The holiday season has officially begun, and of course the holidays are a time for families. But science fiction and fantasy readers know that families come in all shapes and configurations. Here are 30 of the most wonderfully alternative families in science fiction and fantasy.
Please suggest your own in the comments—I have a feeling we’ve missed a lot of great examples here.
1) The Xenogenesis Books by Octavia Butler
We could be here all day long listing weird methods of reproduction, but this one is well worth including here. The survivors of humanity join together with the alien Oankali, who have three sexes: male, female, and ooloi. All three sexes are needed to reproduce, and all reproduction must include the ooloi. Soon enough, the remaining humans find themselves becoming part of human/Oankali families.
2) The Andrea Cort Books by Adam-Troy Castro
In Adam-Troy Castro’s awesome novels, the tough-as-nails Andrea Cort gets into a serious relationship with the Porrinyards, who is a single person with two bodies. The Porrinyards started as two separate people, but is now linked cybernetic and has one identity. They get together in the first novel and— yay!—don’t immediately break up or have a tragic end in the second. Instead, there’s an awesome threesome... and some hints that Andrea Cort might eventually join their cybernetic link. (Dear publishing industry: Please publish more of these books! Kthxbai.)
Religious headmistress Clarice Willow is part of a legal, though rare, polygamous marriage involving at least four husbands, three wives and assorted children. The family was also clandestine members of a monotheistic cult/terrorist leaders of the Soldiers of One.
The Cullen family have all been “adopted” by Carlisle Cullen, and live together as vampiric vegetarians (eating only animals). Although the Cullens are not biologically related, they are fiercely loyal and protective of one another, maintain various faux relationships like “sister” and “uncle” to avoid outside suspicion, and move every few years so that their agelessness is not apparent.
5) Small Wonder
The Lawson family passed off android V.I.C.I. as their adopted daughter, and she interacted as a member of the family. However, the Lawson’s nosey neighbors were suspicious of the odd child who took everything so literal while sleeping in a cupboard.
6) Star Wars
If you consider the entire army of Clone Troopers to be part of Jango Fett’s extended family, then you end up with a pretty unusual family unit. And then there’s Jango’s cloned son Boba, who winds up going into the family bounty-hunter business. Not to mention the Skywalker twins, with their unusual adoption—one kid goes to his aunt and uncle, the other kid goes to the royal family of Alderaan.
7) Third Rock from the Sun
The Solomon family are actually a group of aliens sent to earth to report about life on Earth. Although the aliens aren’t actually related, their cover identities force them to work together, and they come to seem just like a regular family, complete with insane bickering.
8) The Powerpuff Girls
Professor Utonium wanted to create “the perfect little girl” with a mixture of “sugar… spice… and everything nice” but the accidental addition of Chemical X resulted in three highly unusual supergirls. Now the professor and his daughters live as a normal family, navigating school and sibling rivalries, while also keeping their home of Townsville safe from a variety of villains and monsters.
9-11) The Munsters/The Addams Family/The Gruesomes
Pop culture is full of these creative/weird monster families, in which everybody is a bit... different.
12-13) Superman and The Sarah Jane Adventures
Pop culture is full of humans who adopt alien children as their own. The Kent family adopts Kal-El, renaming him Clark Kent, and raising him with good Kansas values. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane Smith is constantly taking in strays, including the genetically engineered Luke and the alien girl Sky.
14) Secret Six
Gail Simone’s brain-splatteringly awesome comic about supervillain team-ups includes a weird love triangle—Scandal Savage, the daughter of immortal caveman Vandal Savage, is in love with Knockout, a statuesque redhead from Apokolips. But after Knockout dies, Scandal takes up with Liana, a statuesque redhead stripper who looks a lot like Knockout. Later, Knockout comes back from the dead, and Scandal is torn between the two women, so in the final issue of the previous series—spoiler alert—she proposes marriage to both of them. But the Secret Six, even in the New 52 version, are still a big weird family.
15) My Faith In Frankie by Mike Carey
Similarly, in Mike Carey’s great graphic novel —which you should hunt down if you haven’t read it yet—Frankie has a god named Jeriven looking out for her, but meanwhile she has a romance with Kay, a beautiful girl. And in the final issue—spoiler alert!—it turns out Jeriven is in love with Frankie too. How can she choose between a god and the girl of her dreams? She can’t, so she doesn’t.
16) The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
The Royal Family in Roger Zelazny’s series is huge and sprawling, and they communicate via tarot cards. King Oberon has had tons of children by nine different women.
17) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The turtles have lived as brothers for decades, with Splinter as their father figure, but according to the new comic book series from IDW, they are all, in fact, biologically related former humans.
18) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
You could be here all day trying to explain Buffy’s family arrangements, most notably her fake sister Dawn. But also her surrogate dad Giles, and her small army of quasi-sisters, the Slayers.
In essence, Peter Bishop has two daddies: there’s Walternate, his biological father, and then there’s Walter, the father from an alterate dimension that kidnapped him as a boy, and that he actually lives with.
In the Futurama direct-to-DVD movie The Beast With a Billion Backs, a planet-spanning alien from another universe begins a relationship with every organic being in the entire universe.
21) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
At one point, all the grandparents are seen in bed together.
This one might not qualify as “wonderful,” exactly. Scientist super-couple Clive Nicoll and Elsa Kent genetically engineer a daughter, Dren (an anagram for “nerd”), who communicates with Scrabble tiles—at one point, she rearranges her letters from “outside” to “tedious.” Take that, mom!) Clive sleeps with her, and Elsa’s determination not to be her own crappy mother causes her to surgically remove Dren’s stinger. In turn, Dren seeks revenge by impregnating her own mother, and we learn that having children to correct the mistakes of your parents is a fundamentally evil concept.
23) The Fantastic Four
Whenever someone creates a copy of the FF (like The Incredibles, or the First Family in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City) they’re usually all related by blood or marriage. It’s easy to remember that the Fantastic Four are only half blood relatives. Sue and Johnny are brother and sister, and of course Sue is married to Reed. But then there’s Ben Grimm, who’s as much a member of the family as anybody despite being completely unrelated. Their family has also more or less adopted She-Hulk, She-Thing, Black Panther, and assorted others, over the years.
24) Star Trek: Enterprise
Dr. Phlox has three wives, each with three additional husbands of their own.
25) Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
When Consuelo Ramos travels forward in time via a kind of astral projection, she finds a utopian future in which men breastfeed and children are conceived in laboratories, with random genetic attributes. Every child has three parents, who may be male or female. All children are housed together in nurseries. Also, monogamy? Out the window, as in so many utopian 1970s novels. (There are plenty of novels where children are grown in laboratories or “uterine replicators,” including Brave New World and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels.)
26) Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Valentine Michael Smith has a biological father and a legal father, and one of the tenets he expounds is non-monogamy and fun orgies. In fact, all of Heinlein’s “Future Novels” go into great detail about Lazarus Long’s incredibly complex family — including two clone daughters and a time-traveling sojourn with his own mother.
27) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
One of the most famous examples of alien family structures, this novel involves the people of the planet Karhide, where everyone is androgynous until they enter “kemmer,” a kind of estrus in which people suddenly acquire a gender for mating purposes. Le Guin also gave us communal child-rearing, in The Dispossessed.
28) The Kushiel Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey
The trilogy that begins with Kushiel’s Dart has one of the more unusual family arrangements in fiction—Phedre falls in love with the studly Joscelin, he of the Casseline vows and the sexy vambraces. But she’s still an anguissette, who enjoys the pain that Joscelin can’t give her, and she’s an adept of the Night Court, who’s sworn to perform erotic services for patrons. So Joscelin has to accept her going out on her own and having erotic adventures, while he keeps the vambraces warm. And then they wind up adopting perhaps the most controversial kid in all of Terre D’Ange.I
29) Harvest of Changelings by Warren Rochelle
In Rochelle’s fantasy novel, we discover that faeries always bond in four-person group marriages, with same-sex pairings the norm—and even marriages where all four partners are the same sex are not unusual. Said Rochelle, “The idea that fairies and changelings form families of four partners—Earth, Air, Fire, and Water—does come from myth and astrology and the old (and older) medieval belief that these are the four basic elements of creation... Another inspirational source—but less direct—is the idea of ‘found’ family-groups of friends making family in various gender combinations. Love is love is love.”
30) Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley
On another planet where civilization has fallen to quasi-Medieval levels, a pair of twins falls in love with two friends, and they form a quadrangle, in a novel where non-monogamy is a major theme.