Sci-fi romance and the heroic journey
One of the best things about fiction is that nothing in the stories have to match real life. It’s a place for our imagination to run wild. This is certainly true of science fiction romance (SFR), especially when it comes to the roles played by heroes and heroines. Specifically, that of the heroic journey.
I’m using the term “heroic journey” to differentiate it from the “hero’s journey,” which is traditionally male-centric. In SFR, the central figure is not one, but two people (occasionally three) of various genders and sexual orientations.
SFR stories are often structured with a particular narrative: an external threat must be overcome before the couple can be together in peace. With two characters at the center of both the romance and the external plot, it’d be odd if, book after book after book, the heroes were always the ones to save the day—or save the heroine.
Here’s why: science is always present in these stories. Technology is the great equalizer. Plausibility would be in question if heroines never used science to their advantage or constantly relied on someone else’s access to technology.
For example, a five foot woman weighing 130 pounds may not be as physically strong as a six-foot baseball player, but put her in a suit of powered armor and voila! She can compete with the best of them on the battlefield. In SFR, technology and the assumption of its use by the characters doesn’t mesh well with the damsel-in-distress fantasy or the idea that only a man can be a hero.
What if a story has two lesbian heroines? At least one of them would have to be the focus of the heroic journey.
But are rescue fantasies (particularly in m/f books) and science mutually exclusive? Not by a long shot. Many authors of SFR approach the rescue fantasy in ways that deliver the trope while also acknowledging the gender-related culture shift in a futuristic setting. One method is to assign the primary hero role to the heroine, or at least increase the extent to which she plays an active part.
Other stories employ the dual-heroic journey, meaning that heroines and heroes fuse together into a single heroic unit. They might take turns rescuing each other, and/or they join forces in the climactic scene to save each other at the same time. As cheesy as the Wonder Twins (DC Comics) are (“Wonder Twin powers activate! Form of, a bucket of water!”), the concept of two people bound by a strong emotional bond who are only at their heroic best when together is an exciting one.
Dual hero pairs don’t have to rely on gender specific qualities, either, especially in futuristic settings where progressive cultures are implied. The heroine can be Alpha and the hero Beta, or vice versa. Either of them can be emotionally wounded, or both. Both can be kick-butt or maybe they fit into some other category.
Sci-fi romance reinvents the rescue fantasy by allowing for both the hero and heroine to have agency and drive the story forward. For your reading pleasure, here are a few SFR titles that incorporate a heroic journey narrative:
- Enemy Within – Marcella Burnard
- Gridlock – Nathalie Gray
- Games of Command – Linnea Sinclair
- Caught in Amber – Cathy Pegau
- Darkship Thieves – Sarah A. Hoyt
- Touched By An Alien – Gini Koch
- Nights of Steel – Nico Rosso
- Unacceptable Risk – Jeanette Grey
- L.J. Garland – MechMan
Until next time…