Review: Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

The cover of Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

This is the third book I am reviewing for my Asexual Fiction from Smashwords Month.

What is this novel about?

The story is set in Parole, which seemed to be a fenced in quarantine zone / concentration camp where nobody is allowed to leave, and there is a lake of fire which threatens to eventually engulf everybody. Meanwhile, SkEye watches and polices everybody.

Regan has amnesia, so he remembers very little and needs explanations such as what the heck is this place. A family of three wives (poly same-sex marriage) takes him under their wing, and and the story progresses, it becomes clearer that Regan is involved in something which concerns the fate of all who live in Parole.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

As far as I can recall, there is practically no sexual content. Violence – well, there is attempted murder and attempted suicide (revealing whether the attempts result in death would be spoilerful), physical combat, and psychological combat.

Tell me more about this novel.

I like the setting, especially its imagery, such as the lake of fire, and the turret house (which seems to have been inspired by the Winchester Mystery House). I also noticed the parallels between this setting and the setting of Candy Land – it’s set in a future vaguely dystopian post-USA, there was an epidemic which was induced by scientific research which kills lots of people but also left a lot of people with superpowers, etc. Of course, there are stark differences too (Chameleon has way more female character and way less sex than Candy Land).

The writer describes herself as writing “oddly optimistic dystopia books” which is an apt description of this story. ‘Oddly optimistic’ is certainly a refreshing twist on the ‘dystopia’ genre, and I felt, while reading this novel, the potential for how good that kind of fiction could be.

However, this novel specifically did not work so well for me. Why not? The short answer is that I did not care for the characters or the plot. A more detailed answer is that I did not feel the characters were sufficiently developed. For example, the female triad (Evelyn, Rose, Danae) felt too idealized and not sufficiently realized. It’s not the first example I’ve seen in fiction of a queer-poly triad, and frankly, it’s not one of the better-written ones. They have a seemingly perfect relationship in which they never seem to have any interpersonal problems, which is okay since this is not a story about interpersonal marriage problems and allows the story to focus on something else. However, even though the reader keeps on being told that they live in such despair, and that so many people in Parole have PTSD, etc … the ‘show’ does not match the ‘tell’. Showing how personal relationships give people the strength to thrive in the midst of adversity can be a wonderful thing in fiction, but in order for it to work for me, a lot more of the adversity has to be shown, whether it’s caused by external or internal factors, and how the personal relationships actually give characters strength.

As far as the plot … well, I lost track of what was going on plotwise somewhere in the middle of the novel. And because I lost the plot, the second half of the novel was much less interesting to me than the first half.

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I rate this story as a 2.

Regan, the protagonist, is asexual. It only comes up in one scene in Chapter 6. It’s a bit too long for me to quote the whole thing in this review, so I am just going to pick out two snippets, one from the beginning of the scene, and one from the end of the scene.

Snippet 1:

“Um,” his expression shifted to a near-perfect blank, though his eyes slowly widened. “I…really… this is gonna sound weird, and I swear I’m not messing with you… but… I don’t think I’m attracted to anyone. Not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Not weird,” she assured him. “Not weird at all.”

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he mumbled. “I mean, I’ve wondered, but like just in a vague ‘who am I, what was my life’ way. I haven’t really… felt anything about…Anyone.” He scowled for a moment, then let out a frustrated noise, neck frill flaring out. “But that’s not right either, because I know I have, all this means is that I don’t look at someone I don’t know or trust, like a stranger, and think they’re hot—I don’t think anyone’s hot when I first meet them! No offense,” he said hurriedly.

Snippet 2:

“I’m a freaking paradox.”

“If it helps,” she said, tone tentative but casual. “I don’t think you’re a paradox. But you might be asexual.”

Regan’s mouth fell open. He looked up with wide eyes again but for a much different, much better different reason. Slowly, the tension melted out of his shoulders and his frill dropped back down to hang loose. When he looked at her now she saw something else in his eyes. One of her favorite things to see. Hope.

“I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it might explain a few things,” she said, voice calm but with an undertone of restrained optimism. “I’m not, myself, but I’ve known a lot of wonderful ace—asexual—people in my life, and you’re saying a lot of the same things they do.”

“Tell me.” He was still looking at her, but with a different kind of intensity now. It was the same look he’d had when he was listening to the familiar song, trying to remember where he’d heard the words he knew by heart but couldn’t place. “I think it’s important.”

“Me too. And from what you’re saying—never experiencing sexual attraction, or maybe only sometimes, or only for someone you really trust?”

“Yeah. It fits.”

“Then try it on.” She smiled. “There’s no one size. And your words exist for you. As long as they help you instead of making you feel trapped, everything’s… aces.” A ghost of a smile appeared on his face, and she encouraged it with one of her own.

So, how relevant is this to the overall story or Regan’s character development? Well, one way to interpret this is that it’s not relevant because the novel wouldn’t really be much different if this scene were removed, and that this is just an excuse to insert the ace explanation and tick off the ‘asexual representation’ box. Another way to interpret it is that it is consistent with the novel’s theme of accepting people as they are, especially queer people. I favor the second interpretation, but I have to admit that the ‘asexual’ aspect of this story is not as smoothly integrated as it is in some other works of fiction.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

No, I don’t. I seriously considered not finishing it, and I only decided to go ahead and finish it because I planned to write this review.

The Most Different Kinds of Ace Characters I Can Think of

This is for the January Carnival of Aces – Many Ways to Be Ace.

As anyone who has been following my blog for the past few months knows, I’ve been binge-reading ace fiction lately. So, in response to the prompt, I was thinking ‘which of these ace characters is the MOST different from the others?’

Of course, there are many ways characters can be different from each other. A 6000 year old elf who lives in Seattle in 2013 is really different from a human detective for hire who lives on a different planet in an age of interplanetary travel, but that’s not the kind of difference which I consider interesting for this kind of question.

Going through the list from the prompt – “ethnicity, religion, romantic orientation, gender, background, career, etc.”

1) Ethnicity – a plurality of the ace characters in the fiction I’ve been reading lately are white people from the United States who seem to identify more strongly with whiteness than ethnicity.
Now, here it’s tricky. I don’t want to imply that USA-white people who do not identify strongly with an ethnicity are a default, and that everyone else who deviates from that, whether they are white people who do identify with an ethnicity (Italian-American, for example), or who are not white, or who are not American, are some deviation from that default. On the other hand, there is a reason why lists such as ‘Murder Mystery Stories with POC protagonists’ are more useful than lists such as ‘Superhero Stories with white protagonists from the USA’.
So, to acknowledge that being white from the USA is not at all a default, I will throw in one story with a white-from-the-USA ace character: Crush.
Then, I offer a list of characters from stories who are either a) white yet non-American or b) are not white (note: this list is not exhaustive because characters’ ethnicities are not always clear OR I’ve forgotten):
Ball Caps and Khakis, ace character is Korean-American
Candy Land, ace character is from post-USA North America (i.e. the United States no longer exists as a nation)
Fourth World, ace characters are Martians, one of the Martians is of Mexican descent
Blank Spaces, ace character is white Canadian
The Painted Crown, ace character is from pseudo-medieval-Europe
We Go Forward, ace character is white Australian
To Terminator With Love, ace character is Asian-American (most likely Chinese-American, but it would not have made much of a difference to the story if the ace character were, say, Malagasy-American as opposed to Asian-American)
The Life and Death of Eli and Jay, ace character is Siksika (a First Nation ethnicity in Canada)
The Zhakieve Chronicles, both ace characters are from (and live in) pseudo-medieval-Eastern-Europe
Open Skies, ace character lives in space opera with fictional planets
Quicksilver, ace character is Canadian and, well, to say more would be spoilerish.

2) Religion – the religion for most of the ace characters in the fiction I’m reading is not defined. The only ace fiction story I’ve read in which religion is significant to the story is “Cold Ennaline”.

3) Romantic Orientation Aha! Jackpot! Most of the ace fiction stories I’ve been reading are published by LGBTQ+ presses which require or at least strongly encourage romance. Thus, it is no surprise that the most common romantic orientation in the stories I’ve been reading is homoromantic. Even though most of the LGBTQ+ presses would accept a M/F romance as long as the characters are not cishet (for example, an M/F romance featuring trans characters), they definitely publish way more same-sex romances, even for ace characters. In fact, I can’t think off hand of any fiction stories I’ve read with a heteromantic or biromantic ace character off-hand (though maybe I’ll remember something later). As far as, say, demiromantic, or quoiromantic … well, there are characters which arguably fit those labels, but none that I would feel confident putting on a list.
There have been a few stories with aromantic characters, which I will list here:
“Any Way the Wind Blows”
Open Skies
Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story
Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart
“The Galloway Road” (actually, I’m not sure, but IIRC, the character seemed aromantic)
We Go Forward

4) Gender – well, some ace characters are (cis) male and some are (cis) female. More male characters than female characters (probably because I’ve been mostly drawing from LGBTQ+ presses, and they publish so much more M/M than anything else it’s ridiculous), but still plenty of ace female characters to choose from. The only genderqueer ace character I’ve encountered in fiction so far is Blake in the Assassins series. I’ve only read the first book, in which Blake is just a minor character and SEEMS to be male, but the second book supposedly reveals that Blake is actually intersex, agender, and greysexual.

5) Background – this one is so broad I am not even going to try.

6) Career – hmmmm. I don’t want to list out all of the different careers I’ve seen ace characters have, so I’ll just select a few which jump out at me.
Blank Spaces – art gallery worker / painter
“Any Way the Wind Blows” – farming
Assassins: Discord – assassin (which is what one might expect from a novel called ‘ASSASSINS’)
To Terminator With Love – electrical engineering student at MIT
“Bender” – BDSM rent boy (notable mainly because rent boy is a rather unusual career for an asexual to pursue)

7) etc. – in here, I am going to put in Personality.
Ace characters in fiction tend to be intellectual, not be very social, not have many friends, be ‘introverts’, tend to be emotionally reserved, etc. To be fair, a lot of people who identify in real life as ‘ace’ are also like this. However, I like seeing ace characters … who are not like that. I’d like to see more ace characters who are loud, bold, brash, socially engaged, etc. – which I suppose I could sum up as being ‘extroverted’ (though I don’t particularly like the term).
Here is a list of stories where the ace character breaks out of the most common personality molds of ace characters in some sense:
How to Be a Normal Person (ace character is more sociable and socially engaged than the non-ace protagonist)
Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart (ace character thinks acting like a vigilante – including shooting people with his gun and interrogating witnesses even though he is not a law enforcement officer – is a good idea)
“As Autumn Leaves” – ace character used to be a cheerleader, and though she has a lack of friends, that is not due to her social inclinations

So, there you go. I hope that this is useful, or at least interesting, to somebody.

Some Last Thoughts on “The Mississippi Journey”

Prior to last month, I had only been to 3-5 of the 50 states of the USA. I was born in California, I had definitely been to Oregon and Florida, and … well, I had spent a few hours on the Nevada side of the California/Nevada border when I was eleven years old, and I had spent one night in New York City while waiting for a connecting flight when I was seven years old (and no, I did not get to see any famous places in NYC, with the exception of the airport). Some people say that counts as visiting Nevada/New York, some people don’t, which is why I list it as 3-5 states.

One of the earliest posts on this blog is “From a Corner, Not a Continent”. That very much describes the mentality I had when I was in Asia. I lost track of how many times a Taiwanese person would say ‘so, since you are in Taiwan, that means you’ve travelled everywhere in the United States, right?” to which I would reply “ha ha ha ha, that is ridiculous, the United States is way too big.” Many Taiwanese people were very surprised to learn that they had travelled the United States more extensively than I had.

However, last month, I went on “The Mississippi Journey”. One of my main goals was to get to know the United States better, to know a bit more about the continent beyond the corner (another one of my main goals was to meet someone in St. Louis). I stayed overnight in beds in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, and Illinois. That means I doubled or tripled the number of states I have been to. I also passed through (by train) Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. Why the emphasis on the (Deep) South? Because I was travelling in December. There are other regions of the United States I would very much like to visit (New England, for example) but I did not feel that December was the time to do it.

In my blog posts, I noted a lot of the differences among the places that I visited. Different places, of course, are different – travelling would not be so worthwhile if every place were exactly the same. However, there are also things that all of the places I visited – as well as California – have in common. It strengthened my identity as an American (which is quite a contrast with the “From a Corner, Not a Continent” post).

Out of all of the places I visited on this trip, the places I would be most inclined to visit again are New Orleans and Mississippi, though in Mississippi I would probably choose to visit towns other than Natchez and Vicksburg so I could see different parts of the state. There is also a high chance I’ll end up visiting Chicago again sooner or later, which I hope will be enjoyable as my first Chicago visit.

In any case, I am not sure when I will travel next, nor where I will go, but this trip has definitely whetted my appetite for more.

Review: Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story

The cover of Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story by Janine A. Southard

This review is part of my month of asexual fiction from Smashwords.

What is this story about?

Morena, a 40-year old Brazilian-American, lives in Seattle (year 2013) with her cocaine-using roommate Suzyn and works in logistics and distribution for Starbucks. Both Morena and Suzyn go to story-gaming meetups, where they hand out with Magic Guy, who they believe is a regular human, but is in fact a 6,000 year old elf. Morena gets an iPhone from her ex-boyfriend who had kept on fetishizing her Latin-ness and forgetting that she doesn’t speak Spanish (she speaks English and Portuguese). What Morena doesn’t know is that it is a magic iPhone which will compel her to keep on using dating apps to meet guys, even when it is clear that it is not good for her.

What the *****?

The story is called “Cracked”, okay? It is obviously an example of crackfic as original fiction (as opposed to fan fiction).

By the way, you put in five stars, not four, in your question.

I put in FIVE stars because it’s supposed to replace a FIVE letter word.

Well, I suppose there is no problem with using five letter swear words instead of four letter swear words. Assuming that what you are blocking out with stars is in fact a swear word.

What sexual and/or violent content is there in this story?

There is no sex in this story, and … not much discussion of sexual topics, actually. There are guys who try to hit on Morena in creepy ways, such as asking her to take a shower with them, and sometimes there is sexual innuendo in the jokes, but that’s what I can think of off hand. As far as violence, hmmmm, there is a prank which ends up killing a innocent woman in 19th century England.

I thought you said the story takes place in Seattle in the year 2013.

I also pointed out that this is essentially crackfic.

So tell me more about this crack-original-fic.

Contrary to the title, it’s really more about Seattle than iPhones (magic or otherwise). On the one hand, I have never been to Seattle, or anywhere in the western United States north of Eugene, Oregon. On the other hand, I was born on the West Coast of north America and have spent most of my life here (I am going to define ‘West Coast’ as everywhere between San Diego and Juneau, including coastal British Columbia). So in some ways, the culture of Seattle as presented in this story is familiar because I am from West Coast culture, and in some ways it is not familiar. So I found the ways it was familiar-yet-unfamiliar to be interesting.

A lot of the prose is like this:

There are few things in the world more relaxing than curling up with a mug of tea and watching horrible TV on Netflix while you fiddle with a smartphone or laptop and chat with a friend. Some people believe that’s too much to do all at once, but those people are all too old to have done collaborative homework over the phone (or, at least, don’t have as many attention issues as does the author of this book).

I recognize that this style is intentional, and that this novel wouldn’t be what it is without it. At the same time, I sometimes felt that it went too far for me, and that I would have preferred this aspect of the novel to have been pared down.

The major theme of this book is that friendship can be more valuable than romance. This point is hammered in when Morena, during a crisis, tells her friends that she needs a romantic partner because she needs someone who will always be there. She persists in believing that a romantic partner will be the one who will always be there, in spite of the fact that her friends are there to support her through her crisis, and her boyfriend is not. It’s ironic.

Asexuality?

I actually think this novel is more relevant to aromanticism than asexuality (especially since the moral of the story is ‘friendship can be more valuable than romance’). That said, on the asexuality scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content) I would rate this novel as a 2.

The aromantic asexual character is Magic Guy. Yep, it’s the non-human character. However, even the asexual readers who get annoyed with the frequency that asexual characters are non-human admit that the trope can be done well and that it’s not necessarily a bad depiction of asexuality. I would put this is the ‘not bad’ category.

The first mention of Magic Guy’s asexuality is in Chapter 2:

“Besides,” said Morena, “you’ve never tried to pick me up.”

Magic Guy laughed. “I wouldn’t. I’m asexual and aromantic, so it seems horribly unlikely.”

“Of course,” said Morena, oh-so-put-upon. “All the good ones are taken, gay, or ace.”

It is mentioned again in Chapter 14:

“I know.” She sat up and twisted to look at him, her eyebrows screwed together in confusion and slight derision. As if to say duh! Though he was pretty sure kids didn’t say that anymore. “You said you were ace.” Which was true, he had told both Suzyn and Morena that he identified as asexual way back in Chapter Two – Let You Tell Me a Story.

Magic Guy, at one point, is in a situation where a father has caught him with his daughter, and the father is angry at him because he believes that Magic Guy has stained his daughter’s honor, and it’s treated as humorous that an asexual aromantic guy is accused of disturbing a young woman’s sexual purity.

Oh, and there is also this:

He shrugged, and if it was more bravado than surety, no one had to know. “What’s the worst it can do to me? Make me go on a date?”

They both laughed at the idea of an asexual aromantic being forced to go on a date.

The writer herself has said here:

I like to think, though, that by adding characters who are ace-spectrum, more readers will see that as a normal state that coexists with the mainstream. I once had a reader tell me that he’d never heard the term “ace” for asexual before reading one of my books. (This one isn’t YA, but does have an explicitly asexual character: Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story.)

Was this written by an asexual?

Janine A. Southard is demisexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I … suppose I do. The style did annoy me at times, and I wish that it were about 25% shorter, but I guess even with the aspects I didn’t like, I still like this novel overall.

One may buy this novel from Smashwords and various other book retailers.

It’s the 5-Year Anniversary of This Blog Already?

Yep, this blog is 5 years old.

For once, nothing important is happening in my life on January 4-6. It started in 2011, when I left the United States on January 4 and arrived in Taiwan on January 6 (crossing the international date line meant I never experienced January 5, 2011), and then on Janury 6th, 2012, I started this blog, and then on January 6th, 2014, I moved out of my apartment in Taiwan, and last year, I quit my job on January 6th, 2016. I guess nothing particularly interesting was happening in my life on January 6th, 2013 either. Or January 6, 2015. What will happen next year on January 6th?

For the first year of this blog, it was super obscure. Now it is, well, not in the first tier of ‘asexuality’ blogs in terms of prestige and popularity, but certainly in the second tier (at least among ‘asexuality’ hosted on WordPress/Blogspot). This blog has gotten as much attention as it has primarily because it’s been regularly updated for years, and I have posted close to 400 posts by now, and during all of that time and with all of those posts, there have been more opportunities for readers to stumble on something that interests them.

In fact, this is now one of the oldest continuously updated ‘asexuality’ blogs around now which hasn’t been rebranded/relocated (which I find incredible, since I still tend to think of this blog as being ‘new’). I’ve been to pull this off mainly because I’ve set up this blog in such a way that I do not need to put in too much effort to keep in consistently updated, which means I can keep it going even when I am busy or have unreliable internet access, and I don’t get burned out.

This blog is part of a cohort of ‘asexuality’ blogs which started in mid-2011 thru mid-2012 (the most famous of these blogs, of course, is The Asexual Agenda. One of the most prominent blogs of my cohort, A Life Unexamined, retired in 2016. Jo made a much deeper contribution to asexuality blogging than I ever did, and I pay my respects to her blog as I wish her good luck in her future endeavours.

Will this blog last another five years? If a) I am still alive five years from now and b) I continue to have a sufficient level of internet access and c) this blog doesn’t become too expensive (I have a free WordPress account, but under certain scenarios I would have to switch to a paid account, and though unlikely, it is not impossible that I might have to pay more than I am willing) I expect that this blog will be around for a 10th anniversary.

A Theme from my Recent Travels: Race

As I think back on my recent trip (you can find all of the posts about it under the tag ‘The Mississippi Journey’) one of the things which stands out is how often I noticed (and while blogging, commented) upon race. I did not expect that to be one of the themes of my trip.

Maybe I was so surprised because I am white – part of white privilege is being able to ignore race in ways that non-white people in the United States cannot.

Also, in my previous travels, I have always tended to notice race when it was different from the mix of races which are different from what I am used to. For example, when I was living in Taiwan, I got used to not seeing many other white people, sometimes going weeks without seeing another white person, so when I went to Osaka and Kyoto (literally the very first two places I went after I moved out of Taiwan) I was blown away by how many white people there were, and in my subconscious, I still think of Kyoto as ‘a place full of white people’ (I probably would not have had that impression of Kyoto if I had gone there straight from the United States rather than straight from Taiwan). Indeed, I remember that when I met people visiting Taiwan, a common reaction was “where are all of the white people?” and my response was “this is Asia, why would you expect to see lots of white people here?” and then they would tell me that there are way more white people in Beijing/Shanghai/Tokyo/wherever. Since Taiwan is the first place in east Asia I ever went, I did not really understand that there are parts of east Asia which have a lot more white people until I went to some of those places myself.

Another thing which stood out during my travels was different levels of racial segregation. Granted, I was a tourist, not a researcher – not only did I not do any careful data gathering, I was focused on sightseeing, not research, and as such my observations are very limited and almost certainly not representative. That said, I saw the highest levels of racial integrations in the following places (I consider racial integration to be people of different races interacting with each other on relatively equal terms):

1. Downtown Chicago (I didn’t go anywhere outside of downtown Chicago, and based on what I’ve read about Chicago, there is a lot of racial segregation by neighborhood)
2. New Orleans (all neighborhoods I visited, though I mostly went to touristy areas, and I also understand that I probably would have seen more racial segregation if I had taken a more extensive look at the city)
3. Downtown San Antonio

Notice a pattern? I tended to see the most racial integration in downtown areas of major cities. Even in Memphis, which has some really obvious racial segregation, I observed more racial integration in downtown Memphis than in other parts of Memphis.

Actually, I take that back. The place where I saw the most racial integration, hands down, was in the sightseeing lounge of the California Zephyr. The place where I saw the second highest level of racial integration was in the sightseeing lounge of the Sunset Limited. Apparently, Amtrak has higher levels of racial integration than downtown areas of cities, probably because Amtrak passengers are racially diverse and it is harder for people on a train to avoid each other than for people in a neighborhood to avoid each other.

Where did I observe the highest level of racial segregation? Vicksburg, Mississippi, and St. Charles County, Missouri. I think it would be really hard to be in Vicksburg, and then be in St. Charles County the next week, and not notice race.

Vicksburg, as I mentioned, is about 60% African-American, yet based on what I saw, I would have guessed it was 90% African-American. In the neighborhood where I slept, nearly everyone was black, and most of the people who weren’t black were some other kind of POC. I walked through neighborhood after neighborhood in Vicksburg where it seemed that everyone was black. In downtown Vicksburg, I saw both black and white people, but not in the same places (I don’t count because I was an out-of-town visitor). For example, at the Rail Depot Museum, everyone was white, and at the Lower Mississippi Museum, everyone (except myself) was black, even though they are just a block away from each other. The retail area on Washington Street is very white, but blocks away, there are black-owned businesses. The only place I saw black and white people interacting with each other (excluding myself) was at the bus station – most of the people there were black, but there were a few white passengers other than myself. I did not ask anyone in Vicksburg about this since asking about racial segregation did not occur to me until I was gone, and I don’t know what would have been the best way to ask about it anyway. I would also like to note that nobody in Vicksburg, of any race, made me feel unwelcome in their neighborhood.

St. Charles County, of course, was totally white. I mostly stayed in my host’s house, so I did not get to observe as much as when I was in Vicksburg, but whenever I got out, I never saw any non-white people.

Now, lest one think that Vicksburg is so racially segregated because it is in Mississippi, I would like to note that I observed significantly more racial integration in Natchez, which is also in Mississippi. I wouldn’t call it a paradise of racial integration (notice that I did not put it in my list of most racially integrated places), but I did observe white and black people working side by side in the same business doing the same work, and in Natchez it was not obvious to me whether I was in a ‘white’ or ‘black’ neighborhood the way it was in Vicksburg, Memphis, or St. Charles County, and generally, I saw a lot more white and black people talking to each other in Natchez than in some other places.

Now, these observations are probably partially based on random chance – maybe I just happened to observe the less racially segregated aspects of Natchez, and the more racially segregated aspects of Vicksburg, and that if I did proper research, I would find that my initial impressions were inaccurate. Everything I say in this post should be understood as a record of my impressions, not an accurate depiction of any place I visited.

Anyway, did I learn anything from my observations of racial relations during my recent trip? It’s not so much that I learned something new (well, I learned a lot of details about, say, the history of the civil rights movement, but that is besides the point) as that in deepened my understanding of things I knew something about before. For example, I knew that we are a racially/ethnically diverse nation, but actually visiting different places and see a lot of the differences myself drives that lesson deeper, and some aspects of racial integration/segregation are easier to see as an out-of-town outsider than as a local.

Review: Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari

The cover of Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari

This is part of my series of reviews of asexual fiction titles published on Smashwords.

What Is This Story About?

Nadin is a young woman on Iamos, a planet which will be uninhabitable in one year, so everyone will have to evacuate or perish. It’s an interesting time to come of age.

Isaak is a teenager on Mars in the year 2073. Mars is ruled by a corporation called GSAF. Isaak’s father disappeared two years ago, and among his possessions, he finds an ancient coin. And then he finds signs that Mars has been inhabited by human-like people a long time ago – but how is that possible?

What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is a scene with unwanted making-out. The characters also sometimes talk about sex in a non-graphic way. Violence … there isn’t any outright gore, but potential for violence (as in, zillions of people being deliberately left to die) exists.

Tell Me More About This Novella.

I am going to be honest here. I stretched reading this novel out over a much longer time that I usually do. That’s because I had trouble motivating myself to read this. That means I do not remember all of the events of this story (particularly in the first half) as well as I wish I did for the sake of writing this review.

I felt that Part 1 drags too much. It became a vicious cycle. Because I was not into the story, I had trouble keeping track of all the characters (except the 2-3 most important characters), and because I have trouble keeping track of the characters, it was hard for me to care about what was happening, and because I did not care, I read only a little bit at at time and would forget stuff between sittings, which made it even harder to get into the story.

I became significantly more interested in the story at the end of Part 1, which is why I read Part 2 and 3 at a faster pace.

This review is coming off harsher than I intend. I think the writing quality is higher than many of the other asexual stories I review on this blog. I can see where positive reviews such as this one are coming from. However, for some reason, this story does not speak to me.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 2.

Both of the main characters fall under the asexual umbrella. Isaak is the first character I have ever found in a novel who explicitly identifies as demisexual. This is the scene in which this is revealed (I have replaced a some words with [] to avoid spoilers):

He smiled back, ruffling my hair like he used to when I was little. Then he said, “So, does this mean you’re not slobbering over Tamara anymore? Or are you just sowing some wild oats?”

I groaned, my shoulders slumping. “[], don’t be gross.”

“Ah, come on, []. You’re not still on about that oddball demigod thing, are you?”

“Demisexual, [],” I corrected him through gritted teeth. “And it’s not an ‘oddball’ thing, thanks so much. It’s normal. Lots of people feel this way.”

[He] rolled his eyes. “Right. And that’s why you have to make up a weird, complicated name for it.”

I jumped to my feet, pushing away from him. “It’s not weird, and I didn’t make it up! I’ve told you a million times. It’s completely simple: I just don’t feel sexual attraction that much. Not unless there’s a bond first. That’s all there is to it.”

The other protagonist, Nadin, is asexual, though she does not have that vocabulary to describe herself. Though it is not explicitly stated, there are clear signs, and Word of God says that she is asexual. This is the scene in which it is most obvious (note: this is the scene with unwanted making-out):

He didn’t seem to notice my revulsion. His lips slid down the side of my neck, and his hands caressed my back, my thighs. His breath came out in a sigh. “I love you, Nadin,” he whispered, pulling my body closer to his, and I could feel the hardness of him beneath his clothing.

“Ceilos!” I cried again, louder this time.

He pulled away, his eyes unfocused and confused. “What is it?”

“I-I…” I was shaking. I didn’t know what to say. It was like I was asleep again, having some kind of horrible nightmare.

He blinked a few times, his eyes coming back into focus. “What’s wrong? Didn’t you like it?”
Why would I like that?! my mind screamed, but I couldn’t find my voice. I couldn’t bear to see the hurt on Ceilos’ face, couldn’t understand what I had done to cause it.

He pushed away from me, getting to his feet. “I’m sorry, Nadin,” he said, his voice impossibly small. “I thought… I thought you loved me, too.”

I jumped up after him. “I do love you!” I protested.

“Then why don’t you—” I flinched, and he lowered his volume. “Why don’t you want me?”

I had broken him. No, I had broken us. I could feel it as surely as the cold air around us, as the fading atmosphere outside the dome. Something was wrong with me, and it had ruined Ceilos and me forever. We could never go back.

I couldn’t stop the tears this time. They coursed freely down my face, burned my throat. “I don’t know,” I said.

As you can see, this fits the very common narrative of asexual people feeling like they are broken before they start thinking of it as a sexual orientation, especially in the context of a romantic relationship where they feel obligated to be happy about sexual things which repel them.

My guess is that, in the next book, Isaak and Nadin are going to compare notes about this.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Yes, Lyssa Chiavari is asexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novel?

No, I don’t.

You can buy Fourth World from Smashwords and various other eBook retailers.