Stargate Monuments

marthawells

Martha Wells

My Flying Lizard Circus


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Raksura
marthawells

Sex and the Single Raksura

It took two years to sell the completed manuscript of The Cloud Roads to a publisher. (My agent was the one doing all the work. I was just sitting at home writing The Serpent Sea and Emilie and the Hollow World (which didn't have a publisher either at that time), and quietly freaking out.) But one of the comments my agent got back on The Cloud Roads was that it was hard to follow.

If you've read it, you know it's not a multi-character, multi-storyline epic. Moon is the only POV and the story is pretty linear. After talking to other readers about it for a while, I think the reason for that comment was the Raksura's gender neutral names.

For me, this was a feature, not a bug. I found it hard to talk about the bisexuality or pansexuality of the characters when they had no concept of heterosexuality, so I tried in various ways to show it. And our concepts of gender don't map exactly onto the Raksura's concepts of gender. Using gender neutral names helped me keep that in mind while I was writing. But for some people it was too confusing; they had to assign a gender to identify who the character was.

There were other things people didn't like. Raksura form intensely close bonds with each other, but are not romantic in the way most earth humans would interpret it. The closest they come to kissing is biting, and they don't say to each other "I love you." The queens and consorts are the only ones who form single permanent sexual relationships that we would recognize as marriages, and even they aren't exclusive with each other. (Though a consort wouldn't sleep with another queen unless he wanted to start a war.) Moon is the only Raksura in the book who has seen any other type of relationship, and even he only has an outsider's understanding of them.

For infertile warriors and fertile Arbora, sexual relationships are friendly and casual. Having children is a serious business, and partners are selected with a lot of attention toward the court's bloodlines and what the court needs. But the relationships between Arbora child-bearing partners aren't exclusive and aren't marriages, the way we'd think of marriages, and children are raised communally. (When it's normal to give birth to five babies at one time, it takes an organized segment of the community to take care of all of them.)

The entire court is basically a very large, often cranky, extended family.

I had beta readers for The Cloud Roads who tried to see the Raksuran relationships as marriages and nuclear families, and it just didn't work for them because the relationships didn't make sense that way. To me, trying to see the relationships of your flying lizard ant lion people as being exactly like earth human relationships was what didn't make sense.

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One of the many, many things I love about these books is the "one big cranky family" nature of the court. The non-human ways of relating are a part of that--I also love how physical they are with each other, in different ways than humans would be. I absolutely adore Moon and Jade trying to figure out how to relate to each other, too, since their 'maps' for relationships are so different from each other.

Personally, I think the Raksura are your greatest creation. They're unique, have a complex and fully worked out social structure and are part of a rich and varied world. I have another friend who tends more to science fiction than fantasy and she's had a similar problem when she made her aliens truly alien. Unfortunately, many people want to have everything be something that makes sense to them. For everyone to be like them. I think that's especially true right now. I'm so glad Moon and company found a publisher so they could be enjoyed!

I loved the Raksuran social structure. it made them more themselves. The fact that they didn't fall into human heteronormative relationships was refreshing and appropriate.

Now I want pentapus to draw flying lizard ant lions...

all of the gender aspects of these books are 100% a feature, not a bug! one of the reasons i love them so hard is how their relationships are ungendered and organic. not to mention that the male/female dynamic with consorts & queens is somewhat inverted from the world we live in; that's awesome too.

I know that initially I did have trouble keeping track of secondary characters, but it wasn't due to name-gender confusion. I just have trouble remembering names in general. I suppose I do try to associate a type of name with a gender to a certain extent - I only really twigged to the fact that of Moon's 'siblings' only Fern was female in "The Dark Earth Below;" and if I think about it I do feel that certain names sound more male or female. But finding out that a name belongs to a gender I might not subconsciously have assigned it to doesn't cause me any problems. I find that when I read or listen to the Raksura books I tend to associate names with personalities and sometimes scale colors, and that's how I remember characters.

The relationships - that's one of the things I love about the story and the world. It would strike me as some level of weird and maybe even off-putting if the relationships of the flying lizard ant lion people tracked very closely to human relationships. If anything, Moon seems to be sort of desperately monogamous with Jade, in terms of not wanting either of them to have a relationship with someone else who could cause babies to happen; but that's so obviously tied to his issues with relationships in general that I've never thought about it as an inclination to a typical human marriage scenario. Rather, I'm looking forward to maybe seeing what happens if Moon does have kids with an Arbora, and/or Jade takes another consort. Drama! Excitement! Angst! Woo!

I think ultimately one of the things I love about the books is that there are so many uncommon elements. There's always something new, and if I'm ever inclined to become complacent about the world and characters, I'm reminded that the hero and his people shapeshift into forms that in other stories would be the villains, because their appearance is fucking terrifying. Which is so cool.

I sometimes think it's a shame that Opal Night is so far from Indigo Cloud; Moon asking Celadon "Is it really all right with everyone if I --" would result in far fewer instances of smacking-upside-the-head (Stone), facepalming and cries of "OMG HOW ARE YOU STILL SUCH A DUMBASS" (Chime and Balm), or exasperated "PLEASE, go make clutches: there are several extremely interested Arbora who would be very happy about that" (Jade, or Pearl if she deigned to comment).

This large, cranky family aspect is one of the many reasons I enjoy the books so much. Were the readers simply not familiar with fantasy outside of a narrow pseudo-medieval-Europe format in either Tolkien vanilla or Grimdark chocolate? I am honestly a little dumbfounded at the comments you got.

These books were something that got me thinking about how much better people are able to accept more complex relationships than perhaps we would have been even a couple of decades ago. When one reads classic Victorian novels it's very clear that most of the tragic and disastrous situations could be simply avoided by people having a frank conversation - the fact that the plot relies on something that simply could not happen then, makes it seem a little weird now. The Raksura series were among the stories that have made me think the old trope of the love triangle may be headed the same way and seem weirdly quaint in a few years time.

the old trope of the love triangle may be headed the same way and seem weirdly quaint in a few years time.

dear gods, i hope so. talk about completely avoidable unnecessary pain. i can't even read stories that rely on it anymore, i'm like "just get over yourselves and go have a group relationship already, sheesh."

I love RENT for many reasons but there's one line "Love's not a three way street" that has me mutter 'but it could be' every time I hear it.

All these possible sources of people finding the book hard to follow are exactly and precisely what I read science fiction and fantasy FOR. That's why the Raksura are so awesome. (Also, best post title ever.)

P.

I didn't really have any trouble with the relationships. The Raksura aren't human and I didn't expect their relationships to conform to our norms.
Of course, I still have trouble spelling Raksura.

I had no trouble following the story, and I ADORE the complexity and interconnectedions of the Raksura society.

I confess, I'm every bit as baffled by that feedback as everyone else seems to be. The nature of the relationships seems extremely self-evident, though I suppose that requires taking the text as presented rather than forcibly assuming that it must correspond to what you're personally familiar with. Still, that doesn't seem like terribly much to ask of a reader -- and again, part of the reason I love these books is that your non-human characters don't act like humans, and their physical attributes aren't just stand-ins for character traits. (Goblins are ugly because they're evil; elves, being wise and noble, are of course beautiful as well.)

And I love the naming conventions. They don't seem weird or confusing to me at all, especially since so many human names have (or are derived from) similar idea-structures. (Alexander = "helper of men" or "defender of men", for example.)

I'll admit, I sometimes got confused by the multiplicity of minor characters, but that happens to me any time you have a large enough cast; it was nothing to do with the names. (Come to think of it, I have that problem in real life, too.) But the characters are consistently presented, and when they reappear there's usually a brief explanatory reminder ("River had been Pearl's favorite until Moon's arrival..." and like that). So it's not a problem with the writing, either, as far as I can see.

But... "hard to follow"? I just don't see it.

I had no trouble with gender neutral names. It took me a awhile to fix in my head that Jade was blue though -_- I kept thinking she was green for the longest time.

I wondered if what we think of as "jade" is blue in the Three Worlds, but then my son reminded me of the "Olmec Blue" jadeite rediscovered in Guatemala.

That is one of my favourite thing about those books. The sense of affection and love that didn't quite map to traditional romance, the lack of kissing even! There's a sense of ease and depth to it that I found remarkably appealing.
In the last few years I found myself shipping characters in another fandom in a complicated polyships family; and at some point I realise oh wait, i'm shipping them that way because I'm trying to recapture that feel from the Raksura books!!

It's funny though I never thought of their names as gender neutral as such. I mean obviously they are, but I never thought of it. They were just "nature" names to me.

I have to admit one of the things I liked the very best about The Cloud Roads -- and the rest of the series, but I felt it most striking when I first started reading The Cloud Roads because it was so incredibly refreshing -- was the very lack of emphasis on binary genders encoded in names and actions and roles and all the rest. A lack that some few people apparently found disconcerting. But it was such a tremendous relief to me, and it's one reason why I keep returning to the Three Worlds over and over again.

To be honest, I do wish sometimes that the plots would be less action-driven and more oriented towards the character relationships, since I feel like we don't "know" the secondary characters well enough. That's the main reason why I have trouble keeping them straight sometimes. Like, I got a much better sense of Selis and Ilane's personalities at the beginning of Cloud Roads because of their memorable interactions with Moon than a lot of Arbora and warriors that we've encountered since then. I feel like the only Arbora who we really get to "know" at Indigo Cloud are Chime and Flower, because they've had repeated significant interactions with Moon. The others kind of blend together simply because Moon doesn't interact with them much beyond a line or two here and there.

I also think I would have liked Siren Depths even more if the whole plotline with [Spoiler (click to open)]the Fell and the forerunner/creature had been removed and instead we got to see more of Moon interacting with Celadon, with Malachite, with the other consorts there, etc. Maybe that's just my personal prefernce, though. I can read a whole book of nothing but people sitting around talking, but I know that's not for everyone. :)


I dunno, I liked the bit with the [SPOILER] -- though I liked the other interactions, too. I think the book was stronger for having both elements in it. though, again, that's me.

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