Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mars Needs Women? Too Bad! By Diane Dooley

When Heather asked if I’d be interested in writing an article about the ‘Mars Needs Women’ trope I was more than happy to say yes. I’ve read a few books with this trope and despised every single one. What did I hate about them? Ha! You know I’m going to tell you. In detail.

1. The sheer idiocy of the female characters is a major gripe. “I’ve been kidnapped and you plan to impregnate me without my consent, but you’re so goddam hot that I’m going to go along with it.” Really? Does anyone know an actual real life woman this ridiculous?

2. What the hell did these alien men do that led to the infertility or mass deaths of the female of their species? Does anyone care? Not usually. This red flag is so big, I can’t see how anyone would fail to give it a lot of thought. But, you know, as long as the males are hawt who gives a frack about what happened to the alien women?

3. Genetic compatibility. Kind of important, don’t you think? Ha! No. The alien dudes are so hot that the power of their fertility is more than a match for actual biology.

4. The alien dudes are always humanoid. Except better looking and with a larger penis or two.

5. The technology to travel across the universe, but no clue about how to solve their reproductive issues. But as long as they’re hot, none of this really matters. They’re hot, yo. Stop thinking, Dooley! Look, hot humanoid alien with a large penis. What more could you want?

6. Lack of revenge. Having been abducted, charmed, seduced, impregnated, etc, what does our lovely heroine do? Plan her revenge? Escape? Attempt to prevent her foul usage? Nope. See, the aliens are hot and NOTHING else matters.

I could go on, but I think you get the gist. The thing is, though, much to my surprise, this trope continues to be popular, both with readers and writers. For some readers it might be the pure escapist fantasy of the premise - being swept away to another world, being uniquely chosen. For writers it comes complete with a huge amount of inherent and inbuilt conflict that can fuel a story.

I put a question to a group of SFR authors, asking what they thought about this trope, and got, in general two answers: I LOVE this trope and I HATE this trope. Not much in the middle. Which, of course, leads little synthesis-loving me to try to find the middle ground. What would it take for me to love a book with this trope? Because, you know, all authors should be specifically aiming to please ME. *grin* It's time for a fresh take. Multiple fresh takes, in fact.

After much pondering, here is what I’ve come up with:

1. The Humor Angle: Take the trope and make it so ridiculously over the top and funny that I swallow the silly premise and chortle all the way to THE END. Something in the style of Lucy Woodhull’s ‘Ragnar and Juliet,’ which is clever and cute and really funny.    

2. The Volunteer Angle: Women volunteer and sell their eggs and wombs every day here on Planet Earth. What kind of remarkable woman would volunteer her body to help save an alien species? What would her motivation be? This is not a ridiculous woman, but someone who has made a thoroughly considered decision. This is someone I would read about. This would address the lack of consent found in too many ‘Mars Needs Women’ stories.

3. The Historical Angle: Kidnapping for reproductive purposes has happened before. Check out this excellent article from Robin at Dear Author, particularly the parts discussing captivity narratives. An SFR taking inspiration from historical events would necessarily be far more complex, and thus more interesting, than the ‘This Is One Hot Alien’ simplicity.

4. The Trade-Off Angle: What could an alien species offer that would tempt women into negotiating a trade-off? We’ll help prevent your extinction in exchange for a viable planet for Earth’s excess population? I’ll lend you my womb in return for you healing my brain-damaged sister? Some very interesting and sticky ethical dilemmas are guaranteed. And having a tough negotiator also addresses the lack of consent issue.

5. The Brainy Angle: I often wonder why aliens come looking for viable wombs instead of incredible brains. I’d read a story about a team of brilliant female scientists who save the alien race with brains instead of wombs. And if they want to use themselves as case studies by mating with hot aliens, then go for it, Dr. Brainbox!

6. The Rebel Angle: I love a good rebellion! Instead of joyfully and meekly submitting to the required pregnancy, I think I could rather enjoy an uprising of kidnapped Earth women, taking over the planet, subjugating the hot alien dudes and sorting out the fucked up society that allowed such terrible things to happen to the alien females.

7. The So Not Hot Alien Angle: Probably more SF than SFR, but Octavia Butler managed it in stellar fashion in her Lilith’s Brood trilogy. All Hail Octavia! I’d go as far as to say any author tackling this trope should read at least the first book to see how complex, riveting, believable, fascinating, thoughtful, imaginative and brilliant a handling of this trope can be, as opposed to the tired out Hot Alien with Massive Cock borefest.

Think I’m expressing my opinion a little too forcefully? Maybe I am. But I have been thinking about this stuff, deeply and at length, I assure you. I’ve recently been in the position of reading several unpublished stories with this trope, and it’s this experience that leads me to believe there is hope for it.

The ‘Mars Needs Women’ trope puts women in an incredibly powerful position: the ability to save an entire alien species. So where are the powerful stories? Where are the heroines with agency? Please, tell me. My previous experience of stories with this trope has almost caused me to abandon it altogether.

Do you know of a novel that tackles this trope in a fresh and engaging way, while avoiding the inherent misogyny of the premise that women are nothing but wombs? Have you written one that’s different, one you’re proud of and think I should give it a shot? Tell me about it in the comments. ‘Mars Needs Women’ stories suck! Now, prove me wrong. I do so love the taste of humble pie.

(Diane Dooley is an author of science fiction romance and can open a can of tuna, too. Visit her blog Writing, Stuff, and Nonsense.)