Monday, March 3, 2014

Romance, Between a Rock & a Hard Place--Guest Post By Rhi Etzweiler

Riptide Publishing is showcasing some of their titles past and present through a number of blog tours, including Rhi Etzweiler's FRAGILE BOND. I was glad of the chance to learn about a new-to-me author and book and so decided to join the party.

The blurb for FRAGILE BOND intrigued me because it's reminiscent of ENEMY MINE, a film I enjoyed a great deal. It's been a looooong time since I've seen it, though, so my plan is to do a double feature of sorts: re-watch ENEMY MINE and read FRAGILE BOND.

Rhi Etzweiler is aboard with a guest post so we can learn more about the themes featured in FRAGILE BOND. But first, here's the blurb:

Sniper Sergeant Marc Staille and his trusty rifle, Mat, are on bodyguard duty at a mining operation on a backwater planet. The resource-rich valley is crawling with tawnies, the native dirt-colored predators. Huge things that hunt in packs and kill as well with tooth and claw as Marc ever has with Mat. 

The rules change when a tawny uses an unexpected weapon: pheromones. 

Commander Hamm Orsonna, leader of the fefa clan, is determined to chase off the invading aliens. The one he sets out to capture for intel is scrawny and hairless, not very intimidating—until it takes out his entire squad. Seasoned warriors, felled from halfway down the valley by its metal death stick. 

Their sacrifice may be worth it, though. The alien male smells like he’s interested in making things right. He smells of other things too, but nobody else seems to notice. Before long, Hamm finds himself fighting off his own kind to defend the alien, who might be his people’s only hope for peace, and Hamm’s only chance for happiness.

Romance, Between a Rock & a Hard Place

by Rhi Etzweiler

While writing Fragile Bond, I found that one of the most daunting tasks was bridging the gap between what is categorically perceived as erotic (eros, sexual desire) and platonic (philia). The Greeks had a half dozen different words for love, and as many philosophies of thought on which encompassed the greatest intrinsic value or worth.

I think we can all agree that "romance" engenders greater depth than eros alone. Though the erotica subgenre often assumes the role of pornography, there exists a measured quality that engages greater depth and development, thus expanding the notion further and becoming something more. Quite often, any science fiction that includes graphic sexual content is slapped with an "erotica" genre label and dismissed as inconsequential and meaningless, poor quality and second-rate story-telling.

There are always some things better left to a reader's imagination. The audience will individually decide whether a story has engaged them sufficiently to legitimatize a "romance" label. Whether this requires physical copulation or sexual intimacy, or can occur without such acts taking place, is entirely up to the reader and dependent on execution of plot arc and character development.

A very well-known instance is the 1985 movie Enemy Mine. The movie adaptation of Barry Longyear's Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella stars Dennis Quaid as a human space pilot and Louis Gossett Jr. as an intersexual alien species that reproduces asexually. Taking sexual intimacy completely out of the equation creates a dynamic and extremely intriguing foundation for the development of both characters and the relationship that evolves over time as a result of their interactions.

KD Wentworth's Black on Black (Baen, 1999) and Stars Over Stars (Baen, 2001) are two full-length novels written about Heyoka Blackeagle, a hrinn raised by an Oglala Sioux, and his human partner in the Ranger Corps, Mitsu. Their relationship hardly takes center stage in the stories, and yet the emotional intimacy is strong and underscored as more than the solidarity built on military brotherhood. Certainly there could have been greater exploration into those facets of the character dynamic, yet it was not the driving arc of the books.

Even so, Wentworth demonstrates that a strong bond need not manifest as sexual intimacy in order to portray romantic sentiment and emotional entanglement. That Heyoka is seven foot tall, covered with black fur, and possesses a muzzle full of sharp teeth in addition to his retractable claws is all rather a side note. As Wentworth says, human is as human does.

And as I've known one soldier to say of a brother in arms, "I'll take better care of him than his girlfriend or wife ever could." 

With Fragile Bond, the sole source of erotic engagement lies with Hamm and the unusual weapon with which he overpowers his adversary. Pheromone control is a common form of social interaction, as scent is a strong channel of communication among furrs. But Hamm is able to shift his to interact with a human, and thus distracts Marc. The consequences of Marc's subsequent subduing and capture are ones over which both human and furr stumble, while exploring the solidarity they share as brothers in arms, and the mutual understanding born of warrior ethos that bridges language, cultural and species barriers. Can erotic response fuel a more rational emotional engagement? Can one trust authenticity in any of what follows? Is there any salvageable intrinsic value in the aftermath? It was my goal to demonstrate the answers to those questions could be affirmative.

The audience will each decide for themselves what leverages greater weight. And thus I’m curious-- would you as the audience categorize Enemy Mine as a romance? If so, what aspect solidified that level of engagement for you? If not, what additional level of depth would Enemy Mine have needed for it to qualify as such in your perception?

About the Author

Rhi’s formative years were spent steeped in military culture, and it influences every story—with a definitive twist. Though focusing mainly on science fiction and fantasy, Rhi enjoys spicing things up with a speculative mixture that sometimes defies an easy label. Next to Elizabeth Moon and Meredith Ann Pierce, Rhi counts Jane’s Defense and Popular Science among still-strong influences.

For Rhi, writing is how the muses tell their stories. They might begin small but they rarely remain so. “Some of them require luring or bribery to draw them out. Usually wine and chocolate work well. Other times all it takes is a little art. But once they realize I’m listening, they will just keep going.”

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