Ace Tropes: World of Ace (Wish Fulfillment Edition)

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.”

“Of course.”

– 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.

Discussion Questions:

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?

About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.
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14 Responses to Ace Tropes: World of Ace (Wish Fulfillment Edition)

  1. DasTenna says:

    “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.”

    At your service, Sara K.
    The fantasy world I started to create in 2002 (back then, I drew comics) completely lacks any sexual reference, because I didn´t think of that. Yes, there were gay people here and there and people had kids, but no one really seemed interested in anyone sexually. My novel and short stories are based on those comics. Though asexuality isn´t the most common sexuality there, it is known and normal, as well as hetero-, homo-, bisexuality, etc., as well as it is normal to be trans or gender-queer. It can be like this because the oldest races in Talnia were genderless and asexual themselves. The mythology is not based on gender roles or inheritance through blood and genes (like in the Greek mythology that illustrates dynastic changes).
    The stories aren´t published so far. I´m planning to send the manuscript to an agency by the end of the year.

  2. AceAdmiral says:

    I do actually know of an example of this! Here is a link. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a masterpiece :/ It’s also not really “ace fic,” which seems odd both from the premise and the general character of the fandom, which actually has several of the best ace fics I’ve ever read (and a deep bench of queerfic writers in general).

    I think you’re onto something with what you want out of ace fiction changing over time in re: its general rarity, though. There just seem to be so many people who are still waiting for that first story where they can really see themself, so there aren’t that many readers (or writers) who are at the point where they just want to see it be no big deal.

  3. Rivers says:

    I really like the idea of this trope. It’s one of the things I’ve vaguely considered but not really explored like this post did. I’ve had ideas for writing nonromantic nonsexual fairytale retellings and ideas where being ace was normal and accepted, but I have yet to explore an idea which quite fit “World of Ace”. I think there are both benefits to having a world of ace where literally everyone is ace and one where allos are still present. I would like to see both personally. I think it would be fun to write them both. I definitely hope that ace fiction does decide to explore this as it becomes larger.

  4. Sara K. says:

    Answering my own questions:

    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?

    I want to see it so much that I wrote a post about it. I would like to see this trope with and without allos, though if I had to choose right now, and had no other information which would help me guess which story is more interesting, well actually, it would be hard for me to pick between the two without more information…

    2) Do you think this trope could be prone to any pitfalls?

    Oh yes. If handled badly, it could trivialize the experiences of real-world aces (though this is true of pretty much any ace trope, not unique to this trope). It also may not go far enough, and not get the full implications of what a ace-as-default world would be like (some people level this criticism at Left Hand of Darkness wrt genderqueerness). I am sure there are more potential pitfalls.

    3) Why do you think this trope is relatively rare (at least for now) in ace fiction?

    There are probably multiple reasons. However one of my more cynical guesses is that many people involved in ace fiction are not ready for something which so radically centers aceness, or at least radically pares away a lot of the hangups people have around asexuality. A lot of the ace fiction out there is still some kind ‘stick an ace in an allo narrative’. That’s not necessarily bad, in fact I would probably complaining if there were not stories like that (just as I am complaining about the lack of Worlds of Ace right now), but I wonder if many of the editors currently involved in ace fiction are actually ready for a World of Ace narrative. Would a publisher which makes most of its sales from MM romance actually be willing to take on a story which ignores pretty much all of the conventions of MM romance (as opposed to an MM romance which fits in an ace character, which is what a lot of ace fiction right now is)? Also, they may be (reasonably?) concerned that there would not be a sufficiently big audience for a World of Ace narrative.

  5. Siggy says:

    I’d mainly be worried about the world of ace not going far enough, as Sara mentioned above. I just wasn’t that impressed by The Left Hand of Darkness. It gave a glimpse into a society made of genderqueer people, sure, but it didn’t say much about it. And to the extent it did say things, it was about how the male protagonist interacted with the society.

    I’ve also read The Forever War, an old sci-fi novel that I heard included an all gay society. Also not impressed. Again, it didn’t say much, and to the extent it did, it was about the straight protagonist’s interactions with that society.

    Come to think of it, I think that may be a potential pitfall. Have a world of ace, but the one allo character happens to be the protagonist.

    • Sara K. says:

      Yeah, it occurred to me that ‘the one allo in the world of ace being the protagonist’ might be a potential pitfall, but I don’t want to dismiss it since I think it’s possible to write a good story with an allo protagonist in an ace world. Actually, the story AceAdmiral linked is about an allo in an ace world, and while I don’t think it’s a brilliant story, I also don’t think it’s awful.

      Personally, I think I would like the ‘Harry Potter’ scenario, in which the protagonist is an ace from a society where aces are rare, treated badly, and suffer from hermeneutical injustice, and then travels to the world of ace.

      • Carmilla DeWinter says:

        You are making my brain do things. I’mma put this on the back-burner to simmer. Next up is an ace pagan woman managing her quarter-life-crisis while (enter heroic urban fantasy deeds), though.

  6. demiandproud says:

    I read and write mostly speculative fiction, so tackling your questions from that angle.

    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?

    For a personal preference, I’d like a mixed society, since being on the asexual spectrum in the modern sense, rather than in the biological sense, depends on being part of a sexually reproducing species and thus having most folks feel sexual attraction, and that being a common trait regardless of race, gender, species, etc.

    I’m also basing this mostly off my hate for fiction where my religion is present; I want there to be at least some characters with no or other religions present, just to make an actual realistic discussion possible, rather than the piece being an awful echo chamber of “of course we are this way, everybody is this way, and we are going to artificially discuss this even though it’s a non-issue to everybody”.

    I like fiction without any sex present at all, but these worlds do not strike me as ace, just as stories being written more accessibly (aka with a lower rating or for a wider audience).

    2) Do you think this trope could be prone to any pitfalls?

    If asexuality is common, you’ve got watch out that it doesn’t go towards asexuality in the biological sense (we reproduce like amoeba! we’re asexual) or the oldfashioned sense (whaddaya mean (white) women may want sex too? they’re asexual).

    In terms of worldbuilding/setting, it’s really easy to get sloppy and unrealistic, perhaps even unintentionally comedic. You’ve got to
    a) have a sexually reproducing species and
    b) have some of them be ace (so far, real enough) but then
    c) have something occur suddenly or gradually that makes being ace the superior survival strategy and/or what people become because of reasons (difficult) and
    d) work out how that affects interpersonal relationships, the wider community and having families and raising kids (if at all) and
    e) have a VERY good reason why all this is a prominent part of your novel and
    f) at a minimum, make all that internally consistent with the rest of your world.

    Which brings me to the pitfall of conflict… you have to work out one or several major plot points where asexuality plays a prominent role, for it to be in the foreground of your novel. And yeah, if a lot of people are going to be it, I feel like it should have a correspondingly more prominent place in the book.

    3) Why do you think this trope is relatively rare (at least for now) in ace fiction?

    I believe no one’s figured out a sufficiently interesting story yet. Once that happens, it’s going to be far easier for other authors to work out variations on the theme.

    I also think that how mainstream media thinks about asexuality heavily influences how much and in what way people write about it. I base this mostly off Kirk/Spock slash (yeah…) which changed a lot from what I read in uploaded ‘zines, where there’s often loads more barriers, and the main characters often struggle with a same-sex relationship. Compare that to post-reboot stuff, in which Kirk and Spock’s genders are almost incidental to the romance plot, and a lot of fic contains, at most, one or two characters that lose their shit over ‘dat gay stuff’ and are portrayed as being in the wrong.

    Asexuality is mostly, still, not a thing, or a novelty, so it’s treated as that even in fiction.

    4) BONUS, speculative fic(tion) ideas.

    1. “The Promised Land”
    – asexuality becomes more visible,
    – people hate it, folks get discriminated,
    – a group of asexual people leave Earth, start a colony a la the puritans going to the States,
    -write an interesting story about their descendants.

    2. “Next Step In Evolution”
    – different sexualities are like the mutants in X-Men,
    – for some reason being asexual increases your chances of survival
    – (optional) the apocalypse happens
    – write an interesting story about the people in the middle of or after that.

    3. “It’s a Conspiracy”
    – shadowy society X made (many) people (think they are) asexual for reasons
    – the heroes unravel the mystery and decide the status quo needs to be maintained/changed
    – make sure you get the “why” of asexuality correctly in this one.

    4. “Asexual Truman Show”
    – people can test babies for sexuality
    – asexual people grow up in a society with actors for parents
    – it’s an experiment to see how a society like that would develop
    – of course, they need to make money off of it, so live TV!!

    5. “Asexual Kibbutz”
    – asexual people decide to band together
    – they start communities that people can become a member of
    – thus they offer each other support that families traditionally offer each other
    – write about this type of community, its relationships, its trials, how its viewed from outside, etc.

  7. Pingback: Burning Out as a Critic of Ace Fiction | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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