My interest in undersea adventure tales dates back to cult children shows like Gerry Anderson’s Stingray. Mash that up with my decidedly adult tastes in science fiction romance and you get a reader who loves the idea of aquatic characters. And by that I mean the genetically engineered kind (non-paranormal/fantasy origin). Mermen are great and all, but I’m hankering for something a little different.
The ability to live and function underwater is quite a fantasy for us humans. If, for example, marine biologists could travel the ocean depths unencumbered by things like scuba gear then our scientific knowledge of ocean life would increase dramatically. We’d probably develop underwater habitats and new commercial ventures. The ability to live, work, and love underwater would have a huge impact on life as we know it. Since that fantasy is unlikely to come true at any point in the near future, it’d be cool to explore the idea in fiction.
But even if a story focused more specifically on a romance, why don’t we encounter genetically engineered aquatic heroes more? Or alien heroes with aquatic features? With their exotic nature and enhanced abilities, I would think they’re ripe for exploitation—or are they?
Creating aquatic characters that readers can engage with is a challenge. It’s one thing for the heroine to find these heroes attractive, but what about readers? Can they buy into the fantasy of a hero with science-generated gills or fin-like limbs?
Genetic engineering would involve the manipulation of so many genes that the person in question would become more humanoid than human. The process would most likely involve a restructuring of the sex organs as well as outward physical features. A penis is a beautiful thing, but I’d hate to think of the danger it’d be in while a hero was darting around in the water with lots of hungry predators around. Therefore, scientists would need to devise a way to protect it, like a pouch.
Also, authors face the challenge of creating plausible worlds for these heroes. Which ocean would the character inhabit? Is the water cold or warm? How deep can he go? What would he eat? Does he need clothes? What are the dangers? Paint a flawed or incomplete picture and readers will be taken out of the story.
Another factor is describing bodily functions like gills, fins, webbed feet, and so on. I applaud any author who can make these heroes come across as warm and sensual rather than cold and slimy. Fish can be pretty, but they don’t have the association of “hot blooded” like a wolf or tiger.
Despite the challenges, a few authors have experimented with science fiction romances that feature aquatic heroes (and heroines):
* Refugees on Urloon by Melisse Aires (Lyrical Press)
* Stellarnet Rebel and the sequel, Stellarnet Prince by J.L. Hilton (Carina Press)
* Europa, Europa by KS Augustin (Total-E-Bound)
* True Believers by Maria Zannini (Carina Press)
* From the SF/romantic SF side, there’s Vonda McIntyre's Starfarers quadrilogy: Starfarers, Transition, Metaphase, and Nautilus.
Refugees on Urloon explores what happens to the hero when he decides to adapt to the indigenous life forms on an alien planet. In Europa, Europa, the hero—and heroine—are born aquatic, the product of corporate-funded genetic engineering. Stellarnet Rebel goes the alien hero route, and through the heroine’s eyes we learn about the hero’s aquatic abilities.
Those stories made me realize how much attention to detail really matters with these kinds of characters. I don't just want to read about them swimming around underwater, la di da da isn’t this fun. I want to know how their genetic changes impact their relationships, occupations, and identity, among other things. And lovemaking, heh.
Stories featuring genetically engineered aquatic heroes can entertain with romance, social commentary, and fun speculation. But am I asking for too much? What do you think?
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.
She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit www.heathermassey.com.