Romance readers can pick and choose from a wide selection of heroes, but despite our need for variety, are there certain kinds we’ll avoid no matter the circumstances? That question came to mind recently upon reading a comment at my blog and I’d like to get your input on the issue.
Author Linnea Sinclair shared that “…my agent feels *romance* readers won’t go with…a non-human hero…” Ms. Sinclair is an author of science fiction romance (Games of Command; Finders Keepers; Gabriel’s Ghost) so the “non-human hero” in that context refers to alien heroes.
My hackles went on red alert when I learned about this agent’s perception that alien heroes hold zero appeal for romance readers. Does this agent know something about my tastes of which I’m unaware, even though I’ve clearly indicated my interest in such heroes? I felt dismayed at the news, yet at the same time determined to analyze what the agent really meant.
First, I’d like to address the concept of alien heroes themselves. These characters have deep roots in science fiction. We generally associate the word “alien” with “little green men.” Or Greys. Or the vicious alien from…Alien. Usually those dudes are bent on attacking Earth and other general mayhem.
So, if by “non-human” Linnea Sinclair’s agent means little green men, Bug Eyed Monsters, or zoomorphic aliens such as giant insects or reptiles, then yeah, end of discussion! That’d be a challenging romance to pull off even in a science fiction story.
In addition to the alien hero’s form, there are other obstacles for alien-human romances, and sex is at the top of the list. Here are a few of the biological ones courtesy of Deborah J. Ross’ Sex in Space: How Do We Manage To Do It?:
Sex with aliens
Requires a bare minimum of “complementary” anatomy. Also faith that alien sexual practices do not lead to unexpected consequences, confusion of expectations if species has more than 2 genders, black-widow-spider syndrome. Offspring very unlikely even with genetic engineering. Alien physiology almost certainly radically different from terrestrial, evolved under different condition, different DNA, proteins, amino acids, cells, etc.
Despite those obstacles, plenty of authors have written science fiction romances featuring alien heroes. There are ways to transform alien heroes to increase appeal and align them with romance genre conventions. They include but aren’t limited to:
* shapeshifting aliens
* genetic engineering
* humanoid/half-human alien heroes (e.g., Spock)
* virtual reality
Let me ask you something about the image below:
Do you think Nosferatu is sexy? Is this the type of vampire you envision as a paranormal romance hero?
Let’s assume for the moment that you don’t. :) Paranormal romance authors knew better than to offer readers a Nosferatu-style hero. Instead, they transformed the classic monster into a more relatable and sexier character.
Sci-fi romance authors have been taking a similar approach with alien heroes. Some have more alien qualities than others, for example, the ones from Europa, Europa by KS Augustin, Celestial Seduction by Jessica E. Subject, Forbidden Love by Kay Manro, and Stellarnet Rebel by J.L. Hilton.
On the other end of the spectrum are the humanoid aliens. In the case of Martini from Gini Koch’s Touched by an Alien, for example, the hero is human in appearance but has different internal organs. Humanoid alien heroes are common in SFR. Often they’re enhanced in some way, such as with psychic abilities, super strength, or unusual genitalia.
It’s clear that non-human heroes of the sci-fi kind appeal to some readers, whether the heroes in question are fantastical or plausible in nature. Otherwise, no one would be publishing them.
On the other hand, could the agent be onto something? Since alien heroes have such strong science fiction roots and a heavy association with non-sexy, non-heroic characters, are they unappealing to romance readers no matter how authors transform them?
Another possibility is authors haven’t created just the right kind of alien hero who would hold a wider appeal (and make promotion easier for marketing departments). What, exactly, is the core fantasy behind an alien hero? How similar or different is it from the type of fantasy delivered by vampire heroes?
What ultimately bothered me about the agent’s assumption is the idea that romance readers will never change. It’s assumed that readers—painted with a broad brush—will always like one type of hero and never another. Tastes won’t change. Culture won’t change. The romance genre won’t change.
What do you think?
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.
If you have an idea for a guest post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. She loves to host your thoughts and opinions about anything tangentially related to romance books.