Demanding more of our alien heroes
Mr. Spock was my first alien crush. That was the Leonard Nimoy version. I was thrilled when the new alternate universe turned the character into a total hottie (thank you Zachary Quinto) and thrust him into a romantic role. It was never the pointy ears or ruler-straight bangs that drew me to the half Vulcan. It was his internal and external struggles for balance. Whether it was his struggle to stay true to his philosophy and upbringing amidst a ship full of humans or his struggle with the demands of his own half-alien biology, those struggles made the character for me. Adding the challenge of dealing with romance only makes the character more appealing. If the character falls short in any way, it might be that his creator held back. Perhaps his human half was included to make him appeal to a broader viewing audience or just to help explain his very human appearance. No matter the cause—in my opinion—it is his alien heritage that makes him interesting and crush-worthy.
As a SciFi romance reader, I embrace the alien hero for his “differentness”. That’s not to say that I snub human heroes, just that aliens hold a special place in my heart. For such special privilege I ask that they wear their alien differences proudly. There are plenty of entertaining erotic Scifi romances that feature big, strong alien heroes with protective instincts, insatiable sex-drives, and a mile-wide monogamous streak. There is nothing wrong with a little wish fulfillment in romance. An alien can be anything we want him to be. Why shouldn’t he be crafted to fill all our fantasy desires? But once in a while, why not make him more? There are so many wonderful ways a hero’s alienness can add conflict and depth to a story.
Aliens can serve as a foil for human characters, letting us explore our own strengths and weaknesses. They can let us challenge our beliefs without throwing up red flags from our real world biases. Alien differences can make a strong character vulnerable or a vulnerable character strong. Whether it is a clash of culture, complications that arise from alien biology, or an illustration of the strength found in accepting and uniting those differences, I’m thrilled when an author uses an alien’s differences to the fullest. As they become part of the plot or the character journey, they enrich the story.
Of course, romance requires that an alien hero must still be human enough to be attractive to our heroine and to us as readers. That line is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you know when it’s been crossed. I suppose, pushing the envelope is a risk for authors, but it is a risk well worth taking now and then. Here is where I give kudos to some of my favorites brave authors and provide recommendations to those of you who’ve not yet discovered the true wonder of the alien hero.
In Alien ‘n’ Outlaw by KC Burn, overcoming some very serious cultural differences is a huge stumbling block for the unlikely love affair between the two heroes of this book. R’kos, son of the Ankylos Emperor, and Darien, a human Robinhood type who lives always on the run and very much alone. In this story, KC Burn did an amazing job of using R’kos’ alienness as a source of trouble and conflict in the story. Culturally, the Anklyos have a hive-heard culture. They don’t value personal freedom and privacy is not even in their vocabulary. Physically, R’kos’ species have an excellent sense of smell but poor vision. His poor vision turns simple tasks, like climbing a ladder or navigating a sewer tunnel, into a challenge and an act of bravery. Both this vulnerability and his willingness to face those obstacles to aid Darien made R’kos one of my all time favorite heroes.
The hero in Alien Blood from, Melisse Aires’ Diaspora Worlds series is one of those wish fulfillment type characters. Genetically engineered for beauty, strength, and intelligence; he is swoon worthy. His heroine is also part alien, but another sort altogether. She is physically imperfect. She’s lame, her looks are ordinary; but she is smart and determined. Although the hero’s alien attributes don’t seem so different, the author uses them well. The characters struggle with their own preconceptions and cultural stereotypes and the contrast between what we might think of as perfect and imperfect is deftly used.
Jess Granger’s Beyond the Rain features an alien hero whose eyes change color with emotion. It is a small thing with enormous impact. Imagine living your life as an open book. One look and everyone knows what you’re feeling. His race also has a close connection with flora. They make gardens. It’s a big deal to them and closely tied to their ability to bond with a mate—once and only once. They give ‘til death do us part’ new meaning.
In Captive Surrender by Linda Mooney an alien and a human are thrown together in bad circumstances and fight an unfair system that punishes them for what they had to do to survive. Despite being from very different cultures, they face punishment and scorn from both leading them to rethink their own beliefs. This is an erotic romance, so much is made of the hero’s size, but they author doesn’t stop there.
Finally, I’d like to suggest something from master story teller Anne McCaffrey. Freedom’s Landing, book one in the Freedom series in not, strictly speaking, a romance. The relationship between a human woman and an alien from the race that helped enslave her people is a strong part of the book and runs through the course of several books, but the hero here and the challenges they face, provide a deeper look at the difficulties in loving outside your race.