Thu
Feb 14 2013 11:00am

“As You Wish...” Eight Unabashedly Romantic SF/F Love Stories

Though we know in our heart of hearts that the true meaning of Valentine’s Day is all about brutal martyrdom, it’s a little disheartening that the common reaction to the holiday is often kind of cynical and negative. While we’re not recommending that you go read a Nicholas Sparks novel or spend a bunch of money on bad chocolate or greeting cards, we do wonder: what’s so bad about romance? Or to put it another way, aren’t we allowed to love good love stories? In that spirit, here are eight love stories in science fiction or fantasy narratives that still make us weak in the knees (even if those knees are robotic).

Phil and Rita (Groundhog Day)

Everyone’s favorite time-loop paradox movie is also, at heart, a love story, and an awesomely sweet one at that. If trapped inside of one eternally recurring day, would you use that time to learn as much about someone you loved as possible? Because that’s essentially what Bill Murray does in this movie. The movie is so damn funny that it's easy to forget how ridiculously heartwarming Phil and Rita's gradual romance truly is. Who hasn’t had a day with someone you like that you felt like you were living over and over again?

 

Logan and Jessica (Logan’s Run)

Despite all the various differences between the novel version and film version of Logan’s Run, the story is ultimately not just about Logan, but Jessica, too! Without the romance between these two, the story of Logan’s Run doesn’t make any sense. Jessica is essential to Logan’s transformation from weird future-lawman to a more sensitive and (in some versions) revolutionary person. The other nice touch about Logan and Jessica is that they’re very romantic and caring toward one another in spite of the hedonistic, amoral, and oversexed culture they live in. The idea that once they’re removed from all that, they manage to naturally fall in love strikes a rather optimistic note in the midst of all the dystopian turmoil surrounding them.

 

Jack and Ianto in (Torchwood)

Though there have been a lot of grand romantic moments in the contemporary Doctor Who universe, its misbehaving step-sibling Torchwood actually might portray romance more realistically. Captain Jack Harkness somehow went from being a lovable rogue on Doctor Who to being a kind of cynical, depressing, know-it-all asshole on Torchwood, at least at times. But, luckily Ianto Jones is there to turn that ship around. Yes, it’s terrible what ends up happening to Ianto (2010 spoiler alert!) but their genuine love for each other is part of what prevented Torchwood from becoming a relentless, brooding piece of dark matter hurtling through the Doctor Who mythos. Ianto and Jack, as a couple, are a massive bright spot in that world, and their relationship always seems real, relatable, and hot.

 

Han and Leia (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi)

It may seem somewhat rote, boring, and cliché to throw this one on a list all about love but beyond the palpable romantic sparks between these two, the tension is also damn sexy. When we were kids, there’s a chance the following dialogue exchange went right over our heads: “Being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited!” says Leia. To which Han responds, “Sorry, sweetheart, we didn’t have time for anything else.” How wonderfully bawdy is that? This may be the most suggestive moment in Star Wars, ever. (Right next to Anakin’s rant about sand in Attack of the Clones.) But seriously, from the epic first kiss between Han and Leia, to their stirring theme song, the pitter-patter these spaced-out lovers continue to incite is pretty impressive. We love them. They know.

 

Paul Atreides and Chani (Dune)

Though Dune is chock-full of people screwing each other over, it’s oddly nice how tight Paul and Chani’s relationship remains throughout all the chaos on Arrakis. Sure, there’s Princess Irulan, who wants to have Paul’s baby and is his legal wife—but that never really gets in the way of his commitment to Chani. In fact, both Paul and his mom—the Lady Jessica—go to great lengths to point out that he considers his true marriage to be to Chani and not Irulan. This sorta makes Chani like the space version of Madame de Pompadour (except she and the Queen are really not friendly, this time around). All in all, Paul and Chani are just a super solid couple. They get stuff done, ride giant sandworms, and they love each other. Oh, and in the respective film versions Chani is played by Sean Young and Barbora Kodetová, who are both incredibly hot.

 

Sheridan and Delenn (Babylon 5)

This couple probably doesn’t get the love their love deserves. Partly because Babylon 5 is often treated like the Ulysses of science fiction television: everyone pretends to know what it is, but few have actually sat down and watched all of it. Granted, Sheridan and Delenn have a very aw-shucks vibe to their relationship, owing mostly to Bruce Boxleitner’s shit-eating grin. But. It’s all pretty damn great. In the season 3 mega-finale “Z’Hadum,” Sheridan literally plunges to his death after his brainwashed ex-wife tries to turn him to the dark side. Sheridan then hangs out with a crazy being-from-before-the-dawn-of-time who knows even deeper magic than the Vorlons, who asks him if he has anything worth living for. The answer: Delenn. How nice! True love brings Captain Sheridan back from the dead! (1990s spoiler alert.)

 

Wendy and Peter Pan (Peter Pan)

We know, we know. Nobody wants to date someone with a Peter Pan complex, but Peter’s love for Wendy is nothing if not innocent. Also, we're sorry, but if someone flew into our childhood bedrooms and helped us escape our boring lives, we think we’d fall in love with them, too. Peter also shows a willingness to sacrifice himself for Wendy in a way that isn’t at all creepy but noble, in spite of his careless nature. Further, Wendy is no wide-eyed, boring ingénue, but a vibrant, smart heroine who gives Peter a run for his money. Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning, you crazy kids!

 

Westley and Buttercup (The Princess Bride)

Whether you’re referring to the book or the film, there is no doubt that this couple tops the list—they have the most passionate, purest kiss on romantic record! While your average match has their share of trials, Westley is (mostly) dead and still comes back to his beloved Buttercup because, according to him, even death can’t stop true love. (Have you ever had a significant other assure you of something that outrageous? We think not. It stopped Romeo and Juliet cold, after all.) They overcome an evil prince, a kidnapping and several murder attempts, but more importantly, they overcome their own misunderstandings. Buttercup is very young and they're both a bit too dramatic for their own good, but in spite of their own failings and the obstacles in their path, true love really does conquer all, in this case. As you wish, indeed.


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. 

Emily Asher-Perrin is the editorial assistant at Tor.com.

40 comments
Theresa DeLucci
1. theresa_delucci
I vote John Crichton and Aeryn Sun in Farscape. Such drama! Tears, guns, crackers, clones, breakups, reunions, a baby, a cancellation...
Emily Asher-Perrin
2. EmilyAP
I AGREE. Actually, I think the only reason they didn't end up on the list is because I automatically assume that everyone is already thinking John and Aeryn because obviously. Whoops on my part.
Odo
3. Odo
Nice list!

Today on my blog I've done something similar, but with examples taken from science fiction litererature instead of cinema:

http://sentidodelamaravilla.blogspot.com/2013/02/five-unusual-love-stories-for.html
Odo
4. pCiaran
The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold is romancy but not too overboard about it.

Also a whole range of couples in the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Favourite would probably be Val Con and Miri but Shan and Priscilla are very close. As are Daav and Aelina (I'm sure that's spelt wrong) and indeed Daav and Kamele (and Aelina I suppose).

And in tv land I would think Kira/Odo were good and also Worf / Dax.
Odo
5. Eric saveau
William Adama and Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica. Even if I didn't believe anything else that was happening onscreen (like parts of Season Three and much of Season Four) I always believed them. Honorable mention to Karl and Sharon Agathon from the same show, and for the same reason.

Rory Williams and Amy Pond from Doctor Who. They were believably loving and believably messed up at times; they seemed like a lot of normal couples in the real world, which is a tough thing to pull off in the TARDIS :-)

The above-mentioned John Crichton and Aeryn Sun, because duh.

Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin ( nee`Vorsoisson) Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold's series of novels. They were a clear perfect fit from the moment they met, and the comedy of errors that led to them getting together was both maddening and maddeningly convincing.
Stephen Dunscombe
6. cythraul
Peter's love for Wendy is nothing if not innocent.

You and I read very different books. I read a darkly-humourous horror novel about a thoroughly unbalanced unseelie fae, a predatory trickster who used and abuses everyone around him.

('"Tink can't go a twentieth part of the way round," she reminded him a little tartly.' Twentieth part of the way round /what/, Wendy? o.O)

(And when Wendy starts to grow up? He moves on to her daughter.)
Odo
7. Herb588
Wesley and Buttercup also survived RsOUS!

Robert Jordan was almost compulsive about pairing up the characters in The Wheel of Time, but two romances stand out: Suian and Gareth, whose story always seemed to have such an archetypal cast to it to me, and Nynaeve and Lan, who managed to stir me to tears on a regular basis.
Thomas Thatcher
8. StrongDreams
@Odo,
Yes this list should be titled "SF&F Romances in film and TV".
Dean Tucker
9. StoryCottage
I would also include Commander Adama and President Roslin from BSG.
Odo
10. Odo
@StrongDreams

It would certainly be much more accurate :)
Alex Bledsoe
11. alexbledsoe
What about Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers? Not only does Steve love Jaime (and eventually marry her), he muscles through the program that makes her, like him, bionic. And then, when she loses her memory of their love, he WAITS. He doesn't go crazy, or do something stupid. He waits, through the end of both their series, some pretty bad TV movies, and a cameo by Dave Thomas of "Wendy's" fame, for her to fall in love with him again. That's romance.
Odo
12. lainey
Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials.
How many people can say their first kiss changed the fate of parallel worlds?
Odo
13. Eric Saveau
I can't believe I didn't think of this one immediately - Zoe and Wash from Firefly! Tough warrior and amiable dork, an incredibly unlikely couple that the actors made utterly convincing.
Sandy Brewer
14. ShaggyBella
In the Fantasy genere I have always liked Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Joe Pendelton and Betty Logan had a spark that endured his reincarnation. Plus lots of romantic comedy along the way.
Mike Conley
15. NomadUK
alexbledsoe@11: You know, you are absolutely right! I'd almost forgotten about the six million dollar duo (what is that in 2013 dollars?), but, yes, it's a great love story. That Steve Austin: what a guy.

And Wendy and Buttercup aren't the only ones over whose true love Death holds no sway: let's not forget Conan and Valeria -- 'Do you want to live forever?' (Okay, en español, but you get the idea.)

And I suppose if you count self-love, nobody beats a HAL9000.
Chris Nelly
16. Aeryl
Wall-E and Eve. There is no movie without their love.
Matthew Schmeer
17. mwschmeer
Okay, I've never watched Torchwood or Bablyon 5. But of the remaining 6 on the list, only 1 deals with adults acting like adults--Phil & Rita in Groundshog Day. All the remaing 6 examples are of emotionally stunted adults acting like infatuated teenagers (except for Peter Pan, which is literally teenagers acting like infatuated teenagers). To a great extent of these are rehashes of Romeo & Juliet without the tragic endings. Even Han & Leia's onscreen courtship is more about pure sexual attraction than it is about romance--swelling love themes notwithstanding. When Leia says "I love you" when Han is facing possible death and he replies "I know," you are looking at a cocksure cowboy who is ill at ease at expressing affection. The movie novelizations & the EU flesh out their relationship into a more mature adult one, but in terms of what most moviegoers see on the screen, Han is NOT the guy you imagine yourself with for the long-term but the guy you want to date right now.

I'm going to have to agree with Eric Saveau, above: I can't believe the writer forgot Zoe & Wash from Firefly. Not only are they a love story, their story is a fully fleshed out, emotionally complicated committed adult love story because when we meet them at the beginning of the series they are presented to us as having been married for a long time (how long? who knows?) and they remain together as a couple until Wash's death in Serenity. They fight, they bicker, they give and they take but they never insult or hurt each other and the charcters are an excellent example of how idealized love should work in a relationship. Yes, they are hot and horny for each other, but they respect each other and each other's talents and help each other make the most of those talents. Their's is a story of self-sacrifice for the love of each other and, ultimately, in Wash's case, for the love of their commrades.

The fact that Whedon didn't make Zoe & Wash go through all the clichés of a love story (which is what we get with Mal & Inara AND Mal & the ship) makes this far and away the BEST romantic love story in visual popular media--ten times better then the whole soap opera love story storylines of Buffy, for example.

There's a good blogpost about this here (not my blog):
http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2011/01/zoe-and-wash.html

Again, I haven't watched Torchwood or Babylon 5, so maybe these two series do the same thing with committed couples and emotionally matured adults. I sure hope so.
Constance Sublette
18. Zorra
I'm so glad to see you put Delenn and Sheridan on the list. They -- and that incredible series -- do seem to have fairly dropped out of our consciousness.

I also am deeply touched by Ghost (1990), not to mention The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Love, C.
Odo
19. Nickels
Read this list, called my husband marvel that we hadn't realized the dude in Babylon 5 is Bruce Boxleitner. This led, of course, to Deep Space 9 talk, and we spent ten minutes making "gold-plated latinum" jokes.
Pernilla Leijonhufvud
20. Therru
I agree with mwschmeer @17 about Zoe and Wash, they are such a rare nugget of gold in the genre -- fully grown adults who prove that the spark doesn't end with marriage.
Amy and Rory are great too. They don't eactly start out as very mature in their relationship, but they certainly grow into their love and their marriage as their run progresses. I guess waiting and protecting someone for 2000 years will help... ROMANTIC OR WHAT.
Also, agreement with everyone who has mentioned Crichton and Aeryn -- starcrossed lovers indeed, but in the end they too grow up. And even though it takes them, what, four seasons to get there, the spark is undeniably there from their very first meeting.
Odo
21. lainey
Priya/Sierra and Tony/Victor from Dollhouse. They didn't get much screen-time and most of the time they don't really know who they are but they always found each other despite the brainwashing. Also, they beat the odds for a couple in a Whedon show, no tragic ending.
Odo
22. Megs
mwschmeer@17: I'm going to have to agree with you on that one - romantic does not have to always equal hormonal infatuation. I am happy to reassure you that Babylon 5 is a very nice example of a mature relationship - the show does a great job of addressing how to move on after the loss of a loved one, how to forgive someone you love when they betray your trust, and the strains (and advantages) of both partners being in powerful leadership positions.

I actually disagree with the suggestion that Wash and Zoe belong on this list, though. Although Firefly might have done a lot of things if it had been on the air longer, I feel like there's just not enough in the show about their relationship to classify it as a "love story." Yes, their relationship is a big part of the characters, and yes there is some exploration of tension in the relationship, but the story of Firefly is never about them falling in love, or falling out of love then falling back in, or even a longer and deeper focus on the relationship over time, and I think that's what you need to call something a love story.
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
@21, That story is awesome. It pulls you in the characters, before they are even close to becoming actualized characters, it is THAT good!
Odo
24. Cybersnark
Some others:

The relationship between Trip & T'Pol is as vital to Enterprise as any Federation-building.

Eureka 7 looks like a giant robot series, until you realize that it's actually a flat-out romance that just happens to involve a giant robot pilot.

Robotech gives us Max Sterling and Miriya Parino playing out their own Romeo & Juliet story against an alien invasion --and the Jack McKinney novels show how that relationship continues through peacetime, child-rearing, insurgency, and another interstellar war.

Karen Traviss' Star Wars: Republic Commando novels featured brilliant writing, and a love that could never be, between Jedi Knight Etain Tur-Mukan and clone commando RC-1136 ("Darman").

It may stretch the definition of SF/F, but what geek couldn't love Chuck's story of an awkward underachieving nerd Chuck Bartowski and the gorgeous superspy Sarah Walker, who saw what he really was.

And, one webcomic hit: David "Walky" Willis' Roomies/It'sWalky/Shortpacked universe gives us one-time superhero Robin DeSanto and Leslie Bean, who went from a "token lesbian" joke to a couple worth crossing universes for.
Odo
25. XenaCatolica
yes to "WALL-E" and also "Megamind"

Glad to see Babylon 5!
Risha Jorgensen
26. RishaBree
You can make an argument that this column is only talking about tv and movies, but otherwise, I have to agree with cythraul. In the book, Wendy is explicitly set up as Peter's adoptive mother (though there's an element of children's play to it), even though their relationship can also be read as romantic. Not instead of - in addition to. And then there's the nice bit at the end where he comes back for Wendy, and is driven into a rage and tries to murder her daughter when he discovers Wendy has grown up. Before he forgets all about Wendy and flies off with the daughter, IIRC. The whole book is kind of horrifying.
Odo
27. keoni
Pleasantly surprised that DUNE made it.
Odo
28. Shanna Swendson
I can't believe no one has brought up Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese from The Terminator. He traveled through time on a likely suicide mission just to meet her!

But for sheer, swoony romanticism, you can't go wrong with either the book or the movie version of Stardust.
Chris Nelly
29. Aeryl
Oooooh, I love Stardust. That's a good one! I catch flack from all my co-workers for my hatred of rom-coms, and am constantly told I am not a romantic b/c I don't like love stories. I keep telling them that I like love stories just fine, I just hate story where the love story is the ONLY reason the story has for existing, like Twilight. This compilation has given me some ammo the next time this topic comes up!
Melita Kennedy
30. melita
Sticking to movies/tv, I have a soft spot for the romance in Late for Dinner. Narrator and his brother-in-law are cryogenically frozen for 30 years. They head back from Los Angeles to find the sister and wife and daughter in New Mexico. A chunk of the movie is them encountering this crazy new world, but the love story is important. So what happens when the love of your life shows up after 30 years? While it's a happy ending as you might expect, it makes me cry every time.
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
TiMER, with Buffy's Emma Caulfield, and the sweet little dorky kid from Stick It who wasn't in Twilight. That's a story where's it all about the love story, but is still so incredibly funny and powerful that it can fill all the story.

In the future you can buy a device that will countdown to the exact moment you will meet your soulmate, provided they are wearing one too. What happens when your TiMER is still all zeroes? Or tells you that you will be in your 50's before you find your soulmate? How do you live your life, do you wait or do you try for love anyway?
Odo
33. MonsterAlice
Hellboy - most romantic movie ever!
Odo
34. Lsana
@26,

I'm only familiar with Peter Pan from the theatrical and movie adaptations, but even there, I have to agree with you guys. There seems to be a clear division between what Peter wants (a mother) and what Wendy's looking for (a boyfriend). There's no chance of a romance there. This isn't to say that Peter is a bad person or that he and Wendy don't care for each other on some level, but there's no way that it qualifies as an "unabashadly romantic love story."
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
35. Lisamarie
I also really love Zoe and Walsh, even though I was not as into Firefly as most people seem to be, I really liked that aspect -a normal, happy married couple. Who were also hilarious :) But I agree that they aren't really a 'love story'.

@24 - I really enjoy Karen Traviss's books and that particular arc. Even though she has a rather unique perspective on some things that don't quite jive with the continunity, overall I enjoy her books just as books.

Lyra and Will were sweet too :)

Another example I can think of is Richard and Kahlan in Sword of Truth (although to be quite honest, many aspects of their relationship annoyed the heck out of me, especially in the one book where they were led to believe the other had fallen in love with somebody else for the big climax).

Also, pretty much every Sharon Shinn book involves this in some way...
Odo
36. Elen
I've always felt rather sorry for Irulan. Despite her lack of page time, and the author's seeming dislike of her, she is not only rather sympathetic, but different from the other female characters too. She finds her own path, in the end. I should mention that it is rather sad that Chani starts as interesting character that soon develops into a person who can only think of Paul. (now he is just a ........)

Perhaps next year a post separating SF and Fantasy because each of them have very remarkable and memorable romances. Also, different posts for books and the screen?

I do like that there was at least one non-heterosexual couple mentioned.
Odo
37. octobercountry
Wait, did anyone mention Catherine and Vincent from the 80's television show Beauty and the Beast? Now THAT was a love story---and a very sappy one at that...
Shelly wb
38. shellywb
#37, you beat me to it. That was the first thing that sprang to mind, and I've not seen it since it aired.
Odo
39. Dianthus
Farscape and Wall-e, yes!
I'm a Spuffy fan. It's not hearts-and-flowers by any stretch, but they both do a lot of growing up in their time together. The sacred fire erupting from their hands in Chosen gets me every time.
Odo
40. David DeLaney
I'm just surprised nobody mentioned Kal-El and Lois Lane... or Gomez and Morticia Addams?

--Dave, "If only Lois knew / Clark Kent could see through her dress..."

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