book talk / geekery

Why are all the women on other planets gone?

Judging by the prevalence of alien cultures that are short on females in Science Fiction romance, I’d say this is a pretty popular trope for the genre. It is often the motivation provided for alien abduction scenarios—another popular SFR trope—but you’ll find it all over the place.

Recently, I was reading the New World series by C.L. Scholey when I tripped upon this trope and stopped to ponder it.  Possibly because the premise (enemies poisoned all the women on an alien world) is so popular.  Scholey takes her world-building far beyond that simple premise, but this is the part that got me pondering. Why do readers (myself included) go for this particular scenario?

Villains take note: killing off the women = bad idea.  
It seems villains everywhere are plotting to eliminate all the females of various worlds or races. Sometimes, though, killing only females seems overly complicated and the machinations required to make the scenario seem plausible can be exhausting. It can make you feel like Dr. Evil’s son in the Austin Power’s movie when he said “Why don’t you just kill him?… I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM…” I think maybe the specific reasoning an author constructs to support this trope is best left in the background, as it was in Armor, with other things like the battle for survival and the romance in the foreground. The more you try to explain the trope itself, the more attention you bring to it, the thinner it seems. As a reader I’d rather just suspend disbelief to enjoy the yummy goodness it creates.

Uh, we didn’t think we’d need girls.
But there are other reasons for the female shortage problem. In Laurann Dohner’s Cyborg Seduction and New Species series there are females but far fewer of them. It seems to make sense that if you are building or engineering a race of beings you might not choose to have as many females. All depends on what you’re creating them for and how or if you plan to make more. The book I wrote this year actually falls along these lines.  But I digress… races engineered for a specific purpose offers some common sense explanations.

So, why do readers love it?
This trope isn’t exclusive to SFR. It’s most recent gain in popularity in SFR may owe something to the rise and amazing success of the soul mate phenomena in paranormal romance. A cynical take might be that romance readers need extreme measures to believe that a hunkilicious hero would choose, and be faithful to, the ordinary heroine. That thought is a little too depressing for me. Instead I choose to think it is because readers find the idea of a hero who will truly value the heroine very romantic. She is his one shot (or at least a rare shot) at having a mate. Surely, he will think she is the best thing since sliced space bread. And isn’t that what we all want, to be better than sliced bread?

12 thoughts on “Why are all the women on other planets gone?

  1. In ancient times, even up to the time of the American Indian, it was common for men to steal women from neighboring tribes or lands, especially after they killed much of the male population. Women were good for trade and whether the people back then realized it or not, they were good for strengthening their gene pool with new blood.

    I’ve never been overly fond of ‘we lost all our wimmen and now we gotta get more’ scenario, but I agree it makes for extreme conditions that creates instant relationships. And in a romance, we hope that relationship witll be that one shot in a million that will prove to be true love. –At least it’s better than today’s reality tv shows that sets up those preposterous pairings with beautiful people.

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    • LOL – Not a fan of reality TV?

      Hey! – “strengthening their gene pool” – I like that idea. I think there is something workable in there. Because I can buy a population being endangered across the board – women AND men – much more easily.

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  2. What about groups that value male births over female? That can cause a shortage of women (and may be where China is heading right now. They are allowed one child and too many couples want that one to be a boy). I’m always amazed because how do these groups think they will get those boy babies without the girl babies? If a culture doesn’t value what women brings to a civilization, and there’s no place on the planet to steal some, then yeah, a shortage could occur. :-)

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    • I think that could be an interesting twist! There have certainly been many cultures through history that have valued boys over girls. I wonder what cultural changes it would prompt?

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  3. “It seems to make sense that if you are building or engineering a race of beings you might not choose to have as many females.”

    Why? I’m sorry but that sound extremely lazy or unimaginative writing to me.

    Surely a genetic scientist needs to have the most basic grasp of biology. If you don’t want a genetically engineered race to breed by itself, you should make them biologically sexless. Or better yet, engineer the women to be the warriors or whatever it is you need. After all, there’s no need for them to even be mammals. They just lay the eggs, and presto! Ready for combat again!

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    • I imagine it might be easier to modify an existing creature (humans) than to manufacture something of whole cloth. Making them sexless or egg-laying might be a good idea scientifically, but probably not helpful for science fiction romance. The genre typically requires a sexually compatible couple. Both this trope and the equally common trope of aliens capturing human females to mate (unlikely they’d be able to bear children together or even be physically compatible) are pretty thin and on the squishy-unscientific side of science fiction romance.

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      • “probably not helpful for science fiction romance”
        True.
        “The genre typically requires a sexually compatible couple.”
        It seems that space opera in general requires these, for angsty half-bloods if not for sex scenes. :)

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