Got alpha heroes?
Have you noticed that Alpha males and bad boys have space-rocketed into prominence in Romance these days? It’s hard to miss them as they stride boldly onto book covers with their cold stares, lethal muscles, and oft-tattooed skin. When readers go looking for these guys, they are most likely to click directly to the Military or Paranormal subcategories of Romance, but they are almost as prevalent in Science Fiction Romance (SFR). This quarter, I want to take a look at their role in my favorite subgenre and suggest a few books for readers who adore these dangerous heroes. But before I go there, I wanted to get a bit scopey on you. That’s my word for digging a bit deeper into a topic — putting it under a microscope.
Hold on to your lab coats, here we go. If you love SFR, you’ve probably heard critics claim that Science Fiction and Romance are too disparate to mesh well. As an SFR fan, you know intuitively that the statement is bunk, but indulge me in my need to argue the point. Let’s start with what each genre does well.
Science Fiction has always been good at exploring ideas. Often those ideas relate to technology, but just as often they relate to the human experience. The genre has a way of taking a volatile topic — be it ethics, social issues, religion or whatever — and providing a safe means to explore. Take the issue out of the real world and it can be easier to look at all sides with a clearer head and open mind.
Romance is just as interested in the human experience — or at least one very important part of that experience. It provides a safe way to explore and experience relationships or lifestyles we might never choose for our real lives. No wonder bad boys, billionaires and rakes abound!
SFR is uniquely suited to immerse the reader in worlds, cultures, and relationships very different from their own. Even the most terrifying situations — captivity, slavery, repression, or worse — become emotionally safe to explore when the reader is assured of a happy or satisfying place to exit the story.
The Alpha male is right at home in SFR because the world he thrives in is not our own. He can make us stop and question our ideas of right and wrong and the roles of men and women. His methods often clash with modern norms, but his passionate nature delivers the emotional intensity romance readers crave.
Wait. Am I claiming that gender roles are the fodder of Science Fiction? Absolutely. All fiction, and particularly Science Fiction, is influenced by the issues and concerns of the era in which the writer is living. It’s no coincidence that George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in the midst of the socio-political turmoil after World War II or that H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine just after the Second Industrial Revolution when machines were rapidly changing the world. Gender roles are a major issue in our times, both domestically and internationally. Margaret Atwood, author of the award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale may have preferred the term speculative fiction over Sci-Fi, but she knew her exploration of feminism needed the distance and room for hyperbole provided by a futuristic setting.
SFR can deliver the romance of our Alphas and bad boys taking on the strong defender role of cultures more male-dominated than the reality of most English-speaking readers while the women in those stories hold onto their personal strength, making the story more palatable to modern sensibilities. It can allow us to look at another culture without putting on the filter of our real-world beliefs. We can enjoy the ride and maybe gain some insight we might not otherwise have found. This magical, romantic combination was wide spread in the Futuristic Romance of the 1980s and early 1990s. These books often paired strong-willed women of the future with barbarians from more primitive worlds. Instant conflict! Instant sizzle! Pure fantasy!
A great example of this is Johanna Lindsey’s Warror’s Woman (re-released by Avon in 2010). Lindsey’s story takes us from the technologically advanced world of a fearless modern heroine to the more primitive world of the hero. The heroine is on a mission to save her imperiled world from evil and savage invaders and the warrior culture of her hero’s world could provide the barbarian army she needs, but first they have to come to terms.
While the barbarian hero is a little less fashionable these days, Alphas and bad boys remain popular. Out this quarter, Breeder by Cara Bristol (Oct 14, 2013), transports us to an alien planet to study the extremes of gender role separation. In Breeder both hero and heroine begin firmly believing their world’s treatment of women is the natural way of things, but they quickly realize nothing is as simple as they once thought.
My favorite pick of this quarter is Redemption by Stephanie Tyler (Nov 18, 2013). Redemption is the second book in Tyler’s new post-apocalyptic, new adult series set in a near future devastated by catastrophic environmental disasters. In the new, dark and dangerous America; motorcycle clubs, survivalists, and criminals have fared better than less militant civilians. Tyler’s world is full of political intrigue that serves well as allegory for contemporary frustrations with politics and government.
The heart of the story, however, is with the hero and heroine and the male-dominated culture of the motorcycle club. The entire club is struggling to adapt to cultural shifts occurring as a younger generation comes into power and the romantic couple are both adapting to the club, deciding if they fit there. It’s a powerful story of knowing and accepting yourself while finding your place in the world.
One thing is certain from the moment Matthias and Jessa step onto the page; Ms. Tyler knows how to draw the reader into the minds and hearts of the characters. There were times I had to check my e-reader to see if my heart was bleeding onto the screen. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to have read Defiance (June 2013), the first book in the series, to enjoyRedemption — there is a complete romance in each — but there is a compelling world story-arc that makes it worth starting with Defiance.
So, those are my picks for the quarter — along with my scopey ruminations. Hope you forgive the later and give the former a try. If you do, I’d love to hear from you. I’m always up for a chat about SFR.