Her Body, Her Self
Science Fiction Romance. Our genre can cover a lot of ground and yet still be a small niche of a place. There are so many sub-sub-genres and approaches to stories that can fit beneath that label. And even when deciding which genre umbrella SFR belongs under—Romance or Science Fiction—the many flavors and nuances of this vast but small niche can lead to any number of stories that run the gamut from a near-future romantic comedy to a space-set gritty, violent military war story.
Through it all, there are common themes. Romance, obviously. Science Fiction, of course. But as a reader first, and author second, there are common themes that keep me coming back for more.
The one that has intrigued me seems, at first glance, to be the opposite of the prevalent heroine-centric story that this genre does so well. It addresses how women have control or loss of control over their own bodies. For lack of a better way to describe it, I think of it as body-ownership conflict. This comes into play most obviously in the alien abduction trope. Not only is an alien kidnapping story an obvious representation of a woman’s loss of control over her body, but these stories frequently have a plot related to breeding—Mars Needs Women, anyone? This setup has been the main plot in a variety of recent best sellers: An alien species needs fertile Earth women.
One of my favorite alien abduction trope series was highlighted by Charlee Allden in SFRQ Issue #7, Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarian series. As Allden noted, this series doesn’t position the heroes as the actual kidnappers but it still puts the heroines in a position to not only choose a breeding partner, but creates an obvious body-ownership conflict on top of it all. The heroines have to not only take a symbiote to survive, but their bodies change, they have to choose enhancements to communicate, and even their pregnancies are no longer something they’d previously understood.
There are as many reasons why an alien abduction/breeding trope appeals to readers as there are readers. But what interests me is thinking of that through the idea of body-ownership conflict. Losing control and decision making over the body—whether through pregnancy, aging, illness, medication, emotions, or even political oppression or domestic violence—bring forward issues that fascinate me and underlies all of my SFR. The first novel in which I took on body-ownership conflict was in Silver Bound, where the heroine, Jewel, is made into a sex slave. She has lost actual ownership of herself as well as power over her own sexual responses. In this novel, I flipped the slave trope and her hero, Guy Trident, works to free her from slavery while she fights her own battles within.
Another of my novels that explores this conflict is Willing Skin. In this story, Sylla is a woman on the run and to go into hiding, she has a “skin-suit” custom built. The skin-suit changes her from a human woman into an alien man. Throughout the story, she explores what it’s like to have a different body in ways from sexual responses to even different emotions and reactions. She has lost control of what she thinks of as her body and the adjustment was intriguing to explore. What is self and how much of self is influenced by biology?
When so many women face their own crises over their own bodies, exploring this within a Romance gives a reader a safe space to let her body go and explore the results. No matter if a heroine is abducted, is altered in a medical lab, or is body-switched, the reader knows that this is an SFR.
Not only will the heroine be safe, she’ll get her happy ending.