LOVE vs. SEX: THE FINAL FRONTIER?
Why are so many stories about love either sloppily sentimental, cynical or tragic? Why do books about love outsell all the other fiction genres combined? Maybe because we think we know what love is, and maybe we don’t know what it is at all.
Lumped under the generic heading of love, you will find parenthood (especially motherhood), family, religion, patriotism, personal tastes, dating, making out, friendship, sex, romance, adultery, and marriage. (And the list goes on…)
People need to sort these into separate baskets, but the English language fails us here. There is no other word that works in most of these cases. For example, what else can we call our feelings of patriotism but love of country? Desire of country doesn’t work. National pride isn’t strong enough, and the word patriotism itself has a hollow ring these days. What shall we call the sex act, except making love? Oh, I know, there are a few delightful possibilities. Most of us in the writing game freely toss alternatives around like effin’ flapjacks. But public, daily vocabulary isn’t ready to separate tenderness from doing the wild thing by employing act-specific terms when one inoffensive, four-letter word—love—covers the whole menu. (“I’ll have the Love Feast Special, please. No garlic butter.”)
Love in Science-Fiction
Good science fiction usually features a romantic subplot—Han and Leia, James T. Kirk and anything with a vagina. However—forgive me Romance writers—a good sci-fi story is plot or technology driven and not primarily about the sex life of the dashing, starship captain and our heroine, the busty alien princess. (Although in my Star Lawyers Book Three, Tyler Matthews and the blue Queen Veraposta—naw, you gotta read it.)
Just because main characters hop into bed under alien moons doesn’t make the love-interest, well, interesting. That takes an engaging storyline with nicely flawed players who battle and embrace and learn that real love is harder than orbiting a black hole without becoming its lunch. The original Star Wars trilogy approaches this level, and I contend that’s one of the reasons it is perennially popular.
Love in Literature and Movies
Literature is full of romance. Even Shakespeare, whose heroines were played by pubescent boys in stodgy, Elizabethan England, splashes love across the pages of his scripts like a drunken sailor spilling wine. American movies are punch-drunk over love. The plot of the second biggest movie of all times is, “The Love Boat Hits an Iceberg.” The biggest all-time moneymaker: “Blue lovers in an Ecological Thriller.”
While movies usually have a love interest, Hollywood lied to us, and the producers almost always get it wrong. For lovers who stroll the silver screen, love usually equals sexual attraction, impure and simple. This observation is a gross oversimplification, but the genius of the original Star Wars trilogy was not just its technology or special effects or combat scenes, but in the development of relationships.
Although sex and eroticism plays an important part in male-female relationships, it is by no means the singular or even most important element. So why, if we spend so much money and energy on love, do we get it wrong so often? Here are a few quick thoughts.
Love in our culture
Much of what passes for love in our culture is really:
- Sensual attraction and sexuality. Must be there, but it’s a thin foundation.
- Glamour. “She was so beautiful…” Okay, but do you like each other?”
- Romance and infatuation are not love. Courtship ends—then what?
- Neurotic dependency. “I can’t live without her/him…” Yes, you can.
- Ego gratification. Reader and fictional characters often will opt for this.
- Fear of loneliness. Can bring a compelling sub-tone, storyline or real life.
- Convenience and routine. The older I get, the more #6 & 7 appeal to me.
This is not to say that romance and sensuality/sexuality are a bad thing—right the contrary. It’s the beginning point in most relationships not contracted by families for young people. And speaking of alternative ideas about love from cultures around planet Earth, these include:
What Love can be
- A commitment, loyalty or duty Don’t flinch. Fidelity and familial identity are almost universal values.
- Friendship. Youth to golden age, you’ll fare better if you continue to like each other.
- Selfless giving. The golden rule never measures penis size. It is a gauge of the heart.
Some more Thoughts
So, if I suggest a little reflection on the depth and complexity of human love will tidy up the storylines of sci-fi literature, what do you think will happen when writers explore love among alien cultures, or alien-human relationships? Several good authors have done this. I will leave it to you to find them and share your discoveries with readers of this blog.
Meanwhile, now that I’ve set the bar for multifaceted interpretations of love among the many space-faring star nations in the galaxy, I’ll have to continue developing a rich cultural milieu for every race my human characters encounter going forward. To include their love lives. (You’re gonna love the Quirt-Thymeans in The Blue King Murders.)
Meantime, my prequel to the series is available and you can Download my free short story here!
You can also learn more about me in the about section of this website.