Review: “Making Love” by Aidan Wayne

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This is another novella I’m reviewing for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What’s the story, Wishbone?

No, just no. Do not put that theme song in my head.

Fine, go ahead and write your own blurb, just like you typically do for these reviews.

Carla is a cupid working for Aphordite Agency. She has amazing aim for shooting her love arrows, but she is terrible at chemistry, which is why she kept on shooting arrows at an aromantic person. Then she sees a succubus, Leeta, come to the agency, looking for romantic love, and Carla’s boss is all like “No, you’re a succubus, we won’t help succubi find True Love because succubi just want easy meals, now GET OUT YOU SUCKY SUCCUBUS!!!!” This goes against Carla’s values – of course everyone deserves a chance at True Love. Thus, she makes it her mission to find True Love for Leeta.

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

There is a sexual scene … whether it is a sex scene depends on how one defines such things. Also, one of the main characters is a succubus.

There is no violent content (unless a cupid shooting love arrows at people counts as violence).

Tell me more about this story.

It is, in a sense, a romantic comedy. At least, it follows some of the common rules of romantic comedies, such as when a matchmaker tries to make a match for someone else, and they keep on rejecting the matches, and the matchmaker actually feels relieved that the matches aren’t working out, you know what’s going to happen…

I actually don’t have much to say about the story.

Asexuality?

There are hints in the story that Carla is asexual, but it’s never stated explicitly, and even if Carla is asexual, well, I find the way this story presents aromanticism to be much more interesting.

Okay then, aromanticism?

On the aromantic content scale (1 = least aromantic content, 10 = most aromantic content), I rate this story as being a 3. Whereas the words ‘asexual’ and ‘ace’ are never used in the story, the word ‘aromantic’ is used multiple times. In fact, I am 80% certain that this is the first fiction story over 5,000 words I’ve read which uses the word ‘aromantic’ but does not use the words ‘asexual’ or ‘ace’.

At the beginning of the story, the anecdote of Carla futile usage of love arrows on an aromantic girl establishes that aromantic people exist.

In the story, succubi are stereotyped as all being aromantic, and this is why the agency does not even bother to try to find love matches for them. This is clearly the inverse of the situation of aromantic people – it is assumed that humans, as opposed to, say, robots or aliens from outer space, are alloromantic. At the end of the story, this comes out:

Yes! Yes, while it seems as though it’s a rarer phenomenon, what with them being an aromantic species on the whole, it looks as though romantic Sparks might be found in as many as one percent of all succubi and incubi. Statistically, that’s right around how many aromantic people exist in the world of the romantically inclined. Which is a pretty big number!

Now … is Carla aromantic? It is stated repeatedly throughout the story that Carla is bad at chemistry, and it’s hinted at that it is because she does not actually understand romance. Hmmm. And then there is this bit:

“Mm.” Leeta shifted on the couch, recrossing her legs and curling her tail. “Have you ever been in love?”

“Oh, me?” Carla laughed and waved a hand. “No, not yet. But that’s okay! A lot of cupids are late bloomers anyway.”

That bit made me think ‘hmmm’. The following passage makes it seem that Carla wants to want ‘love’ rather than simply want ‘love’.

And here we get to the mess that is discussions of ‘love’ in English. In contemporary English, ‘love’ is often assumed to mean ‘romantic love’ even when the context does not suggest that. And since this is a story about a cupid whose job is to spark romances, her culture is hyper-amantonormative.

But she does fall in love with Leeta, described thus:

Leeta was in love with her. And Carla could feel her own love pinging back to meet it. It made her feel very brave.

Is Carla romantically attracted to Leeta? Is the love she feels romantic? As a reader, I’m not sure. However, given the way Carla described her previous experience of never feeling ‘in love’ (romantic love?) for people, I suspect she is somewhere under the greyromantic umbrella.

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Was this written by an aromantic?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this story?

Yes, I do.

One may buy this from the Riptide Publishing Store or various eBook retailers.

Catton’s Five Questions for an Old World

Last week, I mentioned my intention to read Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr.. I just finished reading the book. I intend to write a more general post about my reading experience, but first, I want to answer the “five questions for an old world” in Chapter 14 of Overshoot (the penultimate chapter).

This is what Catton says of the questions:

If instead, guided by knowledge based on the [ecological] paradigm, we can face reality, we may recognize that we still could make some adjustments to stem the tide of our de-civilization. Those adjustments will not “lead to an even better life,” but they may keep us from making our future more gruesome than it has to be. To see what really needs to be done, we must ask ourselves several excruciatingly tough questions. They carry our thinking far beyond the point reached in political discussions of energy policy.

I will answer each question on two levels – a) the individual level (referring to myself) and b) on a human-species-wide level.

1) Can we begin to phase out our use of “fossil fuels” as combustible sources of energy?

Answer (individual): I’ve used a number of ‘carbon calculators’ (figuring carbon footprint is a decent proxy for fossil fuel consumption) and they have such different assumptions that I get very different results using different calculators. However, they generally agree that I use much less fossil fuels than the ‘average’ resident of the United States, California, and San Francisco. They also agree that I use much more than the world per capita average. Some of the things which tend to make my carbon footprint / fossil fuel usage lower than an ‘average’ resident of San Francisco / the United States are a) the fact that nobody in my household owns a car b) I’m a strict vegetarian (no animal products in my diet, no dairy, no eggs, no fish, etc.) c) I have not been inside an airplane since 2014 d) I generally do not buy much in the way of material goods d) I live in a housing unit with no air conditioner and where we never ever turn on the central heating. That said, I am still very much a fossil fuel user. I do things which are not necessary for my survival, or even my happiness, which consume fossil fuels, such as using the computer for non-essential tasks (which uses electricity, which is derived from fossil fuels). I covered significant distances for discretionary travel last year, most notably the “The Mississippi Journey” using diesel-powered trains and buses. If I had just stayed in San Francisco, less diesel would have been burned. In summary, I have significantly lower consumption of fossil fuels than my peers, but I still refuse to do all I could to reduce my fossil fuel consumption.

Answer (species-wide): According to The World Bank, per capita carbon emissions from the United States has declined from 20.8 metric tons per year in 1980 (when this book was first published) to 16.4 metric tons a year in 2013. At first glance, that implies that residents of the United States are reducing their use of fossil fuels (assuming fossil fuel usage is correlated with carbon emissions). However, during the 1980-2013 time frame, a lot of manufacturing shifted from the United States to other countries, notably China, which has had a sharp rise in its per capita carbon emissions in the same time period. Since a significant portion of goods which Americans used were in 1980 manufactured in the United States but are now made in China (and other places) and imported by Americans, it’s possible that the carbon emissions have just been shifted, rather than reduced.

And then there is this chart which shows that global carbon emissions *from fossil fuels specifically* (not other sources) has been continuously and exponentially rising since 1800 – and that it has NOT STOPPED SINCE 1980. Okay, actually, there was a reduction in fossil fuel consumption during the recession in the early 1980s, but it was a small dip (just a 4% dip, as opposed to the 16% dip in fossil-fuel related carbon emissions which just happened to occur at the same time as the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic), but since the early 1980s recession it has been rising dramatically. More troublesome, global per capita fossil-fuel related carbon emissions have also been rising. So I conclude that, since this book has published, we have not weaned ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels. Could we still do it? It would have been easier to phase out of fossil fuels in 1980 than now, so that fact that it has not happened means that I do not expect it to happen until we are forced to stop using fossil fuels (i.e. extraction becomes too expensive due to having to resort to deposits which are difficult to extract). Technically, we could ‘begin’ to end our dependence, but considering the social reality, I say no, we cannot.

2) Can enough of us recognize at last the inescapable intricacy of any non-detritovorous relationship between the human species and its habitat? To translate that question into less jargon-laden terms, Can enough people figure out that we are dependent on the renewable/sustainable resources offered by our habitat, and that we have to keep our habitat in good condition in order to continue to have enough resources to survive at our current population level?

Answer (individual) Yes, I think I understand that humans need a habitat which supplies our needs in order to survive, and that degrading that habitat to the degree that it can no longer supply our needs means we will not survive. Of course, just because I think I understand it does not mean I actually do. Observe my behavior. I cause damage to the habitat which is not strictly necessarily for my current survival or even happiness. There are things which I could do to either reduce my negative impact on our global habitat, or to help restore the habitat, yet I do not. Perhaps my actions (such as going on a completely discretionary journey over thousands of miles in fossil-fuel powered vehicles) speak louder than my words or thoughts.

Answer (species-wide): Considering how much habitat destruction which threatens humans has happened since 1980, no, I don’t think ‘enough’ of us understand that, and I do not think enough of us will until habitat damage causes the global human population to go down, not up.

3) Can we candidly acknowledge that general affluence simply cannot last in the face of a carrying capacity deficit? To translate the question into a less-jargon heavy version, can we candidly acknowledge that general affluence cannot continue when we are using more ecological resources than are being replaced every year, which means that in the future humans will have dramatically less ecological resources?

Answer (individual): I can acknowledge that. It shapes a lot of decisions in my life. One reason I live the way I do now is that I think that there is a high chance that an affluent lifestyle will be impossible for me in the 2040s (assuming I am still alive then).

Answer (species-wide): Again, I don’t think people in general are going to acknowledge that until most currently affluent people are forced to become non-affluent, and not even then. After all, a lot of people are falling out of the middle class in the United States right now, but they are mostly blaming scapegoats who may be partially responsible but are not the deepest cause, and they believe that taking out the scapegoats will restore affluence when it will not.

4) Depletion of ghost acreage [non-renewable resources and resources we had temporarily appropriated from others which we are forced to give up] is not only forcing us to take stringent efficiency measures, but it will also irresistibly compel return to a simpler life. Will we accept it with any grace? Or will we kick and scream our way into it, imagining we could always have everything we want if only those government people weren’t forbidding it?

Answer (individual): I think I can accept it with some grace, though to be honest, I will probably also being doing some kicking and screaming too. After all, if I really believed that giving up the material benefits of fossil-fuelled affluence and going to a strict subsistence lifestyle was awesome, I would have already done that (and would have stopped updating this blog, and stopped using computers unless absolutely necessary for survival). That said, I find it ironic that, when the internet stops working for whatever reason, it bothers me less than it bothers my parents, even though they grew up in a time when there was no internet. My travels have also taught me that I can be happy even with a lower level of material wealth. For example, even though I definitely prefer sleeping under a solid roof surrounded by solid walls, living in a tent can be okay.

Answer (species-wide): I actually have some optimism here! Even though most people do not think in terms of the ‘ecological paradigm’ the general expectation is that people are going to be downwardly mobile than upwardly mobile. Why is that a good thing? As Overshoot sometimes mentions (and which is consistent with what I know about the world) if someone expects a bad thing to happen, and someone else does NOT expect the bad thing to happen, and bad thing does, in fact, happen, the person who expected it will handle it will be less mentally devastated than the person who did not expect it. Also, younger people in the United States are being less materialistic than earlier generations in significant ways – for example, many young people are foregoing car ownership, home ownership, etc. (granted, a lot of this has to do with the combination of high student debts + a terrible labor market for young people entering the work force, but the adaptation is happening). Granted, this is a bit of a US-centric analysis, but in other parts of the world where I have been, I have seen the same kinds of things happening. I can’t comment on what young people in, for example, South America are doing, but in Japan, there is also a strong sense of downward mobility, so many young Japanese people are turning away from a materialist lifestyle to try to pursue happiness in other ways.

Another source of optimism is that material well-being does not seem to cause happiness. Some measures of ‘happiness’ (such as the United Nations’ ‘World Happiness Report’) measure ‘happiness’ based on criteria such as ‘GDP per capita’ and find that countries with higher GDP per capita are also ‘happier’. However, according to the Gallup survey, which measures happiness by asking how people feel rather than measuring their material wealth, the correlation between a country’s wealth and its happiness is not strong (note: I haven’t done a regression analysis). What seems to have a big effect is not whether it’s a first world or third world country – compare Japan and Honduras for example. What seems to really make people unhappy is having recently been ravaged by war (Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan) or major civil upheaval (Turkey, Tunisia).

5) Is there any chance that we can learn to practice such mandatory austerity unless we can first be spared the widespread, deliberate badgering of people into wanting more, more, more? With the [ecological] paradigm we should begin to recognize the increasingly anti-social ramifications of advertising.

Answer (individual): Okay, my first reaction to this question is ‘???!!!???’ It seemed to come out of the blue, especially since the rest of the book doesn’t discuss advertising or television at all. In the discussion of the question, Catton wonders whether it’s worth amending the Constitution of the United States (specifically the First Amendment) in order to make advertising, such as television commercials, illegal. When I got to that part, I thought ‘Whoa’. Upon further reflection, I realized that this is a very dated section of the book. As it so happens, I’ve read part of a very long 1970s tract about the social evils of television, and thinking about that tract made it easier for me to see where Catton is coming from, even though my reaction to the idea of violating the First Amendment to ban television commercials is still ‘Hell No!’

Anyway, I will now answer the question rather than just register my bafflement. I can be austere even when I am exposed to advertising. I admit there have been times when advertising has influenced me to consume things which were no in my best interest to consume, but I think I learned from certain early experiences, and that later increased my resistance to influence by advertising. And no, I don’t want ‘more, more, more’. I would actually be very happy just to maintain my current standard of material living for the rest of my life (especially since I think that I may not be able to maintain it for the rest of my life).

Answer (species-wide): There is actually some reason to have this concern, and actually, advertising in children’s television is regulated by the U.S. government because that has been shown to be a particularly harmful form of advertising. However, it seems to be that advertising has become much less effective in influencing people to consume stuff than it was back in 1980. Which makes me wonder if advertising really did play such a role in persuading to consume so much more than what they need even in 1980, or whether it was just a surface phenomenon which had a deeper cause beneath it. So yes, I think it is entirely possible for people to learn how to practice personal austerity even in a world full of advertising, and that interfering with the First Amendment is entirely uncalled for.

So, if you have gotten this far, I ask: how would you answer Catton’s five questions for an old world?

Review: All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher

The cover of All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher

This is another review for my Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Brennan caught his girlfriend having sex with another man, and she says it was because she could not sexually satisfy him, so they break up. Then Brennan walks into the local sex toy shop, trying to find what he could do to sexually please women, so he talks Zafir, who works in the shop. After hearing his story, Zafir asks whether Brennan has considered the possibility that he is asexual. Brennan had never heard of the concept of human asexuality, so he asks Zafir more questions. Zafir says that he is asexual himself. Brennan is not sure whether or not he is asexual, but he keeps on meeting with Zafir again to ask him more questions about asexuality. Eventually, it becomes clear that Brennan and Zafir have a more personal interest in each other than simply asking/answering asexuality-related questions. Can they get over their hangups and have a stable relationship with each other?

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

There are no sex scenes. There is discussion of off-page sexual activity, one character shows another characters a video of a third character having sex (WITHOUT that third character’s permission), and some scenes take place inside a sex toy shop. As far as violence … at one point, two characters collide into each other, and one of those characters loses a tooth and has to go to the emergency room.

Tell me more about this novel.

This novel is part of Riptide Publishing’s “Bluewater Bay” universe. This is how they describe the universe:

Welcome to Bluewater Bay! This quiet little logging town on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula has been stagnating for decades, on the verge of ghost town status. Until a television crew moves in to film Wolf’s Landing, a soon-to-be cult hit based on the wildly successful shifter novels penned by local author Hunter Easton.

Wolf’s Landing’s success spawns everything from merchandise to movie talks, and Bluewater Bay explodes into a mecca for fans and tourists alike. The locals still aren’t quite sure what to make of all this—the town is rejuvenated, but at what cost? And the Hollywood-based production crew is out of their element in this small, mossy seaside locale. Needless to say, sparks fly.

I have not read any of the other Bluewater Bay stories. This one is pretty focused on just the local people, neither of whom have strong connections to the Wolf’s Landing media franchise. They occasionally mention Wolf’s Landing and the filming crew, but it’s not an important element of the story.

Anyway, this is basically a two-people-get-closer-and-fall-in-love kind of romance, the kind which I generally do not find interesting. However, there were enough things in this novel which I found interesting to compensate for my lack of interest in the romance itself. For example, I found Brennan’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend to be rather engaging (in the sense that watching a train wreck is engaging).

Brennan is a skater – I know so little about skating and skater culture to able to judge whether this novel depicts them fairly. Ditto about Zafir being a Muslim Lebanese-American single dad (he does call himself a ‘lazy Muslim’).

Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content) I give this a rating of ‘8’.

This novel has by far the longest ace explanation I have found yet, but it fits very well with the plot. It’s very common for aces to need months, or even years, to figure out whether or not they identify with asexuality, so it makes sense that Brennan would not start identifying as ace as soon as Zafir first talked to him about asexuality. And it also makes sense that Brennan would keep on meeting Zafir again and again to ask him more questions. Indeed, it takes the entire course of the novel for Brennan to become comfortable with identifying with asexuality (that is one reason why this novel gets such a high asexuality content rating).

It also makes sense that Zafir is happy to answer Brennan’s questions, since it means that Zafir may finally be able to interact with another ace without getting on the internet or travelling to Port Angeles or Seattle.

There is also a brief scene at an ace meetup in Seattle.

I could say much more, but I think I’ve laid down the basics of how asexuality is represented in this story. Some of things I could say about this novel I’ll end up saying in the ace trope series at the Asexual Agenda (yes, I am now writing guest posts for the Asexual Agenda).

Was this written by an asexual?

I don’t know.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I do like it.

One may buy this novel from the Riptide Publishing Store or various book retailers.

Reading the 1972 Edition of The Limits to Growth

Last month, I read an Ecology 101 textbook (specifically, Ecology: Concepts and Applications by Manual C. Molles Jr., 2nd edition) as part of this “deindustrial reading list”. I don’t know if I will go through with the whole list, but I did read the 1972 edition of The Limits to Growth this week.

The thesis of the book is pretty simple: exponential growth of both human population and industrial output cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet. Furthermore, they calculate that, without major social/cultural changes, there will be a major economic and human population crash before 2100.

I had heard about this book a long time ago, and a lot of the ideas in this book have circulated widely. Yet I found this book was full of insights which have not circulated widely.

For example, I knew years ago that this book had a standard run model (a.k.a. “business as usual”) which led to a major human population crash before 2100, and that it various models associated with various policies which delayed the crash yet failed to prevent it, and that it also had a model in which the crash was prevented altogether. I had also read that the standard run “business as usual” model predicted remarkably well what has happened since 1972 (according to this and another source I cannot find right now). I had assumed that, because the standard run model predicted the collapse happening soonest, that it was the most dire scenario.

Now that I have read the book, I have found that the “standard run” scenario is not the the scariest scenario.

Yes, the collapse happens sooner under “standard run” than other scenarios. However, in many of the other scenarios, even though the collapse is delayed by decades, it still happens before 2100, and the longer the collapse is put off, the greater it is. Furthermore, the longer the collapse is put off, the greater the overshoot, and the more it will reduce the carrying capacity of the planet to support human beings (Wikipedia explains what overshoot is). “Standard run” does not result in the lowest final carrying capacity. In that sense, it is not the most frightening scenario.

Now, again, the book says that technology alone cannot solve the problem. Nothing I had heard or read about the book had indicated that it had that insight, but it makes a really good case for that point. The book runs the model in which nonrenewable resources are ‘unlimited’ due to amazing technological advances in resource usage efficiency and recycling. The collapse still happens in the 21st century, due to pollution.

The book admits that pollution is the hardest for them to predict because it is the factor for which they have the least good input. One of the pollutants they looked at was carbon dioxide. Their projections for how concentration of how carbon dioxide would increase in the atmosphere in a ‘business as usual’ scenario turned out to be … not far off.

Think of collapse via nonrenewable resource exhaustion vs. collapse via pollution this way (this is my example, not an example from the book). ‘Peak Oil’ is a shorthand for ‘fossil fuels are nonrenewable, and if we keep using them we will run out of economically viable fossil fuel supplies’. Given that nuclear power is only viable with massive economic subsidies, once fossil fuels run out, we will be left with only renewable power. Given that renewable power is nowhere close to being able to replace fossil fuel power right now, that means a sharp reduction in energy supplies, which could trigger a collapse of industrial civilization. However, if fossil fuels continue to be available indefinitely anyway for whatever reason, and they continue to be used, it keeps on increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which triggers collapse by extreme climate change. Collapse by resource depletion, or collapse by pollution? Even now, some people argue that climate change is what will trigger the collapse of civilization, before economically viable fossil fuels run out, and others say that the depletion of economically viable fossil fuels will happen before the more dire climate change scenarios can happen (climate change is already happening, so it’s too late to talk about stopping it completely).

As far as collapse happening earlier or sooner … imagine that the planet had been endowed with way less in the way of accessible fossil fuel supplies, and that economically viable fossil fuels had been depleted by, say, 1920. It probably would have caused a collapse of industrial civilization back then, and lots of human suffering, but it would have completely prevented climate change by carbon dioxide, and the crash which would have happened in that scenario would have been much less severe than the crash it looks like we are going towards.

Furthermore, the book has a scenario in which technology magically solves the nonrenewable resource problem and the pollution problem … and it just delays the collapse a little, and then it’s collapse by food shortage and global famines. Basically, any scenario they came up with which had a solution which was technology alone ended with a collapse by resource depletion, pollution, or food shortage, before the year 2100.

The models they had which did *not* lead to a population/civilization crash before 2100 included both technological and social change. Specifically, societies find mechanisms – which would have to be social, not technological – to ensure that the birth rate equalled the death rate, and that investment in industrial capital did not exceed depreciation.

Sara, the reading list says that that you should note whether The Limits to Growth makes more or less sense in the light of the ecological concepts you learned from the ecology textbook.

Well, I don’t have much to say. Yes, the ecology textbook went over population growth of individual species, that population growth tends to be exponential until it reaches the carrying capacity of the environment, and then the population tends to stabilize. The ecology textbook I read does not, however, describe overshoot. The ecology textbook goes into great detail about interactions between different organisms and the environment, which I suppose helped me make a little more sense of the emphasis in The Limits to Growth to studying complex interactions between different factors. However, The Limits to Growth explains its concepts so well that I doubt that reading the ecology textbook did much to influence how I made sense of it.

Is there anything else you want to say about The Limits to Growth?

The book also has some very interesting psychological insights. For example, it points out that so many people insist that technology can solve these problems because, for the past few hundred years, technology has solved problems, which is what has allowed the human population to grow as much as it had. This has established a culture which expects technology to solve society-wide problems. However, it can only do so *before* the hard limits of this planet have been reached. It has some insights into why it is so difficult to get humans to respond to problems such as pollution (there is a great car driving metaphor in the book).

There are also a few bits in the book which, in my opinion, are simply bullshit. But they are in the details, not in the general ideas. I’m not going to discard the value of this book just because they got some minor stuff wrong.

I highly recommend reading this book. Though I have not read the 1992 or 2004 updates, I recommend the 1972 version over those two for these reasons:

1) The 1972 version is the shortest.
2) The 1972 version was the bestseller which sold millions of copies, so it is the best for tracing the origins of various ideas.
3) Seeing what they actually said in 1972 and compare it today.

Sara, this book seems like it’s a real downer! I don’t want to read it!

If you don’t want to read it, then you don’t have to read it. But this is what I have to say about this book being a ‘bummer’.

First, it does not predict the extinction of human beings, even after the collapse. Since a lot of people do predict the near-future extinction of human beings, I consider this book to be more optimistic than those predictions. Also, as I already explained, current data indicates that we are not going into the scariest scenario described in the book.

Second, I don’t know about your life expectancy, but my current life expectancy, according to charts and whatnots, says that I am most likely to die in the early 2070s. I may, of course, live into the 2080s, and I may die a heck of a lot sooner than 2070 as well. That means that, if the Limits to Growth projections continue to predict the future as accurately as they have so far, there is a very high chance I will live long enough to witness the collapse. And if they are right about the death rate sharply rising in the middle of the 21st century, that may very well cut off my life and cause me to die in the 2050s rather than the 2070s. I cannot prevent the crisis, but if I am going to live long enough to get into the thick of it, I would rather have a better understanding of why such awful things are happening than a worse understanding of why such awful things are happening.

I looked up Donella Meadows, the lead writer of the The Limits to Growth. She was not much older than I am now when she did the studies which are the basis of The Limits to Growth. She died in 2001, at the age of 59 years old. That was significantly younger than her projected life expectancy in the early 1970s. It just goes to show that, even in good times, some people still get their lives cut short. On the flipside, even during times of general crisis, some people get really lucky and live long and satisfying lives anyway.

Soon, I plan to read the next book on that reading list, Overshoot. Based on what I know about it, it seems like it will be more of a downer than The Limits to Growth. I’ll see how I will react to that one.

Review: Labyrinth by Alex Beecroft

The cover of "Labyrinth" by Alex Beecroft

What is this novella about?

Kikeru is the offspring of a priestess. If Kikeru is a man, then he may lead a secular life and marry a woman and have babies. If Kikeru is a woman, then she will become a sacred temple maiden and forbidden to marry.

The problem is that, first, Kikeru feels sexually/romantically attracted to men, not women. If he is a man, then he can only marry women, not men. If she is a woman, then she will have to live in celibacy forever. Either way, Kikeru will be unable to marry a man. Second, Kikeru does not feel like a man or a woman, but if she/he is not a man or a woman, then what is she/he?

This is made all the more complicated by the fact that a) Kikeru overhears some Achaeans talking about invading Crete, and then assault him and b) Kikeru is rescued from the mean Achaeans by Rusa, a man who Kikeru finds extremely attractive.

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

There is a sex scene of the ‘fade-to-black’ variety, as well as various references to sexual activities. As far as violence … well, there is attempted sexual assault, kidnapping, the possibility of war breaking out between the Minoans and the Achaeans, and … a bit more than that, but I think that’s enough to paint a picture.

Tell me more about this novella.

Clearly, Kikeru’s gender is nonbinary (well, it’s clear to the reader, it’s not clear to the characters). The novella switches between using he/his/him and she/her pronouns to refer to Kikeru. Since this review is much shorter than a novella, I think switching pronouns for Kikeru would be confusing, so whenever I refer to Kikeru, I use ‘she/he’ and ‘his/her’.

The part of the story revolving around Kikeru’s gender identity and Kikeru trying to find a gender role that she/he is comfortable with was by far the most interesting part of this novella. In fact, it was the only thing I found interesting about this novella. The Achaeans are really two-dimensional villains, which is a minus, but I can roll with 2-dimensional villains if there is exciting action/suspense/adventure … except there isn’t any compelling action/suspense/adventure plot either (I would not say that part of the story is bad, simply … uninteresting). The romance between Kikeru and Rusa seemed really flimsy, and thus uninteresting, to me.

I think I would have enjoyed this novel more if a) it focused just on Kikeru’s gender identity struggles, going into them in more depth or b) if it were expanded to a full novel, so that other parts of the story could be more fully developed. Granted, there is no guarantee that the other parts of the story would have been any more interesting if they had been more fully developed, but I think it’s at least possible that greater length could have given the plot space to become compelling.

Didn’t Lois McMaster Bujold also write a novella called “Labyrinth” which has a nonbinary-gender character?

Yes.

Asexuality?

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

This is the only passage where asexuality comes up in the story:

Jadikira shrugged, then oddly she seemed to turn to Maja for reassurance. “I don’t know what the appeal is, to be honest. All these stories about young women throwing away their lives to marry some young man? What’s that about?”

Maja shifted on her cushion, smoothed down her skirts, and looked troubled. “To tell the truth, I don’t know either. Like you, I never felt the urge.”

“Don’t get me wrong.” His daughter beamed at the older woman, as if she’d found a soul mate. Probably the first person she had met ever to agree with her nonsense. “Lust, I can understand. That’s how I got the bump. But her father could be any one of three men, and I don’t want to be hitched permanently to any of them.”

“There you’re ahead of me, then.” Maja tweaked her apron, and smiled at the deck planking. “Lust is not something I understand either—not for anyone. My child, I conceived at a ceremony like the one we just attended. I don’t remember much about it. Her father was a luminous creature. A god. That’s how I knew she was destined to be extraordinary. But not even that made me wish for a lover or a husband. For a long time, none of it troubled me at all. I had more interesting things to do.”

So apparently Kikeru’s mother, Maja, is asexual. I think this might be the first work of asexual fiction I’ve read in which the ace character is a parent.

Is Jadikira aromantic? Well, I don’t know what the writer’s intent is, but I would not conclude based on this passage alone that Jadikira is aromantic. There are people out there who fall in love and get thick into romance without wanting marriage or being ‘hitched permanently’ to anyone.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Alex Beecroft is asexual. And a parent. Which might be why this story has an ace character who is also a parent.

Hey Sara, do you like this novella?

No, I don’t.

One may buy “Labyrinth” at the Riptide Publishing Store and various eBook retailers.

Review – Assassins: Discord by Erica Cameron

The cover of Assassins: Discord by Erica Cameron

What is this novel about?

Kindra, 16, belongs to a family of assassins, has been working as an assassin since she was ten, and it’s the only way of life she has ever known. She does not let her emotions interfere with her work because they do no good, she does not know why she is killing the people she kills because she does not need to know, and she does not even consider leaving her family because if she left, they would pursue her, and she’d rather keep working with her than be on the run for the rest of her (potentially short) life.

Then there is a mission where shit hits the fan tornado. Kindra is faced with dilemmas she has never had to deal with before.

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

There are no sex scenes, though there is (sexual) kissing, and references to sexual activity (including underage sexual activity). As far as violence … ummmm, it’s a novel about assassins. Of course there is violence. And the descriptions are sometimes gory. And there is a massacre of schoolchildren.

Tell me more about this novel.

It is part of Riptide Publishing’s YA line, Triton Books.

I had suspension of disbelief problems with this novel. Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about real-world hitpeople, and maybe this is more accurate that I think it is. However, I had trouble buying Kindra’s family – not that they are evil, since there is tons of evidence that some families are that evil – but that they could train Kindra to be such an effective assassin while abusing her the way they did. But maybe I am just naïve and ignorant.

The novel feels a bit like Legend by Marie Lu, a novel I really did not like. Though at least the romance in this novel is not nearly as ridiculously eyeroll-inducing as the romance in Legend, so that is a distinct improvement. In fact, I don’t think the romance plotline in this novel induced any eyerolls for me.

I don’t know what else to say, really. Yes, Kindra has a character growth arc as she learns just how abusive her family is and that she really can get away from it, and yes, her love interest is one of the principle people pulling her away from her evil family. It’s an action-thriller set in the contemporary United States (mostly New York City, Jacksonville, FL, and point in between).

Asexuality?

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

Quite a few of the characters in this novel are assassins, and one of them is asexual. Since revealing which of the assassins is asexual would be a major spoiler, I will simply refer to this character as ‘Asexual Assassin’.

We find out that this character is asexual in this scene (which I have edited for clarity and to remove spoilers):

“What? She’s not your type?” Kindra shot back. “Or maybe Mr. Rose Tattoo is more your speed?”

“Neither of them. Not even a little.”

“No?” She made herself leer. “I liked Rose Tattoo. I’d do him.”

“You’d do anyone.”

Her nose wrinkled. “Not anyone.” Not if she was the one picking her partners. “I’m bi, not a nympho.” Then the conversation really registered. “And how the hell would you know what my type is, anyway? [sentence removed because of spoiler].”

[They] shrugged, refused to meet her eyes, and then avoided the question entirely. “You were lucky. You know how hard it is to fake your way through that shit every time?” [Asexual Assassin] shuddered. “Hated it when [character] made me do that.”

Kindra blinked, a little more of her anger fading as memories realigned in her head. The briefings when [Asexual Assassin’s] eyes would go distant and empty, or the early mornings when [they would] take a shower that lasted over an hour. She’d never considered that the seductions [done for assassin work] were what had caused that bleak discomfort in [Asexual Assassin].

“Was it the guys or the girls?” Kindra wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. If [Asexual Assassin] had hated it that much, then . . .

“Neither was all that great, but it was a little easier with some—a very few—of the girls.” [Asexual Assassin] still wouldn’t look at her. “Even then . . . Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Even if I’d told [character] when I realized I was asexual, it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

We learn that Kindra has been doing seductions for work purposes since she was twelve, but that she actually did not mind that aspect of assassin work much, and it does not seem to have traumatized her in any way.

There is another ace character in the novel, Blake. There is no hint that Blake is ace in this novel, but supposedly in the sequel it is revealed that Blake is greysexual.

I could say another thing or two about how asexuality is presented in this novel, but then I would be way into spoiler territory.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Erica Cameron is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

Hmmmm … it’s not really my kind of thing. I can’t quite put my finger on why, though I think it is in ‘not my cup of tea’ territory, not ‘this is badly written’ territory. So no, I don’t like it. I’m undecided about whether or not I’ll read the sequel. I would really like to read a novel with an intersex/agender/gray-a protagonist, but I would rather not read another novel like this one.

This novel may be purchased from the Riptide Publishing Store and various book retailers.

From Indians to Blood Quanta to Asexuality

One of the many asexual fiction stories I’ve been reading and reviewing recently included this section:

“Yes,” [character] replied. “Shape shifters are beings that are mostly human. The only thing different is that they can change into any animal at will.”

“Like in the legends of the Sioux?”

[Character] sighed, almost wistfully. “I miss the Native Americans.”

[Note: these fictional characters have been alive for centuries.]

My reaction was “Why would this character ‘miss the Native Americans’? This story is set in the contemporary United States, and ‘Native Americans’ are still around.” I considered commenting on this in the review I wrote of this story, and looked up a reference from an American Indian source to back me up. The first reference I found was “‘Real’ Indians, the Vanishing Native Myth, and the Blood Quantum Question”.

I ultimately decided not to comment on this in the review, and I am not stating which story this passage came from because I do not want to single out this specific work of fiction. I am only pulling out this quote to describe why I started thinking about asexuality and American Indians. I’m going to discuss blood quanta for a while before I get back to talking about American Indians and then asexuality, but I assure you, this blog post WILL return to the topic of asexuality.

‘Blood Quanta’ Is a Culturally Specific Concept

I use the term ‘blood quanta’ to mean any system where people’s identities are measured in fractions based on their ancestry. For example, the wizarding world in the Harry Potter stories embraces a blood quanta system where they distinguish ‘halfbloods’ from those with exclusively wizard/witch ancestry and those with exclusively muggle ancestry.

American culture does not embrace blood quanta in quite as straightforward a manner as the wizarding world of Harry Potter, but it is still very prevalent. For example, it’s not unusual for someone to say something like ‘I’m half black [African-American] and half Japanese’ or ‘I’m half German American and half Scots-Irish’. This is not necessarily bad. In particular, I have no problem with people using blood quanta to define their own identities.

Now, when someone asks me ‘are you Jewish’ I simply answer ‘yes’. That is because I understand the question from a Jewish point of view, and Jewish culture does not recognize blood quanta (well, considering the complex variations of Jewish culture out there, there are probably exceptions, but they are just that – exceptions). There are many ways to define who is and is not a Jew – and by some definitions out there, I am not Jewish. However, all Jewish definitions of what makes someone a Jew that I know of boil down to ‘yes/no’. According to Jewish culture, there is no such thing as someone who is ‘half’ Jewish.

The most widely used criteria to determine who is and is not a Jew are those used by Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews, which can be briefly described thus: anyone whose mother is Jewish is a Jew, and people who were born to non-Jewish mothers are only Jews if they have properly converted to Judaism.

My mother is Jewish, therefore, by these criteria, I am also Jewish (note this has nothing to do with what I believe or whether I observe halakhah). The fact that my father is not Jewish is irrelevant, in fact, my Jewish relatives generally forget that my father is not Jewish because it’s not particularly important to them. Since this is how I have been taught to think about Jewish identity, I do not think about my Jewish identity in terms of blood quanta.

It’s also worth pointing out that my mother is an immigrant, and many of my Jewish relatives are not American and often do not view things through the lens of American culture.

In any case, Jewish culture is not unique in its non-recognition of blood quanta. Taiwan is a multi-ethnic society where nearly none of the ethnic groups recognize blood quanta. In Taiwan, questions such as ‘do you belong to ethnic group X’ tend to have a yes/no answer, just as in Jewish culture. This is in spite of the fact that inter-ethnic marriage has been common in Taiwan for centuries, with the result that most Taiwanese people can trace ancestry to multiple ethnic groups.

The main reason I went on this detour is to emphasize that blood quanta is a cultural construct, and that not all cultures think in blood quanta terms.

So, the Indians

To quote the article I linked to at the top of this blog post:

For you non-Native readers, keep this in mind. Native people rarely ask each other about their blood degree because they know that being Native is not about an abstract mathematical equation that parses out their identity into measurable fractions.

Now, I am finally getting to the part of the article I really want to discuss, which I am going to quote right now:

Blood quantum is perhaps the biggest determinant of Indian authenticity, but even those who are full blood can be deemed not real based on some stereotypes or legal definitions of what real Indians are. All Indians are subject to being judged for their authenticity, and even despite high blood quantum or enrolled status they can be deemed inauthentic simply by virtue of the fact that they live in the modern world.

Because after all, the real Indians were the ones who dressed in buckskins and hunted buffalo and deer for their living, and didn’t speak English. And they’ve been gone a long time.

Non-natives, whether they know it or not, are conditioned to determine the authenticity of Native people whenever they encounter them, especially those that live in places where Indians are highly invisible, like large cities or in states with low Native populations. Because they have been indoctrinated with the idea of the vanishing Native their whole lives, the assumption that there is no such thing as real Natives anymore is like a software program constantly running in the background. So when they meet someone who claims to be Native, the unconscious impulse is to automatically determine the truth of the claim.

The only comment I have to add to this is that, even though this is an excerpt from a book published in 2016, none of the ideas in this article are original or new. Ten or so years ago I’ve saw books by American Indians which were basically saying the same thing, and I suspect those books were mostly repeating things that American Indians have been saying for a really long time.

The Assumption Is That Such People Do Not Exist, and That Anyone Who Says They Are Such People Is Wrong, and Must Be Proven to Be Wrong

First of all, a disclaimer: I do NOT intend to say that aces, as a class of people, suffer more or face more institutional hostility than American Indians. Not even close. If you think I am saying that the oppression of aces is equivalent to the oppression of Indians, then you are misinterpreting me. Indians, as a class of people, have to deal with much more pervasive and harmful institutional oppression than aces.

As Dina Gilio-Whitaker says, non-natives are taught to think that all of the ‘real’ Indians are gone, so when they encounter an (American) Indian, their impulse to try to prove that that person is not a ‘real’ Indian rather than, say, realize that Indians are still around. The article clearly explains how non-natives have been programmed to think this way because denying the existence of Indians makes it easier to exploit them and drive them out of their homes to exploit the resources there (I do not think most people do this consciously, rather, this is why the myth became embedded in American culture). The Dakota Access Pipeline is a recent example of exploitation that has gotten a lot of media attention, but there are other actions liked that going on right now (another example is the proposal to flood the home of the Wintu people in Northern California).

Another form of exploitation which the ‘vanishing natives’ myth helps enable is that of criminals who want to assault Indians. The U.S. legal system is set up in such a way that (cw for link: sexual violence) a non-Indian who goes to an Indian reservation and commits felonies on Indian victims is immune from prosecution. This has led to the result that non-Indians who want to commit violent felonies has swarmed Indian reservations so they can do so without fear of law enforcement. One can also read more about this in the book Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life by David Treuer (incidently, David Treuer is an example of Not Recognizing Blood Quanta – his father is Jewish, his mother is Ojibwe, and if IIRC, he simply identifies as Ojibwe, not as Jewish or half-Jewish/half-Ojibwe).

The article I linked is a bit dated – a law went into effect in 2015 which allows for the prosecution of domestic violence committed by non-Indians upon Indian spouses/partners – but the legal situation of non-Indians who commit felonies upon Indians who are not their spouses/partners is the same today as when the article was written. Though I can’t prove this, I strongly suspect that this legal situation would have been changed a long time ago if the ‘vanishing natives’ myth were not so widespread. Most people can readily understand the injustice of making a criminal immune to prosecution just because they are a non-Indian whose victim is Indian (though some members of Congress seem to have trouble understanding this), but because so many people believe that the real Indians are gone, they has been little motivation to change the system – why bother protecting people who ‘no longer exist’.

Anyway, Bringing This Back to Asexuality

The problems caused by invalidating ace identities have not been nearly as severe as the problems caused by denying Indian identities, the comparison still leaps at me.

The process by which people question Indians until they can prove that they are not ‘real’ Indians seems like the process by which people question aces until they can prove that they are not ‘ace’. If an Indian is not a ‘full-blood’, then they aren’t a real Indian, and if they are a ‘full-blood’, then they aren’t a real Indian because they speak English, etc. Likewise, an asexual is not really asexual if they have had sex, or if they have never had sex, they are not really asexual because they masturbate, and if they do not masturbate then they are not really asexual because they are mentally ill, and so fort. One can read more of this at the carnival about the ‘Unassailable Asexual’.

Why so many people have the idea that people cannot be asexual, and that anyone who claims to be asexual must be assailed until they admit that they aren’t really asexual, is more of a mystery to me than why people believe in the ‘vanishing natives’ myth. I’ve encountered hypotheses – such as the hypothesis that non-asexual people take comfort in the idea that everyone deals with the same sexual urges they do, and the existence of asexual people takes this comfort away from them – but I do not know if these hypotheses are the best explanation.

Does it matter why so many people are programmed to assail asexuality? In a sense, I think the answer is no, it does not matter. But to the extent that understanding why people assail asexuality can improve efforts to stop people from assailing asexuals, such understanding is useful.

Just as people dismiss problems Indians have by claiming that Indians do not ‘really’ exist anymore, people also dismiss problems aces have by claiming that asexuality is not really a thing, or even if they acknowledge that it is a thing, they claim that the problems are not related to asexuality. For example, some people claim that asexuality should not be included in anti-sexual-orientation-discrimination because we are not discriminated against. Well, first of all, some aces have experienced discrimination in the workplace and other places because they are asexual, and second, such laws also often explicitly protect heterosexuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation. If heterosexuals can get legal protection, why not asexuals?

Obviously, there are vast differences between the issues Indians deal with and the issues asexuals deal with, but the similarities are educational. And I would not have made the connection if I had not run into that quote from an asexual fiction novel and thought about how to explain my reaction to that quote in a review.