Superversive: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romances

Tuesday , 14, February 2017 28 Comments

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for a good romantic arc in a story. I mean, come on. I’m a Macross fan, and Macross is about three things: fighter planes in space, pop music idols, and love triangles. Don’t get me wrong; I’m here for the explosions, more often than not. But ages ago, when I was a fledgling teenaged writer I noticed something interesting: as much I was watching Babylon 5 to see Sheridan lead his war against the Shadows and Earth, I was thoroughly invested in his relationship with Delenn. In reading the Robotech novels, I discovered, to my teenaged discomfort, that I had very definite opinions about how  the Rick-Lisa-Minmei triangle should play out– and so did all of my friends.

I think there’s a tendency to blow character stuff off in favor of “gosh wow” sense of wonder and action and plot. And that’s probably fair enough. If characters spend too much time staring into each other’s eyes and daydreaming/moping/whatever, you’re firmly in Lifetime and Hallmark Made for TV movie territory. But on the other hand, love launches a lot of ships and draws a lot of swords. It’s part of that visceral, human experience that lends truth to our fiction. What’s worth fighting for without love? What’s worth dying for if not love?

So with that said, here are a few of my favorites:

Macross Frontier

It’d be easy to make this a giant Macross column. Again. I’ve shed more ink trying to get people to watch Macross than I have on any other topic. Classic Macross is full of memorable romances: Max and Millia (Miriya), Hikaru (Rick) and Misa (Lisa), Roy and Claudia. Macross Plus gives us Isamu and the YF-19 Myung… But I’m not going to eat it up with Macross. So I’ll slim it down to their most memorable recent romance, Macross Frontier‘s pilot Alto Saotome and pop star Sheryl Nome.  It’s hard to put a finger on why it worked so well; it’s another link in a long chain of fighter pilot and pop star romances. But both characters grew convincingly over the course of both the series and movies with plenty of nuance, both addressing hurts from their pasts and coming to grips with their new place in life. The clarified love triangle of the Frontier films makes certain moments of the film’s end that much more gut-wrenching.

Battlestar Galactica

The modern reboot of Battlestar Galactica, is, in my opinion, something of a flawed masterpiece. I don’t know of any show in recent memory that could pull off cliffhangers like Battlestar did (“Earth…”), but the story is admittedly uneven. It had moments of genius and moments of idiocy. The Kara/Lee romance was one of those low points, stretched out over four seasons of soapy agony. I had a friend that was all about them, and I could never figure out why she cared at all. No, the show’s real emotional core lay with Admiral Adama, commander of the remnants of humanity’s military, and Laura Roslin, Secretary of Education made President by virtue of 150 people ahead of her dying. They butt heads initially– and frequently thereafter– but their arc has everything that’s missing from the Kara and Lee arc, including a few shreds of fidelity. I’m not sure if it’s the caliber of the actors or just good writing as far as these two went, but they brought warmth to a show about people running for their lives in tin cans.

RahXephon

When Ayato is rescued from an enemy occupied and dimensional bubble-encapsulated Tokyo, he not only becomes the pilot of the godlike giant robot Rah Xephon, he winds up smack in the center of a tangled web of relationships, both romantic and platonic. In a lot of ways RahXephon is a lot like Evangelion, but with less caricature on the part of the characters, and both that Evangelion DNA and fidelity to life make RahXephon‘s emotional and romantic arc one of the most satisfying in anime. The web of relationships is complex and occasionally angsty, but it never stoops to Evangelion‘s self-indulgent whining, and instead of ending with two people who hate each other as the new Adam and Eve, it ends with a revelation (and resolution) that make you sit back and go, “Ahhh. Yeah. I can dig it.” (Further detail is not forthcoming because I don’t want to spoil it.)

 

 

Awake in the Night Land

The original Night Land by William Hope Hodgson had a love story as its driving motivation. The narrator’s love, Mirdath, dies in the 17th century, but one day, the narrator awakens in a cold, distant future where all the stars have gone out and humanity is reduced to huddling in a single fortress city, the Last Redoubt, as alien horrors wait for its defenses to fall– which isn’t supposed to happen for millions of years. But when he hears Mirdath’s voice calling to him telepathically from another, unknown redoubt, he sets off to rescue her.

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with John C. Wright about The Night Land: For all its creative genius, it’s a horrible slog to read. Fortunately, John’s a superior author with a fondness for it, and Awake in the Night Land is a collection of novellas set in Hodgson’s universe. Not all are love stories, but the final story in the collection picks up Hodgson’s “love is eternal” thread and does something wonderful with it. (It also draws in Hodgson’s superior in execution, but inferior in imagination, The House on the Borderlands in an amazing way.)

Honorable Mentions

John C. Wright’s Count to the Eschaton series is likely to finish out strong in the satisfying romance department, but we’ve got a book to go yet. It’s sad to leave behind Sheridan and Delenn, but I wanted to get some print in here; it’s not all TV shows. There’s also Aragorn and Arwen in the The Lord of the Rings, but I feel like most folks are going to leap straight to Peter Jackson’s comparatively hamfisted treatment of the two instead of Tolkien’s bittersweet epic. And then, of course, as a Macross fan I do have to point out Isamu Dyson’s pure and unfailing love for his YF-19 fighter. Anyways, readers, what did I miss? Chime in in the comments.

Josh Young is  a seminary student, Castalia House author (featured in Forbidden Thoughts and author of the forthcoming Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep) and blogger at Superversivesf.com. He can be reached on Gab.ai @BadgerSensei. If you enjoyed this, we’d love to have you visit our main site!

28 Comments
  • icewater says:

    I must admit that I’ve only read one of Wright’s Hodgson tributes so far, Awake in the Night, but it was a good one indeed. There’s a romance aspect to it, something of an eternal love triangle in this case, but what really impressed me is that it presented more memorable example of heroic female character than any found in works of Tor-ian authors who are praised for them. Remarkably striking example of heroic self-sacrifice, especially given how it included one of most terrifying and degrading cases of “fate worse than death” imaginable (even more so striking because she must have been wholly aware of what she must face, yet she did what she did in spite of it).

    • Josh Young says:

      The whole book is really fantastic. This isn’t pertinent to the romance thing, but I remember thinking at one point, “Man, If I was writing this, I’d totally do X here….” and he did X. Made my day.

  • Rawle Nyanzi says:

    I see the anime fever is spreading here at Castalia House.

    • Alex says:

      Josh has been our resident weeb for sometime.

      I don’t talk about it as much anymore, since I more or less stopped watching new stuff a few years back, but one of my earlier posts here was a conversion for Steve Jackson’s OGRE that had stats for various One Year War mecha so you could use they system to play various Gundam battles. Schuyler Hernstrom even made print & play counters for it.

      • Josh Young says:

        To be fair, I’d say I’m less a weeb and more a disgruntled 90’s otaku. I check every season or so and wait for recommendations on the gems in a given season, but mostly I mourn the fact that we’ve largely traded unique scifi for moe harem shows… that somehow manage to be more trashy by using panty shots than all the 90s boob shots ever were.

        • Nathan says:

          Card Captor Sakura and Love Hina have much to answer for.

          • Rawle Nyanzi says:

            Contrast Tenchi Muyo and Tenchi Universe with Love Hina. The difference is night and day.

          • Alex says:

            Funny thing, wasn’t Love Hina a parody/satire of the harem genre before it became the benchmark for them?

          • Alex says:

            Years and years ago, rewatched Tenchi for the first time since I saw it on Toonami. Having seen other better shows, it did NOT hold up well. Not saying it didn’t have some neat ideas, but when they finally put out 3rd season of the OVA, we rewatched the first two, and with the exception of a couple spots in the first few eps, it was pretty painful.

          • Nathan says:

            For the record, I liked Cardcaptor Sakura, Love Hina, and Tenchi quite a bit. I just don’t like how what people liked from each got twisted over time.

            It’s been a while since I’ve seen Tenchi, as I’m trying to forget the horror of Ai Tenchi Muyo, or the worst parts of To-Love-Ru combined with the worst parts of Tenchi. But after the third OAVs, it started to lose its savor. Like El Hazard, I politely maintain the fiction that only one OAV series was ever made.

            As for Love Hina, I think it was more a parody and simplification of the love polyhedron shows of the 80s and 90s. Keitaro actually chose a girl, ungeeked himself, and wed his new dream girl. Not exactly harem, even if there’s a cloud of would-be mistresses still hanging around.

          • Alex says:

            Best Harem show (if it could be called that) was the Saber Marionette series.

            Thought it was funny that even in a world where there were no women, almost no one was gay because almost everyone felt like Robot Girl > Another Dude.

            Also, perfect solution to the Harem dilemma? Everyone dies! (except now babies & fatherhood & girls who aren’t robots stuff). Pretty much the opposite of what Tenchi Muyo Galaxy Police did where the dude was just all “Screw it, I’ll take all of them cuz I can!”

        • Pat D. says:

          Same here, I do refer to myself as a weeb but I’m mostly into 80s and 90s anime. Action shows do seem to be making a comeback recently, not a lot of space/mecha stuff at the moment though.

          • Josh Young says:

            It seems to me that about once every year or so, something amazing comes along. I constantly debate whether or not the mass amount of crap that surrounds it is the product of everything sucking now, or if it existed back when I got into anime in the early 90s and it’s just the case that importing was far more difficult in the pre-broadband era.

          • Nathan says:

            There’s rumor of a remake of Legend of the Galactic Heroes coming soon.

    • Nathan says:

      As a recovering otaku, I can usually keep it under control. All bets are off if Touhou is involved, though.

      I’d add Kimagure Orange Road and Maison Ikkoku to the romance list.

      • Josh Young says:

        You know…. I never actually did see either of those. At the time that they were commonly talked about, I was breaking the bank to get subtitled VHS tapes, and they just sort of fell off my radar.

      • Alex says:

        Having finally finished Power Dolls, I am now desperately craving something that combines all of the best elements of Touhou and the Panzer General franchises.

  • The love story IS the fundamental genre. I’d love to see more small “r” romance in SF, but I’m greedy that way. Please give me more so I don’t have to trudge on over to big “R” romances with a thimbleful of sci-fi setting where writers don’t know the difference between a star/solar system and a galaxy.

  • caleb says:

    Etar and T’Sais, I guess. One of rare Dying Earth stories that ends on a note of tenderness and hope.

    Truth be told, I prefer my fictional romances to be understated and restrained.

  • caleb says:

    Speaking of The Night Land, James Stoddard did his own reimagining of original novel.
    http://www.james-stoddard.com/books/
    From what I can see, reception was overwhelmingly positive, and as for Mr Stoddard himself, I recall Mr. Wright speaking highly of his previous work. They share remarkably similar taste in literature, too, judging from Mr. Stoddard’s site.
    I never read that version, mind you, as I wouldn’t want my Night Land to be any other way than it is, but I guess that this might be of interest to others.

  • LastRedoubt says:

    All good choices, except one.

    Galactica?

    *shudder*

    That was a fundamentally anti-human work.

    • Josh Young says:

      I will admit to having last watched BSG in a more… uncritical… time of my life. (Notably, prior to seminary.) I don’t know that I can defend it in any meaningful way, but I have fond memories of about half of it.

  • LastRedoubt says:

    I’ll add that Wright is just amazing. not just the nightlands but everything else of his I’ve had the privilege to read, including the just – read Swan Knights Son

    • Josh Young says:

      Swan Knight’s Son and its follow ups are probably the only full-length works of Wright’s that I haven’t read. (Well, and Superluminary, because I’m hoping for a collection at some point.) He’s been my favorite author for a very long time– pretty much since I discovered the Golden Age ten or twelve years ago.

  • PC Bushi says:

    Give me John Carter and Dejah Thoris!

  • Alfonso says:

    The romance between Chrichton and Aeryn in Farscape is well done for a tv show. So too was the romance in the tv show Angel between Angel and Cordelia, a spin off of Buffy.

    Romance in written works suffers a lot due to the sociosexual status of the author or the writer needed a certain outcome that does not seem natural. Heinlein’s novels have plenty of sex but the romance seems campy.

    • Josh Young says:

      Yeah. I was wracking my brain for romance in novels that had stuck with me, and the only thing that I could really think of besides JCW’s stuff was Raul and Aenea in THE RISE OF ENDYMION. Usually they seem to fall flat in books, or become excuses to shoehorn in erotica.

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