Thursday, September 8, 2011

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Isn’t It Romantic? Part I: The Nature of Attraction in Sci-Fi Romance

I’ve been wondering about the expression of romance in a science fiction romance for some time now. Specifically, the issue of whether SFR has unique romance “prose codes” or “trope codes” (or a mixture of the two). To put it another way, because of the myriad settings and characters in this subgenre, do authors have more choices when it comes to describing a) the nature and basis of the hero and heroine’s attraction to each other, b) new ways of objectifying beauty, and c) the relationship development, i.e., courtship?

In part one, I’d like to open up for discussion the issue of physical attraction between sci-fi romance heroes and heroines. In part II, we can have fun with courtship behaviors in SFR.

I was reminded about this topic when author Marcella Burnard (ENEMY GAMES) left a comment in response to a previous post here, Sci-Fi Romance: A Great Source For Cosplay Inspiration:

It seems to be part of the romance trope that the hero and heroine be slightly objectified to begin building attraction. That's hard to do when everyone is in full body armor and face masks...really hard.

Here’s the thought that immediately came to mind after I read that: When heroes and heroines are in “full body armor and face masks” in a science fiction romance story, isn’t that type of appearance one example of a basis for attraction in this subgenre? In other words, might a hero find a heroine dressed in full combat gear attractive? In an SFR, he very well may.

Ashley Williams in MASS EFFECT
Couldn’t there be other ways to objectify beauty—or minds, or particular skills—in order to show the building attraction? I’m not sure the objectification has to be limited to nekkid bodies or descriptions of the hero/heroine’s face.

However, I’m even less sure about how many readers would interpret a heroine dressed in full body armor as something they need to interpret as attractive and more importantly, as attractive to the hero (even as I would conclude they're missing out on some great stuff). Hence, I worry that some might interpret SFR as somehow less romantic, or the characters less “objectified” than other subgenres. In fact, I’d argue that SFR has its own ways of objectifying beauty. It may not be typical of other romance subgenres, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

Some level of objectification will exist in a romance—that’s part of the fantasy. I’d venture to say that SFR is a place where the objectification of beauty could be expanded to include non-traditional/alternative depictions. That angle may very well hold appeal for readers who chafe at the limits of traditional objectification tropes. Then possibly, just possibly, authors might not have such a hurdle when it comes to objectifying their characters’ beauty.

What’s your take?

Joyfully yours,

Heather