Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sexy and Not-So-Sexy Aliens

Some time ago, we speculated here about what kinds of creatures (if any) would be completely unacceptable as romantic heroes. I recall a comment in a paranormal romance newsletter years ago (in the pre-Internet age) to the effect that scales or tentacles would disqualify a character as a love object. I protested: What about mermaids (scales)? What about Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Simes (tentacles)? On this blog we questioned whether anyone could fall in love with a slimy blob. Odo from DEEP SPACE NINE was offered as an example. On one of my e-mail lists, I recently mentioned a novel by Mercedes Lackey that includes a love affair between a human heroine and a sentient, vaguely humanoid (flightless) bird. I stated my dissatisfaction that we aren't given any details about his lovemaking technique. One of the people on the list expressed the opinion that a giant bird would be totally non-sexy.

So I'd be interested to read some new comments about whether there are any kinds of creatures that can't possibly be made sexy. How about a sentient spider? (Hmm. . . I haven't tried that one; maybe I will.) I made erotic use of tentacles in my Lovecraftian romance novella "Tentacles of Love" (Ellora's Cave). Conversely, what species make especially good alien romance heroes? Personally, I'm partial to shapeshifters (mainly werewolves or werecats), cat people, vampires (the intimate symbolism of blood-sharing), and Jacqueline's Simes (intimate sharing of life energy).

If you haven't read Octavia Butler's short story "Bloodchild," try to find a copy. It's not a romance, but it does focus on an intimate relationship between Earthlings and aliens. The insectile humanoids who dominate the planet have granted Terran refugees a colony on their world in exchange for one service: The giant-centipede-like females lay their eggs in the abdomens of human males. Typically, a female "adopts" a human family, for whom she shows genuine affection. And she tries very hard to remove her young before they grow large enough to eat the host from inside out. Butler manages the dazzling achievement of believably portraying a kind of love between the narrator, a teenage boy in a host family, and his insectile patroness. Butler was quoted as calling this a "pregnant man story."


  1. One of the 2005 runners-up for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award was a lobster/woman sex scene from Lobster by Guillaume Lecasble.

    sex scene

  2. A cat's tongue doesn't feel at all bad if it licks a human hand. My mind is not on being licked by an acceptable alien lover.

    See close up of cat's tongue on

  3. I have a personal insectoid/arachnid ICK factor, but it does remind me of the Wraith on Stargate: Atlantis who have some kind of mosquito-type DNA. They're using a lot of vampire imagery for these characters, which makes them kind of interesting. They're ultimately still bugs in my mind.

    I'd love to see someone create a version of the Buck Rogers' Hawk character. I think S.L. Viehl has a similar character in her Dr. Cherijo Torin series.

  4. I'm still trying to figure out why it's okay for a white woman to do it with any kind of alien, but not an African American man.

  5. Anonymous8:13 PM EST

    The only answer I can come up with is: I don't think a slug could be sexy...

  6. I've been thinking about this ever since the original blob post, so this is going to be kinda long. :)

    Before Lynn Viehl's Darkyn novels took off, she had a lot of short stories posted on a website. There were some Cherijo shorts but most were highly speculative. She wrote all sorts of hybrid characters ranging from insect humanoids to natives of Jupiter (or maybe Neptune - one of those further away planets).

    I have three particular favorites. One novel length contemporary is earth based, and the hero has chameleon-like regenerative characteristics and can assume any appearance. I think he develops this from radiation exposure.

    The second is a SF/F with alien characters based on alternate evolutionary paths. The hero is a snake from the waist down. He's cold blooded and has to snuggle at night to keep warm. At the end of the story, they're a couple; but she doesn't get into the details of how they'd "do it." It's fascinating, but also very frustrating. I totally bought him as a hero, by the way.

    The third is a longer fantasy in which the heroine is humanoid with arachnid body segments and poison sacs. This one is actually my favorite, and can I tell you I have a spider phobia? The heroine is part of a colony telepathically controlled by a queen who has sent the heroine, an assassin, out to kill a new psychic presence which the queen feels threatened by. It's not strictly a romance though the romantic elements are essential to the story, and again you don't know how it'd work physically. Awesome story. I don't suppose any of you know her and could ask to read it?

    My point is - all it takes is an author with the skill to do it. A good romance, after all, is based mostly on personality. If it's based only on the physical, it won't be very convincing anyway so you might as well give scales/feathers/blobs a shot.

  7. PS. [I told you I give this a lot of thought. I wonder if I should worry?]

    I suppose all of you authorly types have read Robin McKinley's Beauty? If ever there was an example of an author making "alien" preferable to human, that's it.

    I know I'm not the only reader who felt a bit let down when he turned back to a man, but I wonder if I'm in the minority. I'd be interested to know how readers who don't love fuzzies feel about the ending of that book.

  8. Anonymous1:43 PM EST

    I agree with you about S.L.Viehl. She has some very romantic and unusual aliens. All those stories are available on her website now (right-hand side under freebies)
    except I didn't recognized the 'spider' story. Do you remember the title?
    Vicky Woodard

  9. Anonymous1:50 PM EST

    I found it! The 'spider' story. It's in her Now or Never collection and it's call "Red Branch". I'll have to re-read it now to check out the romantic bits.
    Vicky Woodard

  10. Anonymous1:53 PM EST

    I'd have to scan back through the archives to see if I resonded the last time this subject came up, but I find this topic of great interest since my own fictional universe contains a pair of alien species, one of which bears its young by way of a surrogate from the other species. While that particular act requires no physical consumation as such (pseudo-immaculate conception), the shapeshifter/changeling offspring does grow up as one of the host family's own and is a vital part of that society's rituals and practices, even if I'm not quite settled on exactly all of those practices just yet. In context to this post, there is genuine affection between the changeling and the host family and consequently ties to the belief systems of both species. As a side note, I've found this added dynamic really put an unusual spin on the story and I can't imagine it now without it.

  11. RE white women and African American men: Is that really the case anymore, at least in urban areas? Evidence -- the many mixed-race couples on TV series in recent years, with no particular big deal being made of the situation. IOW, the cross-racial union wasn't the main point of the story, just one element (and their race not even mentioned as a potential problem, in the ones I've seen). For instance, there was at least one white female-black male couple each on BUFFY and ANGEL. These couples couldn't be so casually introduced into TV dramas if the equivalent situation in real life weren't acceptable to a significant portion of the audience.

    Oh, and I really like being licked by a cat, though cats don't do it often (unless you have food on your fingers). Dog tongues are too wet and sloppy; I avoid letting the dog lick my hand if possible.

    In every version of "Beauty and the Beast," I'm disappointed when the Beast turns into the prince. See Suzy McKee Charnas' essay "The Beast's Embrace" under "Byways" on her website,, for very incisive speculation on the reason for this reaction.

    Lobster sex? -- ouch!