Posted by on Feb 23, 2011 in Blog | 3 comments

Just don’t call it steampunk! Click to read more.

Chapter seven of Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternate history novel The Years of Rice and Salt chronicles the rise of Travancore (modern-day Thiruvananthapuram in southern India) as a world power. This is chiefly because they invent steam power. Their charismatic leader, the Kerala, ousted the Mughals (who, with the British empire never having arisen, continued to dominate India unchallenged well into what we would call the 19th century.) After that, the Kerala embarked on semi-peaceful Asoka-style conquest of the Muslim world, even conquering Konstantiniyye on the Bosphorus. The Kerala always brings the intellectuals of a new territory back to his capitol where, with a host of scholars and scientists from Africa, the New World, and especially the enormous Japanese diaspora, their scientific investigations are fully funded.

“The Years of Great Progress” contains one of my favorite passages in all of Robinson, recited by the Kerala as they float above the city and its orchards in the scene depicted:

“We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons, we will build roads through the mountains and across the deserts, and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms, no more caliphs, sultans, emirs, khans, or zamindars, no more kings or queens or princes, no more quadis or mullahs or ulema, no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more caste, no more hunger, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die, and then we will see for the first time what kind of creatures we really are.”

I have a complicated view of KSR’s specific brand of utopianism, which I will elaborate upon in a later post. But while I think a lot of his positions need to be problematized, there’s nevertheless something about his egalitarian vision that stirs me pretty deeply. Unlike (sadly) many sci-fi writers, KSR is actually capable of beautiful writing, and passages like these set my leftist heart a-reeling.

He forgot to say “no more Qaddafis!”

Briefly, regarding the art: I had an obscene amount of fun being obsessive and anal over all the details in this picture. Though overzealous detail is something I try to avoid, I fear that I more often sway too far the other way, being sketchy and sloppy and leaving my characters against stark, uninteresting backgrounds. (I’m particuarly guilty of this in SNitLoE, which, to be fair, takes place mostly in the desert and in completely dark rooms.)

I’ve also been more careful with the “camera angles” of my art lately. I’m trying to use “upshots” more often for dramatic effect, but I don’t wanna become somebody who uses them all the time because they are easier than elaborate downshots. This picture would have taken half the time if we were looking up from the city at the hot air balloon, but would it have been better? I doubt it. Before composing the downshot in this image I studied some of the absolutely gorgeous urban downshots of Dustin Weaver (whose fantastic Shield series is kind of an alternate history itself).

I wanna be absolutely clear that in displaying Dustin’s work here and linking to his blog I am not comparing myself to him or anything like that. As an artist, he is to me what, as a writer, Kim Stanley Robinson is to… also me. An inspiration!