My experiences with being ace in Vorkosiverse fandom

This is for the October 2017 Carnival of Aces: Asexuality in Fandom.

A few years back I wrote this, which is ironic, because about a year after that, I did actually develop an interest in fanfic, and two years later, I started writing fanfic.

There were a few stimuli, the most prominent being reading Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (GJatRQ). As a teenager, the Vorkosigan Saga was one of my most favorite series of books. GJatRQ was in some ways satisfying, and in some ways disappointing, and it was the latter which inspired me to write fanfic.

Another thing I wanted to play with was having an asexual character in the Vorkosiverse. As it so happens, I do not headcanon any of the canon Vorkosiverse characters as being ace (there are some potential ace headcanons there, it’s just that I don’t headcanon any of them that way), so that meant having original characters who were also ace.

For me, as a fan, the essence of the Vorkosigan Saga is that there is high levels of drama and chaos, and the characters have to grow and make a major change in themselves in order to earn their happy ending. The Vorkosigan Saga novels which best exemplify this, in my opinion, are Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign, which are also my favorites in the series. Another trademark of the Vorkosgian Saga, IMNSHO, is mad cap adventure – mistaken identities, implausible plot twists which are too bold for the reader to reject, Miles spreading chaos, etc. GJatRQ went against all that, so I wanted to respond by writing fanfic in which there was tons of drama, chaos, plot twists, etc. On top of all that, I wanted the protagonist to be difficult to like (some readers ended up liking him anyway, but I did not make it easy for them to like him!) In fact, my favorite comment which I received was this was … I can’t find it write now, but this was the summary “this OC is so awful, he’s the opposite of a Gary Stu, I can’t keep reading this!”

(On that note: if you want to find these fanfics I wrote, you can, but I am warning you that a lot of readers find this particular series offputting. So if you find them, and come back to me and say “Sara, those fanfics are so horrible, I wish I had never read them” my response will be “I warned you.”)

So, I wanted to write fanfic which centered a particular type of antihero, and I wanted to throw in asexuality, so this antihero ended up being ace (and aromantic too).

It was interesting to see how the (mostly non-ace) readers reacted to this original character being an aro ace. Based on the comments, some of them seemed to find him more sympathetic after they found out he was aro ace since it helped explain some of his actions, especially since he helped another ace character. And yes, I put in a second original character who is ace because it’s a lot easier to bring asexual themes into a story if there is more than one ace character. And since the second ace character was much easier to like, readers generally had a favorable opinion of her (she was also more boring, which is why she was not the center of the series). However, while most readers thought that the antihero helping the other ace character was one of the most likeable things he did, there was one reader who felt that he was hurting her by telling her that it was okay for her to be ace.

A problem I had while writing was that I am a lot more interested in Asexuality 201 than Asexuality 101, so these fanfics had a lot of 201 and not much 101. This resulted in some readers being confused. When I read ace fiction, I’m sometimes frustrated by there being more Asexuality 101 than Asexuality 201, but having had this experience, I can understand why writers sometimes put in more Asexuality 101 and less Asexuality 201 than I would like.

There were a whole bunch of other problems with this series of fanfics, but they weren’t related to asexuality, so I’m not going to discuss them here.

Even after writing this set of original-character centric fanfics, I still had not worked GJatRQ out of my system, so I went on to write a point-of-departure AU of The Vor Game. I killed off one of the major characters in The Vor Game right at the beginning (that was the point of departure which separates the AU from canon), which, among other things, led to one of the key events of GJatRQ happening during the timeframe of The Vor Game (i.e. more than twenty years earlier). (By the way, if you insist on reading my fanfic, I would like you to read this one first because I feel better about how it turned out. I am proud of how many cliffhanger chapter endings I was able to think up. And the fact that I am more interesting in using fanfic for cliffhanging than for shipping may reflect my aro-aceness).

Though this AU fanfic did not have any explicit ace content whatsoever, I was aware of some subtle ways that ace discourse was affecting the way I wrote this fanfic. For example, there is a scene where a character is talking about how he has sexual agency and can consent to sex, which was definitely influenced by ace writing about how it is possible for aces to consent.

I also put in three original characters in this fanfic who *I* think are ace, and I was debating whether or not to make that asexuality explicit. Eventually, I decided not to do so, and there is no hint in the fanfic that they are ace. Why did I not make it explicit? The in-universe reason was that they were not POV characters, and it did not make sense for them to come out as ace to the POV character. However, if I had wanted to make their asexuality explicit, I could have made up a reason why they would want to come out as ace. The real reasons were that a) I had just written some fanfics with very explicit asexual themes, and I wanted a break from that and b) I didn’t just want it to be a ‘by the way I’m ace’ thing but I also did not want to address asexuality in more depth in that fanfic because I did not want it to distract from the other stuff which was going on in the story. Thus, they aren’t even word of ace ace characters since I’ve never put out the word that those specific characters are ace.

***

Finally, a few comments on being ace in the Vorkosiverse fandom.

The biggest disadvantage is that the Vorkosiverse fandom is a heck of a lot smaller than, say, the Harry Potter / Supernatural / Sherlock / Marvel Cinematic Universe / Homestuck / etc. fandoms. It’s not even as big as the Miraculous Ladybug fandom. That means there are a lot fewer fanworks out there, and consequently, a lot fewer people making ace fanworks. In fact, as far as I know, I’m the only person who has made any ace fanwork for the Vorkosiverse fandom.

The big advantage of the Vorkosiverse fandom is that it is a lot less focused on erotica and shipping than many other fandoms. There is still plenty of erotic fanfic and shipping in the fandom, but there are also a lot of plotty fanfics, as well as fanfics which explore the setting of the series without focusing on sex or romance. For example, one of the most common tropes in Vorkosiverse fandom is Somebody Finding Out the Truth about the Escobar Invasion (in the past month alone, there have been two fanfics with this trope – “The King’s Quarrel” and “A Man of the Right”). There is a fanfic in which Gregor figures out most of it but thinks that Aral, not Ezar, was the mastermind, there’s a fanfic in which Komarran terrorists capture Aral, use truth serum on him, and then broadcast the interrogation on the vid network, and various other variations on the trope. And this trope almost never has much to do with sex or romance. As an aro-ace, this greater abundance of fanfics focused on something other than shipping makes Vorkosiverse fandom more appealing to me than many other fandoms.

12 thoughts on “My experiences with being ace in Vorkosiverse fandom

  1. Oh this is so fascinating to me, because I remembered your post about exactly why you weren’t into fanfiction and had filed it away in my mind next to other aroaces who just don’t like shipping at all and had classified you in particular as not into fanfiction. I t have a specific picture in my head of you that needs to shift slightly now. You’re still not into shipping but yeah I mean I noticed with some of your commentary on ace fiction that you don’t mind ace romances as much as I might’ve expected…

    I think it’s awesome that you tried so much and felt the challenges as a writer from a variety of sides. I’m sorry you got a commenter thinking telling another it’s ok to be ace was hurting her, that reminds me of a few of the anti ace comments I got.

    It’s a very different type of fandom but I’m still probably the only person who’s written any ace fic in the Switched at Birth tv series as a fandom… I do kinda get that feeling.

    • I think I’ve always made it clear in my blog that I like *some* types of romance in fiction, though maybe some of those posts are so old you’ve never seen them. I mean, my favorite Jin Yong novel is Shén​ Diāo ​Xiá ​Lǚ​, which is also his most explicitly romantic (this clip from the 2006 TV adaptation conveys the flavor of much of the novel).

      I think what I really like is fiction with a lot of emotional peaks and valleys. If that comes through romance, cool, and if it comes from something other than romance, that’s even cooler. Thus, my favorite subgenre of romance is soap opera since it has all the emotional peaks and valleys. By contrast, a lot of ‘shipping’ fiction (whether original fic or fanfic) feels to flat to me since it’s just about two ‘cute’ people getting closer to each other without enough emotional highs and lows.

      Shén​ Diāo ​Xiá ​Lǚ​, in addition to being Jin Yong’s most romantic novel, also has the most emotional highs and lows – and it is the highs and lows, not that it is ‘romantic’, which makes me love the novel so much. The fact that the romantic relationship is sometimes abusive actually makes it more so (at one point she literally and sincerely tries to kill him – abusive, yes, but also VERY dramatic). Whereas most ‘romances’ use the wedding scene as the conclusion, Shén​ Diāo ​Xiá ​Lǚ refuses to do so. And I could keep talking, but I think you get the idea.

      • Yeah I officially “liked” your “My Favorite Wedding Scene in All of Fiction” post (back when you posted it I think), and agree I like it better when that’s not the conclusion. Another aroace friend of mine when she saw a certain general tv show casts fanvideo of mine really liked when I used a series of weddings for the “I’m not ready” lyric more than I expected her too, and she was saying this framing didn’t paint marriage as a happy ending or even the wedding moments as purely about joy and it was refreshing to see it in a different light.

      • Ha well then. I think I vaguely remember skimming a fanfic that might’ve been it and was tagged asexuality lol and finding the ace parts… XD I had no idea that was yours… And also pretty darn rarely do that in fandoms I am super unfamiliar with…

  2. You know, your emotional high/low or “I want drama!”- reasoning might be why I’m into certain ships more than others and why I actually might prefer fanfic over most romance novels – there’s usually tons of backstory to exploit for more impact, and it’s easier to suspend disbelief about drama when it’s stuff you already saw on screen/read instead of some random dudes you never met before.

    • The romance novels I like tend to be like Far from the Madding Crowd, which has a ton of drama – the heroine gets engaged to marry three different men, and marries two of them, during the course of the novel, and since polyandry was not a thing in 19th century England, that meant that some really dramatic things happen (especially with husband #1, who eventually stops being her husband).

      Yes, having a backstory already in place can be very helpful in fanfic – I myself found it easier to line up the cliffhangers every 1500-4000 words because I could draw on that. But in some ways, fanfic is harder because (unless it is VERY AU) one has to be somewhat in character for the canon characters, even if it does not suit the plot you want for your fanfic (or you could just make them OOC, but that can cause problems too).

      However, in my experience, ship-centric fanfic tends to be much less dramatic than plotty fanfic.

      • Hmm. I like fic where there’s a drama- or action-plot interwoven with a ship plot, or, as I’ve come to know it, A-plot/B-plot fiction, where the B-plot is more important than the usual subplot.

    • I think I’m pretty much like you, Carmilla. I definitely find ship fic that feels drama heavy and emotional but it being about the characters and their relationship dynamic more than a typical tv show would be helps make it more fun. It still, to feel really good, should have a big plot probably especially if it is long.

      Honestly though my (aro-ish) aceness shows through in me really loving short “gen” fanfics not about ships as well, especially canon fill in the blanks or fix its that explore what could’ve been in canon in a different direction. I like writing them and reading them. They don’t have to do with high plot or shippy anything, usually, but more just the details themselves, unpacking trauma is one thing I really like them for too, considering how a person with that particular personality and backstory would be dealing with the harsh realities of their life…

      Oh and they don’t even have to be short for me to love that style of fic, it’s just rare for them to be that long.

      • I like interesting genfic too – and as I said in the post, the abundance of interesting genfic is a distinctly good thing about Vorkosiverse fandom (and some of it is longish, or if there is a ship in a long fic, the ship is sometimes the B plot rather than the A plot).

  3. Pingback: AAWFC 2017: Musings on “Ace Representation in General” | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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