Science fiction doesn’t normally conjure images of passionate embraces or longing looks. It’s more often associated with deep space adventures or hypothetical quandaries. Of course, there’s the famous sci-fi couples of TV and moviedom–Han Solo and Leia, Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, Adama and Roslin, Captain Kirk and half the universe–but epic love stories in sci-fi novels are fewer and farther between. Perhaps this is because we can project how societies, relationships, families, and sexuality might evolve, but it’s hard to imagine a different way to love. As a hardcore sci-fi nerd with a secret penchant for rom-coms, I thought I’d compile a list of some of the best and most recent sci-fi books that explore the enduring power of love. More specifically, books where romance is at the beating heart of the story and not a sidelined note on the periphery.
I’ll start with one of my personal favorites from last year, Will McIntosh’s Love Minus Eighty (RUSA’s Best Science Fiction Pick of 2013). Set in the 22nd century, the book explores in vivid and believable detail, the vagaries of fate, the long dark days of heartbreak, and the compromises and conditions of love. Love Minus Eighty follows multiple relationships but the heart of the novel is the improbable yet utterly delightful love affair between an impoverished musician, Rob, and the woman he accidentally killed. Her death is not final as she’s placed into a cryogenic dating facility and becomes a â€œbridesicleâ€ waiting for a wealthy man to rescue her. Rob’s decision to stop at nothing to be with her provides not only a multitude of entertaining plot twists but also a passionate love affair to rival any romance book.
Max Barry’s Lexicon (2014 Alex Award Winner) is a love story wrapped in a high-octane adventure suit. The story follows two seemingly unrelated individuals, Emily Ruff and Wil Parke. Emily is recruited early on in the novel by a secret organization who takes her innate talent at persuasion and molds it into a precise weapon. Wil is apparently one of the few people on Earth entirely resistant to these methods. Barry’s exploration of the power of language to coerce, to reveal, to hide, and to kill is both terrifying and intriguing. But it’s his larger message of the power of love to triumph over all that ultimately makes this a love story for the ages.
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill (2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults) is that rare gem of a science fiction novel where time travel is not merely a gimmick but an integral part of the thematic arc . In the present, Em and Finn are prisoners in a military base tortured relentlessly by someone called the Doctor. Em finds instructions from herself to go back in time and kill someone they both once knew and loved. In the past, there is Marina and James, the former hopelessly in love with the latter. The ways in which these four lives intertwine is both unusual and heart-breaking. Although readable as simply a thriller, the story is founded in the choices we make because of and in spite of love.
Never Let Me Go By Kazuo Ishiguro (2006 Alex Award Winner) is a moving novel that is best read with little knowledge of the content. That said, the novel revolves around a trio of friends, Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy who attend a boarding school named Hailsham. It becomes quickly clear that this is no ordinary boarding school despite the fact that the children and their adventures seem quite mundane. As the three friends grow up, their relationships become more complicated and love and heartbreak ensue. One of the driving questions in the novel is what makes us human? A soul? The ability to love? These questions and their answers will haunt you long after the book is done.
I’ll end with The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which I quite simply adored if nothing else because it posits that there will be gay people in the future. As my fellow Hub blogger, Chelsea Condren, so eloquently stated in a previous post, there are few YA dystopias written with GLBTQ protagonists. The Summer Prince provides us with a refreshing view of a future where sexuality is far more fluid than in our present. The love triangle at the heart of the novel is nuanced, believable, and compelling (another rarity for YA). Johnson writes beautifully of the sheer sensuality and dizzying depths of first love while also managing to provide insightful commentary on everything from race to class to political power struggles.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are countless YA dystopias that include a romantic element. What sets the books in this post apart is their commitment to exploring the many intricacies and interpretations of love. And while they may not imagine a new way to define or envision how we love another, they do acknowledge the presence and power of love in determining so much of the ways we interact with each other. Let me know of any stellar examples I may have missed! And Happy Valentine’s Day for those that celebrate it!
~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Red Rising