In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write a few posts about science fiction romances. Pretty much every book I write has at least a little bit of a romance element to it, and I thought it might be fun to write about some of my inspirations. If I asked you to list your top five tragic but beautiful romances from science fiction television, who would be on your list?
Going chronologically, I’m going to start in the 1960s when science fiction television was just starting to take off. The big ground-breaker of that era was Star Trek, and when it comes to tragic romances, there are plenty to choose from. These days many of our television programs come in serials but back then the episodes were standalone one-shots. If a character had a love relationship but a person who wasn’t a main character, they had to get rid of them at the end of the episode. That meant a lot of the stars’ girlfriends got “whacked.” The Cartwright boys on Bonanza had particularly high body counts.
There is a joke about the original Star Trek that the characters in red shirts usually got killed. I think I made a joke about Captain Kirk’s girlfriends having similarly high body counts, but there were really only three that I would really count.
Edith Keeler, on “The City on the Edge of Forever,” was a social activist in the 1930s. Kirk fell in love with her when he had to make an emergency trip to the past. He fell in love with her, discovered she was destined to die, and had to stand by and watch it happen when he could have saved her. In an original draft of the Harlan Ellison script, Spock told the grieving captain that no woman had ever been loved like Edith Keeler because he had nearly sacrificed a world for her. I recently bought a really good painted graphic novel based on Ellison’s original script. Here’s some product placement. (No, they’re not paying me. I need to find an affiliate program to join though.)
In “The Paradise Syndrome,” Kirk lost his memory and married a Native American woman on a primitive planet. She was pregnant with his child when she died. In “A Requiem for Methuselah,” he met a beautiful android girl who was on the verge of coming to life when she died of a broken heart. Kirk was so crushed that Spock had to perform the Vulcan mind meld on him to make him forget.
Those were the only three Kirk relationships I would really call romantic, but he had a lot of lady friends.
Ironically, the Star Trek romance I still find the most emotionally touching is one that didn’t involve Captain Kirk, and the girl didn’t even die. Spock, the logical scientist, is sprayed with spores that cause him to drop his guard and fall in love. The entire crew deserts the ship to live in “happy land,” but Kirk finds a way to reverse the effect. Spock comes to his senses and has to break up with the girl. (At least he thinks he does. His father married a human girl. Why couldn’t he? Because he had network executives breathing down his neck, I guess.) This is the break-up scene. For a guy with no emotions, old Spock is actually pretty tender with her.
It was the last line of this episode that really got to me. Kirk commented that Spock had been pretty quiet about his experiences. “I have nothing to say,” Spock tells him, “except that for the first time in my life, I was happy.”