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Speculative Love, Part 2: Seeing The World Through New Eyes

Last week, we talked about the nature of love, offering a couple of examples from speculative fiction. Self-sacrifice figured prominently in that discussion, and I argued that love in its most refined form is fundamentally other-focused. Love seeks the best […]
| Sep 20, 2011 | No comments | Series:

Last week, we talked about the nature of love, offering a couple of examples from speculative fiction. Self-sacrifice figured prominently in that discussion, and I argued that love in its most refined form is fundamentally other-focused. Love seeks the best for the loved one, even if that means giving up everything, even life itself, if necessary, to make that happen. On the high road of love, everything is pure and noble and admirable, but…

Where, for the sake of all things blossoming, chocolate-coated, glittery, and pulse-pounding, is the romance? Dying for the sake of love might be romantic under certain circumstances, in a despairing, angsty, Romeo-and-Juliet sort of way, but it’s hard to get too excited about it. People want, to use a term that popped up here last week, kissyface. We’re talking about passion, ardor, desire–a focused attraction that fills the world with adventure, music, and jasmine-scented breezes that blow your hair around in a fetching manner without creating tangles.

I’m not trying to trivialize romance. Romance isn’t merely a diversion–emotionally energizing if you’re involved, and fun to watch if you’re not. It’s important. Romance is about a change in perspective. It’s what happens when a special someone helps you realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you. You experience the world through a new set of eyes, and you begin to notice beauty in places you never before thought to look. You care enough about this other person that you want to spend the rest of your life with them, doing your best to make them happy. You’d catch a bullet for them, if the situation ever came up. It’s a heady feeling, more intoxicating than any artificial mood-enhancer. It’s the spark, the fire, the fireworks.

It’s also an image of a quality of love God wants to share with us, something mentioned briefly in the book of Revelation as the “first love.” We see a vivid portrayal of that kind of intense joy and delight between lovers in the Song of Solomon.

Romance is also hard work. There’s serious conflict mingled with the sunbeams and lollipops as two people begin to smooth out their rough edges against each other. There’s fighting and losing and seeking and finding and winning and fighting again. It’s wonderful, and awful. It can bond people for a lifetime, or if they can’t adjust their priorities and expectations, it can tear them apart. This is gripping stuff. It can yield some incredible stories.

Getting back to speculative fiction, I’ve noted previously that science fiction in particular doesn’t dwell much on romance. Maybe there’s too much methane in the atmosphere. It’s difficult, I think, to come up with a compelling reason to stage a romance in a science fiction setting. It can feel awkward, like putting pants on a duck–a waste of time, and annoying to the duck. Romance, wherever you find it, is perfectly at home in fantasy worlds of courtly love, full of dragons and castles and princes and magic. Or in New York. Or maybe even in Forks, Washington. Romance has an element of fantasy embedded within it, an image of how we wish things could be, a place where dreams come true.

There is a growing niche market for traditional romance novels placed in science fiction settings, not so much different than using any other exotic venue like Monaco or Bali, I suppose. The covers even look the same. Toss a planet or rocket in the background of two semi-clad people embracing, and it’s good to go. My opinion? Pants on a duck. It’s romance, of a sort, but does it ask any speculative questions about humanity or use the speculative element as a metaphor or other key story component? More importantly, does it objectify romance, losing its tranformative magic in the rush to arrive at that climactic cover image?

I’ve had a difficult time trying to pull good examples of romance from my own science fiction reading, which may say more about me than the genre. I know the romance is out there, but I haven’t read much of it. It’s more common as an element of space opera, where it can easily get lost in the sweep of galactic war and power politics, or outshone by creative futuristic gadgetry. Truth be told, science fiction is usually more interested in the mechanics and social rituals of sexual activity in future societies, among aliens, or between humans and aliens.

We’ll grapple with those ideas in Part 3 4, but I’m not quite done with romance yet, so I’ll finish Part 2 continue in Part 3 next week with one example of a science fiction romance I found and enjoyed. Feel free to provide some favorites of your own.

Until then, spend a little romantic time with someone you love.

 

Fred was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his formative years in California, where his parents pastored a couple of small churches. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a bomber navigator, flight-test navigator, and military educator. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, and now works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training.Fred has been married for 25 years to the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys running, hiking, birdwatching, stargazing, and playing around with computers.Writing has always been a big part of his life, but he kept it mostly private until a few years ago, when it occurred to him that if he was ever going to get published, he needed to get serious about it. Since then, he's written more than twenty short stories that have been published in a variety of print and online magazines, and a novel, The Muse, that debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, which was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Speculative fiction is his first love, but he writes the occasional bit of non-fiction or poetry, just to keep things interesting.

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Galadriel
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I LOVE the kissyface robots!

I have three really good (at least I think they’re good) examples from Doctor Who:

Amy about Rory:
              You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful — and then you actually talk with them, and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick. But then there’s other people, and you meet them and you think: “Not bad, they’re okay,” and then you get to know them, and their face sort of becomes them, like their personality’s written all over it; and they just — and they turn into something so beautiful.  Rory is the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.

River Song about the Doctor:
    Every time we meet, I know him more, he knows me less. I live for the days when I see him. But I know that every time I do, I’m one step further away. The day’s coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.

Rory to the Doctor about Amy’s time in the Pandorica:
Rory: Will she be safer if I stay? Look me in the eye and tell me she wouldn’t be safer.
Doctor: Rory…
RoryAnswer me!
Doctor: Yes. Obviously. 
Rory: Then how could I leave her?

While the revived series does get a lot of fan-bashing for romance, it does try (with considerable success, in my mind) to connect the romance to the world the characters live in. And for Amy, that means her husband became the Lone Centurian for her. For River, it means she never can be in the same place in the relationship as the Doctor is.

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

I haven’t read a ton of science fiction, but it just doesn’t seem to lend itself much to the romance thing. More often romance is eschewed for kinky sex, which authors seem to think is the same thing.
 
Back to the Future had some romance elements (misplaced romance from Loraine for Marty), and it did add excitement to the story. Oh no, his mom has the hots for him! How will he fix this so she falls for his dad instead? I think BTTF qualifies as science fiction.
 
But you’re right about romance taking place more in fantasy settings. I personally like romance as long as there’s some action in it. I endured Twilight primarily for the fight scenes (and Bella should have gotten herself a shotgun. There, I said it).
 
I tried to write a fantasy romance once, between a young lord and an orc slave (pondering where half-orcs come from). And then dragons invaded and the romance fell by the wayside. Sigh.

J Wilson
Guest
J Wilson

For a good Sci-Fi romance, I would recommend Firebird by Kathy Tyers. The romance is instrumental and intertwined with the plot. It becomes part of the “what if….?” question, and drives a powerful allegory that emerges.

Maria Tatham
Guest

Yes, Firebird was wonderful!

Maria Tatham
Guest

This is not only witty but substantive, Fred. Thank you!

The original movie of Dune had the beautiful love story of the Duke and Duchess–remember? That was kissyface plus agape. (A lot of the rest of the movie was perverse.)

Jonathan Lovelace
Member

Several of the books in the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold (most notably Shards of Honor and the arc containing Komarr and A Civil Campaign) include romantic plots; the series is space opera (she ignores the laws of physics when they get in the way of the story, for example by providing interstellar travel via wormholes), but this space-opera setting is used to deal seriously with serious issues; the only time she even approaches flippancy is when the denouement of A Civil Campaign, which is a comedy of manners (she dedicates it to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Charlotte Bronte, and Dorothy Sayers (by their first names only)) in her science fiction setting, dips briefly into slapstick comedy and farce.
I suspect part of the trouble is that romance is, after all, a genre all its own; die-hard SF fans sometimes complain if an author imports too much of some other genre, whether that be romance, fantasy, or police procedural, and readers of that other genre brought in by the promise of their genre complain about the SF stuff getting in the way, so straightforward fusions are rare. Instead, we get lots of books with romantic, or fantastic, or mystery, or whatever, elements, which their primary target audience can easily ignore if it’s not their “cup of tea.”

stardf29
Guest
stardf29

The methane must be much lower on the other side of the pond, because I cannot count the number of Japanese sci-fi anime with romance as a fairly major part. I haven’t watched too many of them myself, but I know enough of their plots to know that they’re there.

(And yes, one of the ones I did watch and happened to like, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, is, as one can guess, a time-travel story.)

On another note, psychologist Robert Sternberg notes that, in our real lives, we use “love stories” as mental guides for what we think relationships should be like, and then these stories affect our actual relationships. Sternberg gives various examples of love stories, such as the fantasy story where we expect a charming prince or knight to sweep the beautiful princess off her feet.

He also notes a “science fiction story”, where one person is attracted to another because there is something strange and “alien” about them, and it is the strangeness of  that “alien” which fuels the relationship. So maybe science fiction romance is less about putting pants on a duck and more about falling for the pants-wearing duck. (Not literally, I hope.)

Kaci Hill
Member

Where, for the sake of all things blossoming, chocolate-coated, glittery, and pulse-pounding, is the romance?

 
I think, for the most part, the real thing doesn’t feel forced, doesn’t feel thrown in for the heck of it, and certainly has more to do with the actual relationship than the physical part. I can think of a few that worked for me, in no particular order.

The only sci-fi I can think of offhand that hasn’t been mentioned are two Star Wars books, but I really didn’t like either.  Does the love interest in Independence Day count?  I know the new “Merlin” show’s doing some of that, but I’m also only in season two.
 
Kessie – Do not get me started on Bella Swan.  Personally, the vampire mafia idea intrigued me. ::snicker:: No, really, eat her, then we get a new narrator….
 
Okay, I’m going. I haven’t read/watched that much sci-fi, anyway, I don’t think…
 
 

Galadriel
Guest

Eat Bella! Yes, I agree!

Maria Tatham
Guest

Fred, I’m sure you’re right that the movies don’t do justice to the Dune books. I’ve only read one–can’t remember which but it wasn’t the first. Herbert’s world is amazing, unique, and it all hangs together. But, even for the sake of enjoying the deep and nuanced relationships I couldn’t go back there. His world was disturbing.

Lewis’s Space Trilogy has its share of romantic, true love in That Hideous Strength and Perelandra. And, an embodiment of courtly love in P.
  

Christian
Guest
Christian

I’ve read Dune. The world-building was excellent and the premise was very intriguing but I didn’t think much of the writing-style and quality of writing. Still, despite all that it’s heavily influenced sci-fi (particularly Star Wars).

Maria Tatham
Guest

Christian, I can see why a book that builds such a consistent and unique world would be influential. Didn’t know that it influenced Star Wars. Interesting!

Patrick
Guest

I know this is animated movie and not a sci-fi book, but the romance in Wal-e between him and Eve was really cute. He seems to be this malfunctioning Johny 5 kind of character, a robot with emotions that was not part of his design. Then, love at first sight with the scary destructive robot, who seems cold and unfeeling as we expect a robot should be. She’s deactivated once she completes her directive- and unknown to her he takes care of this immobile robot until her ship comes back to take her away… and in the ensuing adventure in space she learns to love him too.

Maria Tatham
Guest

Sorry I missed this film–must rent it. Some of the animated films are sheer imagination, with warmth and immediacy.

There is lots of love, poignant and unsettling, in Spielberg’s AI. There was a.i. to human, human to a.i. agape love, I feel. Would the android child’s love for the boardwalk statue be a kind of romantic love, or another idealized picture of agape love? This film was tremendously interesting but actually grief-producing. We promised ourselves not to see another Spielberg movie dealing with a.i.