Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Appealing Aliens

A recent post on io9 about 12 aliens that were meant to be cute but were actually scary got me thinking, but with a romantic twist. Various peers are quick to post images of Nathan Fillion as Captain Mal (Firefly) and I know someone who has a very soft spot for Ba'al (Stargate) and Commander Crais (Farscape). I can't deny my own affection for a certain young hero from the original Star Wars trilogy either. Sigh. I've even seen Spock quoted as a sex symbol. But what about the less human males inhabiting the many universes portrayed in fiction? Do they have the same appeal as those oh-so-human examples I've quoted?

Of course, it's harder to imagine anything more than a platonic or perhaps diplomatic relationship with something non-human.  The Na'vi (10-foot tall (3.0 m), blue-skinned, sapient humanoids) in Avatar would have a distinct disadvantage with their scale in relation to a human. The reptilian Visitors in V required a certain...medical adaptation to be sexually compatible with a human, although having sex with something that could potentially regard you as lunch might put most humans off. Still, seems to work out for vampires...
Back in February 2012 I did a post about why the majority of sentient beings in my story Keir were humanoid - How Alien Are Your Characters. I hypothesised that humans were more likely to develop deeper and more regular bonds with races bearing greater similarities to themselves, and to races with a closer biological and physical compatibility. I still stand by that theory. But I am expanding into exploring relationships where the biology is more questionable, or at least has to be discussed. Donna also posted on the case for aliens looking like us here. When it comes to romance, it would be short lived if the male' could cause damage rather than pleasure, or perhaps a female who's breeding behaviour involves removing and consuming her mate's head (Buffy - Teacher's Pet, episode 4 season 1 with a giant, shapeshifting preying mantis). Or perhaps the human-alien hybrid in Species who, though maintaining a human shape for the majority of the time, took on an alien form to mate, which proved rather terminal for most human males. Although it would make for interesting writing and an unexpected twist, it doesn't fulfil the industry's requirement of a HEA or HFN. :P

Shapeshifting aliens can, of course, work around any physical restrictions, but I always feels this is a bit of a cop out.  Not that I have anything against it, but those restrictions would make for greater conflict and add another layer to the plot - a variation on the forbidden love trope perhaps, only bound by physical restraints to their passion rather than culture, religion, class etc.
So is there an alien you find attractive? Or are all your intergalactic amores human or human-looking?

Pippa's Journal

I'm still waiting on news of my sfr novella submission - Tethered - and I'm in the process of polishing a scifi short for an inhouse anthology call. After a count up the other day, I realised I have a scary 17 WIPs. No wonder I feel a bit lost in them! Keir has gone into another contest, but I'm trying not to count down the days until I start hearing if it's made any finals. >.<

I found two intriguing posts on spaceship design and flight. One with Greta van der Rol here and another with scifi author Allan Douglas here. Both are worth a read if you're working on spaceships and/or space battles for your universe. I also found this fascinating snippet about the science of kissing on Facebook here.
There's a call for fantasy and scifi short stories for an anthology here. I don't know a huge amount about the publisher but worthy of investigation.

Last week I had Heather Massey guesting on my blog in the first of the Cover Love features I'm running. Tomorrow I have book reviewer and blogger Katheryn Rodzianko giving her opinion on some YA covers, and the lovely Jessica Subject is up the following week with her choice of sfr covers. I'm still looking for victims volunteers for future posts!

Ping Pong
Donna - excellent post on the romance in science fiction! And it certainly got people talking
Laurie - loved the short story post. Maybe if the Brigade anthology does well, we can do more!


  1. Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with the Na'vi. You know I have a thing for blue aliens. ;) Could be interesting. LOL Thanks for the link to the io9 article!

  2. Oh, I don't have a problem with the Na'vi, and you know I share the thing for blue aliens. Just a slight concern over the, er, size difference. ;P

  3. Authors can create any kind of SFR hero they like. As far as *selling* those stories, it's another matter entirely. It helps to be clear about who one's target audience is as well as realistic about the number of sales one can expect.

    Many readers insert themselves into the heroine's place so a non-human alien hero is going to challenge that process. For readers who prefer to watch the romance unfold from the "outside" it may hold more appeal.

    One issue your post brings up is the assumption that a couple's sexual journey *has* to be part of the romance. I'm not so sure that's the case. Not every couple wants kids, y'know?

    What if one of the characters was paralyzed from the neck down (assuming medicine wasn't advanced enough to provide a cure)? Couldn't that hero or heroine still fall in love? Why would we have to shoehorn a sexual component into a case like that?

    I think it's possible to come up with a variety of plausible reasons for a character to want just the emotional bond (e.g., celibacy by choice/religion, long-distance relationships, or maybe one of the characters had their consciousness transferred into an android body). I don't think we'll see a flood of such stories anytime soon, but there are quite a few creative workarounds.

    Re: shapeshifting as cop out: Seems to me like it depends on how important the couple's sexual journey is to the relationship. For many, many readers it's absolutely integral.

    On the one hand, I agree it's a way for readers to have their cake and eat it, too. And I do question when shapeshifting is introduced purely for the h/h to get it on.

    On the other, it's an effective way to make alien heroes/heroines more accessible, which in turn will widen the audience for the stories with alien heroes/heroines. Maybe going that route will prompt readers to be more adventurous about non-human aliens in the future.

  4. Exactly - I've been considering this from the angle of a romance reader's view, where some sort of physical climax is usually the norm (from my experience so far - I'm willing to be proven wrong about that). A relationship between a non-human and a human could be purely political, a meeting of minds - something beyond a pure need to procreate (and theoretically, even a race anatomically similar to human is unlikely to result in offspring) so producing an heir of any kind isn't necessary. Some of the as yet unwritten prequels to Keir have Quin in a romantic relationship with a being that has no physical form, so it wouldn't quite conform to the kind of relationship that most romance readers might expect/require/want. To me, that opens greater range to explore the relationship but it might not satisfy some readers in various aspects of what they anticipate in a developing romance.
    And I'm not saying every relationship has to have a sexual context. Just one aspect I was considering.
    Personally I'd love to write more unconvential relationships, but as you say there is a risk of alienating readers, and/or having something that isn't marketable. I'm still learning.

  5. I'm all for unconventional relationships, but then again I'm not too concerned with marketability or I would have made my own characters much more generic. I actually prefer to test "genre" limits/conventions instead. I want people to read my stories, sure, but I'm alright with my stories not being for everyone. While I think it is true that some readers may feel more at ease or comfortable with relationships between like beings, I think that there is a growing audience of readers who are more open to the unconventional.

    For me, I would prefer to read something original than yet another "hot ripped male human-looking alien comes to take an earth girl for an adventure" (Not that I have anything against hot, ripped male aliens, mind you...) I'm just saying that I think writing is about taking chances, and if you feel the desire to write an unconventional character, do it. You'll find readers for it. (Especially with the way you write characters, Pippa.. seriously, you could make a three-headed, green-scaled Thraxian appealing, I'd wager.)

  6. Of course Spock had/has a HUGE following in fanfic as a lover, but then he's humanoid. And there you have the problem, as you point out, Pippa. Non-humanoid species just don't have ROMANTIC appeal. Whether the romance is consummated or not doesn't really seem to matter. There are all kinds of ways around the mere biological or logistical problems of inserting Tab A into Slot B--as Heather says, and as Linnea Sinclair argued recently here, the relationship can be one of nearly platonic love and devotion, or the "sex" can be through a mindmeld (literally "mindblowing")or--well, you get creative. The question is whether jumping through all these hoops will entertain the romance audience sufficiently that they will buy your book AS A ROMANCE. As SCIENCE FICTION, the reading audience is used to all sorts of crazy ideas. But the SF audience is small and can be notoriously insular, particularly when it comes to anything that smacks of romance. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice, I suppose.

  7. Corinne - this is what I love about the option of self publishing, and of small presses willing, and even preferring to take a gamble on stories that might appeal to a smaller, more adventurous group of readers. And I think all authors should attempt to push boundaries in some ways, not only to keep their writing fresh but to challenge their readers, and perhaps to expand their fan base. (and awww - thank you! Maybe I'll give that one a try.) :)
    Donna - that is exactly the problem if you're trying to market something as a scifi romance. SF and SFR readers might buy into an unconventional romance, but romance readers as a whole (those who read ALL subgenres of romance without perhaps buying into the SF aspect) may not accept it. Again, I guess it comes down to how marketable you hope a sfr story will be. I think if sfr authors wrote a mixture of conventional and non-conventional romances we might be able to entice some readers over. But at the end of the day I think it really comes down to writing what you feel works for you and hoping some readers will love the story regardless. That's my hope, anyway. I'm sure there's an audience for most things.


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