Coding as it Pertains to Queer and Neurodivergent Representations

Coding is a long and tumultuous discussion, one that touches on everything from stereotypes to representation and diversity and it is controversial at best, but in recent years I’ve seen fandoms begin to point to unpopular or disliked characters who happen to have queer or neurodivergent coding and call them offensive and demonizing to these populations as they are villains/bad people while popular and liked characters are given leeway, even when they too are villains/bad people and sometimes even display far more damaging stereotypes or are far more offensive.  Speaking as an individual who identifies as pansexual and demiromantic, as well as someone who could be classified as neurodivergent, I find this to be extremely detrimental to the populations at hand.  We can’t simply point to a character we dislike and call their coding offensive because we don’t like them, especially when their coding is not only recent, but doesn’t exactly pertain to why they’re unpopular.

Joker has become a commonplace example of this in recent years.  Joker has very clear queer-coding, in fact in some comics it goes past coding.  Batman: Cacophony features the Joker pretty happily accepting what he perceives as a sex request from another man.  And beyond that, his coding is blatant.  It isn’t gay coding like we see in modern versions of Poison Ivy or in Gotham‘s Oswald Cobblepot, because the coding shows preference for women as well, Joker’s coding is bisexual or pansexual, but is it really offensive like people say?  Sure, Joker is a villain and an abuser, but does that make his coding offensive?  I’m gonna say no, as a pansexual myself, nothing in Joker’s coding is offensive, and none of it is tied to his villainy or his abusiveness, those traits are not meant to convey that he is queer.  His flirting never comes off as overtly predatory either, in fact when it comes to other men he’s clearly setting himself up as the submissive partner.

To say that Joker’s coding is offensive would be to say Poison Ivy’s coding is, which I have yet to see.  Poison Ivy’s coding is far more guilty of pushing damaging stereotypes than Joker’s.  Ivy hates men, is the victim of a man’s abuse, and loves a woman while hating that woman’s boyfriend.  While the first can be a thing and I most definitely have heard of lesbians who are also misandrists, there is an implication here that Ivy is only displaying sapphic coding because of her abuser, and that when she is canonically a lesbian, it is only because of him.  And while the comics give very, very solid reasons for Ivy to hate Joker, I guarantee you’ve seen this trend of the lesbian who hates a man purely because her crush is in love with him, and I guarantee you’ve found it offensive there.  Ivy having justification doesn’t make it any better.  But these problems with Ivy’s coding are ignored, blatantly, while Joker’s flaws that have no relation to his coding are treated as demonization.  Why is this?

Well, simply put, Ivy is a popular Gotham Rogue, Joker is not.  Similarly, Edward Nygma, the Riddler, is also queer-coded.  Edward’s flamboyant, flirts with men and women alike, and is effeminate to a fault.  He’s also a weak, narcissistic, obsessive, arrogant jackass that thinks everyone else is an idiot.  None of his negative traits are held up as examples of how his queer coding is offensive, because he’s popular.

Popularity is the only reason no one has called out Edward or Ivy for being offensive, even in cases where they most certainly can be seen in that way.  Joker is called out, sometimes his coding, which has very clearly been acknowledged in more than one comic as canon, is erased, and he’s relegated to being straight when his coding clearly displays otherwise.

And Joker’s queer-coding isn’t that old, it first showed up in The Batman Adventures in the 90s, the same time as Ivy’s sapphic-coding.  Renee Montoya, one of the first canon lesbian characters in the DC universe, first appeared in 1992 and Kate Kane first appeared in 2006.

Now on the other hand, neurodivergent coding is a little different.  I think you all remember the Martha incident of BvS and while I won’t talk about much in terms of criticism, I will say one thing to all the fanboys making fun of Bruce and calling him a baby: BvS is one of the few times on screen Bruce has shown actual behaviors associated with PTSD, something he has in canon.  This is usually erased, because PTSD is most definitely considered a weakness and Batman can’t possibly show that right?  But at the same time all of his Rogues can be the most stereotypical offensive demonizations of mental illness and get off scot-free or aren’t masked at all.

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Yeah, that’s totally how suicidally depressed people self-harm.

Now the face was called out, but a lot of stuff isn’t.  Pushing Harley, who is at best codependent and at worst manic, past her original form to full-blown psychotic is not the way to handle things.  Turning Bane into an idiot because of his addiction when he originally had eidetic memory and is fluent in several languages is way more offensive than making a strong man like Batman crumble because of PTSD.

There is a point where we need to learn how to differentiate between offensive coding and simply disliking a character.  And for anything I do think Batman fans, especially Gotham Rogues fans, tend to pick on Joker, and I can’t say I blame them, he is overused and poorly written and pretty stale, but I can say that calling his queer-coding offensive is attacking a problem that isn’t there.  If more people called out the fact that the comics don’t make him believable, or don’t write him well, or code his neurodivergency in offensive ways, that would be attacking a problem that exists, but as it stands, they’re just yelling out thin arguments that don’t really hold much weight.

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On Character Diversity: Forced and Unforced

A few months ago, I saw a Tumblr post that claimed it to be better to leave characters at default, to let them be and not attempt diversifying because it would turn out forced, and that their writing suffered when trying to write diversely.  To that end, I disagree, I think that diversifying your cast often comes naturally through design choices.  This is, in large part, is how I ended up with such a wide and diverse cast myself.  I let them grow and develop however I saw fit and in the end, they were different from how they began.  Now I have a lot of different ways to build on this but let’s start with one of my favorite builds: Gail’s blindness.

In one glimpse, the spunky and sarcastic sister I grew up with was gone:

Gail’s blindness wasn’t a factor in his character until pretty late in his development, and after I altered celestials in Silently Screaming so only a select few could shapeshift.  The early inspiration for Gail’s blindness came from a scene, which is now lost where Lucian and Hayden enter Lilith’s Grove, an area that, at the time, stripped demons of their shapeshifting abilities, making them take on their true form.  In this scene, it was revealed that Hayden’s true form was completely blind, but I scrapped the idea, but liked the idea of having a blind character as Lucian’s constant companion.  I eventually shifted it to Gail, who at the time was a minor character, and looked a lot like Lucian.  His blindness, at first, was just a means to differentiate between them, as they are two years apart and the same height.  At the time, Gail was often simply the victim of Lucian and Dante’s clumsiness and inattention, I remember a particular scene written in what was supposed to be a prequel to Silently Screaming where the then six-year-old Lucian threw open a screen door and promptly smacked Gail, then four, in the face.  I hadn’t been too experienced with Gail’s character at the time and neither he nor Lucian had reacted very strongly to this despite being small children, but looking back three years later, I would have had a stronger reaction from both boys.

Gail, along with his brothers, also have an important secondary point: all four are half-Persian.  This is for three reasons.  The first is based on an initial decision to make Lucian and Dante teenagers (this was before I created Gail) and make the story from an outsider perspective.  I scrapped this after realizing I hated outsider’s perspective stories, but kept the brothers’ half-Persian, half-Italian roots.  For reference, Dante is 23 and Lucian is 19 in Silently Screaming.  The second reason is because I wanted Lucian and Joshua, the character representing the Son of God or Christ, to look at least a little similar (Joshua is Hebrew, I know that Persian and Hebrew are different things, but they are both Semitic and therefore share common features, this is why I said “a little similar”).  The third reason is that my sister and I had made Lucifer Middle Eastern, but hadn’t made a conscious decision on specific ethnicity.  I had eventually chosen Persian because I thought it wasn’t too stereotypical, and always being a person obsessed with mixing different architectural aesthetics, wanted Lucifer’s palace, Pandemonium, to resemble Persian architecture.

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Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

I also wanted to pay partial homage to my older sister, who came up with the idea of making Lucifer Middle Eastern in the first place.  My sister loves Persian architecture and tile-work and I thought it would be not only a beautiful addition to the story, but a fitting motif for a palace that Milton described as beautifully ornate.

Lucian, Gail, and Dante all have the same mother, who I designed, but decided not to introduce, primarily to keep their background vague.  Though not children of Sin like Grim is, the three are certainly of celestial heritage, and an early scene that is referenced throughout is that their mother’s status makes it unclear as to whether or not they are actually Black Horns or if they are Fallen.

Moving away from Silently Screaming, though it is rife with examples of this diversity, not the least because it is my oldest work and has the most detailed world, I’m going to move, if only for a second, into headcanon territory and talk about Xavier Rath and the changeling Tane, two similar teenagers connected to one character from the game League of Legends, in surprising ways.

See, my favorite character in League is Thresh, a ghost with no real confirmed human form, but a lot of his coding and the coding of his homeland, the Shadow Isles, is Polynesian.  I didn’t notice until last year when I first saw Moana and noted similarities in colors and designs.

 

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A comparison between the hook in Thresh’s in-game model, Maui’s fishhook, and official art of Thresh’s hook, focusing on similarities in construction

Not pictured is a stark similarity between the Darkness in Moana and the Black Mist in League.  I couldn’t find any references of the former.

Now before I noticed any of this, Thresh had been regularly accompanied by a small child, a character I’d created named Xavier, Xavier being the embodiment of Thresh’s humanity.  In the end, Thresh and Xavier merged, but I had noticed that my design for him constantly shifted, as if I wasn’t sure what to do with it, and I wasn’t.  Moana’s release and the similarities gave me a cemented design that I love: a small, dark-skinned, tattooed Polynesian teenager, and I decided to give him a real name: Tane.

Now back to original fiction land.  I think I do have a slight advantage when working with character gender and sexuality, being a genderfluid pansexual myself, but being white, I did, as an early writer, tend to create characters who were also white.  My first non-white character was a character in Silently Screaming: a black angel I, a dumb thirteen-year-old, decided to name Angelique, changed to Angela, and then changed back to Angelique.  She is still a central character.

Beyond that, the lead characters of Wisp, Riley and Jack, are both black, and their primary allies, aside from Max, are a Romani Russian woman named Ven and a Nahuatl man named Angel.  This was all done purely based on personal preferences (legit I just really wanted a main character who had dreads that’s literally the only reason Jack is black).

My point is that from my experience, yes, diversity can be forced and you really shouldn’t try to force it, but if you work hard and develop your characters based on what makes sense in your story, you shouldn’t have to force it.

But as a thing to keep in mind: if you’re going to have a non-white, non-cis, neurodivergent, or queer character in a novel, keep in mind that these people should not exist to be your diversity, these people do not exist in this world to be your tokens.  They are not here to voice your opinions on their oppression or lack thereof, they are not your stereotypes and they are not your strawmen.  No character should ever, EVER exist to make a group of people look worse or better than any other.  If you think a character would work better if they were black, make them black (that is exactly the process I took with Riley and Jack, it works, run with it).  You aren’t restricted by conventions of your default, explore skin tones a bit and sooner or later you’re gonna have a gay latina incubus on your hands.

Actually to close out: real talk that is exactly how I ended up with Hayden.

An Explanation of Upper Class Social Structure Using Batman Characters

So I tend to get a touch peeved when I’m reading a book and characters entering an environment of wealth and class are not reacted to in a manner that is coherent to how wealth and class works.  This is largely when characters enter situations where a majority of the people in the room are upper class, especially when a large portion are termed “old money”.  Now while this trend has been more common in works centering in the modern day, I want to emphasize something real quick:

The basic politics of the upper class have remained largely unchanged for the last 100 or so years.  The concepts of old money, new money, gentry, hierarchy, and old money views on caste, mental illness, and race have been, by and large, untouched since about the 1920s.  Because this is a lengthy and very uncomfortable topic to discuss (among other things, this entry will touch on racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism), I encourage futher reading on the subject.  Like all social groups, people in these social circles tend to vary in personality and tolerance so as a disclaimer: this does not apply to all members of the upper class.

As a further disclaimer, this only applies to western upper class structures, particularly the de facto aristocracy of the US and the existing structure in the UK.

For this overview, because it is easiest for me and I think is very helpful as an example using something familiar, I’m going to use Batman characters in a particular verse I write as an example.  Because this is a personal verse I will be using personal alterations, when they become relevant, I will bring them up.

Now in general when I think of upper class structure I split it into three groups, though two are essentially the same thing: old money, new money, and gentry.  Old money and gentry are roughly the same thing, but in the case of, say, the characters I’m talking about, gentry applies in a different way than old money.  Jonathan Crane is gentry, Pamela Isley is old money, more on that in a second.

Firstly, the difference between old money and new money.  Old money, as a general term, is an upper class family that has been upper class for multiple generations, new money is not.  Pamela Isley applies as old money because her family is wealthy and has been for many years.  Another DC character this can apply to is Hartley Rathaway, AKA the Pied Piper from the Flash.  The Rathaways are old money.  The Waynes, by comparison, are new money, Wayne Industries/WayneTech is not an old company and Bruce’s wealth, while inherited, is only one or two generations removed, and thus is regarded as new money.

Now as for the difference between gentry and old money.  While in a sense gentry essentially IS old money, it is more of a class term than a wealth term, it applies to born social standing, and usually applies more heavily to the UK and the South.  Manor houses still owned by the families from the 1910s and 1920s are generally houses belonging to gentry.  This is why I specify Jonathan Crane as being gentry as opposed to old money.  The Keeny family, Jon’s maternal side, most certainly is gentry, as Keeny manor is an old plantation house in Georgia and his relatives, particularly his grandmother Mary and great grandmother Marion, are very conscious of reputation.

Which brings me to the big elephant in the room, gentry, old money, and their opinions on…let’s go with deviance.  That’s a good blanket term.  Now as it tends to go, new money does not have these problems, and keep in mind I said “tends”, there most certainly are people who are new money and have these habits, and gentry as a whole is much worse than old money so prepare to get extremely uncomfortable and disappointed in humanity because it is soul crushing.

So because what’s canon in the comics is a little more important I’m going to start with disownment, which is something old money and gentry still does, yes, in 2017, they’re still disowning their kids.  Now in the comics, and the CW Flash keeps this, Hartley Rathaway is confirmed to be disowned by his parents because of his sexuality (for those unfamiliar with it, Hartley is gay).  In the verse I tend to write, Pamela Isley is either bisexual or a lesbian (I have not figured it out myself but I am leaning towards lesbian), and therefore her family has also disowned her.  Karen Keeny, Jonathan Crane’s mother, was disowned by the rest of the Keeny family after a sexual relationship with Gerald Crane, Jonathan’s father, which yes, resulted in Jonathan.  Anything done by a child of gentry or old money that could potentially result in a family’s tarnished reputation usually results in either the child being ostracized or disowned outright.

Jonathan is something a little more complicated because, particularly in this verse I’m discussing, a double-edged sword.  In the verse I tend to write, Jonathan is not only illegitimate, he’s mixed race, his father’s side of the family is Crow Native American (and yes, haha, great pun, it was a total accident so hush), meaning Jonathan is half-white, half-Native American.  Now by and large, most children who are mixed race in some respect are not always disowned, though occasionally they are but what I’m going to focus on how mixed race and illegitimate children are regarded, particularly in gentry, when they are “kept”.  Now keep in mind a child that is mixed race is usually illegitimate, hence the heavy overlap in treatment, and while there is such a thing as white-passing in biracial or other mixed race children, whether the child “passes” or not is not up to a layman.  In this verse, from a layman, or non-gentry, point of view, Jonathan passes, by the unbelievably high standards of the gentry, he does not.

Now by and large, I’m going to summarize this because, to be very frank it is much easier to explore in works of fiction than explain, but in a sense these children sort of occupy a halfway point between disowned and gentry.  They are, in all circumstances, treated as equal in the sense that they are given similar, if not identical educations and treatment, but, by and large, do not belong.  Bringing up Jonathan again and comparing him to Hartley, Hartley was not on bad standing with his parents until he came out, Jonathan was always on bad standing with his great grandmother and guardian, Marion Keeny, but Marion Keeny, instead of throwing Jonathan out with her granddaughter, raised him and taught him the same social graces that Hartley was taught.  Hartley and Jonathan can both navigate high society with roughly the same level of competency, but as his sexuality is largely a family secret, he is not treated differently in comparison to Jonathan.  As an added note, Southern gentry and more Northern old money tend to be similar about “keeping” a mixed race or illegitimate child in that it’s kind of viewed in the same regard as adopting a non-white child.  It’s regarded in more of an “act of charity” sense or an “act of mercy” sense.  And yes this does sometimes to place the child in a situation where their guardian/parent is emotionally manipulative or straight-up abusive, but that is a little less common modernly.  It is the case with Jonathan however, as Marion Keeny is from the gentry in the 1920s and 30s and is therefore a lot less tolerant (sorry did I say less tolerant?  I meant more racist) than old money/gentry is/is trying to be.

As for actually further reading on these regards, I’d recommend, firstly, any book where class plays a major theme.  My particular go-to book tends to be The Great Gatsby.  And while, yes, it does take place in the 1920s, a lot of the attitude of the Buchanans and Carraways is still a decent reflection of modern old money and gentry attitudes towards basically everything (looking at Tom Buchanan’s “Nordic rant”).  It is…outdated, but only in some sense.  Other readings I can think of lean closer to sociological studies.  All in all, this is largely from my own personal research and could have my own personal biases slapped on.  The basic consensus I’m getting at is this:

Old money and gentry are exclusive and homogeneous, deviance is discouraged within the group, so outsiders are regarded with hostility.

This needs to be kept in mind when writing characters walking into that sort of situation from the outside.  The message will be made clear: you do not belong, and it should probably be written accordingly.

On Fictional Tropes-Death and The Maiden

With the advent of new pieces of fiction involving Death personified, I had gotten extremely invested as a teenager in the concept of death-like personifications, and thus began a whole-hearted love of a rather unique trope known as “Death and the Maiden”, which began its life, as many tropes do, as an art motif.  Honestly I love the motif because it’s gorgeous, like truly and honestly gorgeous.

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George Clark Stanton, “Death and the Maiden”

It has a very unique contrast and I’m more delighted to find that not only has the trope found its way into literature and film, it is still a common art motif.

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Abigail Larson, “Death and the Maiden”, Source

But I’m not here to talk about art, mainly because I am not an artist.  I’m here to talk about “Death and the Maiden” in story, and how I think it needs to be used more in narrative fiction.

The most recent example of “Death and the Maiden” that I can find is “The Ancient Magus’ Bride”, which is a Japanese manga and anime centered around the maiden side of this trope and isn’t so much the trope played straight, though in narrative fiction it almost never is.  The trope is almost entirely played visually in the manga and I’ll admit I’ve never actually watched the show, I can just tell that it is an example of the trope.

The trope is not common in narrative fiction, in fact the trope is considered an offshoot of the Beauty and the Beast trope on TV Tropes, but it is one I particularly like.

The entire concept of the motif and trope is a romance between a young maiden, usually one in her late teens/early twenties, and a death-like entity, usually a straight personification of death but occasionally it is symbolic.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because the original Phantom of the Opera borrows heavily from this trope, probably accidentally because Hades and Persephone was basically the originator of this trope and that is what Phantom of the Opera is most closely based on.  The thing with Death and the Maiden being so rare is because a lot of people don’t immediately assume that Death is anything but a horrific monster, and not many romances involve a character who is physically unattractive in any capacity and stays that way.  The only recent example of that that I could find was Strange Magic, which is plagued by it’s own problems but does have a decently satisfying romance between the two main characters.

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But then again Strange Magic also allows the female lead to have ugly facial expressions and I think that’s also pretty lacking in films.

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But again, I’m getting off track.

When I think of Death and the Maiden, I think instantly of the art motif, and also of various Beauty and the Beast tales that constantly mess with this concept.  Strange Magic, again with its focus on this dark and light dichotomy being not all it appears, still borrows heavily from the idea that life is light and death is dark, which I honestly can’t say I’m all that surprised.  Humans have a natural aversion to darkness because frankly, we don’t have good night vision.  Because of this, and despite a lot of examples to the contrary, literature and art tend towards a specific trend.  Death is represented as dark, and to further that, inherently masculine, while life is presented as light, and to that extent, inherently feminine.  This isn’t just a concept in literature either, most mythologies, particularly early ones, have a light/dark concept to compare life and death.  The difference lies in other concepts.  In Celtic and Norse mythologies, there is no good/evil dichotomy; Loki wasn’t an evil god until Christianity made him like that, and the Seelie and Unseelie Courts weren’t good and evil until the same happened in Ireland.  That said, there is still a concept of light and dark and likewise they are heavily associated with life and death.  It’s no surprise that Unseelie fae are omens or harbingers of death whilst Seelie fae are frequently a symbol of nature.

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Adolf Hering, “Der Tod Und Das Mädchen”

This is why I think Death and the Maiden is such an important trope and motif that’s often overlooked.  Death and the Maiden is a juxtaposition that presents both sides of this dichotomy in what humans modernly consider a positive light.  We tend to have a natural instinct to place life and death juxtaposition in our mythology, a good example is Hades and Persephone but another good example is Hel and Baldr of Norse mythology.  The stories are markedly similar (in some versions of Baldr’s death, Loki killed him for Hel, because she had fallen in love with Baldr), and it’s no surprise that these are very popular stories in both mythologies.

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Marianne Strokes, “La Jeune Fille et La Mort”

In stories where Death and the Maiden is a motif, it’s not even that necessary to make the concept be literal.  Look again at Strange Magic or The Ancient Magus’ Bride, or even at Phantom of the Opera.  All three of these stories do not feature a literal death, and in some cases the character isn’t really compared to death-like things.  The Bog King certainly fills all the roles of a death-like being without being compared, and Erik is constantly compared to death-like things while fulfilling all the same requirements, Elias is the only outlier in the case of requirements.  Elias, with his skull-like head, certainly resembles some kind of death-like being, but death touches his bride in her shortened lifespan, not in how their romance is a comparison of the Death and the Maiden tale played straight.

And neither, for that matter, does Bog.  Marianne is not the person Bog kidnaps in Strange magic, it’s her sister.  Marianne finds and falls for the Bog King on her own terms and had her own agency, and while Strange Magic is by no means a good film, it is an interesting dissection and example of both Beauty and the Beast and Death and the Maiden.

I’ve even used something similar to Death and the Maiden in regards to Val and her fiance Adrian, which is a reversed form of Death and the Maiden.  Val, an Unseelie fae called a Dullahan, is heavily associated with death, and her color scheme is largely black and white, whereas Adrian, a kind of Norse water nymph called a Näcken, is heavily associated with life and has a much warmer color scheme.  It’s a small note in a story, but one with some ground nonetheless.

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PJ Lynch, Death and the Maiden, Source

The thing is that Death and the Maiden is not an easy trope to work with.  It’s a concept heavily associated with human expectations of concepts like light, dark, life, death, youth, and age.  It plays on the belief of Memento Mori (remember you will die) and the concept of love.  It’s a trope with a strong link to Beauty and the Beast and a heavy emphasis on a morbid but interesting and natural juxtaposition.  The only shame lies in that it doesn’t show up much in narrative fiction.

I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy.  As natural as the juxtaposition is, the human consciousness is naturally terrified of death and doesn’t want to touch on it or any concept involving it.  But I think, like all things that scare us, death and its tropes need to be examined and looked into.  Narrative fiction doesn’t exist to keep us locked in our comfort zones.  It exists to challenge them, give rise to uncomfortable and inconvenient truths and point them out to their audience.  It exists to complicate the world and look at life and death in new lenses.  Death and the Maiden does just that.  It takes a concept we’re naturally uncomfortable with, death, and places it in a comfortable context, love.

That is why Death and the Maiden is so important to narrative fiction.

From Down Below-Alien Races and Culture Differences with Humans

In From Down Below, there are four alien races, the Light, Starborn, Darkborn, and Bloodborn.  Each of them are very different, not only in appearance but in their cultural structure.  And I think a large importance of analyzing how these races are distinct is to look at how their culture differs from that of human beings.

To humans, the Light probably seems like such an odd alien race because almost every facet of their society and culture is based on visible light and color.  Gender, social class, art and music, it’s all formed around the concept of color and light.  The Light experience through light and color.  Emotions have color, sounds have color, sensations, smells, tastes, everything has color, because color is light, and the Light are very preoccupied with light.

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Humans and the Light both have three color receptors in their eyes: Red, Green, and Blue.  The Light’s gender dynamic, a gender tripartite, is based on these three colors, red for male, green for female, and blue for neutral.  This makes Light gender very fluid, as most Light are not plain blue or plain green, but different combinations and hues, sometimes entirely different colors.  We take for granted how little of an impact color has on our culture because we assume it has a lot of impact, but it really doesn’t.  Color plays such a huge role because the Light are, in part, bio-luminescent, their epidermis and sclera are the only parts of their bodies that don’t naturally glow in the dark, though when scarred or tattooed that part of the dermis will begin producing the same luminescent chemical that makes the rest of their body glows.  There’s a running belief among the Light, who have existed on Earth for around as long as humans have, that the idea of fairies and elves must’ve been born from seeing glimpses of Light.

magicalnaturetour:  Mysterious Forest Glow by VOJTa Herout:

Starborn are a very narrative race, everything in their culture is shaped by the concept of narrative, especially their art.  This concept, to some extent, is identifiable for humans, as humans are also a very narrative species.  Starborn are fond of similar plots as well, particularly romance and tragedy, I don’t think there’s much surprise in knowing that the character Izze is very fond of Shakespeare’s tragedies, particularly Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.  Starborn and their culture is easily identifiable with humans, it is very narrative-based and communal, the reason humans don’t respect Starborn in the novel is because of how the culture of the Starborn feels about things like gender and emotion, and also how they look.

Buttercup fairytales:

See, to a human, a Starborn appears to be increasingly feminine.  Starborn are tall, however they are very slender, females are difficult to differentiate from males, a signifying feature being that Starborn women cover their breasts, this being the only part of their upper torso that they do cover and this being only because Starborn see breasts as sacred and in need of protection because they give young life.  Starborn cannot grow facial hair and they take great pride in long hair, since their hair’s color shifts like smoke.  Starborn men and women have a wide range of emotional responses and this is actually completely acceptable, in fact when it comes to anger or sadness, men are more expected to have more intense sadness while women tend to have more intense anger, but it’s seen as normal for both to cry, or laugh, or show emotional responses and affection.  It’s very regular for Starborn of the same gender or sex to show affection towards each other, even if they are simply good friends.  It also doesn’t help that Starborn are shapeshifters, and humans, whether we want to or not, link that to duplicity and untrustworthieness.  Their hair color shifts because it is a latent effect of their body keeping a shape, it’s easier to notice the hair shifting because it looks like the Northern Lights in the manner that it moves, but really all the colors on their body shift and vary.

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Starborn and Light are examples of how alien culture can differ from human culture, but still hold a sense of familiarity.  Light, like humans, associate certain colors with certain sensations that humans would understand, like “soft is lavender” or “cold is blue”, while Starborn are narratively focused, much like humans are.  While Light can be difficult for humans to relate to, certainly the prevalence of color in their language and culture can be very odd to an outsider, Starborn are relatively easy to relate to, but humans in the novel have a hard time respecting them because of how they view an inconsistent appearance to how humans do.

I think this is an important concept to think about, culture shapes humans, and in a way I should think it would shape aliens as well.

 

Roulette Tables-The Frei Family Syndicate

Weirdly, I’ve been getting back into the swing of things with Roulette Tables, and decided I want to talk a bit about each major syndicate, starting with the Frei family.

The Frei family is a German Mafia family that runs most of Gloshire’s industrial and shipping areas.  The family’s current head, Ezekiel Frei, is a German immigrant who, while he speaks English fluently, usually gives orders in German.  He has four living children, but two, Greta and Samuel, died within two years of each other, Samuel died two years before the start of the novel and Greta died four.  The four remaining children are Marie, Anna, Frederick, and Daniel.

Daniel, at nineteen, is the eldest living child and stands as the current heir.  He is fairly active in the family’s business, and along with his siblings has two bodyguards: Leon Sanchez and Kristopher Andersen.

Marie and Anna are the youngest, and are both ten, they don’t play a huge role as they are very young, but it’s mentioned offhandedly that Marie and Anna got along well with Greta and were torn up by the loss.

Frederick is fifteen, and looked up to Samuel immensely, both Frederick and Samuel are transgendered, and there is a lot of discussion in the novel about how much of a toll Samuel’s death took on Frederick, who is still processing the loss.

Kristopher and Leon, also referred to as Kris and Leo, are extremely important in the story, not only as Daniel’s bodyguard but as central parts of the Frei family in general.

Leo is a Mexican-Brazilian immigrant, fluent in Spanish, English, and German, and Ezekiel has a very high opinion of him.  Leo also served in the US army for four years before attending university.  Leo and Daniel are in a romantic relationship throughout Roulette Tables.

Kris is a Danish immigrant whose family owes the Frei syndicate money.  He’s a skilled sniper and very distinctly tall, pale, and sporting bright scarlet hair.  Kris is the only member of his family willing to actually work for the syndicate who is old enough.  There is a hint in the novel that Kris was previously in a relationship with Daniel’s brother Samuel, and that his loss affected Kris greatly.

In general the Frei family has a huge role in the story, not the least because Leo is the point of view character.  There are a lot of important themes of mental illness in the novel, which have existed since its inception, and if you have any questions on the characters and their backgrounds, please do ask.