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So I've discovered that there's a whole genre now of romance sci-fi. The typical deal is that through some mischance a plucky young Earthwoman either gets abducted by a handsome alien stranger, or nurses him back to health when he crash-lands on our planet. Proximity leads to hijinks, and next thing you know it's wedding klaxons.

Very well. I fully support inter-galactic relationships. Here's my problem... Even if our alien beaus are humanoid, wouldn't the differences be enough to send their intended human fiancees edging nervously toward the airlock?

I'm not talking about nightmare-fuel aliens, or cthulhoid horrors. I'm positing we've hit the genetic jackpot and we get as close to human-looking aliens as possible. But wouldn't even those small differences be too much? Examples:

  • Alien beau has full-black eyes and transparent nictitating membrane eyelids. It looks like he's staring at you. With dead, doll eyes. Forever.

  • Alien beau has sharp, sharklike teeth. Scary.

  • Alien beau is perfect in all respects, except he's purple and smells like barely-overripe bananas. Or elderberries.

So, to summarize the question: Is the uncanny-valley effect too strong to allow humans falling for aliens?

Edit: There's been a lot of constructive thought here, for which I thank you all. The notions of Rule-34 vs uncanny valley; power as aphrodisiac; emotional ties overcoming the valley over time; gender-fluidity narrowing the valley; "reverse mermaids" ... these are all valuable insights. I think Green has hit the nail on the slightly-unnerving head:

Never under-estimate a human's ability to fall in love with something

Final note: reverse mermaids? Really? Really? I just don't know what to say...

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    $\begingroup$ To me, inter-species relationships are akin to zoophilia/bestiality. Even if both species are sapient, the analogy remains if there's too much of a cognitive level difference. Not to mention biochemical barriers ( tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NoBiochemicalBarriers ). This is a great divide you need to ford. $\endgroup$ – Locoluis Sep 16 '17 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Locoluis you have to warn people before you drop a TV Tropes link... Anyway, I'm going with the assumption that we're talking about cognitively equal basically humanoid species, though you do raise a good point that some will reject the notion instinctively. Speaking of biochemistry, our sex signals are largely emotional and visual. Another barrier to interstellar love may be that we don't emit the right pheromones! Similar applies to any number of species specific mating rituals. A human male lacks the antlers to attract the Moose-Women of Omicron Six, for instance... $\endgroup$ – akaioi Sep 16 '17 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ OK so she probably won't fall in love at first sight, but she may develop a relationship with the alien, learn to trust him, get used to the black eyes, etc. Also, if there are others like him, it will become the norm. $\endgroup$ – colmde Sep 20 '17 at 10:06

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Never under-estimate a human's ability to fall in love with something

As others have noted, some humans have fallen in love with sex dolls who definitely fall in the uncanny valley. Also, there's Stockholm Syndrome where a prisoner will fall in love with their captors. Also, all the aliens described in the OP don't match the criteria for what's human so they aren't really in the uncanny valley to being with.

We have humans who have fallen in love with cats, dogs, cars, swords, death...the list goes on and on. They will fall in love with basically anything that matches their criteria for something to fall in love with.

Further, keep in mind that physical appearance ends up being a very small portion of an emotional relationship. Sure, initial attraction is very important but after that falling in love comes down to emotional attachment. If this alien has emotional characteristics that the earthwoman values, then there's a good change she'll fall in love with the alien.

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The aliens are on the other side of the valley

Uncanny valley typically kicks in when something looks human but there are subtle things off that tell you it is not human. If an alien is trying to masquerade as a human then it will likely trigger. If the alien is not hiding their alien features and they are sufficiently alien enough then they can avoid the trigger while still looking mostly human. In your example with the purple skin, that alone would likely push them far enough away from being human that they could potentially avoid the valley.

The valley is not consistent person to person

The other thing to remember is that the Uncanny Valley varies person to person in both what will trigger it and how strong of a response it will trigger. So the alien could not be triggering a strong enough Uncanny Valley response in the human love interest, while all of her friends are absolutely creeped out by him.

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The Uncanny Valley is a very powerful force, but it can be overcome. A very straightforward example is that of sex dolls. For most individuals, these dolls sit square in the middle of the Uncanny Valley, and are highly offensive. However, the owners clearly like their dolls; some even claim to love them.

While I don't believe the nature of the Uncanny Valley is fully understood, I see it as a transient effect. It's job is to create an instantaneous revulsion to things that one should have a revulsion to in an evolutionary sense. However, once you get past that initial revulsion, it seems that there's room to be free of it. We find it disgusting that people have jumped into the coffin with their spouse, and yet the mere fact that they jumped in shows that their connection to that spouse was more powerful than the Uncanny Valley itself.

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Oh man, bring it. That is hot.

I actually think the scenario is not a problem. Maybe earth women are all secretly thinking Earth men are lame, and partner with them anyway. That could explain a lot. Like the current US First Family.

More to the point, certain alien features sell really well. Obviously some women would love enhancement of certain male body parts. Maybe the aliens have that. They might have oddities that improve upon humanity. Like superhuman strength, or be much better listeners than human counterparts. They might make a ton of money by virtue of being alien.

I see very little problem with the premise. Additional considerations are some humans are blind, deaf, etc, bypassing the issues of sight and smell.

In the interest of balance, the above applies in reverse gender roles and also in gender fluid ways. In fact gender confused or fluid individuals might find a sort of attraction to aliens that gender-binary individuals don't.

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    $\begingroup$ DPT, you raise a very interesting point: "gender confused or fluid individuals might find a sort of attraction to aliens that gender-binary individuals don't" I wouldn't have thought of that. Transgender space cowgirls blazing a love-trail through an unsuspecting, and now rather flushed and rumpled, galaxy... $\endgroup$ – akaioi Sep 16 '17 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ Aren't there rumors about certain women in history being in love with their steeds? That's a very uncanny valley. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 18 '17 at 21:46
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Uncanny Valley for you, rule 34 for them

Just because a thing is physically unattractive or unsettling to one person does not mean it will be that way for every person. Rule 34 will kick in at some point for some percentage of humans, regardless of how different or strange the aliens might appear.

Brains before beauty

There is more to attraction that just physical appearance, generally speaking. Some people are more interested in the body than the mind. Others are more interested in the mind / personality than the body. Everyone's different here. There are people who truly don't care about physical appearance when it comes to selecting for a partner. Generally speaking, everyone who is attracted to others and who has a "type" of some sort is going to place different things on some spectrum. Physical attraction, intelligence, sense of humor, shared interests, etc. all get marked on some subconscious selection grid that results in a Red, Yellow, or Green internal indicator. If your aliens show up "green" or even "yellow" for some percentage of people, those people will be attracted to your aliens.

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I think it can be overcome with decent writing or a captive niche audience. I find alien/ human sexual relationships strange because it does seem very bestiality-ish to me, but there are a lot of people reading these pairings eagerly in this particular brand of erotica. So clearly, this varies person to person. Perhaps I am species-ist and the people reading alien-human erotica are more enlightened. Either way, it's selling so it must not be a huge issue for most people.

(Also, as mentioned, this isn't really UV if they don't try to be human or are more than just a little "off.")

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It seems unlikely the girl would fall in love in the first place if the alien has an octopus face, so there is obviously some level of pre-filtering going on. If she is sexually/romantically attracted to him, there can't be much wrong.

Just fix your backstory, watch some Ancient Aliens. The Gods [Aliens] made Man [and woman] in His [their] image. They took the closest thing they could find (some lemur looking thing), and guided evolution every few hundred thousand years, tweaking the progress until they got something that looked like them. That's us.

Not only that, but they've done it thousands of times throughout the galaxy! Aliens everywhere that look just like us! (In fact this is much like the premise for a Star Trek Next Generation multi-episode epic; the reason all the aliens look pretty humanoid is an ancient first race in the galaxy, ten billion years ago, was alone, humanoid looking, and seeded the galaxies with their OWN DNA, everywhere! Then some hand-waving ensues and the mystery of why nearly all aliens look humanoid is solved!)

You don't have to bridge the uncanny valley, either the girl fell in love without caring, or there was nothing to care about, because the aliens are basically human beings from another planet. In your universe, the accepted science is a myth, self-serving and self-centered dogma that the aliens know Earthlings, when they grow up, will realize was all childish self-importance.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait, the aliens bioengineered the human race because they wanted dates? Well, there's something of the teenaged boy in all Mad Scientists, so why not. The implication here would be that humans will be jaw-droppingly attractive to the aliens. Imagine the design meeting: "So if we're going to breed up these lemurs into creatures like us, we should make them hot. I mean, why wouldn't we?" $\endgroup$ – akaioi Sep 16 '17 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @akaioi No, in the Star Trek idea they would have done it as a means of ensuring life like them existed everywhere, adjusted to the local environment --- They don't even exist anymore. It certainly wouldn't be unusual to do that; humans talk about colonizing other planets and star systems all the time, without being driven by any teenage hormones. Just the basic premise that more humans (or at least sentient beings), culture, creativity and accomplishment is all a good thing in and of itself, it is self-justified: Extinction of sentience bad! Survival of sentience good! $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Sep 16 '17 at 21:59
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Women are generally predisposed toward seeking someone higher up the power structure than they are. An alien is so far above a human, they'd be appealing almost by default, to many people. If they couldn't have a kid that might cause problems, but I imagine aliens could do some trick where they make a clone of the lady, and swap out half the DNA for theirs, I guess.

Gonna suck if they then find out that their new space-husband is an intergalactic street sweeper, eventually the situation may become normalized and they may regret rushing into things with the first alien they met, that could make for a fairly good arc.

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Women are naturally drawn to the mysterious, the unknown, the exotic, so as long as an alien is humanoid enough, they would actually be MORE attracted, not less. This goes for paranormal and comic book romances as well. Take the cult phenomenon "Twilight" for example, why do you think its so popular? If its that easy to fall for a sexy bloodsucker... What chance do the girls have against a dashing space explorer? Personally, I would much rather date Clark Kent than Edward Cullen any day.

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Most of your alien features hit more on phobias than the uncanny valley. Of course one persons phobia is another's fetish, so shark teeth or insect eyes may appeal to some!

The uncanny valley would apply to something trying to be human, but failing in a thousand tiny ways that trigger our subconscious revulsion of "the other". But this is a sloped response, some will respond strongly while others won't even notice. So a strongly inhuman feature may well jump right past the UV for most folks.

Consider our best real life at this, Valeria Lukyanova, the "human Barbie". In still photos she is quite deep into the UV, at least for meenter image description here but of course most of this effect is make-up or maybe even photoshop, since in motion she looks quite human youtube link to interview with her. So I suspect an otherwise normal appearing male, aside from one truly alien feature, would have little trouble finding a willing human female partner. What would really be a challenge is an alien male that looked as if it was reverse engineered from just a few photos and maybe a low res video of a man in motion. Inconsistent features that don't adhere to facial geometry, jerky movements, odd muscle tics, these things (think of the roach guy from Men in Black) would trigger a lot more revulsion in women.

I find it interesting that you focus on human women. Is it your assumption that human MEN have so few standards that the uncanny valley doesn't apply to them? :) Consider the classic mermaid/reverse mermaid

enter image description here

That this is even a thing strongly suggests that men would have "hit it" with an alien long before an UV femalien came along :)

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    $\begingroup$ I focused the question on women because the books I've seen lately all seem to have a woman protagonist and alien love interest. Looks like our civilization is still trying to work out this issue for women via stories. I daresay Captain Kirk has pretty definitively settled the issue for men... $\endgroup$ – akaioi Sep 18 '17 at 22:41
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As Anketam stated, the alien you described is on the other side of the Uncanny Valley. The UV comes from someone who looks so close to human that you you may have to give them a second glance to tell. Sometimes you don't even know consciously that the image isn't human but you feel something "wrong." There is a robot lady (really just a head and torso interface) that just creeps me out to look at or see it move.

There is speculation that just as we see symmetry of features as a sign of beauty (because those with more symmetrical bodes tend to be stronger and healthier) that, subconsciously, we may see those very minor differences as markers for genetic deformities. Thus, we may be hard wired to de-select those people as potential mates.

Of course, the UV doesn't affect everyone the same way and as Cort Ammon mentions, it can be overcome.

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Just get used to it

Uncanny valley is something we experience when we see a picture for 15 seconds, not develop a relationship. The human brain is very adaptive and can get used to new things relatively quickly. What looks weird in cold at first glance, and be warm and familiar after a week of interaction. Humans can learn alien mannerisms, alien facial expressions. As a human we would even start involuntarily mimicking them to make the alient more comfortable.

Even things that are not uncanny valley like cartoon characters are accepted because of culture. We are used to seeing them all the time. Anime girls look weird to people that have never seen them, and vert attractive to people as they get used to them.

As long as the alien does not trigger the human ideas of grotesqueness, you just need to give it a little time

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