This Southeast Asian Steampunk project is still trying to gather support, so contribute while you can! I’ve never really read much steampunk before, but given the colonial/imperial heritage that steampunk as a genre tends to look back to (sometimes critically, sometimes naively) a Southeast Asian compilation ought to be pretty dang interesting. I think I’ll find it an interesting counterpoint to the book of Oscarian (Swedish equivalent of Victorian) Steampunk that I have been working through.

And since Inktober starts today, here is a very hasty sketch of a steampunk airship looking down on the sea as dawn breaks beyond the curve of the earth. OK, sounds nice, but when I say hasty, I mean hasty. Possibly a better quality, more legible version to come one of these days…

Steampunk Airship Sketch (2)

Since I cover a bit of both Scandinavian Studies and book reviews in this blog, I thought I’d post my purchases from my August trip with some commentary (though I don’t have much to say about all of these…). All in Scandinavian languages, I’m afraid, but some of the classics listed here ought to be available in English as well.


En dåres försvarstal, an important but not-so-happy pseudo-autobiographical novel by “woman hater” August Strindberg. Written in French, originally, since this scandalous book is Strindberg’s paranoid justification of his divorce from his first wife, and caused a bit of a kerfuffle back home in Sweden as it was. That said, I’m only about 1/8 of the way through the book, and am going primarily from the general knowledge of the book that I’ve picked up…


And here, apparently, some short material by Strindberg that I hadn’t heard of before–since my specialty within Scandinavian Studies is more on the Old Norse side of things, I mostly just know of AS’s (hm…) more central canon.


And where we have Strindberg, we must also have Ibsen, his Norwegian nemesis. Three of HI’s (hm…) big plays here in nice cheap editions. I just barely caught the last tour of Ibsen’s Oslo apartment on the last day I was in Oslo, so that was nice. Was surprised to find out he had a painting of Strindberg in his office, to glare at him while he wrote (I think I’d heard that before, but it hadn’t stuck with me apparently…).


Jonas Hassen Khemiri (author of Ett öga rött) is a major figure in contemporary Swedish literature, in particular as a representative of the Swedish population with roots abroad–Swedes of color, I guess we would say. Jag ringer mina bröder (which I finished soon after I got home–short but good) brings us into the internal nightmare of someone who, after hearing that there has been a terror attack in Sweden, struggles with the feeling that everyone must be looking at him, judging him, suspecting him, because his skin and hair are darker than that of the stereotypical Swede. Included in the paperback edition that I got is Khemiri’s open letter to Swedish Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask on the subject of racial/ethnic profiling–you can read this letter, and the backstory, here at Asymptote as well. Looks like the book is already out in English, so I guess I can’t take it on as a translation project…


Have not had a chance to read this yet, but Theodor Kallifatides is another less-than-stereotypical-Swede, in this case an immigrant from Greece (he came in 1964), who already has a long literary career behind him in Sweden. I’ve been looking forward to reading something by him–I’ve gotten a glimpse of his work in a reader for an advanced Swedish course I took almost a decade ago, and he shows up in a reality show about a group of immigrants learning Swedish as part of an episode where they write part of the story (pretty terrifying stories some of them–one man had seen his parents killed and fled for his life). Don’t know anything else about this book yet, but look forward to reading it!


Along with the Strindberg short stories, this was a random but interesting-looking find at a beautiful used bookstore in Helsinki (finished my trip in Finland visiting some friends there). PO Enquist is certainly a name that shows up when you are involved in Swedish lit, and this had been nominated for the August prize (named, of course, after Strindberg), so I thought I would give it a try! But given how many books I’ve picked up, it may be a while…


Have enjoyed the variety of things I’ve read by Lars Gustafsson so far, so I picked this one up as well as the used bookstore. Haven’t cracked it open yet, but sounds like an interesting frame story (voluble American barber clipping a professor’s hair) with even more interesting stories (talking to the dead and such). We will see how it goes!


Having now taught Smilla’s Sense of Snow twice, I thought I should probably have a version in the original Danish lying around as well. Great book, and of course available in English as well (since 1993, I believe). A nice example of the Scandinavian detective novel, but also very unique, and fascinating for folks like me who like fantasy or sci-fi–definitely a whiff of the otherworldly in this book.


I’ve been a fan of John Ajvide Lindqvist since watching the original Swedish film version of his “Let the right one in”, and more so after reading (in English) his Handling the Undead (which I taught while at Gustavus Adolphus college), so I wanted to pick up a couple of his books. The new one here is Himmelstrand, in which a group of people in campers finds themselves in the middle of an unending plain. I don’t know anything beyond that, but to me Lindqvist feels more and more like a Scandinavian Steven King. I am not a fan of horror myself, but his work feels very original to me, and I always appreciate genre fiction that both interrogates its origins as well as transcends those origins.


I mentioned this briefly in my post about a recent English-language short story about the “Havsmannen” (the merman), so I was excited to be able to find a copy for myself! I don’t know whether there is any actual “fantastic” element to this story, as in, a real sea-man of some sort, (have just flipped through the first few pages), but it wouldn’t be too unexpected to find something of that sort, since another book by Vallgren features a telepath. Also available in English, looks like.


Can’t remember which shop I picked this up at, but of course I have to buy another of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books while in Sweden. I think I have this one in English, but haven’t read it yet. Great children’s books, but odd enough that cool adults can enjoy them as well. If you don’t, you are not cool, sorry.


Science Fiction Bokhandeln, Gamla Stan: The following books are more of the genre-sort–science fiction and fantasy, my favorites. I’ve been interested in learning more about the way these genres have been growing as an independent literary stream (as opposed to a collection of tropes to be used by mainstream authors), so it was exciting to realize there was a dedicated Science Ficiton bookstore in Old Town Stockholm. Will hopefully write more about all this one day! Meanwhile, here’s what I could afford to pick up while I was there.


Oscarian steampunk! Cool! Or “kul”? Anyway… the title is a bit clever, playing off off “i varje andetag”, which would be equivalent to “with every breath” or such in English, replacing the “ande” with the Swedish word for steam. Lulz. Anyway–it is a collection of short stories set in an alternate, steampunk Scandinavia with an Oscarian (think Victorian in the Anglophone world) theme. Have read a few stories, and my impressions are mixed. Hopefully a more thorough review to come later. I’m enjoying the novelty though, and some of the stories are nice “slice of steampunk life” bits.


I’m a lot more excited about the quality of this collection of short stories, and apparently others were as well as there were at least two sequels. The title Maskinblod (“Machine Blood”) is a slight play on “människoblod” (“human blood”), and the theme of some (all?) of the stories is what it is to be human. Haven’t gotten very far yet, but generally I’m enjoying this–turns out this publishing house has also put together a collection of translated Swedish short sci-fi for Anglophone audiences, so I’ll be posting more about this later.


“Four women, four girls” the title says. Male author, but all female protagonists. I haven’t gotten a chance to do more than flip through this, but we’ll see how it is in the end!


Can’t remember whether I found this one (“Evil Winter”) in the YA section or not… but looks neat anyway! Honestly, I have no idea about some of these except that they seemed likely choices as I flipped and scanned and browsed in the shop…


The Alchemist’s Daughter–I remember this one looking really interesting to me as I browsed. Don’t have it with me at the moment, but I may try prioritizing getting to this one…


Brimstone Winter–catchy title. The cover blurb says “A Borges for the epic format”, so I guess it has a lot to live up to… Anyway, seems like potentially a nice example of Epic Fantasy in Sweden, so we’ll see what I think.

The day I met Kiki

IMG_4647Highlight of my trip so far: meeting Kiki of Kiki’s Delivery Service (the Miyazaki version, of course–otherwise she wouldn’t be in Visby). Kiki very kindly gave her permission for the photo to go up here (and I’m glad I happened to run into her and her friend once more before leaving Visby this evening).

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become a big Miyazaki fan the last few years. Most of his work isn’t exactly aimed at my age range, but I really enjoy his creativity and sensitivity in his world-building and storytelling, and have been inspired by him when it comes to my own creative work, sparse as it is. I hadn’t known that the location of Kiki’s Delivery Service was inspired by Visby, Gotland, and Gamla Stan (Old Town) in Stockholm the last time I was here (over 8 years ago… yeesh), but when I first watched Kiki I did so with an eye for that inspiration.

According to the documentary, one of the sites that inspired the locations in Kiki.

According to the documentary, one of the sites that inspired the locations in Kiki. Formerly a coffee shop, now a crepe place.

Going back now, I was even more impressed with the movie as an homage to the “feel” of Visby–honestly, I found myself a bit confused between echoes of my own original impressions/memories, the portrayal of the town in the movie, and the revisiting of the Swedish locations in the Ghibli film locations documentary included in the extra features of my dvd of Kiki. I think what I enjoy in particular about this movie (though I like all the others as well) is how much a sense of a fascination with a place comes through–and the fact that it is a place I have visited as well, and even have a professional/sentimental connection to, makes it all the more interesting to see it treated by a storyteller/artist I admire.

So it was really fun for me to run into two cute girls on my second day in Visby, one of them dressed as Kiki with the dark blue dress and a red bow in her hair. I initially thought they were specifically there as Kiki fans, but when I ran into them again later in the afternoon they explained that the one dressed as Kiki just happened to wear that dress, and the other happened to have a red bow, and so they spent the day taking pictures of “Kiki” in Visby. Super cool, and I wonder if anyone else recognized her.

Just before I ran into them once more at the end of the day I had done a quick sketch of Kiki for fun (and to commemorate my second visit to Visby)–though I ended up making her a slightly older Kiki, I guess… Also, I just realized now that I hadn’t finished the picture–the hands aren’t done. :( But when I saw them again I decided I had to give them the picture, so I was a bit hurried about getting it ripped out of my sketchbook, haha. They were gracious enough to take it, haha, but I hope I wasn’t imposing on them too much. I got some photographs of it before hand, so you can see it below, along with some shots that connected to the movie for me. The drawing was pretty hasty… And my hands are not very steady after all this traveling and not enough sleep, but hopefully people enjoy it! :)

Kiki sketch!

Kiki sketch!




Solvorn and Urnes



Where I am now. Just spent the morning checking out Urnes stave church. Tomorrow back to Oslo, then on to Gotland.

Sorry for so few posts lately–spent the last month racing to finish revising my translation while teaching summer school and getting ready to move, also while trying to put together a trip to Scandinavia to check out some sites relevant for my past and future research and to practice my Swedish back in the motherland. And OK, wanted to see Norway again as well, for the first time since I was 15. Mostly have not had good internet access while here, along with troubles figuring out some of my travel and reservations, but I think things will probably work out. Wish I could just stay in one place for a few weeks and write though…

Did some quick sketches too, for the first time in ages–they are super rough, but here ya go anyway.



Wanderers short film

Made by Swedish animator Erik Wernquist, with narration taken from Carl Sagan (his Cosmos series, I assume?). I ran across this short film back when it came out, and now that it’s come my way again I think I may show it in the summer course I’m teaching on Other Worlds in Scandinavian literature. During the first half of the course we covered the myths, fairy tales, some HC Andersen, Niels Klim’s underground journey, and the crazy hijinks of Peer Gynt, and as of this last week we’ve finally hit the 20th century and read our first science fiction novel, the dystopian Kallocain by Karin Boye. We aren’t going to be able to hit up any stereotypical sci-fi (spaceships and all–though our last two books, Smilla’s Sense of Snow and Troll both can technically be considered sci-fi), so this short with its spaceships and planets may be our opportunity to talk a bit about the teleological vision of visionary scientists like Sagan on the one hand and the culmination of that vision in… well, in extreme sports on the moons of the solar system, going by this video. OK, not to reduce it to that, but that is kind of the vibe I get, haha… It’s beautifully done in any case, and while my fear of heights would keep me from jumping off any cliffs, it does get me excited about exploring the solar system. Now if only he would update the video with some of the new data from Pluto…


HEART - 7-8-15_Pluto_color_new_NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

New Horizons is almost to Pluto, and man, it looks like National Geographic has pulled out all the stops with a slick documentary for the occasion. @_@  I’m not complaining–I mean, out of the planets as we have imagined them the last century (well, a bit less than that), Pluto is the only one left that we haven’t been to, debate over his planetary status notwithstanding. I’m excited! Those who have been following this blog for a while know that I am really into the idea of “New Worlds” in both the literal and the figurative sense (like in this post). Back in elementary school (maybe 4th grade? 5th?) I wrote a science fiction story about a trip to Planet X, and well, Pluto used to be Planet X, so that’s enough of a connection for me, haha. I remember my teacher finding hilarious how I had the ALL-CAPS for several lines to communicate enthusiasm for the amazing discoveries of the mission (spoiler alert: Planet X was surrounded by mini-suns, and so was able to support life).

Anyway, hope I’ll be able to follow along as the data comes in. Hm, maybe I can show some of it in class, since I’m teaching a course on Other Worlds in literature right now…


Phad Chitra Notebooks

Just wanted to pass along this awesome project a former student of mine is putting together. Phad Chitra is an Indian folk art, and this campaign is meant to help some of the remaining artists make a living off of their work. Check it out! I think there are only a few days left, so contribute for your notebooks now! They are still short of their goal.



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