marthawells: (The Serpent Sea)
[personal profile] marthawells
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.

Date: 2018-04-17 03:14 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] cywrain
I love this essay. It pretty much encapsulates what exactly snagged my interest to start reading this series.

Date: 2018-04-17 03:50 pm (UTC)
yarrowkat: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yarrowkat
this is one of the things i love the most about this series (and i adore pretty much everything about them!) that, and the non-heteronormative gender relationships between queens & consorts, which follow from their cultural attitudes about sex as well as from the queens biological characteristics (fiercer, larger, stronger, all that), are one of the reasons i have tried to turn everyone i know on to these books, and whenever somebody asks me for reccomendations about queer science fiction, the Books of the Raksura are on my list.

Date: 2018-04-17 03:51 pm (UTC)
pameladean: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pameladean
Like earlier commenters, I found all these aspects of the book to be wonderful and fascinating. Also really quite clear.

P.

Date: 2018-04-17 05:02 pm (UTC)
radiantfracture: (Default)
From: [personal profile] radiantfracture
This is terrific.

Date: 2018-04-17 08:58 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
The Raksura series is one of the things I recommend when I run into people who say they don't like science fiction "because of the weird names". You can't get much less weird than Moon, Jade, and Pearl, after all!

Date: 2018-04-18 02:58 am (UTC)
voidampersand: (Default)
From: [personal profile] voidampersand
Using Moon as a viewpoint character who didn't know anything about his own people was a great way to handle the exposition. It actually helps propel the plot. I think it was really well written. The world-building and the different peoples and social structures was fascinating. The characters were organically part of their world and plot was driven by the problems that they would logically encounter. And there were many kinds of relationships, as one would expect in a functioning society, not just sexual. Seeing the fledglings bond with Moon was a big deal.

But!

Date: 2018-04-18 03:14 am (UTC)
lsanderson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lsanderson
But I only want to read stories about ME! Me in outer space! Me on Mars! Me! Me! Me! Well, OK, a sex partner is good, but they should me just like me too, only different somehow. ;-)

Date: 2018-04-18 04:26 am (UTC)
dragovianknight: closeup of a green dragon (Default)
From: [personal profile] dragovianknight
This is one of the reasons I love your writing. Because you don't just take a Big Feature (like, oh, being flying lizard ant lion people instead of humans) and plop it into a world that is "exactly like normal but with Big Feature". You actually follow all the spiderweb cracks out from the Big Feature to see just how the entire world/society would be shaped by it, and build your world accordingly.

Date: 2018-04-18 04:41 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bravolimapoppa3
This is part of the reason I love the Raksura books. They're notably alien in how they interact with each other, especially on the sexual and reproductive levels. But they're also so relatably human in so many ways as well.

The closest real world analogy is a trip to a country with very different cultural norms, but this is notably stranger.

Plus, Martha adds so much album cover art to the landscape it's beautiful. And cultures and races that other authors would make the center of a book are window dressing. But you feel like you could come back and explore them as deeply as the Raksura.

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