Since this post will go live in the morning of Valentines Day, the so-called day of lovers much beloved by chocolatiers, florists, purveyors of tacky cards, and so forth, I figured it might be interesting to ramble a bit about how matters of love – and, more or less inevitably, marriage – work in SF and Fantasy.
Well, kind of. Because what shows up in fiction of any flavor including our favorite genres is sort of an idealized capsule of how the whole messy deal works. And it is exceedingly messy.
There’s also two definite strands to the mess: the one that covers matters of the heart (and the hormones), and the one that covers matters of law and culture. The two sides do not always work well together. The idea that there should be love between spouses is actually rather recent, and most certainly not universal, as is the idea that marriage can only be between one person of the male persuasion and one of the female.
There are certain cultural aspects that poke their nose in around that point, and insist that the whole idea is to make sure that babies are made and that the one protecting the babies and babymakers is actually related to the kid. And since, absent modern technology or equally advanced magic, it can be a challenge to tell if a kid was actually fathered by the person who thinks he’s the father where it’s a rare case that you can’t tell if the mother gave birth to her kid (again, absent technology or magic). If the kid got lost along the way all bets are off, of course, but there’s a reason why the cultures that did a lot of raiding also had a tendency to sequester their women. And marry a lot of them.
Heck, it’s not that long ago that polygamy of sorts was semi-accepted even in Western society. Wealthy and powerful men weren’t considered sufficiently ‘manly’ if they didn’t keep at least one mistress in addition to their wife (and we won’t even go into the cultures that followed the ‘a woman for heirs, a boy for fun’ idea. History is not a nice place even though it has a lot of idea-fuel).
So the ideas of love and marriage certainly didn’t “go together like a horse and carriage” until fairly recently, which also means there are tons of stories to be found in history. Some of the better historical romances use arranged marriages to bring their couple together and place the happily ever after where the couple actually come to love each other.
I’ve seen similar themes in SF and Fantasy, usually in the background or as subplots to the main action, and where they’re done well, they make the world and culture feel more alive. Or where they’re played for laughs they can break tension like nothing else.
Just so long as the hearts aren’t torn still beating from the body of your enemies and the flowers aren’t carnivorous… Oh, who am I kidding. I can think of several scenarios where that would definitely count as a romantic gift.