Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we have access to things like dino erotica and lizard man heroes (e.g., R. Lee Smith's The Last Hour of Gann and Barbara Karmazin's The Huntress). In fact, there have been many such unique scifi and paranormal romance characters. I'm not sure if we'll be seeing dino-shifter heroes in romance anytime soon, but heroes with tentacles strike me as having superb potential.
More Than a Man by Emily Ryan-Davis and Elise Logan is a futuristic erotic romance with a wildly fantastical premise: the heroine mixes up her holiday gift shopping list with her list for the Manporium, a place where a woman can order the man of her dreams. The kicker? Noelle had ingredients for gingerbread men cookies on her shopping list.
After Noelle's new lover shows up, she discovers he has a few…unique qualities. Spoiler alert: one of them involves tentacles. The tentacle sex is simply one of many, many techniques the hero uses to pleasure Noelle during the course of the story (which makes sense given that it's heavy on the erotic elements). Yet upon reading how sensually his tentacles came across, I wondered why there weren't more romances featuring heroes with tentacles.
I embarked on various searches for more titles like More Than a Man, but came up woefully short. I did find Song from the Abyss by Margaret L. Carter. The hero, Dean, “…has spent years in another dimension. Sinuous tentacles are only the most visible mark of his alien transformation. Who is he now? What is he?” Dean sounds sinister, but also intriguing, yes? And the author also has a title with Ellora's Cave called Tentacles of Love.
Jan Springer's Passionate Ink (Ellora's Cave) features an “Octoposeidon” shapeshifter hero. Part man, part god, part octopus. His mission is to guide the heroine as she embarks on a unique transformation.
Okay, super! But, um, where are all the others?
(Side note: maybe more stories exist but I haven't been able to find them because they're not tagged as “tentacle romance” or other related words.)
Frankly, I'm not surprised at the lack of tentacle heroes and heroines in mainstream print and digital-first romances. (It's interesting to note that More Than a Man was indie-published.) The general advice for authors of science fiction romance (my preferred genre) is to avoid anything too wild regarding alien heroes and heroines.
“We also discussed the need for aliens to be humanoid, or of human descent, because of course, in my opinion, if you’ve got alien lovin’ in your romance, the aliens need to be relatable and boinkable. Possibly the boink factor is more important, because if your alien is a hot mess of tentacles and eats cat poop for breakfast, you’re going to have a harder time selling the hot sex, never mind the relationship. Tentacle porn has its place, but it’s going to take a more skillful writer than me to sell a love story between a human and an alien from Galaxy Quest.”
I'll pass on a character who eats “cat poop” for breakfast (I'm adventurous, but not that adventurous!), but the promise of a hero or heroine with a “hot mess of tentacles” intrigues me. I believe there are many skilled romance authors who could write a compelling tentacle romance.
It's not that there's anything inherently wrong about characters with tentacles. What's at issue for many people, and what's implied by KC Burn's comment, is how the stories are executed, especially if the content induces reactions of “Ew!” or “Ick!” or “That's disgusting.”
And understandably so. Traditionally, we're familiar with tentacle sex in the context of pornography, anime, hentai, space monster science fiction stories, and horror. There are tons of stories wherein a tentacle monster ravishes a nubile young woman over and over again and in multiple orifices.
Tentacle rape is rampant—if not the dominant factor—in many of those stories. Tentacle sex tales range in tone from light and comedic to dark and disturbing. Regardless of tone, there's a strong, common theme of the sexual subjugation of women. Not our usual definition of romance by any means.
Other aspects of traditional tentacle sex stories involve forced breeding and bizarre bodily transformations. Typically, this is the stuff of horror and nightmares rather than a loving relationship. What kind of hero would force his partner to become pregnant with his alien tentacle baby?
But the stories don't have to roll that way.
For the moment, let's put aside the idea of tentacle porn, monster sex erotica, and tentacle erotica (although “billionaire shapeshifter breeding erotica” like 8 Arms to Hold You sounds awfully tempting, doesn't it? :P).
Here's what I'm proposing: let's transform tentacle erotica/porn into stories that embrace and honor romance genre conventions. Write them using the female gaze instead of the male gaze, like what the authors of More Than a Man did. Create stories where the tentacle lovemaking action is in service to the hero and heroine on an equal basis. No matter how strange or bizarre the tentacle couple, give them a Happily Ever After.
Romance can reinvent tentacle characters into heroes and heroines the same way vampires and werewolves were transformed. Tentacles can become sensuous and consensual. They can taste good, feel good, and look good. Authors have that power!
The intersection of science fiction (and/or fantasy) and romance allows huge freedom of expression. This is likely the only place where readers could find tentacle romance, i.e., stories that feature fun settings, well-rounded characters, and a meaty romance plot in addition to the tentacle sexy times.
Heh, romance could become the go to genre for tentacle romance and erotic romance. We can claim it. Right now.
Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. :) Let's start with a conversation about it.
What are your thoughts about the idea of tentacle romance? Do you know of any other titles that feature tentacle characters and tentacle sex in the context of a romance? If you've read any tentacle romances, what did you think about them?
ETA 11/13/13: added new link
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.