There’s a scurrilous stereotype out there that speculative fiction writers are generally “bad” at romance, and particularly, this past Tuesday's hypnocapitalist courtship ritual commemorating the internecine religious violence of third-century Rome! Well, we’re here to crush this hurtful misperception and grind its bones for our bread. Here are five speculative books guaranteed* to render your loved one materially more inclined to ardorous concupiscence with you and your ooloi.
*Not at all guaranteed
Amanda Boldenow proposes Bloodchild by Octavia Butler
The Pitch: Humans have “colonized” a planet inhabited by giant arthropods, the Tlics, who invited us to stay (inside a fenced bit of land) after realizing what great host bodies we’d make for their incubating eggs. Gan, a human, has been groomed to be a host body for T’Gatoi, a Tlic government official, since his birth. On the night T’Gatoi is ready to impregnate him, Gan accidentally witnesses the birth of Tlic grubs out of another man and—shockingly—has second thoughts about the “honor” of playing grub host.
It’s So Romantic, Except: The Tlics were inspired by the bot fly, who lay their eggs in the wounds of other animals. While there’s a “love” story between Gan and T’Gatoi, maybe wait to read this if you’re considering procreating with your Valentine in the near future.
But They’ll Love It Because: It’s all about actively choosing the one you love, even if that choice comes with being eaten alive from the inside. And a fable of the oppressed forced to love their oppressor could inspire romantic candlelit conversation about smashing systematic racism!
Odds of Break-Up: High, if discussions that push comfort levels (or bring up blood) make you or your date bolt. But if you’re both down to discuss slavery, white privilege, and the parasitic nature of childbearing, well, invite us to the wedding!
Theodore McCombs recommends Dinner by Cesar Aira
The Pitch: A lonely, bankrupt bachelor dines with his mother and a rich friend who collects freakily outsized antique toys. He returns home depressed and turns on a bad cable access news show. Suddenly: the dead rise and start killing everyone.
It’s So Romantic, Except: When the living dead rampage through the small Argentine town, graphically slurping brains from sleeping families, maiden aunts, and high school prom-goers.
But They’ll Love It Because: Aira doesn’t hold back on the zombie apocalypse, but when the townspeople figure out what quiets the unquiet dead, the novella abruptly becomes (and this is an abrupt book all around) a moving fable about a community’s relationship to the past.
Odds of Break-Up: Low! Two out of five uncannily detailed wind-up toys. (It’s short.)
Price: $10 in paperback. (New Directions, 2015.)
Lisa Mahoney proposes Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson (Book I of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever)
The Pitch: Thomas Covenant, a troubled misfit from our world, awakens in another world, The Land, convinced he is having a delusion. He refuses to agree to be the savior that denizens of The Land believe he is, and behaves despicably.
It’s So Romantic, Except: Covenant is an outcast leper from a cynical time who commits a particularly ugly rape of the young girl who helped cure him of his leprosy. He spends much of the rest of the novel either behaving like a jerk or paying for his crimes.
But They’ll Love It Because: It takes digs at overly-serious High Fantasy while indulging in it. Covenant with his “wild-magic” is the only man who can overcome Lord Foul.
Odds of Break-Up: You better read it yourself first, and then, knowing your date, decide how it would go over.
Price: This series was a formula-busting fantasy in its day, and is now an acknowledged classic. Dozens of paperback copies are available on Amazon for a penny + postage. Or find it in the library.
CS Peterson proposes Tethered by Mercurio D. Rivera
The Pitch: Two young girls come of age on Titan: Carla, a human, and Beatrix, her Wergen playfellow. They dive for purple perpuffers, build sandcastles on the shores of methane lakes and dream of their future partners. But neither human nor Wergen romance is all it's cracked up to be.
It’s So Romantic, Except: Wergens mate by means of a cranial tether, by which the genetically dominant partner completely absorbs the other’s body. Sadly, Beatrix turns out to be the passive member of her pair. Carla, meanwhile, gets engaged to a control freak who doesn’t like Wergens. Carla, constrained by her fiancé, can only helplessly and infrequently watch as her friend Beatrix is slowly absorbed by her spouse.
But They’ll Love It Because: There's a sweet ending about the continuity of those we've lost in those who remember them, made uncannily literal in this case.
Odds of Break-Up: High. “Cutting the tether of two mated Wergens results in an instantaneous loss of identity followed by a rapid and painful death.” Hopefully, you can end your date without such disastrous results.
Gemma Webster proposes The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
The Pitch: Overnight Desiderio’s town seems to have been transformed into a magical kingdom. The hallucinations are brought on by the evil genius Dr. Hoffman, who has created a machine that frees people’s minds of reason. Desiderio’s city descends into madness as citizens are bombarded by their darkests fantasies. A mass suicide of townspeople forces Desiderio to set out to assassinate Dr. Hoffman, who is drawing him onward with sexy visions of his own daughter Albertina.
It’s So Romantic, Except: This book is not for the faint-hearted. There’s depictions of rape (even the rapist get raped), mass slaughter, cannibalism... pretty much every human darkness you can imagine, and more, because Angela Carter has an amazing (terrifying) imagination.
But They’ll Love It Because: The prose! This book is a subversive metafiction, highly feminist and imaginative like nothing I have ever read. It's an astounding book.
Odds of Break-Up: Medium-High. Dense prose and uncomfortable subject matter makes the book feel longer than it’s 220 pages. This book, like most groundbreaking art, is not for everyone.
Price: $11.82 new on Amazon or used for $0.50 plus $3.99 S&H. (Penguin, 1972.)