I attended a wedding last week, and it got me thinking about the institution of marriage in science fiction and fantasy. I frequently run into stalwart captains and noble queens who are single by either choice or tragedy. I also see a number of couples, but I confess I don’t run into all that many marriages, and certainly even fewer weddings. Maybe that only means I’m reading about a bunch of loners, but it does not show up as often as I’d expect.
Still, it’s not entirely absent. There actually are a number of marriages, and while some are the humdrum union of old sweethearts, I’m more interested in the marriages that can only occur in a science fiction or fantasy setting, or at the very least, that won’t happen in our world today.
Given that last week’s wedding was an interracial marriage – my long-time friend is black, and his bride is white – I thought I would start with some similarly mixed marriages. Perhaps the most famous is that of Spock’s parents, his human mother Amanda and his Vulcan father Sarek. Another of my favorites from SF is the union of Babylon 5’s Captain Sheridan and the Minbari Ambassador Delenn. Rather than focusing on their progeny, we got to see the culture clash play out in their courtship. (One word to my fellow Babylon fans: Woohoo!)
On the fantasy side, Lord of the Rings had Aragorn marry Arwen with hints of half-elf children in their future. I’ve seen a few human-demon pairings as well as human-vampire pairings, but very few actual weddings. (Sorry, I’m not aware of anything called Twigh Lite.)
These all tend to be humanoid to humanoid pairings. I don’t know if that’s a lack of imagination, a lack of effects/makeup budget, or a simple limit on what parts match up with other parts.
Then we get into different kinds of marriage. Heinlein was all over this with both line marriages in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and group marriages in Friday. Some of these were meant to preserve property, while others were simply a raised finger to the institution of monogamous marriage.
I’ve also run into time-delimited marriages from several different authors. C.J. Cherryh’s Ateva, particularly their nobility, marry for reasons of political alliance, and those marriages come and go with shifting loyalties. Kube-McDowell’s Quiet Pools showed me contractual marriage with and without options for child-rearing.
Sharon Shinn’s world of Samaria had angels living amongst humans, but angels were forbidden to marry angels. Instead, angels always married humans, but even then, it was often a more open marriage, particularly for the male angels. You see, an angel-human pairing could produce either human or angel children, but since successful angel births were rare, male angels were spreading their seed far and wide. I’ll let you read the books for the messy details of when the god Jovah would choose the Archangel’s spouse – not always a match made in heaven.
I’ve also run into SF societies that completely divorce, so to speak, marriage from reproduction. The merchants of C.J. Cherry’s Merchanter’s Union did not really marry. The woman would have sex with men from other ships, because their own ship was filled with family. Children were not raised by mother and father. Rather, they were raised by mother and aunts and uncles. The demons in my upcoming Hell Bent have similar family lives for very different reasons.
A world I imagined had a society made more intellectual than emotional by computer implants, and marriages were based on intellectual harmony with no regard to physical or sexual chemistry. Choosing a sexual partner was done via genetic analysis, and potential partners approached the selection with about as much emotion as we would choose a lab partner for class. Child-rearing was quite different, of course, but the implants allowed early intellectual maturity, long before the body reached adulthood.
Now, if that hasn’t completely detonated the nuclear family, I’ve heard of even stranger arrangements, where the aliens in question were sentient symbiots, so simple pairings were by definition group marriages. Taking it further, there are some fictional races that live in between individual sentience and shared hive minds, so the notion of marriage for love vs. arranged marriage is dropped into the conceptual blender and thoroughly pureed.
These days, marriage is a political hot potato here in the US with the ongoing debate over gay marriage, but I would like to think that in the future we’ll at least be able to talk about marriage without invoking Nazis or the end of civilization. After all, it’s all about finding the symbiotic hive mind of our dreams, right?
So how about the rest of you? What’s the wildest concept of marriage you’ve run into in SF or fantasy?