Monday, September 12, 2011

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

[For Part I of this two-part series, click here.]

Neytiri protects Jake in AVATAR.
 I’m often struck by how many relationships in sci-fi romance develop through a series of actions that one might not typically evaluate as traditionally romantic. This is especially true in stories with a heavy action-adventure angle, but I see it happening in “quieter” stories as well. It’s not always clear whether an author intended this dynamic or not, but regardless, I find such an alternative approach very exciting.

Sci-fi romance is loaded with instances of courtship evolutions that are based on behaviors performed during the course of the adventure. Sometimes these behaviors extend to violent acts such as defeating invaders/villains or firing upon enemy ships during space battles.

Here are a few specific examples that come immediately to mind:

* Heroine saves hero from enemy attack using clever deductive reasoning and some serious acting chops (see: ALIEN TANGO by Gini Koch).

* Hero hacks into a computer system, which allows him to manipulate the security program. (see: ENEMY GAMES by Marcella Burnard).

* Heroine navigates space ship through a choppy wormhole or storm (see: COLLISION COURSE by Zoe Archer and THE SPIRAL PATH by Lisa Paitz Spindler).

* Heroine uses her political influence to help hero navigate choppy diplomatic waters (see: THE ANTAREN AFFAIR by Erica Anderson).

On a surface level, such actions are simply part of the external plot. However, I interpret them as doing a double duty, i.e., moving the plot forward and demonstrating the ways in which the h/h woo each other. I mean, it’s not as though characters like pirates, bounty hunters, or military soldiers have the choice of an intimate candlelit dinner in the dangerous reaches of darkest space. Therefore, I take into account the setting and context when evaluating the courtship of a science fiction romance couple.

Meaningful looks, affectionate touches, and witty banter are great and all, and sci-fi romance needs those, too, but the subgenre seems to be exploring a whole other level of the dating game (especially in situations where traditional “dating” isn’t even possible). Courtship-based actions of the non-traditional kind can be found in a variety of romance subgenres, of course, but is it possible they’re more prevalent in this SFR as well as being a significantly different flavor?

Take Nathalie Gray’s AGENT PROVOCATEUR. In that story, Tory and Mercury engage in very fierce physical combat with each other. And while they are obviously attracted to each other physically, it’s their mad fighting skillz that signal their interest in each other (even as the combat also serves an external plot purpose). Each admires the other’s ability to fight, and seeing each other in action is part of the seductive appeal. That aspect, to me, is part of what makes SFR unique, not to mention terribly romantic.

That said, will readers new to the subgenre evaluate these behaviors as romantic as, say, a candlelit dinner or a moonlit walk in the park? Would it help to discuss and clarify the unique aspects of the courtships found among sci-fi romance couples in a way that builds a bridge to potential fans?

Joyfully yours,

Heather