Review: Interface by Lucy Mihajlich

The book cover of Interface by Luch Mihajlich

This is the last work of fiction I’m reviewing for my asexual fiction from Smashwords month.

What is this story about?

The year is 2048, and the company Interface – which is essentially Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon combined – has a monopoly on all computers and electronics based on computer technology, and also basically owns the economy of the United States. Oh, and Interface is also a religion, much more popular than Christianity in the year 2048. Interface is run by a man known as ‘the Father’.

Pen Nowen is the younger daughter of Interface’s founder, who died seven years earlier. Her older sister is a popular model, and the Nowen family lives a life of luxury. Thus, Pen is not too surprised when she is kidnapped, since it’s happened before, and the cost of ransoms are basically pocket change for the Nowen family. But her kidnappers don’t want money. Instead, they want a recording of her dead father’s voice, because aside from the voice of the Father, it is the only other voice which can be used to hack into Interface company headquarters.

This is the beginning of how Pen ends up going on a road trip with her kidnappers from Portland, Oregon to New York City.

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

The sexual content is limited to jokes about how autocorrect mistakenly change’s Pen’s name to ‘penis’ and porn on the internet.

As far as violence, there is the video of Pen’s father committing suicide, as well as attempted assassinations (revealing whether the assassination attempts lead to deaths would be spoilerful, so I will merely note that there may or may not be murder in this story).

Tell me more about this story.

Even though it’s set in the year 2048, it’s really a book grounded in this decade (the 2010s) which takes current trends to absurd extremes. Which I think is the writer’s intent. For example, franchises such as Survior and Star Wars, are still popular, with Survivor: New Jersey and Star Wars Episode XXXVII: The Return of Jar Jar (though, considering the long-lived popularity of pop culture icons such as Sherlock Holmes, this is not unrealistic).

However, aside from the pop-culture references, it delves into themes which are very relevant right now – such as monopolization/power concentration among technology corporations – by taking the current situation and making it even more so.

And we see this world through the perspective of a teenager daughter from an elite family who has a penchant for sarcasm.

Here is a sample of the style:

Lui’s voice was more familiar to me than my sister’s. It was more familiar to me than my own, and I talked a lot. He was the voice of elevators, iTeachers, school interComs, robot guidance counselors, robot cops, robotic guns, semi-robotic guns, robot cars, robot cabs, robot buses, robot airplanes, robot skycaps, robot charging station attendants, robot bathroom attendants, robot shrinks, robot surgeons, robot orthodontists, robot nurses, robot nannies, domestic robots, iSuck robot vacuums, iSquirt robot mops, salesrobots, robot waiters, robot concierges, robot bartenders, robot baristas, Starbucks drive-thrus, McDonald’s drive-thrus, McMansions, high-end hotels, transit systems, airplanes, alarm clocks, crosswalks, and Furbies.

Most of the time, Lui was the one taking directions, but he gave them often enough. Reminders, calendar notifications, alarms. Actual directions, when it came to GIPs. He told us to turn right now, to turn off our phones in the movie theater, to drink the Chianti with dinner. We were used to obeying that voice.

I admit the transition between the more satirical parts of the novel and the more serious parts of the novel seemed a bit … jerky. I also admit that I do not entirely understand why Pen goes along with the kidnappers even though she could get away. I mean, according to the blurb, she does it so she can learn about the truth about her father’s death but somehow … I did not feel that motivation, even though the motivation is stated.

As an action-adventure story, well, it’s nothing to write home about. If a reader wants action and adventure, there are novels which deliver much more satisfying results on that front. However, the action-adventure plot does work as a frame to hang the satirical parts of this novel.

Asexuality?

On the asexual content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content) this novel gets a … zero.

This is just the first book in a series, and Lucy Mihajlich has said that the protagonist will realize that she is asexual in the third book. Fair enough. I admit that I was hoping that there would be serious hints of her asexuality even in this first book. That said, I think it’s fine that a series featuring an asexual protagonist is NOT beating the readers over the head with it from the very beginning.

One could argue even this book has asexual/aromantic representation by absence, in that the female protagonist never displays any sexual or romantic interest in anybody, which it unusual in YA (especially for female characters). I do not consider this or word of ace alone enough to earn any points on the asexuality content scale (hence the zero), but it is definitely more ace-reader (and aro-reader) friendly than, well, a lot of other fiction.

Was this written by an asexual?
Yes, Lucy Mihajlich is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

You know, when I wrote the first draft of this review, I said ‘no, I don’t like this novel, it’s not my cup of tea’. But in the process of writing and revising this review and thinking more about the novel, I changed my mind. I think I do like it after all.

Review: Sere from the Green by Lauren Jankowski

The over of 'Sere from the Green' by Lauren Jankowski

This is the fourth work of fiction I’m reviewing for Asexual Fiction from Smashwords Month

What is this story about?

Okay, I generally try to avoid reading reviews other people wrote before I finished writing my review. However, this time, I could not help myself, and I found a plot summary which is both a) accurate and b) better than what I probably would have written on my own. So here is the plot summary by Kirsti (Melbourne’s on my mind):

… it starts out being a story about an ordinary girl taking photos of a murder that subsequently vanishes without a trace, and her being all “Um. WHUT”. But it rapidly turns into “Guess what? You’ve got paranormal abilities! And you have a twin sister! And you need to learn to use your powers immediately because of reasons! And also your father was a pretty bad dude! Who may or may not be dead! And also now there are more vanishing murders! But we can’t really do anything about those, so go break into this museum and steal a CD instead! Also, there’s this mysterious guy following you but don’t worry about him! Instead, worry about the assassin who’s after you!”

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

There is discussion of sexual mores and one character’s sexual history, but nothing sexual happens in the story itself.

Dead bodies of people who were probably murdered appear. Also, there are assassins. And there is quite a bit of various kinds of physical violence.

Tell me more about this novel.

This is a novel which is full of very well-worn tropes such as ‘ordinary person who doesn’t like their life discovers that they are actually from a magic race and they have magic powers’. Having such well-worn tropes does not make a story bad – after all, if one looked at my favorite works of fiction, one would find plenty of well-worn tropes. However, the tropes feel so worn because … I don’t know how to put it. This novel feels very derivative to me. And I don’t mean that in the fanfiction sense. Some works of fanfiction – such as Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – take settings, plots, and characters from another work of fiction, but because it is driven by original ideas which the writer cares a lot about, it feels fresh and original. This story feels like it lacks that type of inspirational spark, so its just copying a bunch of common tropes from other stories and throwing them together.

The plot is incoherent. It goes all over the place, and the structure of the plot is downright bad. For example, we never learn what was going on with the dead body in Chapter 1.

Like most readers, I prefer to have my novels have some kind of conclusion at the end, even in an ongoing series, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me when a novel ends on a cliffhanger. However, for me to want to continue in a series in which the first novel has a non-conclusive cliffhanger ending, I need confidence that the writer is good at plotting, and that there was a high chance of a satisfying payoff. This novel did not give me that confidence.

Asexuality

On the asexuality content scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content), I give this story a … zero.

Well, I’ve had a pretty good run of ‘asexual’ fiction which actually has asexual content, even if it’s just a character quickly saying ‘by the way, I’m asexual’. I guess it was only a matter of time until I ran into ‘asexual’ fiction which did not have any asexual content, especially since the vast majority of works of fiction also rate a zero on the asexuality content scale.

But maybe some of the characters are ace, and this is revealed in future novels in the series. I do not want to read any other book in this series, so unless someone who has read later books tells me, I’ll never know.

There are hints that the protagonist might be ace (or aro) such as:

“Not interested, buddy,” she said bluntly as she turned her attention back to the dance floor.

“Did that sound too much like a pick-up line or was the delivery wrong?” the man asked. The question didn’t sound like flirtation but rather a genuine inquiry, as if he didn’t know what he had done wrong.

“I’m just not interested,” she repeated. The mystery man shrugged and smiled slightly.

And here is another hint:

“Neither has your sister,” Jade countered. “You haven’t been trained properly yet. I’m sure you’ve seen signs though. Animals naturally relax around you. Sometimes it almost feels like you know what they’re thinking. A longing to run free. One hell of a libido. Am I getting warm?”

Isis shifted her weight and Electra did the same. Neither sister noticed the other mirroring her movement. Well that’s just plain freaky, Jade thought as she repressed a shudder.

… but such hints are not enough for me to consider this to be ‘ace’ or ‘aro’ content.

Furthermore, throughout the story, the ‘good’ characters (i.e. the ones the reader are supposed to be sympathetic with) seem totally sold on that specific brand of feminism which declares that women are as ‘liberated’ as they are sexually active, and that having sex is the way to counter patriarchal men who want women to be chaste. Here is a quote:

“Don’t think too much about it. They’re mad at Mom for breaking just about every rule laid down by our ancestors,” Electra explained, flipping some hair over her shoulder. “She’s a sexually liberated single mother and they’re old-fashioned, not the best combination.”

I really hope that this is just a setup for this specific type of ‘feminism’ to be questioned and broken down in future books in the series, because this type of thinking has generally been bad for asexual people, and since this book is marketed at asexual readers, I hold it to a higher standard than mainstream books.

Was this written by an asexual?

Yes, Lauren Jankowski is asexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

No, I do not.

One may buy this book from Smashwords and various ebook retailers. This book and the other books in the series are also going to be (re-)released by Snowy Wings Publishing.

Speculative Fiction by Black Women I Read in 2016

So, after writing this post, I made a goal for myself of reading 10 books of speculative fiction by black women in 2016. Here are the ten that I read:

1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010) by N.K. Jemisin
2. Of One Blood, or the Hidden Self (1902) by Pauline Hopkins
3. Lagoon (2014) by Nnedi Okorafor
4. The Broken Kingdoms (2010) by N.K. Jemisin
5. The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson
6. To Terminator with Love (2016) by Wes Kennedy
7. Filter House (2008) by Nisi Shawl
8. Joplin’s Ghost (2005) by Tannarive Due
9. Midnight Robber (2000) by Nalo Hopkinson
10. Breaking Free by (2012) Alicia McCalla

Why didn’t you read anything by Octavia Butler?

Actually, I have read a couple of novels by Octavia Butler a long time ago, back when she was still alive (wow, time flies). I decided that I would rather read novels by writers I was not familiar with.

But you had read some Nnedi Okorafor novels before 2016!

Okay, I had. I just really wanted to read something new by her.

And you read TWO books by N.K. Jemisin – why not include a tenth writer instead?

Because I wanted to read the sequel.

Why did you include read only ONE book from the ENTIRE TWENTIETH CENTURY??!!!

That was not entirely by choice. I wanted to read at least one other book of speculative fiction from the 20th century by a black woman, but … if one excludes Octavia Butler, it’s not easy. As in, it is not easy to get my hands on physical copies. I put one on hold the library from one and … the library cancelled my hold because they could not find the book in their stacks. Yes, I could have ordered a used copy over the internet (I could not have bought new because it’s hella out of print), but it was simply easier to just read newer books.

I expected getting a copy of Of One Blood would have been easy because it’s public domain. HA HA HA HA. Instead of finding a high quality ebook edition (such as one can get via Project Gutenberg), the only way to get Of One Blood online is here. Fortunately, I discovered that the library did have a print copy which I could borrow. And according to the introduction of that print edition, Of One Blood had spent over 80 years out of print.

The lesson here is that, not only were there not-so-many works of speculative fiction by black women published in the 20th century, but the ones which were published (with the exception of the works of Octavia Butler) are surprisingly difficult to obtain.

Well, what did you think of Of One Blood?

I liked it. It’s not the best novel ever, or even the my best book on this list, but it’s very readable and different from anything else I’ve read.

What is the best book on this list?

It’s not easy to decide, but in my opinion, the best book on the list is Midnight Robber. Of course, space opera is one of my 2-3 favorite subgenres of speculative fiction, and Midnight Robber is the only space opera on the list, so that’s my bias.

What is the worst book on this list?

That is easy to decide – Breaking Free. It’s plain terrible in a way which not of the others on the list are. It’s in the ‘so bad it’s good’ zone, which is why I mildly enjoyed reading it.

Even in the 21st century, two-thirds of the books you read are from this decade, as opposed to the first decade of the century.

Again, there is much greater choice (and it is easier to find) speculative fiction by black women from this decade rather than the previous decade. Yes, I could have filled this list entirely with books from the previous decade, but I went with the path of least resistance.

What do all of these books have in common?

Aside from being speculative fiction? Non-white protagonists. Not always black protagonists, but certainly non-white. Which is not surprising.

What common themes did you notice?

Half of these books draw heavily from African or African-diaspora history/folklore/etc. However, they drew different African/African-diaspora traditions. Of One Blood incorporates the ancient city of Meroë into the story. Lagoon is set in Lagos and draws from Nigerian folklore (which, given that Nnedi Okorafor is Nigerian-American, is not surprising). Filter House is a short story collection, and some of the stories are clearly inspired by African folklore (I’m not sure which traditions). Joplin’s Ghost features Scott Joplin as one of the major character’s (he’s the ghost after all) so there is much history of African-American music and political struggles (such as ragtime and the beginning of Jim Crow, and hip-hop and police shooting African-American teenagers – and yes, it was published in 2005, not 2015). Midnight Robber draws from the Afro-Caribbean tradition (which, given that Nalo Hopkinson was born in Jamaica, is not a surprise).

The Hundred Kingdoms and The Summer Prince do not incorporate African heritage to the same extent that the above books do, yet the deliberately draw from other non-white cultures. N.K. Jemisin herself says that she is careful to get inspiration from many cultures and then weave them in such a way that the readers can no longer obvious which cultures are being referenced. The Summer Prince is set in a cosmopolitan futuristic Brazil.

Did Scott Joplin read Of One Blood?

Since he was alive when it was first published, maybe he did read it. However, I don’t think anyone alive today has a clue whether he ever read it or not.

Sara, have you been edified?

Probably. I don’t think reading these books gave me any particular insight into black women which I didn’t already have. However, they are (mostly) good books, and reading more good books is good. They also, overall, feel different from most of the English-language speculative fiction I’ve read. Most of the English-language speculative fiction I’ve read has been from the 20th century (but not the first decade of the 20th century), so it’s not necessarily easy for me to tell whether these books feel different from most of the speculative fiction I’ve read because they are by black women as opposed to white people, or whether they feel different because they were written in a different era (1902 / 21st century as opposed to 20th century).

Review: Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

The cover of Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

This is the third book I am reviewing for my Asexual Fiction from Smashwords Month.

What is this novel about?

The story is set in Parole, which seemed to be a fenced in quarantine zone / concentration camp where nobody is allowed to leave, and there is a lake of fire which threatens to eventually engulf everybody. Meanwhile, SkEye watches and polices everybody.

Regan has amnesia, so he remembers very little and needs explanations such as what the heck is this place. A family of three wives (poly same-sex marriage) takes him under their wing, and and the story progresses, it becomes clearer that Regan is involved in something which concerns the fate of all who live in Parole.

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

As far as I can recall, there is practically no sexual content. Violence – well, there is attempted murder and attempted suicide (revealing whether the attempts result in death would be spoilerful), physical combat, and psychological combat.

Tell me more about this novel.

I like the setting, especially its imagery, such as the lake of fire, and the turret house (which seems to have been inspired by the Winchester Mystery House). I also noticed the parallels between this setting and the setting of Candy Land – it’s set in a future vaguely dystopian post-USA, there was an epidemic which was induced by scientific research which kills lots of people but also left a lot of people with superpowers, etc. Of course, there are stark differences too (Chameleon has way more female character and way less sex than Candy Land).

The writer describes herself as writing “oddly optimistic dystopia books” which is an apt description of this story. ‘Oddly optimistic’ is certainly a refreshing twist on the ‘dystopia’ genre, and I felt, while reading this novel, the potential for how good that kind of fiction could be.

However, this novel specifically did not work so well for me. Why not? The short answer is that I did not care for the characters or the plot. A more detailed answer is that I did not feel the characters were sufficiently developed. For example, the female triad (Evelyn, Rose, Danae) felt too idealized and not sufficiently realized. It’s not the first example I’ve seen in fiction of a queer-poly triad, and frankly, it’s not one of the better-written ones. They have a seemingly perfect relationship in which they never seem to have any interpersonal problems, which is okay since this is not a story about interpersonal marriage problems and allows the story to focus on something else. However, even though the reader keeps on being told that they live in such despair, and that so many people in Parole have PTSD, etc … the ‘show’ does not match the ‘tell’. Showing how personal relationships give people the strength to thrive in the midst of adversity can be a wonderful thing in fiction, but in order for it to work for me, a lot more of the adversity has to be shown, whether it’s caused by external or internal factors, and how the personal relationships actually give characters strength.

As far as the plot … well, I lost track of what was going on plotwise somewhere in the middle of the novel. And because I lost the plot, the second half of the novel was much less interesting to me than the first half.

Asexuality?

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

Regan, the protagonist, is asexual. It only comes up in one scene in Chapter 6. It’s a bit too long for me to quote the whole thing in this review, so I am just going to pick out two snippets, one from the beginning of the scene, and one from the end of the scene.

Snippet 1:

“Um,” his expression shifted to a near-perfect blank, though his eyes slowly widened. “I…really… this is gonna sound weird, and I swear I’m not messing with you… but… I don’t think I’m attracted to anyone. Not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Not weird,” she assured him. “Not weird at all.”

“I haven’t even thought about it,” he mumbled. “I mean, I’ve wondered, but like just in a vague ‘who am I, what was my life’ way. I haven’t really… felt anything about…Anyone.” He scowled for a moment, then let out a frustrated noise, neck frill flaring out. “But that’s not right either, because I know I have, all this means is that I don’t look at someone I don’t know or trust, like a stranger, and think they’re hot—I don’t think anyone’s hot when I first meet them! No offense,” he said hurriedly.

Snippet 2:

“I’m a freaking paradox.”

“If it helps,” she said, tone tentative but casual. “I don’t think you’re a paradox. But you might be asexual.”

Regan’s mouth fell open. He looked up with wide eyes again but for a much different, much better different reason. Slowly, the tension melted out of his shoulders and his frill dropped back down to hang loose. When he looked at her now she saw something else in his eyes. One of her favorite things to see. Hope.

“I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it might explain a few things,” she said, voice calm but with an undertone of restrained optimism. “I’m not, myself, but I’ve known a lot of wonderful ace—asexual—people in my life, and you’re saying a lot of the same things they do.”

“Tell me.” He was still looking at her, but with a different kind of intensity now. It was the same look he’d had when he was listening to the familiar song, trying to remember where he’d heard the words he knew by heart but couldn’t place. “I think it’s important.”

“Me too. And from what you’re saying—never experiencing sexual attraction, or maybe only sometimes, or only for someone you really trust?”

“Yeah. It fits.”

“Then try it on.” She smiled. “There’s no one size. And your words exist for you. As long as they help you instead of making you feel trapped, everything’s… aces.” A ghost of a smile appeared on his face, and she encouraged it with one of her own.

So, how relevant is this to the overall story or Regan’s character development? Well, one way to interpret this is that it’s not relevant because the novel wouldn’t really be much different if this scene were removed, and that this is just an excuse to insert the ace explanation and tick off the ‘asexual representation’ box. Another way to interpret it is that it is consistent with the novel’s theme of accepting people as they are, especially queer people. I favor the second interpretation, but I have to admit that the ‘asexual’ aspect of this story is not as smoothly integrated as it is in some other works of fiction.

Was this written by an ace?

Yes, one may read this interview.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

No, I don’t. I seriously considered not finishing it, and I only decided to go ahead and finish it because I planned to write this review.

The Most Different Kinds of Ace Characters I Can Think of

This is for the January Carnival of Aces – Many Ways to Be Ace.

As anyone who has been following my blog for the past few months knows, I’ve been binge-reading ace fiction lately. So, in response to the prompt, I was thinking ‘which of these ace characters is the MOST different from the others?’

Of course, there are many ways characters can be different from each other. A 6000 year old elf who lives in Seattle in 2013 is really different from a human detective for hire who lives on a different planet in an age of interplanetary travel, but that’s not the kind of difference which I consider interesting for this kind of question.

Going through the list from the prompt – “ethnicity, religion, romantic orientation, gender, background, career, etc.”

1) Ethnicity – a plurality of the ace characters in the fiction I’ve been reading lately are white people from the United States who seem to identify more strongly with whiteness than ethnicity.
Now, here it’s tricky. I don’t want to imply that USA-white people who do not identify strongly with an ethnicity are a default, and that everyone else who deviates from that, whether they are white people who do identify with an ethnicity (Italian-American, for example), or who are not white, or who are not American, are some deviation from that default. On the other hand, there is a reason why lists such as ‘Murder Mystery Stories with POC protagonists’ are more useful than lists such as ‘Superhero Stories with white protagonists from the USA’.
So, to acknowledge that being white from the USA is not at all a default, I will throw in one story with a white-from-the-USA ace character: Crush.
Then, I offer a list of characters from stories who are either a) white yet non-American or b) are not white (note: this list is not exhaustive because characters’ ethnicities are not always clear OR I’ve forgotten):
Ball Caps and Khakis, ace character is Korean-American
Candy Land, ace character is from post-USA North America (i.e. the United States no longer exists as a nation)
Fourth World, ace characters are Martians, one of the Martians is of Mexican descent
Blank Spaces, ace character is white Canadian
The Painted Crown, ace character is from pseudo-medieval-Europe
We Go Forward, ace character is white Australian
To Terminator With Love, ace character is Asian-American (most likely Chinese-American, but it would not have made much of a difference to the story if the ace character were, say, Malagasy-American as opposed to Asian-American)
The Life and Death of Eli and Jay, ace character is Siksika (a First Nation ethnicity in Canada)
The Zhakieve Chronicles, both ace characters are from (and live in) pseudo-medieval-Eastern-Europe
Open Skies, ace character lives in space opera with fictional planets
Quicksilver, ace character is Canadian and, well, to say more would be spoilerish.

2) Religion – the religion for most of the ace characters in the fiction I’m reading is not defined. The only ace fiction story I’ve read in which religion is significant to the story is “Cold Ennaline”.

3) Romantic Orientation Aha! Jackpot! Most of the ace fiction stories I’ve been reading are published by LGBTQ+ presses which require or at least strongly encourage romance. Thus, it is no surprise that the most common romantic orientation in the stories I’ve been reading is homoromantic. Even though most of the LGBTQ+ presses would accept a M/F romance as long as the characters are not cishet (for example, an M/F romance featuring trans characters), they definitely publish way more same-sex romances, even for ace characters. In fact, I can’t think off hand of any fiction stories I’ve read with a heteromantic or biromantic ace character off-hand (though maybe I’ll remember something later). As far as, say, demiromantic, or quoiromantic … well, there are characters which arguably fit those labels, but none that I would feel confident putting on a list.
There have been a few stories with aromantic characters, which I will list here:
“Any Way the Wind Blows”
Open Skies
Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story
Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart
“The Galloway Road” (actually, I’m not sure, but IIRC, the character seemed aromantic)
We Go Forward

4) Gender – well, some ace characters are (cis) male and some are (cis) female. More male characters than female characters (probably because I’ve been mostly drawing from LGBTQ+ presses, and they publish so much more M/M than anything else it’s ridiculous), but still plenty of ace female characters to choose from. The only genderqueer ace character I’ve encountered in fiction so far is Blake in the Assassins series. I’ve only read the first book, in which Blake is just a minor character and SEEMS to be male, but the second book supposedly reveals that Blake is actually intersex, agender, and greysexual.

5) Background – this one is so broad I am not even going to try.

6) Career – hmmmm. I don’t want to list out all of the different careers I’ve seen ace characters have, so I’ll just select a few which jump out at me.
Blank Spaces – art gallery worker / painter
“Any Way the Wind Blows” – farming
Assassins: Discord – assassin (which is what one might expect from a novel called ‘ASSASSINS’)
To Terminator With Love – electrical engineering student at MIT
“Bender” – BDSM rent boy (notable mainly because rent boy is a rather unusual career for an asexual to pursue)

7) etc. – in here, I am going to put in Personality.
Ace characters in fiction tend to be intellectual, not be very social, not have many friends, be ‘introverts’, tend to be emotionally reserved, etc. To be fair, a lot of people who identify in real life as ‘ace’ are also like this. However, I like seeing ace characters … who are not like that. I’d like to see more ace characters who are loud, bold, brash, socially engaged, etc. – which I suppose I could sum up as being ‘extroverted’ (though I don’t particularly like the term).
Here is a list of stories where the ace character breaks out of the most common personality molds of ace characters in some sense:
How to Be a Normal Person (ace character is more sociable and socially engaged than the non-ace protagonist)
Lone Star on a Cowboy Heart (ace character thinks acting like a vigilante – including shooting people with his gun and interrogating witnesses even though he is not a law enforcement officer – is a good idea)
“As Autumn Leaves” – ace character used to be a cheerleader, and though she has a lack of friends, that is not due to her social inclinations

So, there you go. I hope that this is useful, or at least interesting, to somebody.

Review: Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story

The cover of Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story by Janine A. Southard

This review is part of my month of asexual fiction from Smashwords.

What is this story about?

Morena, a 40-year old Brazilian-American, lives in Seattle (year 2013) with her cocaine-using roommate Suzyn and works in logistics and distribution for Starbucks. Both Morena and Suzyn go to story-gaming meetups, where they hand out with Magic Guy, who they believe is a regular human, but is in fact a 6,000 year old elf. Morena gets an iPhone from her ex-boyfriend who had kept on fetishizing her Latin-ness and forgetting that she doesn’t speak Spanish (she speaks English and Portuguese). What Morena doesn’t know is that it is a magic iPhone which will compel her to keep on using dating apps to meet guys, even when it is clear that it is not good for her.

What the *****?

The story is called “Cracked”, okay? It is obviously an example of crackfic as original fiction (as opposed to fan fiction).

By the way, you put in five stars, not four, in your question.

I put in FIVE stars because it’s supposed to replace a FIVE letter word.

Well, I suppose there is no problem with using five letter swear words instead of four letter swear words. Assuming that what you are blocking out with stars is in fact a swear word.

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

There is no sex in this story, and … not much discussion of sexual topics, actually. There are guys who try to hit on Morena in creepy ways, such as asking her to take a shower with them, and sometimes there is sexual innuendo in the jokes, but that’s what I can think of off hand. As far as violence, hmmmm, there is a prank which ends up killing a innocent woman in 19th century England.

I thought you said the story takes place in Seattle in the year 2013.

I also pointed out that this is essentially crackfic.

So tell me more about this crack-original-fic.

Contrary to the title, it’s really more about Seattle than iPhones (magic or otherwise). On the one hand, I have never been to Seattle, or anywhere in the western United States north of Eugene, Oregon. On the other hand, I was born on the West Coast of north America and have spent most of my life here (I am going to define ‘West Coast’ as everywhere between San Diego and Juneau, including coastal British Columbia). So in some ways, the culture of Seattle as presented in this story is familiar because I am from West Coast culture, and in some ways it is not familiar. So I found the ways it was familiar-yet-unfamiliar to be interesting.

A lot of the prose is like this:

There are few things in the world more relaxing than curling up with a mug of tea and watching horrible TV on Netflix while you fiddle with a smartphone or laptop and chat with a friend. Some people believe that’s too much to do all at once, but those people are all too old to have done collaborative homework over the phone (or, at least, don’t have as many attention issues as does the author of this book).

I recognize that this style is intentional, and that this novel wouldn’t be what it is without it. At the same time, I sometimes felt that it went too far for me, and that I would have preferred this aspect of the novel to have been pared down.

The major theme of this book is that friendship can be more valuable than romance. This point is hammered in when Morena, during a crisis, tells her friends that she needs a romantic partner because she needs someone who will always be there. She persists in believing that a romantic partner will be the one who will always be there, in spite of the fact that her friends are there to support her through her crisis, and her boyfriend is not. It’s ironic.

Asexuality?

I actually think this novel is more relevant to aromanticism than asexuality (especially since the moral of the story is ‘friendship can be more valuable than romance’). That said, on the asexuality scale (1 = least asexual content, 10 = most asexual content) I would rate this novel as a 2.

The aromantic asexual character is Magic Guy. Yep, it’s the non-human character. However, even the asexual readers who get annoyed with the frequency that asexual characters are non-human admit that the trope can be done well and that it’s not necessarily a bad depiction of asexuality. I would put this is the ‘not bad’ category.

The first mention of Magic Guy’s asexuality is in Chapter 2:

“Besides,” said Morena, “you’ve never tried to pick me up.”

Magic Guy laughed. “I wouldn’t. I’m asexual and aromantic, so it seems horribly unlikely.”

“Of course,” said Morena, oh-so-put-upon. “All the good ones are taken, gay, or ace.”

It is mentioned again in Chapter 14:

“I know.” She sat up and twisted to look at him, her eyebrows screwed together in confusion and slight derision. As if to say duh! Though he was pretty sure kids didn’t say that anymore. “You said you were ace.” Which was true, he had told both Suzyn and Morena that he identified as asexual way back in Chapter Two – Let You Tell Me a Story.

Magic Guy, at one point, is in a situation where a father has caught him with his daughter, and the father is angry at him because he believes that Magic Guy has stained his daughter’s honor, and it’s treated as humorous that an asexual aromantic guy is accused of disturbing a young woman’s sexual purity.

Oh, and there is also this:

He shrugged, and if it was more bravado than surety, no one had to know. “What’s the worst it can do to me? Make me go on a date?”

They both laughed at the idea of an asexual aromantic being forced to go on a date.

The writer herself has said here:

I like to think, though, that by adding characters who are ace-spectrum, more readers will see that as a normal state that coexists with the mainstream. I once had a reader tell me that he’d never heard the term “ace” for asexual before reading one of my books. (This one isn’t YA, but does have an explicitly asexual character: Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story.)

Was this written by an asexual?

Janine A. Southard is demisexual.

Hey Sara, do you like this novel?

I … suppose I do. The style did annoy me at times, and I wish that it were about 25% shorter, but I guess even with the aspects I didn’t like, I still like this novel overall.

One may buy this novel from Smashwords and various other book retailers.

Review: Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari

The cover of Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari

This is part of my series of reviews of asexual fiction titles published on Smashwords.

What Is This Story About?

Nadin is a young woman on Iamos, a planet which will be uninhabitable in one year, so everyone will have to evacuate or perish. It’s an interesting time to come of age.

Isaak is a teenager on Mars in the year 2073. Mars is ruled by a corporation called GSAF. Isaak’s father disappeared two years ago, and among his possessions, he finds an ancient coin. And then he finds signs that Mars has been inhabited by human-like people a long time ago – but how is that possible?

What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?

There is a scene with unwanted making-out. The characters also sometimes talk about sex in a non-graphic way. Violence … there isn’t any outright gore, but potential for violence (as in, zillions of people being deliberately left to die) exists.

Tell Me More About This Novella.

I am going to be honest here. I stretched reading this novel out over a much longer time that I usually do. That’s because I had trouble motivating myself to read this. That means I do not remember all of the events of this story (particularly in the first half) as well as I wish I did for the sake of writing this review.

I felt that Part 1 drags too much. It became a vicious cycle. Because I was not into the story, I had trouble keeping track of all the characters (except the 2-3 most important characters), and because I have trouble keeping track of the characters, it was hard for me to care about what was happening, and because I did not care, I read only a little bit at at time and would forget stuff between sittings, which made it even harder to get into the story.

I became significantly more interested in the story at the end of Part 1, which is why I read Part 2 and 3 at a faster pace.

This review is coming off harsher than I intend. I think the writing quality is higher than many of the other asexual stories I review on this blog. I can see where positive reviews such as this one are coming from. However, for some reason, this story does not speak to me.

So, Asexuality?

On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 2.

Both of the main characters fall under the asexual umbrella. Isaak is the first character I have ever found in a novel who explicitly identifies as demisexual. This is the scene in which this is revealed (I have replaced a some words with [] to avoid spoilers):

He smiled back, ruffling my hair like he used to when I was little. Then he said, “So, does this mean you’re not slobbering over Tamara anymore? Or are you just sowing some wild oats?”

I groaned, my shoulders slumping. “[], don’t be gross.”

“Ah, come on, []. You’re not still on about that oddball demigod thing, are you?”

“Demisexual, [],” I corrected him through gritted teeth. “And it’s not an ‘oddball’ thing, thanks so much. It’s normal. Lots of people feel this way.”

[He] rolled his eyes. “Right. And that’s why you have to make up a weird, complicated name for it.”

I jumped to my feet, pushing away from him. “It’s not weird, and I didn’t make it up! I’ve told you a million times. It’s completely simple: I just don’t feel sexual attraction that much. Not unless there’s a bond first. That’s all there is to it.”

The other protagonist, Nadin, is asexual, though she does not have that vocabulary to describe herself. Though it is not explicitly stated, there are clear signs, and Word of God says that she is asexual. This is the scene in which it is most obvious (note: this is the scene with unwanted making-out):

He didn’t seem to notice my revulsion. His lips slid down the side of my neck, and his hands caressed my back, my thighs. His breath came out in a sigh. “I love you, Nadin,” he whispered, pulling my body closer to his, and I could feel the hardness of him beneath his clothing.

“Ceilos!” I cried again, louder this time.

He pulled away, his eyes unfocused and confused. “What is it?”

“I-I…” I was shaking. I didn’t know what to say. It was like I was asleep again, having some kind of horrible nightmare.

He blinked a few times, his eyes coming back into focus. “What’s wrong? Didn’t you like it?”
Why would I like that?! my mind screamed, but I couldn’t find my voice. I couldn’t bear to see the hurt on Ceilos’ face, couldn’t understand what I had done to cause it.

He pushed away from me, getting to his feet. “I’m sorry, Nadin,” he said, his voice impossibly small. “I thought… I thought you loved me, too.”

I jumped up after him. “I do love you!” I protested.

“Then why don’t you—” I flinched, and he lowered his volume. “Why don’t you want me?”

I had broken him. No, I had broken us. I could feel it as surely as the cold air around us, as the fading atmosphere outside the dome. Something was wrong with me, and it had ruined Ceilos and me forever. We could never go back.

I couldn’t stop the tears this time. They coursed freely down my face, burned my throat. “I don’t know,” I said.

As you can see, this fits the very common narrative of asexual people feeling like they are broken before they start thinking of it as a sexual orientation, especially in the context of a romantic relationship where they feel obligated to be happy about sexual things which repel them.

My guess is that, in the next book, Isaak and Nadin are going to compare notes about this.

Was This Written by an Asexual?

Yes, Lyssa Chiavari is asexual.

Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novel?

No, I don’t.

You can buy Fourth World from Smashwords and various other eBook retailers.