Automatic Coupledom: Or, “This is Not a Love Story”

One thing I dislike is when the male and female lead of a book/show/movie inevitably become a couple. I loved the early seasons of the X-Files (after moments in early episodes with Gillian Anderson wearing less clothes than on-duty FBI agents usually do, but the same not happening to David Duchovny) was that the two main characters were co-workers with a sense of professionalism. They were not (yet) fated by the writers to be together just because of their respective genders.

Give the same situation to any two same-sex FBI agents in another film or TV show and viewers rightly wonder: “Wait, how long have you known this person?”, “Erm, what do you see in this person, exactly?”, “Are you so badly written that you only know the people who appear on screen – or do you have a larger life of family, dates, acquaintances, things you do when you’re not working, musical tastes, childhood memories, etc.”

This is the kind of unquestioned writing assumption I like to take apart in my science fiction. Would a person with a social circle of five or eight people of the same sex (because they’re all co-workers on an isolated planetary frontier) fall for someone they ordinarily wouldn’t date? After how long? Why – how would that sound inside their own head? How would complicating factors of one kind or another (including different orientations, new temporary staffers, the obligation to raise children together) change that? (Starting with: “Hrm, we’re all co-workers and breaking up with one or more of them might make this place unlivable.”)

My novelette “This is Not a Love Story” (in Black Denim Lit) takes a situation that ought to create romance in popular culture – two soldiers alone on a ship – except that they’re both male and straight. Instead it’s a story about traumatic bonding and, in time, romantic friendship. These are the same two soldiers in “Searching” and “Planet 50” (and they’re there, offstage, in the background in “No Woman, No Plaything” and “Planet 38”. My other stories set in this same universe play with other possibilities: two castaways who fall in love in “Life on Earth” (perhaps because of an alien life form, one of the only non-terrestrial candidates for sentience in this universe), two male co-mothers in “The World in His Throat” (in M-BRANE-SF’s anthology) Things We Are Not, and the protagonist of “Nightskyman Hope” who ignores (reasonably and realistically) the spouse-to-be who appears on the last page. (Yes, Steven’s two friends are “The World in His Throat”’s Olaf and Pursell.)

So read “This is Not a Love Story”, then “Searching”, then “Planet 50” – and come see my play about the same two soldiers (and their far-future clones) July 15-24, 2016 at The Players’ Ring in Portsmouth, NH: “The Other Two Men”. Or read them in reverse order, or read “Planet 50” after reading “No Woman, No Plaything” or “Planet 38” – each path will change the stories and show the people in them in a different light.

So do they, automatically, belong together?

-Lisa Shapter


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