Monday, January 21, 2013

Engineering Love: What Difference Would It Make?


In her recent PhD thesis on science fiction (which can be downloaded from here), Laura Wiebe writes that:
the boundaries of science fiction, as with any genre, are relational rather than fixed, and critical engagements with Western/Northern technoscientific knowledge and practice and modern human identity and being may be found not just in science fiction “proper,” or in the scholarly field of science and technology studies, but also in the related genres of fantasy and paranormal romance.  (iii)
According to Wiebe,
Science fiction becomes one of many possible ways of framing and iterating the narrative of romance, and romance becomes a way of framing science fiction; the paranormal frames and is framed by both. (40)
and, she argues, in the Ghostwalker series Christine Feehan
ends up, intentionally or not, narrativizing a kind of intercourse between love and technoscience, romance and science fiction, demonstrating what can happen when issues more at home in feminist science studies and science fictions get channelled through popular paranormal romance. (40-41)
To be more specific,
As paranormal romance, this tale may be too romantic to sit comfortably in the midst of orthodox science fiction, but it takes on some of the work that science fiction tends to do.
However unsexy technology may or may not be, and however much the series emphasizes sex and love, technoscientific possibility lies at the heart of Lily and Ryland’s relationship, and this is the case for the other heteronormative romantic leads as well. Psychic enhancement and subjection to the scientific quest for knowledge is not just a commonality between the men and women but possibly also the source of their emotional and physical connection. Appropriately for the romance genre, the attraction between Lily and Ryland, and the other pairs as well, is intense and irresistible – as romance critics such as Linda Lee have noted, “destined romantic partners” are prevalent in paranormal romance (58). Uncharacteristically, in the Ghostwalkers series we repeatedly face the likelihood that this attraction is genetically engineered. (57)
and,
despite the romantic resolution that each narrative works toward, along the way, the repeated implication and growing certainty that the lead couples’ feelings for each other have been technoscientifically enhanced raises anxieties about the natural integrity and trustworthiness – the truth – of sexual attraction and love. In an attempt to deal with feelings of being manipulated, several lovers tell themselves and/or each other that Whitney might be able to engineer their sexual attraction but not their love, the way they so quickly come to care for each other so deeply. But ultimately, the characters’ unions and marriages assert a claim, voiced earlier by Ryland, that true love and passion transcend their origins: the experienced reality of emotional and physical attraction (and, as I suggested, there is some attempt, in the novel to distinguish the two) overrides any uncertainties about where such feelings came from or how they came to be (whether natural or constructed). As Ryland asks, “What difference would it make?” (Shadow Game 174). ‘Felt’ emotional truth is all the truth they need. The nature/technology binary is brought to the surface here and never fully resolved. (59)
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Wiebe, Laura, 2013. Speculative Matter: Generic Affinities, Posthumanisms and Science-Fictional Imaginings. Ph.D. thesis from McMaster University. [See in particular pages 37-71 on love, romance and Christine Feehan's Ghostwalkers series of romances.]

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