I like big cyborgs and I cannot lie…
When I got the word that this issue of SFR Quarterly would be cyborg-focused I squeed with delight. Then I collapsed in a corner and fretted on how to get everything in a single article! So, please forgive me if I leap frog over big swaths of important things related to cyborgs. And although I am happy- dancing- eager to get to my favorite SFR takes on cyborgs, I’m going to stick with my usual format and start with a bit of background and information on the topic. First, what are they? Cyborgs are organisms that have both mechanical/technological and organic parts. This could be something like theTerminator, a machine with a layer of organic tissue over it, or something like the Bionic Woman, a human with mechanical parts designed to replace and/or enhance the natural ones. It isn’t a new or difficult concept, but when I talk with other SFR fans, cyborgs are often conflated with androids. Androids are 100 % machine, though in SFR they are often endowed with an artificial intelligence so advanced that they seem human. But that’s a discussion for another column.
Cyborgs are notably more prevalent in our big brother genre of Science Fiction and often provide a means of exploring our humanity and our relationship with technology. In the subgenre of cyberpunk, the technological enhancement of humans is a given. There, cyborgs often represent how we are dehumanized by government or corporations or our competitive culture. In a cyberpunk tale, humans might be forced to submit to enhancement to do a particular job or might voluntarily add enhancements to stay competitive with others. I’ve always found such stories to be both creepy and cool. That is the technology geek in me, I suppose. If you’d asked me 20 years ago if people would ever willingly incorporate machines into their bodies I’d have laughed, but now I can’t wait for the first neural implant that will allow me to do everything with a thought. Alas, my biological self will never last long enough to own one.
At this point I am really tempted to launch into a full discussion of the Transhumanism movement, which is NOT fiction, but I’ll just suggest you look it up if you’re interested. The melding of technology and the human body is very relevant today. We already have cochlear implants for the deaf and researchers are working on perfecting the brain-machine-interface that will one day let humans control a mechanical limb with thought. As one of the possible things to explore with cyborgs in SFR, I would like to advocate more of this please. It’s timely and important and best of all, it can make some memorable romantic fiction. The romantic elements in the new RoboCop movie really made the film for me. This summer I was also introduced to the short film, As You Were, by filmmaker Trevin Matcek. The film is about a soldier who is fitted with robotic prosthetics after losing an arm and leg in battle. When he goes home he struggles to reconnect with his family and fit into society as the man he has become. So well done and the romantic elements make me cry out for a romance novel with heroic people like those depicted in the film. You can find out more about it on my blog: Smart Girls Love SciFi and Paranormal Romance.
While there are many interesting takes on cyborgs in science fiction and science fiction romance, I’m really head over heels for the romanciest of the lot. Call me shallow, but I like my cyborgs as the uber-romance-heroes—big, hulky, smart and capable of giving their true love their complete devotion. They are the “protector” archetype from romance with a more egalitarian sensibility for the geek girl in each of us. I like these cyborgs at the center of a romance series with a new romantic couple in each book and a well built futuristic setting with slowly developed overarching stories. These stories tend to have much more to do with lust and love than with science and technology, but they still hit on the important themes connected to cyborgs. So, I’ve chosen three series to recommend that come quickly to mind when I hear the words cyborg and romance.
Let’s start with Melisse Aires’ Disapora Worlds. The series isn’t actually about cyborgs, but the first book definitely fits the bill. In Her Cyborg Awakes we are introduced to the PureGen, a race of genetically perfected people and a universe at war. Our cyborg in this story is a PureGen warrior, captured and turned into a cyborg. We meet him at a brain-washed, emotionless prisoner acting as personal servant to a woman who seems pretty clueless at first, but she does catch on quickly and makes a pretty fabulous heroine in the end. This story focus a lot his transition from “safe” and easy-to-understand cyborg to complex, dangerous, and in-love wounded warrior. He is a little like the android who is turned into a real man. Pinocchio-bot! (No. Pinocchio-bot is not real. I just made that up.)
Next, I have to mention the Cyborg: More than Machine series by Eve Langlais. All you have to do is drop by the Amazon page of book one of the series, C791, and check out it’s rankings to be convinced readers love cyborgs and love this series. C791 builds on an idea common in the genre—the cyborgs are mostly military men, enhanced and then betrayed. The themes center around the balance of logical machine and emotional man and what it means to be human. There is a lot familiar in this series, but there are also a lot of new ideas and twists in the execution. Just a heads-up, I struggled a bit at the beginning of this book because the hero is very, very mad and that makes him behave a little less hero-like than I generally prefer.
As my third pick, I have the Cyborg Seduction series by Laurann Dohner. I adore the entire series, eight books so far, but my very favorite is Stealing Coal. Coal is a damaged cyborg and feels a bit apart from his brother cyborgs, as if he is somehow less because of the damage. His book is number five and it begins right after he sacrifices himself for others. His heroine saves him and to her, he becomes everything. She certainly has no complaints about damaged parts. The series starts with Burning up Flint and while you can read out of order I recommend starting at the beginning and working through the books to get the full glory of what Dohner has given us. The series is set after the cyborgs (made by humans to be tools and workers) have rebelled and left Earth to make a new home for themselves. The intertwining plots and continually expanding universe that make up this series is fascinating and a brilliant piece of work.
To wrap things up, here are a few other books I’d like to mention with a bit more diversity along the Romance-to-SciFi continuum. Leaning more toward SciFi: Sunrise Alley by Catherine Asaro. Back on the romance side of the spectrum: Bayne by Misa Buckley. Be sure to check this quarter’s reviews for more book recommendations and feel free to share your favorite cyborgs in the comments.