This review is part of the series of reviews of asexual fiction published by LT3 press which I am doing for Asexual Awareness Week.
So, What Is This Story About?
It’s Dexter Wu’s twenty-first birthday. He is already a graduate student at MIT studying electrical engineering. He is working on a robot with an A.I. called … HAL. His best (and for a long time, only) friend is Sandya, and now that’s she’s graduated, she is going back to India for the rest of her life, which means that HAL will be Dexter’s only beloved companion. What a birthday present.
If only that was all. The morning after his birthday, he learns that a secret organization is trying to steal and destroy his beloved HAL because there is a prophecy that HAL will destroy the world. Thus, Dexter has to run off with Andre, a mysterious secret agent, to save his life.
What Kind of Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?
There is kissing and making out, but nothing more sexual than that. There is comedy violence on the scale of, say, attempted assassination, and the possibility that the whole world will be destroyed. There is also a significant amount of alcohol consumption (and drunkenness).
Tell Me More about This Novella
For those of you who pay attention to POC representation: the protagonist, Dexter Wu, is Asian-American (most likely Chinese-American, but it is never specified), and Andre Jackson, the second most important character, is African-American. If Andre Jackson is ever specifically described as dark-skinned or black, I missed that part, but he feels so culturally African-American that I figured he was black before I found artwork on the writer’s blog which depicts Andre Jackson as a dark-skinned person.
One of the most obvious features of this novel is its humor. It is much easier to use examples than to try to describe it, so here are some examples:
Shrugging, Dexter shoved some fries in his mouth and turned back to his workbench. “Like I’ve said a bazillion times, I’m fine. Seriously, I couldn’t be more fine if I tried. It’s criminal how fine I am. I haven’t picked up a phone in months because I don’t want the NSA to find out the level of fine I’m currently—”
“The subway?” Dexter cried, alarmed. Andre didn’t answer him, but he did slow down once they were fully inside. “We’re taking the subway? Are you aware that the subway is basically a gigantic bathroom for the homeless, and also a huge pit of agony and despair?”
“Are you aware that we’re running from two highly trained agents who are tracking us to get to you?” Andre snapped back sarcastically.
“Again with the fucking trump card.”
“We do not make exceptions for anyone when it comes to the safety of the world. Did we make exceptions for Elvis? No. And I loved Elvis.”
Dexter whipped around to gawk at Andre in disbelief. “You killed Elvis?”
Andre shook his head, looking dazed. “No, we relocated him. The Oracle predicted he would bring about mass riots that would topple the government of Nicaragua, so we had him moved to a remote but fruitful island off the coast of Barbados. He loves it there.”
It’s probably obvious by now that this novella is full of geeky pop culture references, mostly (but not exclusively) references to science fiction movies.
It starts out as a graduate school story, with humorous descriptions of grad school life, until the ‘adventure’ begins. The plot is basically a bunch of Hollywood movie clichés stringed together, which was probably the writer’s intent.
The parts of the novel which I liked best were 1) Dexter’s birthday part at the beginning and 2) when Dexter and Andre are visiting Andre’s grandmother – in other words, the slice-of-life sections. These sections had real heart to them, and underneath the humor, I could feel for the characters and their inner struggles.
However, the zany parts of the story did not work so well for me. Yes, there are a lot of funny lines, but if you removed the wisecracks, the underlying plot itself was not funny enough to work for me as a parody, nor did it work for me as a story played straight. It seemed like, if you removed the jokes, there would not be much left.
On the asexuality content scale I described in the introduction, I would say that this story is a 1. There is the only time in the entire story that asexuality is mentioned directly. Depending on one’s interpretation, it’s indirectly mentioned in other places, but if it weren’t for that one unambiguous mention, I would not classify this as asexual fiction at all. Anyway, that one explicit mention is this:
Dexter shook his head and gripped Andre’s bicep reassuringly. “No, just—okay, so, I’m not really into the whole ‘sex’ thing.” He titled his head up to catch a glimpse of the screen before locking eyes with Andre. “I’m what you’d call asexual, which doesn’t mean I can reproduce by myself—that sounds horrifying—but, yeah. So, if you’re looking to do the, uh, do, I’m not your guy. But, I’m a really awesome kisser—at least, that’s what my girlfriend in 7th grade told me one time—and if you’re into dudes who can build sweet pillow forts, boy, do I have a treat for you—”
“Okay,” Andre said, cutting off Dexter’s rambling.
Dexter blinked up at him, uncomprehending. Christ, he was short-circuiting too much. “Okay?”
Andre nodded. He rolled off him and stood up, offering a hand to pull him up. “Okay. Show me one of those pillow forts you’re so great at, Wu. Let me warn you right now: I take pillow forts very seriously.”
Was This Written by an Asexual?
Wes Kennedy is a bisexual aromantic. You can learn more about her here.
Hey Sara, Do You Like This Story?
Yes, I did. I like the humor, and reading this was an enjoyable experience.
This is Wes Kennedy’s first published book, and I could definitely imagine her writing something truly kickass in the future. I would be especially excited if I learned that she was writing a story featuring an aromantic protagonist.
Tomorrow, I am going to post the next review, which is going to be about Open Skies by Yolande Kleinn.