Tuesday, July 26, 2011

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Aliens Aren’t Sexy? Say It Isn’t So!

At Biology in Science Fiction, Peggy recently blogged about The Kirk Effect or why aliens won’t be sexy:

If we do find a planet with intelligent life, it is unlikely to be a humanoid or at all shaped like us. And we are unlikely to be able to easily find a way to communicate.

Yep. Can’t argue with that argument. Yet SF and sci-fi romance authors have ignored the truths of biological sciences in all sorts of ways, for decades, in order to deliver exotic aliens that are also relatable. As partners in this dance, readers have validated le sexy aliens (say, the kind with three boobs or extra large, enhanced penises) with their pocketbooks over and over and over.

Such aliens tend to be aesthetically pleasing more often than not. The ugly fuglies are frequently reserved for aliens out to conquer Earth or exterminate the human race. (That extreme pendulum swing is an interesting topic in and of itself.)

Neytiri - ©Twentieth Century Fox
The latest, most high-profile example of Beautiful Aliens is AVATAR’S Neytiri. I mean, that bosom! I’m sure James Cameron devoted years of research toward developing a sound biological basis for her firm, round breasts.

Yeah, right.

In SF, sexy aliens are often about delivering a fantasy aimed at heterosexual men. In SFR, heterosexual women are the ones most often benefiting from handsome humanoid alien males with sculpted bods. In many cases, the biological sciences are ignored to a ridiculous degree.

But how tragic is the above scenario, really? Are all of us readers and authors just a buncha idjits for perpetuating the myth of the sexy alien?

Plausibility is a laudable goal, no doubt about it. However, the goal of many if not most SFR stories involving aliens who are sexually, emotionally, and psychologically compatible with humans isn’t necessarily plausibility. The stories are intended to be metaphorical, if at times unintentionally. The point isn’t whether aliens are sexy or not; rather, the point is the basic theme of Love Conquers All in a technological/futuristic setting, a theme that can be explored with any number of different alien body types.

Many different kinds of fantasies have fanned out from the aforementioned theme. Some involve more plausible aliens than others. Sometimes the type of alien love encounter we want to read about depends on our mood. I would love to read science fiction romances about a dual-species romance and all of the challenges that would entail. Other times, I want the fantasy of shared/compatible DNA. Because it’s a lonely universe out there for us right now, y’know?

If authors of SFR create aliens that are true to the tenets of the biological sciences, then we might be talking about alien life forms we can’t even recognize, let alone fall in love with. Where’s the story in that?

(As an aside, I occasionally wonder if the inherent “strangeness” of aliens is something that keeps many romance readers from SFR. Has the subgenre failed to add a dimension to alien heroes and heroines that would increase their appeal? Other than just making them human/humanoid, I mean.)

On the other hand, it seems as though some alien-human romances are a little too human-centric in focus. A really ambitious SFR could subvert all of that by throwing in very serious complications, e.g., there’s genetic compatibility except for the presence of a bodily toxin that’s lethal to one’s partner upon physical contact. Or romances involving aliens who have a different form entirely.

The sky’s the limit, frankly. I will always want love stories involving humanoid aliens in spite of what science dictates, but sci-fi romances can stretch my mind in other ways, too, and so I believe it's a path worth exploring further.

What are your thoughts? Are SFR aliens too sexy for their shirts, so sexy it hurts? Or are they doing their job just fine?

Joyfully yours,

Heather