Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The True Founder of Alien Romance


What we're really talking about here this week is what I call "The Fiction Delivery System" (as in "The Healthcare Delivery System" -- fiction is, to me, a required nutrient of life.)

It shouldn't matter what the delivery medium is (print, graphic novel, animation, TV, film, whatever). It delivers fiction.

The true founder of Alien Romance as a genre was among the first to break through the artificial barriers between media and genres. Let's explore this in detail.


Rowena Cherry wrote in her Sunday June 24th post here:

The great dilemma is, would alien romance readers today want to buy --in effect-- a traditional Regency romance in outer space? Was the Star Trek movie where Mr. Spock got married the omega and alpha of the genre, or is there room on bookshelves for more sexually continent heroes?


Margaret Carter's repost on Wed. June 20th (or Thursday?) also connected the Vampire to Spock and furthered that with a discussion of the Hero of a Paranormal Romance as being "different" from the hero of a regular romance.


Susan Kearny, on Wed. June 20th asked for input about how useful book trailers are in selling books -- i.e. a marketing question direct to readers who buy books.


Rowena - the Star Trek story you're thinking of was Amok Time, an episode of The Original Series, not one of the movies.

An interesting connection with the Vampire mythos is that, during Pon Farr, a Vulcan male can be a lethal danger to other males -- or DIE himself.

This connects "death" and "sex" with an alien twist on the subject. After all, in evolution as we know it, you can't have a reproductive drive that kills the reproducer BEFORE they reproduce and expect the species to thrive.

However, in many byways of sexual exploration among humans, death (or near-death) is exciting or inciting. Most people consider that extremely "sick".

What's different about an SF-Romance hero (or paranormal romance -- actually Spock qualifies as both since he's a telepath and bonds with his partner telepathically in a bond that can only be broken by death)?

And what has that difference to do with the efficacy of BOOK TRAILERS?

Using Spock as the example, think carefully.

Theodore Sturgeon invented Pon Farr and added it to Vulcans and Spock. Have you read his stories?

I met him several times at cons -- had long conversations with him and I grew up reading his stuff. I've posted a short piece about his influence on me at


When I saw the TV Guide blurb for that episode and learned that Theodore Sturgeon had written it, I WROTE that episode's script in my head - I knew exactly what would happen, scene by scene (if my dialogue was off a little) because I knew Ted Sturgeon's work.
He played with alien sexuality incessantly. Poul Anderson just included the biology of reproduction in his worldbuilding -- but Sturgeon got down to the nitty gritty of the "drives" involved.

What makes the PARANORMAL ROMANCE hero "different" from the usual romance hero is very simple -- the writer has the ability and indeed the obligation to "worldbuild" around the "paranormal" attribute.

Since it's a romance, it may have more to do with relationship than actual sexuality, but today's romance usually includes at least some sex, not just hinting and making out.

So what's different about a paranormal romance hero is that HE is different in some aspect of his maleness. That difference can be an impediment (say if he's a ghost and just doesn't connect) or an enhancement (say he's a telepath and can trigger all kinds of wondrous sensations in his partner).

What's different about the paranormal romance hero is that ALL the parameters of personality and physiology taken for granted in a regular guy can be changed.

What's interesting about reading a paranormal romance is the adventure of finding out what's different about him -- and how that difference will re-shape the parameters of the essential Relationship.

What's that to do with a book trailer?

Notice this discussion mixes and matches TV, film (ST had films), and print (ST has print books) with wild abandon.

It wasn't so long ago that mixing media just wasn't allowed. Then publishers made heaps of money off TV spinoffs -- actually though it didn't start with Trek, it really exploded when Trekfen discovered real Trek novels (let's not mention Blish's SPOCK MUST DIE!)

Jean Lorrah, my sometime co-author, has written a list of best selling Trek books. I mean best-selling AMONG Trek books.

So what is the real significance and use of the Book Trailer?

To further blur that gap between film, TV, and print (and e-book).

Publishers have found that advertising books on TV via trailers doesn't work -- it may sell books, but not enough books to cover costs (because air time is expensive and not enough people read books.)

Response to Susan Kearny's question indicates that readers who read blogs like this don't decide to buy a book on the basis of a YouTube trailer.

So what is a book trailer for????

Its audience isn't book-buyers. It's audience is film makers -- producers.

A book trailer shows how the material of the novel would translate to the screen.
Writing a book deliberately including the "set piece" moments that a film has -- visual moments that "say it all" in pictures and thus end up in the trailer -- puts you in the running for selling that book to the film industry.

Creating the trailor for that book proves the book could become a film.

There was a whole long discussion recently on the e-book List at EPIC (the professional e-book writers and publishers org) about the difference between a script and a novel. It's a big difference.

So what goes into a paranormal romance book trailer that would attract readers?

The exact element of sexuality/relationship-bonding that is different in your alien-hero.

If only someone has preserved the TV ads for Amok Time, you'd see what I mean.

Kirk comes backing out of Spock's quarters and hits the wall. Plomeek soup (green soup) follows splat. Spock SCREAMS at Kirk (yes, he uses invective both in Amok Time and in the film about the whales (colorful expletives).)

The bridge scene -- "T'pring - my - wife."

T'Pau being carried into the arena on a litter.

The fight in the Arena with Spock quite clearly trying to kill Kirk.

In other words, Spock behaving in a very un-Spock way -- but the viewers of the show already know what the Spock-way is.

The mental BONDING of the Vulcan wedding is only mentioned briefly in passing in this TV episode, Amok Time. But literally hundreds of millions of words have been fan-generated based on that one hypothesis - what would sex be like for a telepathically bonded pair?

What does it take to break that bond? What can force it to form accidentally (K/S). What does it take to keep it from forming if it's spiritually inevitable?

Yes, that's right -- the Alien Romance genre just about got it's whole start in Star Trek fanfic. And those stories all started with Amok Time and Theodore Sturgeon's addition to Trek of male-heat and telepathic bonding.

So Theodore Sturgeon is the real founder of the whole Alien Romance genre and he never wrote a single romantic word! (horror, yes, literary polemics yes, romance - uh-uh.) Or maybe it's Gene Roddenberry, who gave SF print writers like Sturgeon a chance to write SF for TV -- something just unheard of at the time!

Who do you think is the real founder of Alien Romance?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg



  1. Anonymous2:23 PM EDT

    After reading your post I have come to the conclusion that it would have to be a joint honour between Gene Roddenberry (for having the vision to hire him) and Theodore Sturgeon :D

    Either way I am glad that it was conceived at all, as they are my favourite kinds of romance :D

  2. Anonymous7:08 PM EDT

    Oh, boy. Now I feel like a total goober. It's been a long time since I last saw Amok Time (like maybe thrity years) and I'd forgotten all about the telepathic bonding. It's relevant for me because in my own story I've got an alien species who, guess what, have pointy ears and bond telepathically between mates. Worse yet, they invited Earth into the larger realm of star-travelling societies. *sigh* I think that's all the similarities there are, but jeez, those are some big ones. In the bigger picture, there are significant differences, but I wonder if such a heavy similarity on key points could potentially turn off readers knowledgeable in the early ST lore.

  3. David:

    Yeah, it would be HARD to sell -- any one of those similarities alone wouldn't trigger rejection, but all of them in one piece would still spook editors.

    Not all bad news. You can re-carve your alien's ears easily.

    Telepathic bonding is now a stable of Alien Romance, so you can use it freely.

    Get some DIFFERENT species to invite Earth and your currently pointed ear folk to grab that and run with it - spearheading a campaign to get Earth welcomed against opposition.

    Then you're home free and can write your story your way!

    Trying to be helpful here.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. Well, now I have to read up on Theodore Sturgeon too!

    It never occurred to me that the motivation for creating a book trailer might be to convince people the book would make a good movie. Any time a book I love is made into a movie, I'm always sorely disappointed. LORD OF THE RINGS is the only exception. I figured book trailers were simply moving billboards.

    There are two reasons telepathic bonding is appealing to me, as a reader and as a writer:

    1) It can symbolize the human relationship. People who are happily married to each other for a long time are often incredibly in tune with each other. This was how my husband knew I was pregnant last time before I did. This is why elderly couples will often die within days of each other. They've been 'one soul' for so long that they simply cannot function without the other spouse.

    2) It puts an interesting twist on Cultural Clash & Racial Ignorance. In my story, for instance, the Menelaens assume the human brain is too primative for telepathy. They conclude humans are incapable of enduring love relationships or strong bonds with their children. So, when the bad ones secretly engineer Delano's discommendation which leads to Olivia divorcing him, it never occurs to them that their love-bond will endure. It's incomprehensible that Delano and Olivia's teenage daughter could reject the telepathic Marital Bond with Ariez in order to save her father and reconcile him with her mother.

    It brings us all back to what our Human Spirits long for in the real world - enduring love and communion of soul.

    'Amok Time' is compelling to me because the mating drive is so devestating to Spock's logic that he fights and 'kills' his best friend - *the one he actually loves.* The love in this story isn't about Spock and his Vulcan 'wife.' What he feels for her is sex all by itself without love. It's about Kirk's friendship with Spock being so strong that he's willing to risk being killed by Spock for it. Knowing and loving the Spock character like we do, it's powerful for us to feel Spock's devestation in realizing he wasn't strong enough to resist the mating drive to stop himself from killing his best friend (the person he truly loved.)

  5. Anonymous8:54 PM EDT

    Well, actually, there is some opposition -- from yet another species who've long resented the pointy-ears' position of dominance in space. And too, the pointy-ears were essentially ordered to invite the humans by their ethereal partner species. On top of that, both species have made not-quite-clandestine visits to Earth in the distant past. Pointedly, there's an ancient prophecy the ethereals believe could potentially be fulfilled by a human. In fact, the potential of the protagonist to be that individual is what prompts the ethereals to approve his adoption into a pointy-eared noble family. And these guys haven't the slightest inclination toward any non-interferance directives. They pretty much run the galaxy. Anyway, the details of Earth's arrival in the big-boys club isn't actually spelled out. I just know about it because it's part of the pack story. ::shrugs:: So, how many tropes have I just stepped in? ::shaking my head::

  6. Anonymous9:09 PM EDT

    Kimber An, interesting about your character's refusal. I've got a pointy-ear character who refused to re-mate after her first mate died quite young. She was essentially disclaimed by the family, as their traditons prescribed, but her father still loved her enough to sponsor her as the captain of an Enforcer ship, a rough life, but one not uncommon among second sons. The similarity to practices among wealthy nobles in Earth's history is intentional. Did I step in another one?

  7. Jacqueline, I particularly enjoyed your wit about the longevity of a species where the reproducer died before....

    Being a contrarian, I immediately thought of the unfortunate male praying mantis (and some species of spider and scorpion) who is able to initiate and continue mating while distracting the female by allowing her to eat his head.

    I don't think my editor would "buy" that as a happy-ever-after, so it would not do for an alien romance.


  8. Oh, my character, Junior (a nickname), doesn't refuse to bond with Ariez. She's actually in love with him.