience in the sciences. Monturiol held a degree in law, though he never practiced, and at the time was wanted by the government for his political activities criticizing the monarchy. For the next several years, Monturiol self-taught himself in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, and even oceanology and meteorology as well as learning from other attempts by inventors across Europe and North America. Along the way, he also invented other machines to help the working class as well, such as a new type of cigarette roller to help the women who worked at tobacco factories, and a contraption that cut and folded notebooks as an improvement upon sewing them by hand. These inventions, while revolutionary for their time, never attracted interest from investors and languished as personal projects in Monturiol's home.
As the intentions behind his inventions reveal, Monturiol sought to create a better society using politics and technology. Most of his scientific learning, in fact, was conducted between bouts of revolutionary activity while lying low from government officials. He became friends with many other utopian socialist thinkers of the time, and in 1853, he founded a secret society to promote the publication of subversive literature called El Quarto. He published the radical newspapers La Madre de Familia, which espoused feminist, pacifist and utopian ideals, and Spain's first communist newspaper La Fraternidad.
On June 28, 1859, his first working submarine, the Ictineo, was born. That summer, the Ictineo underwent twenty test runs as Monturiol and his crew tweaked its divability. He became a well-known figure in Barcelona, with crowds gathering to see the small craft submerge and re-emerge from the harbor waters. Over the new few years, he tried to drum up investor interest to raise funds to produce the submarine, but lasting financial support was touch and go at best. His submarine dream also suffered a setback when the Ictineo was hit while docked by passing freighter in January 1862, rendering it defunct. Nevertheless, Monturiol continued his work on Ictineo II with improvements in mind, which led to its successful launch five years later.
Despite its groundbreaking technological abilities, the Ictineo I and II never gained wide notoriety nor monetary success for Monturiol. Sadly, the submarine was seized by creditors in December 1867 and destroyed for scrap metal. He never patented this technology and so almost no public records remained concerning his extraordinary achievements after his death. Indeed, Monturiol died penniless and his inventions forgotten — until the 1940s, when the techniques he had innovated were resurrected by the Germans for submarines during World War II.
Monturiol's story demonstrates one important reason why modern steampunk literature is so important: an opportunity to unearth and highlight the underdogs of history. Though he did not achieve wide levels of recognition in his lifetime, in the realms of speculative fiction, Monturiol can become a lasting inspiration, especially for the steampunk creative mind.
Moreover, Monturiol's social progressive bent and innovative mind demonstrates the historical relationship between people, technology, and politics. Likewise, steampunk as a literary genre uses retrofuturistic technology as a platform to address the implication of technology in others' lives—not only on an individual, interpersonal level, but on a macro, systemic level as well. To Monturiol, the submarine was more than a "fishlike boat", but a utopian ideal where theory met function. According to his biographer Matthew Stewart in his book Monturiol's Dream, the inventor believed that the progression of science would only lead to the betterment of humankind and the spread of democracy across the oceans: "All the ideals that gave his life meaning—his love of humanity, his love of knowledge, his love of the land, his love of life—fused like brushstrokes of a painting in his vision of underwater navigation."
That undiminished sense of passion and intellect is what infuses steampunk fiction. Even something as fun and fanciful as a dirigible ride can lead to greater questions about why that dirigible exists in society. Where do the raw materials for the ship come from? (And are they exported as part of a system of exploitation?) How is the fuel mined? (And what people are responsible for mining it? And who owns the mining companies?) If a fleet of dirigibles exists, what were they used for besides civilian travel? Cargo transport? Warfare? And who would be allowed to ride in a dirigible? Is it a form of transport for the elite and not the common folk? Thus follows the mindset of a steampunk story—not simply slapping on gears, but figuring how exactly what makes them turn in a larger reality. Starting with the legacy of Monturiol, Spanish steampunk creators today can relate to the struggle toward envisioning and constructing a better world.
As steampunk as a speculative genre and art movement expands across the globe, people of various cultures are using steampunk as a storytelling tool to support their own cultural and historical horizons. In the Spanish-speaking world, Felix J. Palma's The Map of Time and The Map of Stars and the alternate history work of Eduardo Vaquerizo are a few of examples of the growing presence of steampunk in spec fic. Ediciones Nevsky was the leader in publishing the first two Spanish-language steampunk anthologies: the first edited by Palma, and the second by Marian Womack. Other anthologies, such as Plane B edited by Josué Ramos from Spain and Negro Inmunsapá from Mexico, are opening up new venues for new and upcoming writers to showcase their work.
For Spanish-speaking countries that were subjected to painful histories of European exploitation, steampunk also offers an opportunity to reclaim a sense national pride. In the article "Victorianism without Victoria," which was simultaneously published in El Investigador magazine and my blog Beyond Victoriana, writer Hodson explains that for countries who live in "Victorianism without Victory", steampunk offers "a chance for historical-literary revenge. The transformation of losers to winners is what drives the revolution of ideas in the minds of the followers of retro-futurism. After all, the imagination is still the fuel of mind and passion that drives our spirit."
In The Best of Spanish Steampunk, editors and translators James and Marian Womack continue the tradition of bringing Spanish steampunk to the greater literary world in their selection of forty-one of the latest retrofuturist tales full of adventure, horror, romance, and scientific exploration. More than rousing fiction, however, this anthology also takes the pulse of a myriad of various Spanish-speaking cultures to gauge how each sees themselves at the crossroads of history and technology. Many writers addresses topics such as war, colonialism, dystopia, social inequalities, and the struggles of revolution within their pages. The questions these authors pose are the most recent examples of the forward-thinking potential of steampunk through an examination of a speculative past. What they all have in common, however, is the idea that history is worth speculating upon because we are all creatures of history; to do disservice upon the past is to disregard our present.
Taken altogether, The Best of Spanish Steampunk shows how steampunk impacts worlds outside the Anglophone one. Perhaps, if Monturiol were to time-travel to our present, he would feel at home with the steampunk community of forward-thinking innovators who draw from the ideals of the past. Indeed, he'd be welcomed with open arms by his comrades from the future, united by a common imagined vision that extends across peoples, nations, and languages.
¡Que se divierta leyéndolo!