Sunday, November 29, 2009

Science Fiction Romance and The Comedy Of Manners

Almost any plot or subgenre of literature can be reinvigorated as science fiction.

Westerns are a natural. You simply give black hats to some of your fellow Space-Ark-mates, or colonists and substitute aliens for the gentlemen in war bonnets.

Better still, make the alien equivalents of Native Americans the heroes. Or, make all of humankind walk in the shoes of all the aboriginal peoples our own colonists have wronged in the past, and present the incoming aliens as pilgrim fathers or conquistadors. Ah, but that isn't the stuff of Romance. Moreover, the natives win in "Independence Day".

You can have Quest plots (The Holy Grail in outer space... and very often, as with the Da Vinci Code, the holy grail in sfr is a fertile, pure young woman), Discovery plots, Adventure plots, Pursuit plots, Rescue plots, Mysteries (including murder mysteries), Rivalry plots, Revenge plots, Underdog plots, Transformation and/or Metamorphosis Plots, Beauty and the Beast, Coming Of Age, Who's Coming For Dinner (prejudice/forbidden love)....

The one plot that may not translate so well into an alien romance is The Comedy Of Manners... which in turn might be described as a highly entertaining, watered down Morality Play. (Erring protagonists don't die, they just end up married till death do them part.)

Yes, I watched "Sense And Sensibility" last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cast included Emma Thompson, Tim Rickman, and a rather hunched Hugh Grant. I wonder how long it will be before Emma Thompson does us (us Romantics) a huge favor and makes movies of some of the Georgette Heyer novels.

The trouble with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer --when it comes to space travel-- is that their plots and heroines don't kick butt. They are rewarded for not kicking butts, nuts, or giving tongue lashings to anyone. Heyer heroines, actually, are more dynamic. Some of them do have violent tempers, like Leonie, and they shoot men (or want very much to do so) and fight with swords, and cross dress (like Viola and a few other Shakespearean heroines), and drive racy vehicles too fast.

A Comedy Of Manners depends on the heroine wanting to marry a gentleman, but not being able to tell him so. She is too well-mannered, and he requires more encouragement than she offers.

Usually, she has a sister (possibly multiple sisters) who is/are man magnets, often for the wrong sort of man, and who behave like the sort of woman/women a chap would take as his mistress, but would never marry. Villainy in a man could mean that he has sex with a virtuous young woman (or tries to do so, or promises to do so within marriage) and then leaves her.

Imagine! James T Kirk would be the worst of villains in a Comedy Of Manners. The continent Spock would be the hero.... which he was for most of us, anyway.

In science fiction romance, our heroines have to be in greater physical danger than losing their reputations (ie being suspected of not being quite virginal). Unless they are Queens or Empresses married to a Henry VIII type, and likely to be subjected to a show trial and executed. But that is a different sort of plot. The archetypical Sir Jasper does not cut the mustard as a sfr villain. He'd have to want her world as well as her body.

Our heroines in futuristic settings are expected to be sexually liberated, to have smashed the glass ceiling, to hold their own and often their hero's (blaster or equivalent weapon). They have to rock. And multi-task. They cannot sit around, being nice and proper.

By rights, Eleanor ought to have ended up with Colonel Brandon. We saw much more of the Colonel. He was by far the most heroic. However, he did not want Eleanor. He was doggedly determined to love Marianne... and Marianne was the stock "silly girl" whom (in my opinion) we see far too often, setting themselves up as role models for our impressionable daughters in endless sit coms, Disney movies for teens, and high school dramas.

Eleanor got the man she wanted, but only because of the perfidy of Miss Steele. Colonel Brandon's patience was rewarded... but in sfr, does any hero or heroine worth his or her salt settle for being second best?

9 comments:

  1. "Our heroines in futuristic settings are expected to be sexually liberated, to have smashed the glass ceiling, to hold their own and often their hero's (blaster or equivalent weapon). They have to rock. And multi-task. They cannot sit around, being nice and proper."

    I think any heroine would work, depending on the story. For example, it all depends on how you define 'sexual liberation.'

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  2. Thank you for the observation, Kimber An.

    Nevertheless, I don't think many editors would buy Eleanor Dashwood these days.

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  3. To find what the Heroine stands to lose (the jeopardy; the stakes) you need to analyze what "lost virginity" really meant in past cultures.

    It didn't mean what we, today, think it meant. Far more philosophical and abstract than that.

    But ultimately, it's a cultural taboo.

    I examined that cultural taboo line in the two Military SF novels I did under the Daniel R. Kerns byline, Hero and Border Dispute (which are now in one volume on Kindle).

    When humans award a non-human a medal for HEROISM, he's just like a Regency Romance Virgin who's reputation has been compromised.

    If you read the books from that angle, you'll laugh till your sides split.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  4. "Nevertheless, I don't think many editors would buy Eleanor Dashwood these days."

    Maybe if an author reimagined her and an editor dared buy it, then SFR could expand. SFR readers bore easily and there's way more kinds of power than the garden variety kick-butt kind. 'Course, this takes us all back to the trouble with cramming SFR into the Paranormal Romance mold.

    Hopefully, through the efforts of Skiffy Rommers, like Heather over at the Galaxy Express, SFR readers can spread the love and readers can express their preferences through their pocketbooks, which is the only way they'll be heard.

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  5. Hey, Kimber An,

    More power to the Skiffy Rommers. I'd love to be able to write Eleanor Dashwoods if the mood took me.

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  6. Jacqueline,

    Virginity is important if you have a society that depends on primogeniture and a patrilineal system of inheritance and property rights, and... I think... Salic Law.

    If you have female suffrage, you'd have to explain why women voters permit themselves to be chattel in the eyes of the law.

    Worldbuilding would be very interesting.

    Even more interesting would be a matrilineal, matriarchical society where male virginity was required.

    I suppose it would only be plausible if there were different castes, and only some of them had particularly desirable genetic quirks in their DNA.

    The Victorians did have the male equivalent of chastity belts to prevent boys from having undesirable nocturnal emissions.

    I also think I read something really fun to do with a sheet of postage stamps.

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  7. I watched the same movie yesterday! I agree with you about not many editors buying Eleanor these days no matter the cultural setting. Today's expectation is for the heroine to speak up for herself and confront those standing in the way of what she wants.

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  8. Thank you, Susan.

    When I wrote Djinni-vera, my first heroine, the prototype was very much in the Eleanor mould.

    Contest judges were not kind to her or her chances of success.

    Nevertheless, I like my heroines to follow "Dirty Harry" Callaghan's advice and to know their limitations.

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  9. "The trouble with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer --when it comes to space travel-- is that their plots and heroines don't kick butt. They are rewarded for not kicking butts, nuts, or giving tongue lashings to anyone"

    I think Elizabeth in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE gives tongue-lashings with the best of them, and IMO the formal, highly mannered style of speech makes such dialogue more cutting than crude verbal abuse would be. Which is why Elizabeth makes a plausible monster-slaying heroine in the weirdly skewed adaptation PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

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