This is an exciting post, but first, a little background: Last year, I wrote about "unnamed" asexuals in fiction. The basic idea was that "... it's still realistic for an asexual person to have never met another ace, and to not know that there is a word describing their sexuality that is in use for other people. If writers want to be realistic, the unnamed asexual is much closer to the truth than the 'out' asexual." However, that's not always an easy description to write. I didn't expect to get an e-mail from a reader saying, "I wrote a book like that, and it just got published"! Would I want to read it? Uh, hells yeah!
Animythical Tales is the book, which is a collection of 10 short stories in the fantasy or speculative fiction genre. Its writer, Sarah Totton, who is ace, told me that "...most (but not all) of [the stories] deal with asexual characters or themes. I'm thinking that other asexuals would 'get' what I was talking about when I wrote those stories in ways that a sexual reader might not..." I actually don't think I've ever read a short story in fantasy before, and I was impressed by the amount of invention that had to be condensed into a few pages.
So speculative fiction I am far from familiar with, but asexual characters...yeah, I'm a nerd. There were two stories that had obviously asexual characters, Henry in "Bluecoat Jack" and Bellan in "The Bone Fisher's Apprentice". How is this described, you may ask? In the latter story, the Bone Fisher is able to glance into Bellan's dreams and see that "there was simply no desire of that type for men or women in this man at all. And yet he was neither innocent nor damaged (93)." I liked the Bone Fisher's response to this "unusual" man: "He did not understand Bellan, but he was intrigued enough to let him sleep, at least another night, perhaps longer, so that he could study him". Henry seemed more distressed about his asexuality: "You don't know what you are. If it even has a name" (55), he says, after recounting his frustrating experiences with both women and men. Usually, real-life asexuals tend to shout about how passionately we nonsexually love things, just so people don't get the wrong idea. These characters are a lot more enigmatic than that.
Up until now, I've read a few vaguely asexy novels-- what asexual hasn't? But now that I have 10 self-contained, ostensibly asexual stories in my hands, I notice patterns emerging. I'd had no idea how much, as a reader, I'd relied upon, and expected, sex and sexualized romance to move a story along. The first time I ever noticed this was while watching the HBO series "In Treatment". It was very slow and plotless at times (yeah, yeah, my kinda thing), so when I saw that two characters had a growing attraction to each other, I was practically yelling at the screen, "Just hook up already!".
Because as we've explored, sex and romance serve as shorthands. No matter how random a story is, sex acts as an anchor of sorts and makes you think something meaningful is occurring. Whoever made "In Treatment" knew that holding off on what we expected to see would keep us interested (okay, that and Gabriel Byrne's voice). Animythical Tales is similarly challenging. The characters don't act how you might expect them to, which I think is a good thing. Without some of the typical signposts, I never quite knew where the stories were headed, so I wanted to keep reading to find out.