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Jul 06, 2022 9:26 PM
carolingian tag-wrangling
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A Grapeverse alien fiction fan, after having noticed a couple of things about Carolingia's gender situation, contacts the author of one of their favourite books and convinces them to send it over.

The title is Shattering Cascade, which in the original is balanced with perfect, deliberate ambiguity between two meanings: either a cascade of shattering, like a collapsing building that keeps dragging more of itself down with the rest, or a cascade which is shattering, like a waterfall breaking apart into a million pieces.

The premise concerns a world where one hundred percent of the population has mind-control powers that take a lot of effort and attention to suppress. The effect is along the lines of hyper-charisma; if you leave it on, people you talk to will like you a lot, care about you a lot, and believe whatever you say to them. The world has therefore divided into two factions: the Beautiful, who default to leaving their powers on, train and develop them for greater effect, and wield them on purpose, sometimes to devastating effect; and the Strange, who default to suppressing their powers and take care to avoid psychologically harming each other. Beautiful society functions like well-oiled clockwork, unified, advanced, civilized, leaving a trail of broken outcasts in its wake; Strange society lurches along like a herd of cats, confused and directionless and frequently violent, poor because they're spending so much of their collective effort on just not hurting each other.

The first chapter opens with a newly hired junior Strange ambassador entering for the first time the Beautiful city where they'll soon be working. They're wearing a full-body-concealing cloak and veil, as Strangers do to help block their powers and protect them from the powers of others, but at their first sight of the sparkling-clean streets and breathtaking architecture they lift their veil for a better look. Everything is so clean and pretty, and they're simultaneously enchanted by the beauty and revolted by how smoothly unanimous and flawless it all seems to be.

On their way to the embassy, they see a person writhing in the middle of the street, bawling uncontrollably, beautiful clothes all torn and scuffed and stained, moving completely out of sync with the eerily choreographed society around them, being totally ignored by all the Beauties present. The junior ambassador is shocked; the senior ambassador pulls them aside to quietly explain that this is normal in Beautiful cities and it's rude to make a fuss, implying but not outright stating that the usual solution to cases like this is to ignore them until they die. The junior ambassador (who is lowkey Phoenix-coded, to a well-Grape-versed reader) is having none of this, and demands to rescue the person. The senior ambassador, tiredly and reluctantly, admits that it's permissible in Beautiful society to take broken people like that home and keep them as pets, but cautions that if the junior ambassador is going to do this, they really can't take on more than one, and the embassy staff really can't afford to put in much time or effort towards helping, and they really must fire the junior ambassador if they spend all their time taking care of the stray instead of doing their job.

The junior ambassador is DETERMINED. The book proceeds to describe how they just barely manage to tend to their stray in their free time while struggling to keep up with their job's demanding schedule, how they marvel at the quality of Beautiful food and clothing and architecture and interior decoration but seethe internally every time they meet another Beauty who has heard about their 'pet' and has an opinion. Seemingly every Beauty in the city has an opinion and each new variant is more infuriating than the last, from condescending smiles to veiled contempt to the person who says outright that it makes sense that one useless outcast would find kinship in another. (The Beauties do tone down their powers an amount in conversation with the Strange ambassadors, but even a toned-down Beauty feels supernaturally convincing and alluring to a Stranger who's barely met a handful of them before in their life. Trying to maintain disagreement with so many of them in a row is pretty harrowing.)

Slowly, over the course of many chapters of this, the rescued Beauty recovers and develops a (lowkey Ondine-coded) personality. As they regain awareness of their surroundings and control of their emotions, the junior ambassador tries to convince them to tone down their power, which is getting stronger the more coherent they become; but they have no idea how to do that, and also their trauma has left them in All Fawn All The Time mode, so they keep getting the junior ambassador caught in horrible codependent emotional spirals which the junior ambassador has to break out of by sheer stubborn force of will, sometimes by pushing back with their own, laughably underdeveloped in comparison, power. (The normal Strange response to being mentally overpowered is physical violence, but the junior ambassador absolutely refuses to hit the vulnerable person they're trying so hard to help.) They feel conflicted about using their power even that much, but the only other option seems to be to abandon this person to die, so they're gonna do whatever it takes.

Halfway through the book, the junior ambassador, who has been developing unfortunate habits, accidentally uses their power in conversation with the senor ambassador; minor involuntary power usage is considered fine and on a continuum with just using language normally, but this is a pretty forceful push. They're appalled with themselves; they feel like it would've been better if they'd just stabbed their boss instead, and their boss kind of seems to agree. Things get very tense in the embassy, and after a few weeks, the junior ambassador ambiguously-quits-or-is-fired and takes their rescued Beauty home to Strange territory.

The rest of the book explores how their relationship develops as the Beauty recovers further and their Strange benefactor struggles to make ends meet and support them in a society so much poorer than the extravagantly luxurious Beautiful city that cast them out. The Stranger still struggles with the impulse to use their powers casually since they've been doing so much of it with their Beauty, and the Beauty still struggles with the concept of suppressing their powers at all, which gets to be more and more of a problem as they recover more and more. But in the end, they reach an equilibrium, with the Stranger relearning how to control themselves and managing to teach the Beauty along the way, and although Strange society still views them both with considerable suspicion and the thought of trying to go near Beautiful society terrifies them each in different ways, they carve out a life together that works for both of them, and learn how to become friends across the numerous cultural and psychological chasms that divide them.

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The Global Alliance does not do censorship! "Not doing censorship" is one of the very few things the nations could all get together and agree to coordinate on. Many citizens enthusiastically stand with CoTIA in its mission, and the Alliance's standard fiction package is sent in.


One of the earliest stories of the nations of (what is now) the Global Alliance, written down before contact with their extraterrestrial benefactors. It is an epic poem in three parts. Part one follows a capricious river-goddess as she alternately provides for and torments the people of the villages along her banks. In one of her rages, she pulls a town metalworker down beneath the water and he nearly drowns; in the next, she is depicted as pregnant; in her next calm period, she gives the baby to the metalworker she had nearly drowned.

(Without cultural context, readers may or may not put together that “pulling the metalworker under the water” was tasteful concealment of a rape scene.)

The second piece of the epic jumps ahead to when the metalworker’s baby has grown into a young girl. He has just passed away from smallpox and she is crying over his dead body. Desperate for any way to bring her father back, she consults with the town elders, who eventually reveal to her a route to the land of the dead. They warn her that the journey will be dangerous, but she presses on. The girl kills monsters on her journey to the underworld; annotations mention that different versions of the epic include different fantasy creatures here, and it is traditional for new adaptations to add their own. At the climax of the second part, she has to pick her real father out from two imposters, charismatic shapeshifting monsters who had escaped her on her journey. She figures out which one is her real father by asking trivia questions about metalworking; the monsters are stumped but her father answers correctly. She returns to the village in triumph.

The third part again skips ahead in time; the girl has grown into an adult woman, developed divine powers like her mother’s, started a family of her own, and made journeys up and down the river uniting the villages in an alliance. The alliance is building canals to control the floods and protect themselves from the river-goddess’s rage. Finding herself constrained, the river-goddess tries to assassinate her daughter; all three generations of the family–the metalworker, his daughter, and her children–make their stand against her together. The girl and the goddess have a battle of wills with hydrokinesis, her family backs her up with ordinary weapons, and ultimately they prevail in the fight over the goddess. The defeated goddess repents of her actions and signs a contract with the alliance, promising protection from other gods and monsters in exchange for the alliance’s correct ritual practice and sacrifice. An epilogue of sorts describes the growth of the alliance over the next few generations, with them accumulating wealth, building cities, and educating their children, all thanks to the actions of their heroes, who saved them from the whims of capricious nature.


A classic novel controversial in its day. (This one was, unusually for a work of fiction, actually banned in some places from time to time before the Alliance brought protection for free speech.) It is set in a period when humanity’s alien benefactors had pulled back a little, out of fear of humanity wiping itself out with their technology. The protagonist is an aspiring politician, in a country whose government is considered too repressive to get to trade with the aliens directly, though of course a rising tide lifts all boats. He hopes to rise through the ranks, reform his government to fit the aliens’ standards, and bring new prosperity to his country. The novel flips between detailing his progress on the campaign trail and a relationship he is conducting with a woman through correspondence, falling in love with her without ever seeing her face. He finally meets his girlfriend and finds out that she is an infamous anti-government terrorist–one of the youngest of a group that carried out several brutal attacks during a failed rebellion a decade ago, and the only one to successfully escape execution and go into hiding.

He is horrified, but she cries and begs him to give her another chance; she deeply regrets what she did in the war and just wants to stay out of politics now, as reforming the government isn’t worth any more bloodshed. The protagonist grapples with divided loyalties as his campaign advances. He has to choose between his dream of a political career and his girlfriend. In the end, he wins the race, but he never gives his acceptance speech–he has fled the country with his girlfriend to build a new life in a new place. An epilogue, a decade later, shows the protagonist and his wife reading news of their old country, which has reformed enough to resume trade with the aliens; they are hopeful that someday they will be able to return and show their children their old home.

(Cultural context notes at the end explain that execution is no longer practiced in the modern day, though euthanasia is offered if wanted to those whose crimes were so heinous they must be exiled to an island or imprisoned; while the aliens have relaxed their standards enough to trade with humans who do it, humans’ own moral standards have advanced to the point where any politician who proposed bringing back the death penalty would be voted out.)


rape, transphobia, forced marriage

Porn! It’s a dystopian sci-fi series about a colony on a far-future terraformed Red Planet which has cut off contact with the Global Alliance and its alien benefactors to experiment with more authoritarian forms of government; the cover has prominent “content notes” for “rape, transphobia, and forced marriage”, formatted and positioned as if they might be an advertisement as well as a warning. The framing device is “diaries from a period when the colony had lost certain technologies (or perhaps, it is implied, suppressed them to justify its atrocities)”; the focus is on the loss of genetic testing and assisted reproduction, and its use as a pretext for the government to run its eugenics program by arranging marriages (rather than subsidizing embryo selection) and disincentivize adultery by public flogging* (rather than universal paternity testing).

The first volume of the series follows a trans girl and her high school boyfriend as they come of age and are married off to other partners–the trans girl to several opposite-reproductive-role spouses as her genes are considered beneficial, the boyfriend to a same-reproductive-role spouse as his genes are considered deleterious. The trans girl is denied hormones to preserve her fertility, but granted other transition procedures she requests–electrolysis, breast augmentation, and facial feminization surgery. Sex scenes include “the trans girl is raped by each of her spouses (an older femme couple who were already married to each other, and a butch closer to her age on their first marriage) and taunted about how she’s betraying her beloved boyfriend by coming”, “the boy, who had only ever been dominant in relationships, learning to enjoy submitting to his husband (a man older, stronger, and more masculine than him)”, and “the trans girl and her boyfriend meeting up to fuck in secret, fearful of the consequences if they’re caught but unwilling to let the government split them up”.

*This is treated as dystopian only in that adultery is considered a criminal matter; of course corporal punishment is okay, without it we would have to go back to the bad old days of debt-slavery for petty-criminals who can’t pay their fines and imprisonment or island exile as first options for heinous-criminals!

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One of these worlds has its own archive of banned fiction. Actually it has five, but only one that's proactively sending selected works to the Church of Truth International Archive along with a catalog to order more from.

A work of at-the-time earthfic which portrays what is now understood to be alternate physics, from a period that is now especially popular in historical fiction, starring what might be glossed as a polycule some but not all of whom are ace. They engage in some light intrigue but mostly have slowburn relationships with each other and have cute interactions together. Two of them team up to save one that the king has been preventing from killing herself, and she dies in their arms, composing a poem that they memorize instantly and recite to themselves and each other thereafter for the rest of the story, in which those two and the other three main characters cuddle each other in various combinations, occasionally have sex, and do extremely detailed logistics about grain imports and meal planning and soapmaking. There is a soap recipe included, which one of the characters ostensibly invents. The scenery is described in almost as much detail as the logistics. The metadata explains that the book was banned for its extremely detailed descriptions of the city it was set in and its defenses and the weaknesses thereof, and for providing information from which someone could infer personal facts about the king during whose reign it was written. It's tagged as historical intrigue, relationship building, and slice-of-life. Its copyright history is long and strange but it's in the public domain now.

A trilogy tagged with a large number of common genres that might be glossed as sci-fi fantasy relationship-building frontier feud gore-fantasy viewpoint-exploration. It stars some amphibious mermaids who beach themselves like seals and have learned to use fire and work metal aboveground but feel vastly more comfortable in the ocean where their self-powered locomotion is smooth and graceful and where the foods they eat occur naturally. Some mermaid convicts are sentenced to their choice of exile or indenture in a mining-and-forging colony up on an island - two for murder, one for polluting water, one for rape, six for bankruptcy and one for having a child after their previous child told them to stop, all of whom prefer to join the colony, and a poorly sketched fifteen others who prefer to go into exile and probably die and consequently disappear from the story immediately - and mostly have a terrible time in the mines, except one that instead has a terrible time learning to forge metal and one that instead has a slightly less terrible time bribing the minders to leave them alone. The narrative goes into depth about everyone's motives, with the same unvarying lack of apparent authorial judgment for everyone from the rapist (enjoys making other people suffer) to the person who had a child without permission (rape victim, wouldn't destroy the resulting egg). Then there's a toxic algal bloom, making it impossible to go diving for seafood. They have dried seaweed and variously preserved fish stockpiled, and they can derive some nutritional value from seabird eggs and land vegetation, so they aren't immediately starving, but the situation becomes much more miserable than before. There is one boat - it's useful for transporting things that shouldn't come into contact with seawater - and the minders take the only boat and a substantial fraction of the dried fish and leave. In the immediate aftermath four of them get together to torture a snitch to death, the rape victim beats the rapist and cuts off their fins (they'll grow back but that doesn't make it a fun experience), one of the debtors declares this to be an independent town and runs for mayor, and there are three duels on varyingly thin pretexts, before things finally settle down. Things do finally settle down, though. One of the murderers wins the mayoral election (despite not running) and they figure out how to arm themselves (they weren't taught to forge blades but they figure it out and someone designs a catapult, too) and they all settle down to build a little town and make themselves some jewelry and write poetry. They become friends, sometimes close friends, and some of them promise to protect each other, and two of them fall in romantic love. And then a debtor's necklace goes missing, and they accuse the murderer who isn't the mayor, who insists they didn't steal anything and accuses the person whose necklace it was of hiding it to have an excuse for a fight. There's a duel to the death. Three other people have promised to protect or avenge one or another of the combatants, two on one side and two on the other (one of them has some intense angst about this), and those three have their own ties. They end up with a mini civil war, mostly quiet with intermittent raids to steal things. Some people put intense effort into trying to arrange a diplomatic solution, but then one person insults another a little too harshly and the killings resume and a majority of the population of the island dies. In the end, the algal bloom ends and the jailers return to discover what happened, and the narrative dwells with fascination and no apparent judgment on their decision to publicize an even worse version of the story than what they hear from the survivors (in the hope that it will scare potential criminals), and to kill the survivors so they can't contradict the story. However, the jailers fail at this and themselves end up dead, painfully and horribly, and the survivors leave to try to find a new country somewhere else that might treat them differently; the series ends on that note with their fates unresolved. All of the gore is described in extreme detail and it reads like the author liked it even more than they liked military logistics and fight scenes. The metadata explains that the book is currently banned from all the creche libraries in the country of Traur on the grounds that children should grow up exposed to slightly less violence than this and also that there's only so much space to store physical books in. It's under copyright for three more years but the author almost exclusively monetizes their work through donations these days and doesn't care what the Church of Truth does with it.

A horror/gore-fantasy/slice-of-life/viewpoint-exploration book that was marketed Blair-Witch-style as nonfiction (about a literally underground society with a compellingly fucked up view of human relationships and also a collection of mind-rending infohazards that they train people to be relatively less harmed by perceiving but cannot make actually entirely safe), along with associated marketing materials including a map ostensibly showing where to find one of their caches of infohazardous content. Banned from all the creches in Traur, not allowed to be sold in Traur, and only allowed to be made available for piracy in Traur if accompanied by metadata explaining the gimmick. Its copyright ran out seventeen days ago.

A short novel about someone who is born in a dungeon in a fantasy kingdom where this bestows on them a lifelong inferior status. The main character discovers that they have unique magical powers that they can use to build futuristic magitech infrastructure (the infrastructure is detailed in several slightly awkward infodumps rather than worked naturally into the story) which massively improves the quality of life of everyone in the kingdom and incidentally makes it harder for the monarch to maintain control. Whenever the protagonist uses their magic, they open themself up to a shadow realm where unquiet spirits nibble at their soul and take their memories and emotions to play with and put back wrong. It hurts tremendously and the protagonist feels violated, and then doesn't feel violated because they've been put back together wrong, and then feels violated about that, and ends up miserable and longing for death. But the protagonist perseveres in fixing other people's problems out of a sense of duty, until there are no more problems anywhere in the world, and then a nice spirit puts the protagonist back together the right way and patches up the places where their soul was nibbled on and the protagonist gets to live in a delightful utopia which the protagonist feels viscerally horrified to realize that they'd have missed out on if they'd killed themself like they longed to do constantly throughout the entire story so far. At the end the protagonist delivers a monologue about how, even if they'd had less power than this, still they'd have been obligated to live to do anything they possibly could for other people, and how they would have been making an irreversible mistake if they'd chosen to die. Throughout the story side characters commit suicide by means that rarely work in real life, some of which have the potential to maim people and all of which generally leave people injured or sick. The book is not banned from all the creches in Traur, but it is presented with a foreword claiming that the author was an extremely evil person who wrote it to trick people and challenging the reader to see if they can figure out what's wrong with it, as well as an afterword containing a couple of short essays on the moral ideas discussed in the book and a doctor's criticism of the medical inaccuracies. The book was not banned per se anywhere in the post-Meirec cultural area, but several bookstores, book fairs, and book review websites individually chose to boycott it, and three people were attacked on suspicion of being the anonymous author. In the post-Meirec states it's usually published with a foreword discussing effective suicide methods and (where applicable) cheerily reminding people that they can ask their local euthanasia office for an exit bag. It's been tagged as viewpoint-exploration, fantasy, and horror. Since it's anonymous it's never been copyrighted.

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