My fangirliness and desire to make fanart for the David Toboz/Andrew Tinker relationship surprised me. Part of it’s that I’ve never so actively rooted for a gay couple. But then, I’m not one given to shipping at all. I dislike romance in the fiction I read, and often complain (to myself) when I find it in my sci-fi and fantasy. Needless to say I don’t like the genre of romance itself.
This realization made me ask: Am I as bad as the people who believe sci-fi as a genre is dead, just because I refuse to look beyond the cliché? (Short answer to this one: “Yes.”) Why is my response so totally negative when presented with romance even in my preferred genres? And finally, what do I find so different about the relationship Professor Zobot and Professor Tinker have created for their characters?
There isn’t an easy answer to why I’m so against fictional romance. I’m not entirely asexual. I have hormones. My prudishness is mostly surface-level. So why do I have this reaction? The only reason I can see is that it’s often cliché. In the Short Stories workshop I took last semester, over half of the workshopped stories were romances. Even the guys in my class wrote charming Marty Stus with every-men main characters (MCs) and flat-personality, horny women. …Have I mentioned that it’s hard to get away from hetero-normative, patriarchially-endorsed stereotypes?
But despite all this, I have to admit it’s not impossible for me to enjoy some romance in my fiction. There have been many stories that pull it off well. And sometimes – only sometimes – I actually care enough to play shipper for the pairing in question.
I see fictional romance as falling into three categories, according to how the love interest is treated:
- Destiny. Man meets woman. Girl meets boy. Gender is often stereotypically represented. And even if feminism isn’t taken into account, the love interest is usually just that, The Love Interest. Usually a flat character provided to give the romance a target.
- As much as I love “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” it belongs here in terms of romance. Penny is, without question, the Love Interest. Without her in this very specific role, the story would fall apart. She’s got some personality, but it’s hard for me to get past her status as Pawn of the Plot.
- Semblance of Free Will. The Love Interest is not wholly restricted to the role. The author allows the character to have her own well-rounded personality, his own life outside of the romance, her own ability to act and react to the MC based on her own strength of character. But he is still identified as The Love Interest, and saddled with all the stereotypes, clichés, and associations that come with the role.
- A good example of this is Eragon and Arya’s relationship in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series. Arya is a strong female character – she’s an elf, so she’s older than she looks; she has a good deal of knowledge; she’s formidable in combat. Unfortunately, she’s trapped as the Love Interest. Her first appearance in Eragon had her captured and lying in a Sleeping-Beauty-esque trance, whereupon Eragon felt himself drawn to rescue her, despite people telling him it was a stupid idea. Since then, she’s refused his confession of love, but since she is the Love Interest, she is fighting her fate. By the end of the series, if not the end of Brisingr (the third book, which I am currently reading), I fully expect she will return Eragon’s love. I don’t think she has much of a choice.
- Free Will. The only category of romance I’ve ever been fangirly for. But I haven’t seen it done very often, probably because I don’t seek it out. Examples:
- Most recently, David Toboz/Andrew Tinker of the Mad Scientist Wars.
- Mal/Inara in Firefly.
- Fox Mulder/Dana Scully in X-Files.
- Wonder Woman/Batman, as highlighted in certain Justice League of America issues and storylines. (In the same volumes, to my everlasting shame, Wonder Woman is paired with Aquaman. Aquaman?! Married-with-kids, communes-with-the-fishies Aquaman?! Instead of Hottest-Bachelor-of-the-Year (since 1939, baby), I-can-take-down-the-JLA-with-the-intelligence-in-my-left-pinky Batman?! Come on. No contest.)
What are the Free Will characters doing right?
Well, for one thing, the each of the fictions above relies on a group dynamic. Take the Wars, for example. Each forumgoer plays their own MC, plus any number of secondary/background characters. The story unfolds through multiple points of view, and each MC is free to react wholly according to their own personality, not stereotypical roles that others may place them in.
Firefly, on the other hand, is the product of one mind. (Anyone else find it interesting that Joss Whedon made both my least- and most-favorite categories?) But the result is the same – the series revolves around the lives of the passengers and crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity. Each character has a strong, distinctive personality, and each is an MC in their own right.
Basically, these characters were characters before they were love interests. I don’t think that the group dynamic always yields this type of relationship. Single-MC stories can also belong this category. Still, it’s interesting how much easier free will romance seems to become with a group dynamic…
As to why I’m fangirly for these relationships… Hee. When I first started reading the Wars, I thought, “Wow, Professor Zobot kicks ass!” Followed by, “Wow, Professor Tinker kicks ass!” At the Mad Scientist Awards, both players began to hint that there was mutual attraction. My brain’s response? Internal combustion after trying to imagine how much ass they could kick together. Fangirliness was the only possible result. ^^