Engineering the heroes of our dreams
Genetics was one of the first real-world science concepts that really fascinated me. I thought the idea that animals could evolve to adapt was super cool and I liked understanding why my sister was the only blue-eyed person in the family. I remember talking about it with my mother and her showing me a picture in a newspaper clipping of a young girl in a scout uniform. At first I thought it was me, but I knew it couldn’t be because I hadn’t had that picture taken. It turned out to be my mom. The grainy black and white of newsprint had made any differences in our appearances at that age undetectable. Wow!
That fascination is probably why I include genetic engineering in Deadly Lover and Stealing Mercury (both available for pre-order). In Deadly Lover, the genetics is a side element and considers the reasons why people would change future generation and the unexpected consequences. That is a common trope for big brother SciFi. There it’s usually a bad thing with seriously disastrous effects. In Star Trek it was the Eugenics wars that gave us the dangerous Khan Noonien Singh. Michael Crichton gave us an even more terrifying look at the possible consequences of genetic engineering and cloning in Jurassic Park. In both the 1967 version of Star Trek’s Khan and in Crichton’s book and films, we see both the danger and seduction of the science. The perfect fodder for SciFi romance.
In Stealing Mercury, my heroes are the product of involuntary genetic engineering—designed as a slave race they have a mix of human, animal, and alien DNA to produce gladiator style warriors that are devastating to opponents and to the heroine’s senses. I first heard of the trope of men engineered with animal-like abilities for increased strength when Lora Leigh’s Breed series was rocketing toward popularity on the mass market. Always a tough hurdle for our favorite little-genre-that-could. I suspect this element of SciFi provides a good gateway for paranormal romance readers who love werewolves and other shape shifters. Other popular series, like Laurann Dohner’sNew Species series, have also found popularity with this trope. Allyson James, also known as Jennifer Ashley, provides a nice twist on the trope in her Tales of the Shareem beginning with book one, Rees. Her erotic SciFi romance heroes are engineered for pleasure. They’re experts in BDSM and the kinkier side of passion and love.
A favorite series of mine is the Diaspora Worlds by Melisse Aires. This series features genetically engineered heroes called Puregens, lab-perfected humans from wealthy tech worlds, where an obsession with DNA and keeping alien DNA out of the Terran race led parents to choose genetic characteristics for their children. I recently asked the author why she included this element in her stories and she pointed to one of my favorite books in the series: “In Alien Blood, I wanted to have a huge contrast in background between the hero and heroine, a class difference, prince and pauper. I thought it would provide an interesting conflict to write.” This book also introduced the Zh Cle’ aliens that the Puregens were trying to keep out. In this universe, the Zh Cle’ and their mixed-race children are a sort of permanent under-class. The most recent book in the series, Escaping Poison, came out in December 2014. What’s ahead for the series? Melisse said: “My next four-book series is focused on Diaspora Worlds cyborgs, but I think after that I may jump into a Zh Cle’ Reservation World series!”
Well, if you’re an SF Romance Quarterly regular reader, you know how I feel about cyborgs!
Links for the interested reader: