This is part of a series on tropes in fiction with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace tropes” tag on this blog.
“I’d say about two-thirds of the population of our planet are some kind of aro or ace. Though only half of us are both aro and ace, since not all aro people are ace, and not all ace people are aro.”
“So everyone here takes it for granted that being aro and ace is totally normal.”
– this isn’t a quote from a work of fiction; Sara K. just made that up while writing this post
‘World of Ace’ is when there is a society (or self-contained community) which has at least a large portion of members who are ace, thus everyone, even the non-aces (if there even are any non-aces) finds it so obvious that asexuality is a thing that it does not need to be defended.
This is yet another trope I would love to see in ace fiction. But I have yet to see it, which is why this is the wish fulfillment edition rather than an examination of actual works of ace fiction. If you know of any examples, please leave a comment.
A novel which features the trans equivalent of this trope is Groom of Convenience by Vicktor Alexander. It is a regency romance with the kind of plot one would expect in a regency romance. It is also set in an alternative universe where trans people are so common (at least in the British gentry) that everyone accepts that trans people are just as normal as cis people as a matter of course. There is even established British etiquette specifically for treating trans people with respect that all of the nobility follow. In short, it is escapist fiction set in a world where trans people are common and no less privileged than their cis peers.
I think it is good to have some works of fiction which explores what it means to be ace in a world where many people doubt that human asexuality exists, where people have subtle prejudices around asexuality, where they have blatant prejudices around asexuality, etc. However, at this point (and to be honest, this will probably change since the things I want from ace fiction tend to change over time), I’m more interested in fiction which chucks all of that out of the window. But I still want fiction with a lot of obvious aceness, so to have lots of ace content in an ace-friendly fictional world, it makes sense to have an environment where there is plenty of aceness to go around.
What makes this different from an Ace Ensemble? First of all, an ace ensemble can occur in a context where people tend to treat aces horribly, and where aces (other than the ensemble) are rare. Furthermore, ace ensembles represent the diversity of aces by featuring different types, whereas all of the aces in the World of Ace may be sex-repulsed demiromantic panaesthetic asexuals (just as all of the trans characters in Groom of Convenience are binary-gender). And unlike Ace Ensemble, World of Ace does not require 3+ prominent ace characters. A World of Ace may have 1-2 prominent ace characters and a lot of ace characters in the background.
The closest thing I have found to world of ace is an idea for a fanfic I had (I ended up not writing the fanfic – feel free take this idea and write your own story if you wish). There was a planet where, due to environmental conditions, almost everybody was born ace. Since the original human colonists were mostly not ace, this precipitated a major cultural change, and after a few generations the high prevalence of asexuality was a key feature of the human culture on this planet. Then artificial wombs came into use, and most of the children born from artificial wombs were not ace. This led to another round of society-wide culture shock, and some people choose to have children with natural wombs just to make sure they will be ace. Researchers found out why the children born from artificial wombs tended to be allo, and created a ‘fix’ which would allow children from artificial wombs to be ace just like the people who were born from natural wombs. This all leads to a planet wide soul-searching of the place of asexuality in their culture.
However, in order for a world to feel like World of Ace, it has to be an asexuality I would recognize as asexuality. In most cases, that means that it would have to be a world of human aces. I suppose if it were a story set in a society of ace elves, and an ace human visited the elves (which would be an example of And There Is a Human) and said ‘wow, you guys are all ace like me’ I might also recognize that as a World of Ace. But I don’t count stories such as Diaspora by Greg Egan as being World of Ace, even though it is listed in TVTropes as being an example of ‘asexuality’ in fiction, and I only consider a story like Mindtouch to be an example of ‘ace fiction’ if I can add a lot of asterisks (you can read my review here).
It also possible for World of Ace to be a world where everyone is ace. There are various reasons why a writer might make this choice. I find Ace YuGiOh Dreamer’s explanation particularly poignant:
That’s why I spend so much time writing my own stories, because in MY version of things, sex does not exist so there will never be any unnecessary or awkward sexual attraction/desire/tension to worry about … Because I don’t read (other people’s) fanfiction, I don’t know how other people handle asexuality in their writing, but even if someone writes a character as asexual, I imagine it’s still in the context of a society that revolves around sex, and that’s still just too much sexuality for me. I have to deal with sex and sexuality in the real world all the damn time, I don’t want it in my entertainment! I write my own stories because that’s the one safe space I have where I know sex will never come up … my self-care is sticking just to my own writing where I know the entire WORLD is asexual, not just a character here and there.
And while the novel The Left Hand of Darkness, which is set on a planet where most people are genderqueer, is not ace fiction, I would like to share what it has meant to Alex Beecroft, a nonbinary ace, as discussed in this blog post:
But [The Left Hand of Darkness] is a Q book. Or at least, it has been, for me, the only book I have ever read that gave me a glimpse of what life would be like in a society where people were more like me.
This is a personal reminiscence, because this is a book very personal to me. It’s taken me a long time to work out what exactly it is that I am, because neither of those things are very high profile – I am genderqueer and I am asexual (though het romantic). These things took a long time to figure out because in my day (yes, I am that old) and in my suburban culture we didn’t have words for any of that stuff. I’ve mostly identified as ‘weird’ and ‘frigid’.
So intellectually I had no idea why, when I read this book first, twenty or so years ago, it hit me like a breath of paradise. It hit me like finding out I had somewhere where I was home. I still haven’t read another book that did the same thing…
Since this is a wish-fulfillment post, I am going to make a suggestion to writers of ace fiction: try putting your story in a context where asexuality is so common and accepted that everyone has at least an asexuality 101 level of understanding, or even a context where everyone is ace. And ideally all of those aces would be human.
1) Would you like to see this trope used in fiction? Would you prefer a World of Ace where allos still have a substantial place, or would you prefer a world which is purely ace?
2) Do you think this trope could be prone to any pitfalls?
3) Why do you think this trope is relatively rare (at least for now) in ace fiction?