Apr. 17th, 2018

marthawells: (The Serpent Sea)
Since the series is up for a Hugo nomination now, I thought I'd repost this older essay.

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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