The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romances

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for a good romantic arc in a story. I mean, come on. I’m a Macross fan, and Macross is about three things: fighter planes in space, pop music idols, and love triangles. Don’t get me wrong; I’m here for the explosions, more often than not. But ages ago, when I was a fledgling teenaged writer I noticed something interesting: as much I was watching Babylon 5 to see Sheridan lead his war against the Shadows and Earth, I was thoroughly invested in his relationship with Delenn. In reading the Robotech novels, I discovered, to my teenaged discomfort, that I had very definite opinions about how  the Rick-Lisa-Minmei triangle should play out– and so did all of my friends.

I think there’s a tendency to blow character stuff off in favor of “gosh wow” sense of wonder and action and plot. And that’s probably fair enough. If characters spend too much time staring into each other’s eyes and daydreaming/moping/whatever, you’re firmly in Lifetime and Hallmark Made for TV movie territory. But on the other hand, love launches a lot of ships and draws a lot of swords. It’s part of that visceral, human experience that lends truth to our fiction. What’s worth fighting for without love? What’s worth dying for if not love?

So with that said, here are a few of my favorites:

Macross Frontier

It’d be easy to make this a giant Macross column. Again. I’ve shed more ink trying to get people to watch Macross than I have on any other topic. Classic Macross is full of memorable romances: Max and Millia (Miriya), Hikaru (Rick) and Misa (Lisa), Roy and Claudia. Macross Plus gives us Isamu and the YF-19 Myung… But I’m not going to eat it up with Macross. So I’ll slim it down to their most memorable recent romance, Macross Frontier‘s pilot Alto Saotome and pop star Sheryl Nome.  It’s hard to put a finger on why it worked so well; it’s another link in a long chain of fighter pilot and pop star romances. But both characters grew convincingly over the course of both the series and movies with plenty of nuance, both addressing hurts from their pasts and coming to grips with their new place in life. The clarified love triangle of the Frontier films makes certain moments of the film’s end that much more gut-wrenching.

Battlestar Galactica

The modern reboot of Battlestar Galactica, is, in my opinion, something of a flawed masterpiece. I don’t know of any show in recent memory that could pull off cliffhangers like Battlestar did (“Earth…”), but the story is admittedly uneven. It had moments of genius and moments of idiocy. The Kara/Lee romance was one of those low points, stretched out over four seasons of soapy agony. I had a friend that was all about them, and I could never figure out why she cared at all. No, the show’s real emotional core lay with Admiral Adama, commander of the remnants of humanity’s military, and Laura Roslin, Secretary of Education made President by virtue of 150 people ahead of her dying. They butt heads initially– and frequently thereafter– but their arc has everything that’s missing from the Kara and Lee arc, including a few shreds of fidelity. I’m not sure if it’s the caliber of the actors or just good writing as far as these two went, but they brought warmth to a show about people running for their lives in tin cans.

RahXephon

When Ayato is rescued from an enemy occupied and dimensional bubble-encapsulated Tokyo, he not only becomes the pilot of the godlike giant robot Rah Xephon, he winds up smack in the center of a tangled web of relationships, both romantic and platonic. In a lot of ways RahXephon is a lot like Evangelion, but with less caricature on the part of the characters, and both that Evangelion DNA and fidelity to life make RahXephon‘s emotional and romantic arc one of the most satisfying in anime. The web of relationships is complex and occasionally angsty, but it never stoops to Evangelion‘s self-indulgent whining, and instead of ending with two people who hate each other as the new Adam and Eve, it ends with a revelation (and resolution) that make you sit back and go, “Ahhh. Yeah. I can dig it.” (Further detail is not forthcoming because I don’t want to spoil it.)

Awake in the Night Land

The original Night Land by William Hope Hodgson had a love story as its driving motivation. The narrator’s love, Mirdath, dies in the 17th century, but one day, the narrator awakens in a cold, distant future where all the stars have gone out and humanity is reduced to huddling in a single fortress city, the Last Redoubt, as alien horrors wait for its defenses to fall– which isn’t supposed to happen for millions of years. But when he hears Mirdath’s voice calling to him telepathically from another, unknown redoubt, he sets off to rescue her.

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with John C. Wright about The Night Land: For all its creative genius, it’s a horrible slog to read. Fortunately, John’s a superior author with a fondness for it, and Awake in the Night Land is a collection of novellas set in Hodgson’s universe. Not all are love stories, but the final story in the collection picks up Hodgson’s “love is eternal” thread and does something wonderful with it. (It also draws in Hodgson’s superior in execution, but inferior in imagination, The House on the Borderlands in an amazing way.)

Honorable Mentions

John C. Wright’s Count to the Eschaton series is likely to finish out strong in the satisfying romance department, but we’ve got a book to go yet. It’s sad to leave behind Sheridan and Delenn, but I wanted to get some print in here; it’s not all TV shows. There’s also Aragorn and Arwen in the The Lord of the Rings, but I feel like most folks are going to leap straight to Peter Jackson’s comparatively hamfisted treatment of the two instead of Tolkien’s bittersweet epic. And then, of course, as a Macross fan I do have to point out Isamu Dyson’s pure and unfailing love for his YF-19 fighter. Anyways, readers, what did I miss? Chime in in the comments.

 

  • Overgrown Hobbit

    Are these really the best SF romances you’ve ever read? Oy. With a side order of vey.

    • Well. I don’t usually go for “romance” as a prime draw. I like it, but as an element, not the main plot. So maybe I’m missing something wonderful somewhere, but when I was thinking about it, a lot of things that came were fairly forgettable. These are ones that invested me the most.