Too often, I see people regard the Romance and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy (SFF) genres as oil and water. They just don’t mix.
SFF focuses on world building, exploration of galaxies or kingdoms, rag tag groups in search of adventure. Romance is often set in the contemporary and historical world, focusing on interpersonal relationships and individual characters.
SFF usually has high physical stakes: can they save the world? Romance focuses on high emotional stakes: will they be happy?
But honestly, Romance and SFF complement each other. As this article from Tor points out, romance is incredibly valuable in sci-fi and fantasy stories. It grounds the characters and gives them very human problems, problems that readers can connect with. It explores their emotional arcs and develops their character. It carries personal risk and conflict.
I particularly liked this quote in the Tor piece from K.S. Augustin, a SF romance writer:
“Romance is not merely about the kissing and the sex. Romance is about the psychology of the people involved and how they try to establish connections while the universe is against them.”
And, if you’re like me, it’s my gateway into the crazy world of magic and super technology. If I can latch onto a few characters and root for their epic romance, I can get through SFF without feeling like I’m drifting at sea.
Here are some of what I call beginner romance subplots in SFF for those who need a bit more grounding in these famously epic worlds (and universes):
Arwen & Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings
Oh, the double AA’s. The forbidden romance between a beautiful warrior elf princess and a human who is destined to be king.
It’s actually the most mundane part of either of their stories, even with the necklace of immortality thing that she has going on. It boils down to: her father said no. And interracial tensions. A nice change of pace from defeating the dark lord.
Leia Organa & Han Solo in Star Wars
Ah, a classic enemies-to-lovers trope. She’s a driven princess turned general of the galactic rebellion. He’s a ne’er do well smuggler and starship captain with a heart of gold.
Even with hyperspace travel and evil empires, Leia and Han’s relationship gives us insight into both their characters. We see Han trying to be better instead of his usual cut and run tactics. And while Leia continues to be her awesome self, but we do see moments of her being Just Leia instead of a princess or a general when she’s with Han.
Plus, who doesn’t roll their eyes fondly at this clutch-your-pearls piece of dialog:
L: “I love you.”
H: “I know.”
Trust me, it’s better in the actual movie.
Amy Pond & Rory Williams in Doctor Who
So many feelings with this pair. Often mixed with confusion at all the parallel universes and time traveling.
Rory is ultimately devoted to Amy. Classic childhood sweetheart, he literally follows the girl to the edges of the universe. He dies for her, multiple times. His love for Amy brings him out of his shell and uncovers a touch of heroism that no one expects.
And while we’re always wondering if Amy has feelings for the Doctor, or if she can turn away from her adventures, she ultimately chooses Rory in the end. She can be rash and selfish, but in the end she chooses a path that makes her happy even if it’s not in the TARDIS, because there’s only one Rory in all the worlds she visited.
Also that Centurion shot of him waiting by the box stabbed me in the heart.
Special Mention to: all appearances of The Doctor and River Song
River Song’s relationship dynamic is a bit different with each doctor, but you can’t help but love every episode that she pops up in. She’s fun, adventurous and has a head of wild curls which is especially great when juxtaposed against the more buttoned-up and cynical Doctors and adds equal chaos to the zany Doctors.
Thank god they have chemistry, because their romantic timeline is especially confusing!
Wade & Vanessa in Deadpool
Are superhero movies considered SFF? We’re going with it. Wade and Vanessa are just fun. They flirt, they joke around, and they are evenly matched. He proposed with a ring pop.
Vanessa is Wade’s whole reason for becoming Deadpool. He knows he’s going to die. He doesn’t want chemotherapy or whatever medicine the traditional doctors are offering him. Wade doesn’t want to have Vanessa watch him waste away. He wants to live a good life with her, wants to marry her.
So he tries out an experiment with a sketchy organization, it goes wrong and thus Deadpool is born.
Zoe & Wash in Firefly
Zoe and Wash aren’t even the main couple on the Serenity ship, but I think they bring a steady influence on the shenanigans that go down in this space cowboy series.
In this pairing, Zoe is the warrior and Wash is the jokester pilot. It’s a small ship, and conflict can flare up, especially when Zoe has to navigate her loyalty between her captain and her husband. But they’re a strong married couple, still very much alive and in love, and that’s refreshing .
Note: I did not include any couples from the epic Game of Thrones because (1) spoilers, (2) the drama, incest, dubious consent, oh my! and (3) I cannot promise you that anyone will get their HEA.
I also disregarded bad romantic subplots (because fridging the woman isn’t great romance!!!).
If you enjoy adventurous characters, look for stories featuring swashbuckler archetypes!