So y'all remember Science Fiction Saiyuki Starzinger, right? The anime show that aired in Japan from 1978-79? It featured a princess who joined forces with three cyborg warriors to restore balance to the universe. Ring a bell? Half a bell? No?
Well, Starzinger, which aired under the name Spacekeeters (ha ha, get it?) in the U.S., was my first introduction to a character of royalty in a space opera setting, namely, Princess Aurora. I'm a longtime fan of anime like Starzinger and Voltron, both of which feature princess characters. Decades later, I'm still very curious about the choice, and even more so the way similar characters make appearances in science fiction romance.
Space opera characters of royal descent are an interesting co-op of fantasy tropes. As a fan of both SF and fantasy, I sometimes experience doublethink regarding such characters. On the one hand, I totally understand the appeal, because I've been swept away by the characters myself (Starzinger seemed positively obsessed with Princess Aurora taming Jesse Dart, a wild warrior Alpha male. Highly entertaining!).
On the other hand, I feel ambivalent about sci-fi princes and princesses because their association with fantasy/fairy tale settings is super glue strong. Sometimes, when reading a book or watching a film/TV show, I get the feeling a sci-fi prince or princess has been displaced, or actually belongs in a fantasy romance. The occurrence isn't always easy to reconcile.
Why are princes and princesses so prevalent in sci-fi romance? Is it an attempt by authors to create stories with cross-over appeal, or are there other reasons?
In sci-fi romance, it's common for the hero to hail from a world ruled by a monarchy, at least in part. And it's often a space faring culture. Quite an interesting juxtaposition. It would be like if Earthlings achieved space travel and the crown prince of Britain met his future bride on another planet. Forget any prime ministers, presidents, premiers, or chancellors. They're out of luck when it comes to romance, I guess! Still, the theme of love happening despite the odds (in this case, distance) is a popular one.
By using royalty titles, authors might be taking advantage of a worldbuilding shortcut. In other words, there's no need to create an alien society with new political titles, roles, etc. because everyone knows what a prince is. In romance stories, “prince” is basically the definition of wealth, power, leader, hero, and sweep-the-heroine-off-her-feet romance. That said, authors can easily create presidents, ministers, etc. who are rich and powerful. But compared to princes, are they considered paupers?
The use could merely be a by-product of cross-genre stories. Meaning, authors use sci-fi princes and princesses just for the fun of it and because they can. The fantasy romance vibe can be strong in some of these stories, but perhaps the pull of the royal-in-love fantasy is so compelling we (readers) want it co-opted all over the place, even in settings where technology reigns supreme.
The terms “prince” and “princess” could also be interpreted as ones used to translate titles/roles that are actually alien in nature (I imagine this would be more a function of reader deduction than author intent, unless the text specifically indicates otherwise).
Despite the general use of royalty titles, the princesses and princes of sci-fi romance aren't all of the cookie-cutter variety. (In this genre, I sometimes suspect the use of a title like “prince” is more of a marketing tag than a direct representation of a character.) Just check out some of the range you'll encounter in SFR:
Susan Grant wrote a few quintessential stories featuring princes and a princess: The Star King, The Star Prince, and The Star Princess. There's some serious tagging going on in those titles because they work hard to convey the type of fantasy one can expect. But during the course of the stories, the characters aren't limited to futuristic castles or a life of luxury. They struggle to reconcile who they're expected to be and who they want to be.
Contrast Michelle M. Pillow The Barbarian Prince (“Mars Needs Women” trope, with dragons) with Jess Granger's Beyond the Shadows, in which the heroine is heir to the throne in a matriarchal society. A prince and princess for every mood, heh!
In Gini Koch's Touched By An Alien series, hero Jeff Martini has ties to royalty, but he's essentially a Men in Black character (albeit one with access to loads of money!).
Stellarnet Prince is the sequel to J.L. Hilton's Stellarnet Rebel (best read in order). Book two may have “prince” in the name, but the prince in question offers a unique spin on this type of character. This is the type of sci-fi romance you read when you're in the mood for complex politics and distinctly alien, humanoid heroes.
Ella Drake's MetalMark features a prince tasked with saving his planet, but only if he makes a deal with the proverbial devil. The setting also delivers a bit of steampunk flair. Nancy J. Cohen's Warrior Prince features a hero who is not just a prince, but the leader of the Drift Lords, a group dedicated to protecting Earth from galactic villains.
The above is but a small sample of prince/princess characters in sci-fi romance. It'll be interesting to see how authors spin this trope in future stories.
In the meantime, tell me what you think about these types of characters. Do you have a favorite sci-fi romance prince/princess? What can authors do to make these characters compelling and believable given the science fictional setting?
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 heathermassey.com.