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.

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.

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.

Review: Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

The cover of Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox

This is one of the stories I’m reviewing for Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month.

What is this story about?

Works of art get stolen, leaving BLANK SPACES on the wall of an art gallery.

The End.

Okay, not really.

Absence is as crucial as presence. The absence of these stolen works of art is turning out to be crucial to the (dys)functioning of the art gallery where Vaughn works. They have insurance, but since it’s the third time art has been stolen from this gallery in a year, the insurance company sends Jonah to investigate. And when Vaughn’s friend takes him to a gay bar later, it is sheer freaking coincidence that Jonah also happens to be there, having sex with two guys at once.

Vaughn lives off his family’s wealth, came from a stable loving family (though they are sometimes too nosy about his personal life), loves art, has mild manners, and doesn’t like sex. Jonah thinks art is boring, is abrasive, was abandoned by his mother when he was five years old, lives from paycheck to paycheck, and likes to forget his problems by have lots of sex with strangers. Obviously, they are a perfect match … for entertaining readers.

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

There are many references to Jonah’s promiscuous lifestyle, but generally the descriptions of his sexual escapades are very brief. There is a non-penetrative sex scene which is described in some detail. There are brief references to the physical abuse Jonah experienced as a child, and at some points in the story there are threats of physical violence. Oh, and there is a scene where someone shoves someone into a closet and forcefully kisses that person (though the person being kissed loves it).

Tell me more about this novel

Based on my story summary, Jonah could seem like a creep. I’m relieved to say that he’s not. He’s flawed, and he sometimes fails social relations, but he does understand basic human decency, and when he messes up, he does apologize and try to make up for it.

Anyway, I would like to share this short excerpt from a scene where Vaughn is trying to get Jonah to appreciate abstract art:

“And what about the rest of it?” Jonah gestured to the creamy expanse below the mess. “There’s nothing.”

“Absence is as important as presence, in art.” He paused. “In most things, actually.”

What the shit did that mean? “In English?”

“The artist could have painted this in. But she didn’t. She left it bare for a reason.” He pointed up. “Why is it busy up there, but not down here? The lack of something here is meaningful. It contrasts the mess up there, and the mess contrasts how bare it is down here. The two define each other, and the absence therefore takes on its own significance. It could be colourful, but it isn’t, and we have to think about it.”

And a little later in the same scene:

“Look at this. What the fuck even is this? It’s like this one line of interesting shit and a whole lot of uninteresting shit. And the interesting stuff is right at the top. It’s distracting. If I was going to make something people wanted to look at, I’d fill the whole canvas up with that part.”

“Imagine what that would look like.”

Jonah could. The whole canvas would be covered with the bright colours and slashes and it would look— “Crazy,” he realized. “Even more of a mess. Like too much to look at.” He frowned. “Wait, is that a thing? Limit the crazy so it’s a pretty mess instead of a huge one?”

“That is indeed a thing.”

“So, mess is nice but in small doses?” Jonah gazed at the cream colour. It was so . . . so . . . “It’s bearable when everything else is quiet,” he said slowly. “It’s easier to enjoy when the rest of it is calm.”

Why did I choose to highlight this scene rather than other scenes? Because the novel is called BLANK SPACES. And these excerpts explain the benefits of BLANK SPACES in art. This is obviously tied to the overall metaphor of the story.

One of the ways the ‘blank space’ metaphor is built into the story is Jonah’s personal life. He has an extremely active sex life (creating ‘busyness’) partially to compensate for the ‘blank spaces’ in his personal life (such as the lack of reliable parental figures). That’s not to say that he is in constant angst mode over his childhood – he mostly prefers not to dwell on it. But, errr, during the course of the story, he hears news of his mother for the first time in almost twenty years, which forces him to deal with emotions drama.

I felt that the whodunit of the stolen art pieces was too obvious for that storyline to be fully satisfying, but who are we kidding? This is a romance novel, and the stolen-art plotline is mainly a device to get Vaughn and Jonah to meet under plotty circumstances.

So, Asexuality

On the asexuality content scale (1 = minimal asexual content, 10 = maximum asexual content) I rate this story as a 6.

Yet another way the ‘Blank Spaces’ metaphor shows up in this story is as the absence of sexual attraction and sexual desire, specifically with regards to Vaughn.

Vaughn’s had sex, didn’t care for it, so he stopped having sex. Since he assumes a boyfriend-style relationship isn’t possible without sex, he tells Jonah that he isn’t into ‘relationships’. Jonah also is not into ‘relationships’ because he prefers to have sex without commitments, so he mistakenly thinks that Vaughn is into casual sex, just like himself. Cue comedic misunderstandings (and yes, there are quite a few bits in this novel which made my laugh out loud).

Vaughn’s known for years that he is ‘different’ from other gay men, but did not really know how to describe it until, during a toga party, he overhears a discussion of queer politics:

“Oh, shut up. We’re talking about asexuals, not gay guys.” She scowled at him. “Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can define what queer is.”

“Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you can tell me where my identity fits in the entirety of the LGBTQ umbrella or that my opinion is invalid,” he responded. “And if we’re talking about asexuals, I don’t think they should be included at all.”

“Oh really?”

“Abstinence doesn’t mean shit to anyone except right-wing loons in the US.”

She grinned in triumph. “Asexuality isn’t abstinence.”

“Sure as fuck looks like it.”

“Abstinence is behaviour, which isn’t what asexuality is about,” the girl continued. “It’s about the direction and manifestation of your sexuality. Gay guys are attracted to men, right? And you have a libido, ergo, you want to sleep with men. But what if you got drunk and slept with a woman? Are you still gay?”

“Yes.” He scrunched up his face. “No. I think it depends.” He shook his head as if to clear it. “You got a point?”

I like this twist on the ‘ace explanation’. It gets the key points across for the readers who really don’t know about asexuality as a sexual orientation, yet because it’s mixed into a political discussion, it’s also offers something to readers who are more interested in 201 level discussions of asexuality.

I do not want to get into too much detail about how Vaughn and Jonah react to this discussion of asexuality because that would be spoilerful, but as a member of the asexual blogging community, I have to quote this section:

On a whim, he’d typed asexuality into the search box, which, like most whims related to the Tumblr search engine, proved an excellent idea. Soon he’d followed about a dozen new blogs with names like queenieofaces and gaybeard-the-great, some of which even seemed to be based in Canada. Promising.

Yes, an asexual blogger I follow (Queenie) is specifically mentioned in this novel. Gaybeard-the-great, on the other hand, is a character in Finding Your Feet, another novel by Cass Lennox which I will be reviewing this month.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Cass Lennox is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

Hell yes! Ever since I started doing these reviews of asexual fiction in October (and no, I had no idea that it would turn into this big of a thing – honestly, back in October, I just thought I would read about 10 asexual novels/novellas and be done with it) I have read over 30 asexual novels/novellas/short stories, and this is one of my top favorites.

Blank Spaces may be purchased at the Riptide Publishing Store or at various book retailers. One may also get it from most public libraries in California via Link+.

Asexual Fiction from Riptide Publishing Month

So, on this blog, the madness started when I got the “brilliant” idea of reading a ton of asexual fiction novel(la)s from Less Than Three Press for Asexual Awareness Week, and then I dedicated a month to Harmony Ink Press, and then I dedicated a month to Dreamspinner Press, and finally I dedicated last month to the self-publishing platform Smashwords. Unsurprisingly, I am going to dedicate this month to Riptide Publishing, the last LGBTQ+ publisher which has put out a significant amount of ace fiction (there are other LGBTQ+ publishers which have put out at least one work of ace fiction, but AFAIK, only Less Than Three, Harmony Ink / Dreamspinner, and Riptide have published more than two ace titles).

These are the titles I intend to review:

Blank Spaces by Cass Lennox
Assassins: Discord by Erica Cameron
“Labyrinth” by Alex Beecroft
All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher
“Making Love” by Aidan Wayne
Far From Home by Lorelie Brown
Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox

Admit it Sara, you’ve turned this into an ace review blog.

No, I will not admit it! If readers start viewing this as primarily a review blog, I am going to quit. If I start getting offers of advanced reader copies or free review copies, I am going to quit (note: I have no objection to reviewers who accept free review copies, I just don’t want to go there myself).

Furthermore, I think next month (March) will probably be the last month when I do a formal ‘Ace Fiction from X’ month deal. I think the theme for March will be “Previously Ignored Publishers” – either works of ace fiction from small publishers who I have ignored until now, or works of ace fiction from mainstream publishers, which I have also ignored until now.

And you all can help me by giving me recommendations. What are the great works, or the less-than-great works, or even the terrible yet interesting works of ace fiction you have read, that you want me to review in March?

Does that mean you will never ever again review any ace fiction after March?

No it does not. What it means is that I will probably only review ace fiction on an irregular basis, rather than doing the whole ‘Month of Ace Fiction from Blah Blah’ shebang.

But you’ll probably write more rants about ace fiction.

Well, yes. One of the reason I’m reading all this ace fiction is so that I get a good idea of what’s out there. Now that I have a much better idea of what’s out there, I have a lot more to rant about.

As always, I am curious about what the works of ace fiction from the publisher du mois, in this case, Riptide Publishing.