Burning Out as a Critic of Ace Fiction

This is for the December 2018 Carnival of Aces “Burnout”.

As some of you know, I went on a 6-12 month binge on ace fiction / ace fiction reviewing / commenting on ace fiction, and you can find those posts by checking out my ‘asexual fiction’ and ‘ace fiction’ tags (no, I am not good at keeping my tags consistent), and it culminated in me writing a bunch of posts for The Asexual Agenda’s Ace Tropes series.

I never expected to keep that all up indefinitely, in fact I am surprised that I kept that up for as long as I did. Before I did a lot of ace fiction criticism, Ace Reads reviewed a lot of ace fiction books, and I got started around the time Agent Aletha burned out. Now, I’m in a position where I can relate to parts of this post about not reviewing so many ace books anymore. I particular, I really relate to this part: “I haven’t even been reading many ace books because I’m not in the mood for romance stories and that is so much of what’s available”.

One of the reasons I eventually did get burned out on reading/commenting on ace fiction is that it is mostly in genres that I do not prefer – namely, romance (particularly M/M romance) and recent English-language YA. I sometimes really like romance in my fiction – particularly if my favorite romance tropes are used – but I tend to not find novels labelled as being in the ‘romance’ genre itself so appealing. I tend to like M/M romance about as much (or as little) as other ‘romance’ novels. And in the past couple years I’ve found myself reading more recent English-language YA than I normally would, partially for reasons unrelated to ace fiction, but partially because that is where so much ace fiction is, and I find that too many recent English-language YA fiction books in too short a time window can really grate on me.

I think it’s good for me to read some fiction outside my preferred genres to broaden my reading horizons, but doing that in large doses tends to make me a not-so-happy reader.

To be clear, this is a matter of these genres clashing with my own idiosyncratic tastes, not any problem intrinsic to these genres. If most ace fiction was concentrated in my preferred genres, I would be really happy, but it would probably irritate and burn out a lot of other ace readers if they tried to read too many of them.

And it’s not just a matter of genre. Even within my preferred genres, I’m not interested in and do not like every story (likewise, I sometimes find surprising gems in genres I normally don’t care for).

In the beginning, I was so overwhelmingly curious about how asexuality was represented in fiction, and this helped me power through a lot of stories which otherwise would not have interested me much. However, after I had read a large volume of ace fiction, some of my curiosity was satisfied, and I had less drive to read stories which otherwise did not interest me.

And another thing is that, after reading a large volume of ace fiction, I found that ace representation in fiction is going through a lot of growing pains. There are still many limitations in how it is done. Because there is not a large body of precedents of how to show asexuality in fiction, and most of the people who write ace fiction haven’t read even as much of it as I have, some models/tropes/conventions etc. have not been fully fleshed out. There is a reason why the last two ace tropes posts I wrote were called ‘wish fulfillment’ – “Ace Ensemble” and “World of Ace”. Those are two potential directions for ace representation which have been barely explored, and there are many more. But given that most ace fiction available still represents asexuality within certain limits, reading one representation after another within that confined area can get tiresome.

Last year, I was really happy that The Valley of Life and Death was a novel in one of my preferred genres which had a protagonist who was very plausibly asexual and aromantic. I am also really happy that the protagonist of Way of Choices, my favorite novel that I read in 2018 (and I’m going to write another blog post about it very soon that blog post has been published), has a protagonist who is very plausibly grey-A or demisexual. It would be nice if the ace representation were more explicit, but even ‘easy-to-headcanon-as-ace’ in a story which I would love anyway is very nice.

In the past few months, I have been reading some more ace fiction again. By far the most interesting (in terms of ace content) was Let’s Talk About Love, which is why that is the only one I’ve blogged about. I don’t think I will ever binge on ace fiction the way I have before, but I think reading the more interesting ace fiction books at a moderate pace and occasionally writing reviews will be good (much as Agent Aletha is doing now). I may even write some more Ace Tropes posts.

The fact that there is so much ace fiction out there that it’s impossible to read it all without getting overwhelmed/burned out is a wonderful thing in itself. As a next step, it would be nice if it wasn’t so concentrated in a few genres, and if the representation branched out in more directions.

11 thoughts on “Burning Out as a Critic of Ace Fiction

  1. Yeah. I’m currently working on changing that situation in German by writing stuff. However, given that I started aut with a fantasy M/M romance, and somehow made two sequels happen (brain, why) I keep getting asked for M/M romance short stories. Hopefully, once the (M/M) romance bubble has caught on, we’ll get more acefic elsewhere, too.
    That said, I don’t like YA much, either, so a lot of queer fantasy content that’s not romance just isn’t for me.

    • Is German-language YA similar to English-language YA? The reason I specifically said ‘English-language YA’ in this post is that the popular fiction being written for teens/young adults in Chinese is so different from the YA being written in English that they are functionally different genres.

      • Sorry, this kind of went under the radar for a bit. I have the impression they’re quite similar, since there’s a huge overlap because of translations and shared beliefs about society Individuality vs. community, democracy, freedom, e.g., which is probably different in China? We also have more diverse LGBT-characters in YA than anywhere else. Also, people reading the translations will automatically be influenced by that in their own writing in as how this kind of story works.

      • The bestselling English-language YA novels tend to be translated into Chinese, while the not-so-bestselling English-language YA novels generally are not. They influence Chinese-language YA, but so does the rich legacy of Chinese-language literature. I think there are also different cultural expectations in play. (I am honestly more familiar with what’s available in Taiwan than what’s available in China). Generally, I think Chinese-language YA is broadly more similar to Japanese manga for young people than to English-language YA.

  2. “I was really happy that ‘The Valley of Life and Death’ was a novel in one of my preferred genres which had a protagonist who was very plausibly asexual and romantic.” – did you mean “Aromantic” rather than romantic? Not that a character being alloromantic but still ace wouldn’t make you happy, just… I glanced through that post and am wondering. Also glancing at that post now, I must say you can rip my Katniss Everdeen aroace headcanon from my cold, dead, hands. LMAO. XD Just teasing.

  3. Since I was reading more ace webcomics rather than books, it was a bit different for me, because the webcomics are still ongoing. There are some I got bored with and stopped following, and others that I still read to this day. What I did burn out on is new webcomic discovery. That’s not a problem with the genre, it’s just that most webcomics are not very good, and you have to sift through a lot of them to find something worthwhile. It got worse over time, because barriers to entry got lower, and I think more creators became aware of the tagpacker list I was using. I basically have to find more selective discovery mechanisms.

    • Burnout on new webcomic discovery is also why I stopped reading webcomics, though I think I got to that point years before you did. The only webcomic I still read is Girl Genius – all of the others I used to read on a regular basis either lost my interest or ended.

  4. Pingback: Carnival of Aces December 2018 Wrap-up: “Burnout” | Next Step: Cake

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