Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ugly Aliens?

After thinking about Aldiss’s THE DARK LIGHT YEARS last week and the “Beauty and the Beast” archetype earlier, I remembered a comment I read many years ago about nonhuman heroes in paranormal romance. The writer declared that some kinds of creatures simply couldn’t make viable paranormal heroes. She mentioned scales and tentacles as two elements that would disqualify a monster or alien from romantic hero status. Scales? What about mermaids? As for tentacles, we have the Sime-Gen series as a counter-example. And I’ve written a few Lovecraftian heroes-with-tentacles stories, such as my rather silly short erotic e-book “Weird Wedding Guest”:

Weird Wedding Guest

So many of the “monsters” of fairy tales and fantasy literature are far from repulsive. The dialogue of “Beauty and the Beast,” in almost every version, stresses the Beast’s “ugliness.” I’ve never seen a visual representation (picture book or video) that makes him look ugly. Any monster based on a lion, wolf, or other “charismatic megafauna” may come across as terrifying but, to most contemporary Western readers and viewers, not ugly—more like fascinating or awe-inspiring. What about non-mammals? Having written an erotic romance with a dragon shapeshifter, I don’t have much trouble imagining a glamorous were-serpent. In fact, Lamia, in Keats' poem about her myth, fits that description. Zeus took the form of a swan to ravish Leda. Mercedes Lackey includes a human-griffin love story in one of her novels, complete with feathers.

Are there any types of animals or aliens that would, in fact, impress most people as so repulsive they couldn’t become objects of attraction? The Utod of THE DARK LIGHT YEARS, who live in pools of their own waste, would probably fall into that category. Anything covered in slime would, too. In general, any creature whose body texture or odor disgusts the average person would be rejected as a romantic hero. These kinds of traits, especially smell, strike us at a visceral level that’s very hard to override by reason or will. Has any SF or fantasy author taken up the challenge of writing a relationship between such an alien and a human protagonist—if not as lovers, at least as friends?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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