Science fiction is all about the ideas, and is as unlimited as the human imagination. Romance is all about the relationship, and traditionally, at least, this has been defined as the heroine, the hero and what happens between them.
A couple of posts ago I took a quick look at our heroines in SFR and pondered whether we weren’t in a leather-clad rut. Now a recent blog post by our friend Heather Massey over at The Galaxy Express asking “Alien Heroes Who Fell to Earth: Why Aren’t They More Popular?” (http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2012/11/alien-heroes-who-fell-to-earth-why.html) has me wondering about the vitality of our heroes.
Heather (and her commenters) point out that some of the brightest lights in SFR—Susan Grant, Rowena Cherry, Susan Kearney and a host of others—have written stories in which hunky alien heroes have come to Earth and fallen in love with human women. (Linnea Sinclair’s Down Home Zombie Blues reversed the male/female order with the alien commander as a female and the local a male, but the idea is the same.) These books have met with some success, Massey argues, but none of them have provided the “breakout” novel we need to create the kind of market paranormal romance has experienced with its vampire and werewolf heroes.
Why not? she asks. These aliens are just a little different from us, and they’re sexy, alpha males; the settings of the books are familiar (current day or near-future) and the science/technology is generally accessible. You’d think these would be the ideal stories to draw in the romance audience and broaden the appeal of SFR. There are actually two issues here—one having to do with setting and the approach to technology, the other having to do with the hero issue. Let’s just talk about heroes for now.
Onscreen our SFR heroes tend toward action-oriented human starship captains like James T. Kirk, renegades like Han Solo or Firefly’s Mal Reynolds, or military men like AVATAR’s Jake Sully, Farscape’s John Crichton or the heroes of Battlestar Gallactica or any of the Stargate spinoffs. All of them human (mostly).
You have to go back to the time of the proverbial SF dinosaurs to find the template for an alien sex symbol—the half-Vulcan Spock, First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. It is crucial that Spock’s character was written as half-human. That fact creates all his internal conflicts, but it also makes him that much more appealing to his human audience. There is that tension between his human (emotional) half and his Vulcan (logical) half, but there is that attraction, too, the sense that there is something vulnerable underneath all the apparent danger of his forbidding Vulcan exterior.
That kind of push/pull is the same thing that makes the paranormal hero—a vampire or a werewolf, a demon or a fallen angel—so appealing. The outside is all danger—ripping, tearing, blood-sucking, fear-inducing—the inside is all raw need and vulnerability. The paranormal hero will only allow the heroine to see that side of him. Spock—and by extension any good SFR alien/part alien hero—will only let his mate (and, of course, Kirk and sometimes McCoy) see that side of him).
This aspect of the hard shell/soft inside is such a part of the alpha male character that it could almost be a given for any subgenre of romance. But it is a particularly necessary feature of the success of paranormal romance. If we hope to duplicate that kind of success with SFR, our human alpha-male starship captains (as much as I love me some Jim Kirk) may not be enough.
My first SFR novel Unchained Memory features a human hero and heroine in a story in which the aliens are an unseen menace. In my second book, though, the hero is half-alien (of another race than the villains) and poses a more intimate kind of danger to the human heroine. In that sense, the story of Trouble in Mind is much more like your typical paranormal romance, with the internal conflicts revolving around his alien character and her humanity.
Obviously I’m betting on the ability of readers, primarily romance readers, to expand the scope of their thinking to include alien lovers in with the vamps and weres, demons and others they’ve been welcoming for the past twenty years. My guy is sexy and dangerous on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, too. I’m just hoping the readers will give him a chance.
Wow, Pippa, sounds like you are incredibly busy and productive these days! Good luck with all of your projects as you keep churning out the words!