Here we are, finally to discuss the main drive of this subgenre. The romance, the ever-complicated love story between the hero and some inhabitant of the new planet. It was and it is a pivotal key to the main plot and the source of too many similar subplots, usually motivated by the presence one or more rival. It is also the main factor directed to a larger audience, usually not attracted by sci-fi stories. In the canon, we have the hero, his/her love interest (usually an important member of a local society) and an antagonist (again, some local VIP); can we do anything against the canon? Or this part of the plot simply couldn’t be modified?
I’m not talking about introducing easy variations here. The LGBT spectrum can be explored, of course, but this will not be a real change. I mean, starting with the Joe-Jean-Jack triangle to reach Joe-Jack-James or Jean-Jane-Joanne is just changing labels here and there. Our hero is an alien in the new planet, in the previous posts of this series (see below for the link list) we have explored at length a lot of possible difficulties he/she will have to face in the new world. So, what about cultural differences? The main character could find him/herself in real trouble to understand a society based on unknown values and traditions, not to mention even little differences in physiology.
I think that this part of the plot should stay strong in a modern planetary romance, no matter the kind of set-up chosen by the writer. Our hero needs and deserves something more than mere survival and his/her impact on the local culture may be important. So we must assume that love needs to be important even on planet X, that the power of emotions may find a way in an alien landscape. That said, aside from cultural references, what do we get to use to create anything different? Empathy could be a great ability to exploit in a story; a superior level of this ability can be used to overcome a lot of communication problems between our hero and its counterpart. On the other side, a manifest lack of empathy for strangers / aliens will function all against our main character – adding a strong layer of hostility toward him/her.
Writing a planetary romance implies to choose a number of shortcuts, useful to speed up the plot and to give more action and intrigue to the readers. That said, a modern take on this subgenre cannot avoid the romance element. With this in mind, we can work with the start of the relationship between our hero and his/her partner. What if our hero is being rescued from some loathsome beast, shortly after his/her arriving on the planet X? What about a very curious and independent partner, ready to take the stage 50-50 with the hero?
The triangle element in the plot is also unavoidable, in my opinion. So, what about the “other”, the rival in the love story? It will be interesting to show a real struggle between our hero and his/her counterpart, played on the battleground of feelings. The idea of a plot developed on two parallel lines, the first about action and the latter about the final choice of the love interest of the hero. This could lead to two different endings, with two quests for the our hero. To me, the appeal of a bittersweet ending, with only partial success for the main character, could be a very strong hook for the next book of the series (come on, we all know that there will be more than one novel!).
This post will conclude the series about planetary romance, I hope you liked the ride!
The Hero and the environment, here; the Hero and the local civilization, here;
the Hero and the new world technology, here; the brave new world, here;
the journey of the Hero, here.