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Bookbed reviews: ‘The SEA is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia’ edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

by Cindy Wong Dela Cruz


The stories in this collection merge technological wonder with the everyday. Children upgrade their fighting spiders with armor, and toymakers create punchcard-driven marionettes. Large fish lumber across the skies, while boat people find a new home on the edge of a different dimension. Technology and tradition meld as the people adapt to the changing forces of their world. The Sea Is Ours is an exciting new anthology that features stories infused with the spirits of Southeast Asia’s diverse peoples, legends, and geography. Read reviews: Goodreads


The truth is, I never really knew of this genre until I got hold of this book. At first glance, the illustration on the cover looked interesting and got me curious that I was so excited to read it. It was only after I read the first few pages did I decide to research what the genre means. Steampunk, apparently, is science fiction combined with fantasy, featuring technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. (Whew!) The works of this genre are often set in British Victorian era or American Wild West, however it is not very popular, particularly in South East Asia.

A lot of parts in this book surprised me and were unexpected—imaginations ran wild and creativity were way beyond. Also, each story came with ingenious illustrations which makes the reader more curious about the stories. It’s hard to pick a favorite as each story has a uniqueness of its own, each showing an entirely different world.

One of my favorites is Chasing Volcanoes by Marilag Angway. The way it features a princess and how it describes characteristics of people from Manila and Cebu, although not accurate, were done in an appealing (and intriguing) way. This was definitely one of the page turners out of all the stories, especially the scene inside a volcano.

Life Under Glass by Nghi Vo was also carefully written, plus there’s Between Severed Souls by Paolo Chikiamco, where Domingo sculpted his wife’s image, however, it got embodied by an anito. The fighting scene was so fantastic I felt the need to say it’s bitin and I want more!


Aside from having to look for the meaning of words that seemed to be applicable only to their countries, I can’t find a fault in this book… Okay, maybe allow me to suggest putting a footer or a glossary where they tell you what this and that means, like the words anito and gurkha?


This is definitely not your ordinary science fiction. Overall, I enjoyed the stories in this book and they deserve to be read by a lot of people. You don’t have to have traveled South East Asia to appreciate these stories because these stories will be the ones bringing you there, showing you the culture back in time. This is an incredible collection that will hopefully inspire the creation of a lot more of its kind. ☁


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