The Science Fiction Romance Brigade is a group of writers who write (no surprise!) science fiction romance (sometimes called futuristic romance). Periodically, they feature a showcase where writers can talk about their work.
Alien Bonds illustrates why I love writing science fiction combined with romance. When I want to create difficult, dangerous, or just plain awkward situations to put couples into, I don't have to settle for what's currently possible. I can go all out!
Alien Bonds: Marriage versus mating
This basic idea behind this book was inspired by my parents' divorce. My parents were married late in World War II. My dad was a career officer in the US Navy. Mom had a college degree, but she never worked after she married, because for one thing, she had to move every two or three years when Dad got new orders. So, after 28 years, Dad found out that a woman he had always admired was now a widow, and he left Mom and asked for a divorce.
My mom's situation was not great. She had married under one set of rules that said that marriage was pretty much forever, short of adultery or cruelty. She got left under a different set of rules that said marriage was only a good thing if you both still wanted to be married. So, is it better not to be married if the other person no longer wants you?
This got me thinking about what it would be like not to have a choice. What would it be like to be unable to up and leave if you wanted, not because of social or financial constraints, but because of biology. If this were true, if you were tied to one person for life, would it be terrible or would—could this be a good thing?
I created the planet Wakareno to find out the answer (BTW, I had never heard of Wakanda, the fictional African country in Black Panther, when I created Wakanreo. I'm so happy there's no d in my planet's name!).
Wakanreans are humanoid, but they mate for life. And I do mean life. If a Wakanrean's mate dies, he or she might find companionship and even love with someone else, but the biological process happens only once in each lifetime.
So, having predicated this biological process as being something that happens spontaneously, once two (or, rarely, more than two) pheromone-compatible Wakanreans come into contact with each other, I had to deal with a basic question: How would this kind of immutable, uncontrollable version of "marriage" affect Wakarenan societies?
One thing that seemed obvious to me is that society would be less stratified. Any kind of caste or class system is dependent on people choosing a spouse from their own order. If that can't be enforced then it would mean that a princess could mate with the boot boy or a king with a milkmaid, and no one could stop it. Also, being pretty or handsome would count for a lot less. If physical attraction is solely driven by pheromones, then a pretty face or a hunky build buys you nothing.
As for whether mating for life is a good thing or a bad thing, it all comes down to the individuals involved. If someone is a bad person—cruel or selfish—it's difficult to see being tied to them for life as a good thing. On the other hand, if someone is kind, having an unbreakable bond with them would provide both comfort and security. So, biological mating (it's called shahgunrah in the book) is not inherently good or bad, but it is very, very different.
And then to mix it up but good, I tossed in a human woman who knows very little about the world or the people, but she finds herself experiencing shahgunrah.
For a brief visit to Wakanreo, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Alien Bonds. Dina, the protagonist, is still very new to the world, and is on a blind date.
“That’s one of her local stars she’s sucking up to,” Erik went on. “That one is a singer, I think. God, I hope she doesn’t ask him to sing. Wakanrean music sounds like someone torturing small animals.”
“Really?” Was it just her, or was Erik rather wearing?
“I think the two in blue are wrestlers. That’s one thing I’ll give the Wakanreans. Their wrestling is superb entertainment.”
“That’s what Jared said.”
Dina had the satisfaction of seeing her date look dumbfounded. “Jared Harlingen? You know Jared?”
“Only slightly. Actually, I was wondering if he was invited tonight.”
Erik let out a breath of explosive displeasure. “Not bloody likely. The Ambassador can’t stand him.”
“He said that,” Dina said, wondering if she was being indiscreet.
“You seem pretty chummy with Jared.”
It wasn’t said as a question, but Dina detected a speculative note in Erik’s voice. “Is that bad? Is there something wrong with Jared Harlingen?”
“Nothing except he’s always beating my time.” He put down his glass and turned to face her. “Arliana said I should wait until later to ask you, but what the heck—Do you want to go to my place for a more intimate get together? I’ve got better food and booze than the Ambassador is providing, and I’m sure the two of us could have more fun alone.”
Dina felt her face flush red. She hated that she couldn’t control her tendency to blush. Ever since she had left the comfortable familiarity of her native world, she had found herself in such situations. No longer shocked, she still couldn’t stop herself from reacting as a Fantaran.
“I’m sorry.” She fought to keep disapproval out of her voice. “I have to be at work very early tomorrow morning.”
Erik’s eyes opened wide. “Oh, come on! You can’t possibly be offended. Arliana said you were married on Croyzan.”
Her mortification faded, and annoyance replaced it. “I fail to see that my life or my reactions are any business of yours.”
Erik’s jaw went slack. “What?”
Dina put her glass down on a nearby table. “It seems Arliana miscalculated in thinking we would hit it off. I think I’d better go.”
He blinked. “What century do you all live in back on Fantar? Arliana isn’t a prude about sex. How was I to know you are?”
Annoyance morphed into anger. She was trying not to judge him, but he had no qualms about judging her. “Well, it looks like Arliana’s miscalculation is now a certainty. Will you say good night to her for me?”
“You’re really leaving?”
“Certainly.” She nodded instead of offering her hand. “Have a pleasant evening. Although if that takes finding a woman who’s liberal-minded enough to go home with you after two minutes of conversation, I have my doubts. Good night.”
She turned on her heel and stalked off, not looking back until she was almost to the stairs.
By then all she could see of Erik was his retreating back. Dina felt a qualm of remorse. Obviously, his idea of polite behavior would never be acceptable on Fantar, but did she have any right to apply Fantaran standards here on Wakanreo? In any event, she had to explain her premature departure to Arliana.
She turned to survey the crowd again, looking for any sign of iridescent blue and silver. She didn’t see Arliana, but she noticed the silver-headed Wakanrean had left the Ambassador’s circle and was standing by himself in the middle of the room.
Dina wasn’t sure, but she thought he was staring at her. She took a few steps toward the stairs, and his eyes followed her so closely there was no doubt that she was the object of his scrutiny.
No, his animosity. He looked angry—furious, in fact. She had never seen a Wakanrean show so much emotion. His eyes gleamed with rage, and his nostrils flared wide. She took another step toward the stairs, and the Wakanrean began to walk rapidly toward her.
Dina fought panic. What could she have done to make him so angry? She hadn’t come close enough to any Wakanreans to offend anyone. She clasped her hands together to reassure herself that her gloves were on.
The silver-haired Wakanrean came closer still. Under his cape he wore a long, blue robe instead of the trousers and loose, tunic-style shirt favored by Wakanreans of both sexes. He was very close now. His golden facial and body fur combined with the creamy white of his crest reminded her of some Terran animal, but she couldn’t remember which one. Other than the dark blue trim on his robe and the diamond-shaped pattern that decorated his sandals, his only adornment was a piece of silver jewelry fastened at the base of his throat; she couldn’t tell if it was pinned to his robe or his chest fur.
Dina could feel herself breathing faster, her heart pounding hard. She should walk away. Why couldn’t she move her feet? She stood waiting by the mezzanine railing, as still as if she had taken root in the floor.
The Wakanrean stood in front of her. He glared down at her, his face contorted into a scowl, his amber eyes glowing with contempt.
“I beg your pardon.” Dina tried to keep the quaver out of her voice. “Do I know you?”
He was so close, she could feel the heat from his body. Either that, or the room had gotten suddenly warmer. Dina felt herself flush from head to foot.
He didn’t answer, but all at once it was as if his anger was a physical thing, an invisible mass, pushing against her. She stepped backward, stumbled, and almost fell.
She reached for the mezzanine railing behind her, and in the same instant, the Wakanrean grabbed her arm.
Dina froze, utterly baffled. The orientation had said clearly that Wakanreans would always avoid touching a Terran, and yet here was one not only touching her, but holding her firmly by the arm and helping her to stand.
The orientation had also failed to warn her that a Wakanrean’s touch was so warm it almost burned. Dina could feel a flush of heat on her arm where his hand still gripped it. She stood straighter and looked into his face. He had typical Wakanrean features—an arched nose, large round eyes, a wide mouth.
His expression changed as she watched. His anger faded to confusion. He looked almost stunned. His nostrils still flared, but from the way his eyes had opened wide, Dina knew he was surprised rather than angry.
Neither of them had taken a step since he took hold of her arm. Dina swallowed once, conscious of discreet glances and overt stares from those around them.
“I’m all right,” she said finally, wondering if she was speaking the truth. The dizziness had passed, but she still felt lightheaded. “Thank you, but you can let go now.”
He loosened his grip but didn’t release her for a few seconds. When he did, he brushed her bare arm with the back of his hand. Dina was amazed when it sent shivers of anticipation up her spine.
“This is unexpected.” His wonderfully resonant voice had a rich, warm timbre to it that made Dina’s shivers change from anticipation to yearning.
“Yes,” she said, unsure of what he meant, but afraid to give offense.
“Where do you live?”
“I have an apartment in the off-world sector,” she said, wondering why she was answering him. She fought the urge to close her eyes and just listen to that wonderful voice.
“My house is in the cliffs outside the city. Let’s go there instead.”
It took Dina a moment to realize that she had agreed to go home with him.
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