Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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There's Plenty Of Room For More Android Romances!



Amazing Stories featured a column by MD Jackson about Mechanical Men and Women in science fiction. It's a fun snapshot of iconic robot/android characters, plus other interesting facts involving sexy android art. The post didn't cover the romance angle, but hey, that's where I come in!

I've blogged about this trope before, but the Amazing Stories column inspired me to revisit it. Science fiction romance offers its fair share of romances involving androids. It's a fascinating way to explore the "Other," meaning that point in time when an android/robot becomes capable of romantic love. Despite the relatively small number of stories pairing humans and androids/robots, there's actually quite a bit of variety.

The stories range from sweet heat levels to erotic SFR. The science fictional aspects are varied as well. Some stories, like Tanith Lee's SILVER METAL LOVER (bittersweet ending alert!) focus on the psychological/cultural/sociological themes, while others are hard SF in nature.

Catherine Asaro's books, such as THE PHOENIX CODE and ALPHA, incorporate the nitty gritty hardware involved. L.J. Garland's MECHMAN is all about the action-adventure. I even wrote a couple of android romances myself: THE WATCHMAKER'S LADY and HEROES ARE FOREVER. Both titles are squarely in fantastical fantasy territory.

Here are two more angles for you: the hero in BODY ELECTRIC by Susan Squires is an A.I. with a human body. Contrast that character with Pippa Jay's TERMS & CONDITIONS APPLY, which features a hero whose consciousness has been downloaded into an android body!

Based on the blurb for PARAGON by Aubrey Watt (which is on my TBR pile), the story promises to examine how romantic relationships evolve into new types of pairings in the context of artificial intelligence. THIS WINTER HEART by P.G. Forte explores the prejudices faced by those androids/automatons who fall in love.

REVERSAL by A.B. Gayle and LUST REBOOTED by Christine d'Abo go full throttle with the sex bot theme. In these types of future tales, sex dolls are no longer passive recipients of the user's lust. They walk, talk, and are skilled in the art of lovemaking. Human users fall in love with sex bots who have agency, not to mention their own desires and need for belonging.

I've enjoyed the stories I've read so far, but regarding stories yet to be written I'd love to see the trope taken in even more intense directions. It's great to showcase the sexual aspect of a human-android/robot romance or an android-android romance, but there are so many other areas to explore as well.

Just off the top of my head, I wouldn't mind reading android romances like the following: 

* settings where sentient androids are a part of everyday life. What would romance be like in that type of world?

*near-future settings where the first batch of sentient androids grapple with the concept of love, courtship, and even procreation. How would the world react and who would become the androids' first human partners?

* dystopian settings where sentient androids are suppressed/enslaved. Perhaps one of them develops a forbidden romance with a human.

* any story where the android hero/heroine is undercover in some way, at a time when androids are highly sophisticated. What if a character fell in love with an android and didn't know it? Would androids be required to reveal their true nature? If so, what would be the implications of that scenario?

* any military SFR story featuring sophisticated android soldiers who fall in love

* android romances that grapple with the concept of lifespan/immortality. How would an android-human couple negotiate that aspect of their relationship? Would an android lover choose to die if she fell in love with a human? Conversely, would a human partner undergo the necessary mechanical transformation in order to live with his android lover forever?

Sci-fi romances with android/robot heroes and heroines have potential for some really heart-wrenching angst. One thing I really enjoy about these kinds of stories is the point when characters work through their prejudices and fears and accept an android as a person and not just a fancy machine. Yet at the same time, the machine aspect remains part of what makes them unique and special. Exploring these themes through the lens of a romance makes everything about the process concrete. In other words, deeply personal.

Do you have any ideas for android romances you'd like to read? Are there any challenges facing these stories, both in terms of creativity as well as marketing?

Joyfully yours,

Heather