Oct 9 2012 1:30pm

Swimming Against the Stream: Why Aren’t There More Aquatic Heroes in Sci-Fi Romance?

Refugees on Urloon by Melissa AiresMy 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.

Stellarnet Rebel by J.L. HiltonAlso, 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.

Europa Europa by KL AugustinRefugees 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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. JacquiC
I read a book that has moderate paranormal elements of an "aquatic" nature which I quite enjoyed. It is called "The Calling" by Ashley Lynn Willis. It was reviewed on one of the blogs I usually follow (maybe Dear Author?) and I quite enjoyed it.

I think it probably doesn't have all the aquatic details that you might be looking for, but you still might like it.
Laurie Gold
2. LaurieGold
There's a running gag on The Big Bang Theory about Aquaman being the suckiest super hero.
4. MarvaR
@cmorgan, Where did you find that picture? I love it. Aquaman is a tortured hero (in the current line anyway) and Cthulhu? well I don't want to be anywhere around when he wakes up.
Christopher Morgan
5. cmorgan
@Marva, it was once used against me in when me and some friends where talking about who was the better "Aquaman", Namor or Aquaman. I mean, he does command all the creatures of the see right?
Claire Louise Thompson
6. Nefersitra
@cmorgan and Marva

But Namor is, well, Namor. He's arrogant and domineering and a Prince and the more I think about it the more I am convinced that a romance with a hero from Atlantis would probably just be Namor in disguise.

Personally, I wonder if the lack of aquatic paranormal type stories isn't best summed up by Fry in Futurama "Oh, why couldn't she be the other kind of mermaid, with the fish part on the top and the lady part on the bottom?"
7. SandyH
Check out Bio Rescue and Afterburn by S. L. Viehl (she also writes the Darklyn series as Lynn Viehl).
mandy troxel
8. mandytroxel@gmail.com
i have read Europa Europa, it was a great book. i agree that much attention to detail is important when writing novesl like these.th
9. wsl0612
I think the biggest issue is making sure you don't get the reader thinking about "fishy" smells, what a turn-off!
11. ladynat
Alyssa Day's Atlantis series would probably fit the bill quite nicely. These guys can control water, fly by mist, and live in Atlantis. Check
Badd@ss warriors check
broken in some wya that only the herione can fix. Check

BTW Robot Chicken didn't give Aquaman any repect either in their recent DC special.

And I giggle a little ever time I see Raj dressed up as Aquaman for the Costume contest.
Heather Massey
12. HeatherMassey
@JacquiC @SandyH @ladynat Thanks for the recs!

@LaurieGold Even as I'm painfully aware of Aquaman's flaws, he's actually one of my favorite superheroes. I really dig his abilities. When watching Superfriends back in the day, I always loved discovering how he'd stratgically work with the various sea creatures.

I think he's a prime candidate for a mainstream film reinvention a la Iron Man.

Think of all the cool undersea creatures he could encounter/battle. Deep sea monster fish. Prehistoric sea creatures revived from the deep. Badass mutant sea monsters birthed from pollution or genetic engineering.

And oooh--what if the story took place in the 1800s? Then he and his underwater army could battle a villain who commands a fleet of souped up steampunk submarines! OMG instant classic.

@wslo62 I agree, there's potential for turn-off elements, which is why it's so crucial that authors handle these characters with ingenuity. I don't know if it's enough to ignore certain details, either, like scent/odor--meaning they simply aren't acknowledged. It's a challenge, I'll bet.
Post a comment