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MIND MELD: What Does Romance Bring to the Science Fiction Genre?

[This week’s questions comes from Heather Massey, proprietor of The Galaxy Express.]

From Star Wars to Avatar, stories blending science fiction and romance have persisted for decades in books, films, fan fiction, and even video games. However, despite such evidence, there are those who believe the two genres can’t, or shouldn’t, be combined. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Is there a taboo against romance in science fiction? What does romance bring to the SF genre? What are some good examples of romance in SF that illustrate this?

Read on to see what they said…and be sure to sound off!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Jacqueline Lichtenberg is a life member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. She is creator of the Sime~Gen Universe with a vibrant fan following, primary author of the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! which blew the lid on Star Trek fandom, founder of the Star Trek Welcommittee, creator of the genre term Intimate Adventure, winner of the Galaxy Award for Spirituality in Science Fiction with her second novel, and the first Romantic Times Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel with her later novel Dushau, now in Kindle. Her fiction has been in audio-dramatization on XM Satellite Radio. She has been the sf/f reviewer for a professional magazine since 1993. She teaches sf/f writing online while turning to her first love, screenwriting focused on selling to the feature film market.Follow Jacqueline on FaceBook, on Twitter as @jlichtenberg, and on FriendFeed as jlichtenberg.

I’ve been posting a long series of long blogs at Alien Djinn Romances where I post on Tuesdays exploring the history of the SF field from despised kiddie twat of the 1930’s to Oscar and Emmy Award nominees of 2000’s (and sometime winners) and what we might learn about the low regard the Romance field has stagnated in for some time now.

My Tuesday June 1, 2010 blog post on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com is titled “Why do “they” despise Romance?” and is based on a discussion on a twitter chat #scriptchat (I also attend and often blog about #scifichat ) about the Romantic Comedy film subgenre. That post answers this question at length. Here I’ll be brief (for me, that is)

For at least twenty years, Romance writers have sought to inject elements of SF and Fantasy into Romance novels.

Lately, SF writers have begun to blend Romance motifs into novels.

Certain editors and mass market publishers have found a receptive readership for this kind of mixed-genre product, and others have just bounced right out of the market entirely.

This is a marketing puzzle, a writer’s business model puzzle, and a reader’s dilemma. Why do these two fields repel each other?

Solve that puzzle and make a fortune because Romance is huge and SF is shrinking.


My exploration of this puzzle caught the imagination of Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express and she has compiled a pair of posts about how hard it is to mix SF and Romance:

There she focused on my 1978 Award winning novel, Unto Zoer, Forever — published when there was an absolute, blast-barrier wall between SF and Romance, a taboo stronger than the taboo against words like hell and damn in books sold to libraries (almost all of my fiction, so it doesn’t contain much English invective).

In 2010, I found my name mentioned (via feeddemon search) in an Australian blog and discovered a woman who had read Unto Zoer, Forever years ago, and only now, on re-reading realized that it is indeed SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE and belongs with the modern books she likes. That’s why Unto stood out to the point where she had obsessed over it.

So in 1978, SF readers were starting to accept a romance driven plot.

By 1985, Romance readers started to accept an SF driven plot.

The first novel in my Dushau Trilogy, Dushau (now available on Kindle) won the first Romantic Times Award for Science Fiction and shocked the socks off my agent who was marketing me as an SF writer.

Today, if you read the comments on Heather Massey’s two posts cited above, you’ll see that readers of SFR and Paranormal Romance are devouring novels by a writer who admired some of my novels and founded a career “writing like that” — SF with a solid romance driving the plot and story, Linnea Sinclair (I adore her books!). And there’s a generation of writers (and readers) now working to replicate the magic Linnea Sinclair has created who have never heard of me.

Ten years from now, nobody will remember that it was ever possible to write SF or Romance as separate genres.

The reason for that is that both SF(including Fantasy) and Romance are “Wish Fulfillment Fantasy” genres.

We enjoy the stories that show us how to get our heart’s desire.

SF delivers the heart’s desire of someone who wants to be loved as the one person who actually understands what’s going on and can solve the problem innovatively, thinking outside the box.

Romance delivers the heart’s desire of someone who wants to be loved because they are more important than war, work, politics or sports – loved, admired and valued because they are understood completely (no matter how far outside the box the guy has to think in order to grasp the intricate complexities of who this very special person (me!) is.

Now you explain to me how those could possibly be incompatible objectives?

Here is a more complete explanation and a long list of examples in the early years of how to blend these two genres.

For more examples in current novels, see my professional review column archive.

Linnea Sinclair
Linnea Sinclair has been a newspaper reporter, television news anchor, advertising copywriter, and private detective. She now writes fast-paced science fiction romance novels for Bantam Dell, with Rebels And Lovers on the shelves in March, and has “Courting Trouble” appearing in the upcoming Songs of Love & Death anthology, November 2010 (Gallery). Someday she’ll figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. Until then she’ll play intergalactic barfly at www.linneasinclair.com.

What does romance bring to the SF genre? Well, new readers, for one thing. Reading preferences aren’t as stringently defined by gender as they were, oh, twenty years ago. There are male readers who want more of the emotional conflicts highlighted in the romance genre, and there are female readers craving the action and intellectual challenges found in SF. Absolutely, movies, television, and fan fic have contributed to that desire for a mixture. But our society has also changed. Back when I was a little girl (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), little girls wore dresses and little boys wore pants. In eighth grade I wore a dress to school every day. EVERY day. There were girl-activities and boy-activities. Books for girls and books for boys. Which developed into magazines for women (Redbook, Cosmopolitan) and magazines for men (Field & Stream, Playboy).

That was eons ago. And while, yes, Cosmopolitan and Field & Stream are still around, things have changed, Our approaches toward entertainment (and reading commercial genre fiction is, yes, entertainment) have changed to where gender is not the decisive factor it was.

Recently glommed via my nook have been Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series and R.M. Meluch’s Myriad books. Both contain what I’d deem as significant romantic sub-plots to the extent that a main or (strong) secondary character’s “love interest” affects character decisions and key plots points. To wit: “Black Jack” Geary and Captain Tanya Desjanis. Kerry Blue and Colonel Steele. Captain Farragut and…well, I won’t get into spoiler territory.

Catherine Asaro’s Alpha has an almost Mr. and Mrs. Smith feel to the emotional issues between her main characters, General Thomas Wharington and Alpha. And the relationship between Bren Cameron and Jago in Cherryh’s superb Foreigner series definitely affects character decisions and plot movement, as does the relationship between Morgan and Sira in Julie Czerneda’s awesome Trade Pact books.

Another worthy contender, in the vein of Czerneda’s In The Company Of Others (which combines SF, genetic/bio engineering issues, and a romance subplot) is Sara Creasy’s Song of Scarabaeus.

In November 2010, noted editors Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin are releasing Songs of Love & Death: Tales of Star-Crossed Love, an anthology that addresses this very issue: romance melded with SFF. I have a short story in the anthology (“Courting Trouble”), and am honored to be there along with Jim Butcher, Mary Jo Putney, Diana Gabaldon, Carrie Vaughn, Neil Gaiman, Peter S Beagle, Jo Beverley, and more. Will this break down any perceived taboo against romance and SF? I doubt it. There will always be those who want only “pure” SF or “pure” romance, just as there are those who only want pure chocolate, and would never consider a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup or a York Peppermint Patty.

But there is a growing number of readers who don’t define their reading preferences by gender restrictions, and don’t at all mind a little peanut butter with their chocolate. For them, I’d recommend not only the books mentioned above, but also ones by Ann Aguirre, Susan Grant, Jess Granger, Lisa Shearin, Elizabeth Moon, Tanya Huff, and Mike Shepherd. And check out the list on the left side of The Galaxy Express: Each author mentioned combines their chocolate and their peanut butter in differing degrees. But all are definitely tasty.

Sasha Knight
Sasha Knight loves words. Her parents swear she came out of the womb speaking and took up reading soon after, so it should come as no surprise that she grew up to become an editor, allowing her to spend her days playing with words. In 2005, Sasha joined Samhain Publishing, Ltd. as a full-time editor. In addition to her administrative duties, she maintains a full-time editing schedule and edits more than 50 authors…and she’s always looking for more. When she’s not editing, reading submissions or wading through thousands of emails, Sasha relaxes by watching TV. She’s an avid fan of Joss Whedon and thinks that Firefly is one of the best TV shows ever. She also loves Doctor Who and is torn between her love of David Tennant and Matt Smith, and ranks Steven Moffat up there with Joss Whedon as the two best TV writers. Sasha loves to travel with her family, an e-reader full of books always at her side.

>> Q: Is there a taboo against romance in science fiction?

You betcha. And it’s the single biggest reason I didn’t read science-fiction for many, many years.

What does romance bring to the SF genre?

Personality, character development, personal conflict. Romance makes science fiction more relatable. Readers can be fascinated by spaceships and ray guns and aliens with two tails and purple-dotted tongues, but we can better relate to falling in love because it always complicates and complements.

What are some good examples of romance in SF that illustrate this?

I’m going to start with the movies that molded my science-fiction upbringing. Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I was only in elementary school, and while I loved the spaceships and aliens and light saber duels, what I cared most about was whether Han and Leia would ever get together. Fast forward twenty-five years, and let’s talk about Firefly. Can anyone tell me they weren’t attached to at least one of the romantic couples on that ship? I tuned in every week because Joss Whedon knows how to tell a hell of a good story. I could relate to all the characters, their trials and tribulations, and I darn well wanted them to have a happy ending. Doctor Who. Rose and the Doctor. Do I even need to say anything more?

Lisa Paitz Spindler
Lisa Paitz Spindler is the alter ego of Danger Gal, whose stiletto heels are licensed weapons and who keeps Ninja stars in her bra. Lisa, however, gets through each day on steady infusions of caffeine and science blogs, while constantly trying to beat her Free Rice high score of 45. Occasionally she writes science fiction and designs web sites.

Science Fiction has a long history of meshing with other genres. A recent Mind Meld on cross-genre novels explored this topic well and cited some great examples. Science Fiction plays well with Romance specifically because Science Fiction is at its best when it is examining how technology of all sorts affects humanity and potential life elsewhere. Romance has many tools with which to accomplish this. I’m absolutely fascinated with black holes, the formation of planets, elemental particles, and the potential for traveling vast distances, but I can learn about those topics in Scientific American (and do). Conversely, I read novels for the characters. I’ve read numerous times that historical novels examine where we’ve been, contemporary novels examine where we are, and Science Fiction novels examine where we might go. It plays out the permutations on what we may become and how science might help or hinder that outcome. Combining with Romance is one way for Science Fiction to examine how science might affect our relationships.

Science Fiction Romance offers a spectrum of emphasis between science and romance. In the Mind Meld I just mentioned, James Enge brought up the idea of one genre “enclosing” another and specifically applied this to Romance. Cross-genre novels that have one genre clearly overshadowing the other fall on the outside edges of that spectrum. My favorite Science Fiction Romance novels combine the two genres on a fundamental level using each other’s conventions to illuminate character more deeply. Some of my favorite novels that illustrate this point include pretty much any of Catherine Asaro’s books, but most especially Primary Inversion because of how science was used to alter some of her characters in a posthuman way. Similarly, I enjoyed Linnea Sinclair’s Games of Command because of its cyborg hero struggling to rediscover his humanity. Joan Vinge’s Snow Queen series examined what happens when a civilization forgets its own origins, but the cost of rediscovery is brought home to the reader through its impact on the relationship between Dawn and Gundhalinu. Other favorites include Susan Grant’s Contact and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor for showing how differing attitudes civilizations have toward science affects the ways people relate to one another.

As far as whether Romance in Science Fiction is taboo, no I don’t think it is. Some readers do make unfortunate assumptions about the Romance genre, but many readers have unknowingly read — and enjoyed — novels that could easily be considered Science Fiction Romance. Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express has done a great job of highlighting many of these hidden gems and providing a common space for readers to discuss SFR. Just like Science Fiction, when Romance combines with another genre it mutates and creates a brand new way of looking at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we might yet go.

B.B. Medos
B.B. Medos, a.k.a. BevBB on many sites, is a longtime romance reader, collector and fan who talks about her favorite hobby on Bev’s Books.

As a romance reader who’s also a fan of science fiction movies and TV, what I generally tell people is that I watch SF, not read it. Almost all the SF I’ve read has been recommended by other romance readers who are also SF readers; books like A Quantum Rose by Catherin Asaro, Archangel by Sharon Shinn and Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. (I’ve even enjoyed several of the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey without expecting any romance, too.) But while I liked the above as SF with some actual relationship plots embedded within none of them ever made me want to read more SF, no matter how much I might occasionally crave more science in my romances. So, I probably couldn’t even begin to respond to the first question about taboos in SF and I’m definitely not sure how to comment in general on romance within SF.

As to what romance brings to SF or any other genre, though, first and foremost, romance brings the same thing it’s always brought to storytelling from the very beginning – the ultimate reason why the “hero” goes out on any quest, whether that “hero” is male, female or an alien being without gender of any kind. It doesn’t matter whether the “romantic hero” we’re talking about is the medieval knight waiting to receive the favour from the fair lady (Codex Manesse), the starship captain and his first officer racing to save another imperiled home world (Star Trek) or a student learning from his master while attempting to save a princess (Star Wars). All need motivation to fight.

To win. To never give up.

That reason is home, hearth and family, even if they never claim it for themselves and only ensure it for others – the others on those planets and in those cities, towns and castles they end up saving. That reason is still ultimately love because without it, what is the point of saving the universe?

What is the point of risking it all, time and again?

The second thing that modern genre romance does is bring that motivation down to the intimate personal level with something that we in romance call The Relationship (TR), that central romance plot as distinguished from any other relationship within the story. TR like what is found within Linnea Sinclair’s Games of Command or Gabriel’s Ghost, which I love and which introduced me to stories with science fiction and romance plots side-by-side, possibly for the first time. People get hung up on romance readers overwhelmingly requiring a “happily ever after” for TR and completely overlook how one gets to that point, i.e. by actively working on TR. Nowadays, that means the pair spending a significant amount of time together and not being across the world or universe from each other for most of the story.

Or never talking regardless of genre and whatever else is going on.

And if we’re talking about crossover novels, or even media tie-ins, even the strict happily-ever-after requirement can be stretched if TR is respected. Yes, I’m a longtime, diehard romance reader but one of my favorite media tie-in sets is Imzadi and Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David, a male author who gets TR. He also gets the point of saving the universe for love. Or even sacrificing it for love, too.

So, yeah, romance can bring quite a bit to SF.

Susan Grant
RITA winner, best-selling author, world adventurer, military veteran, jet pilot, and devoted mom Susan Grant loves writing about what she knows: flying, action-adventure, and the often unpredictable interaction between men and women. A graduate of the elite US Air Force Academy, Susan now flies 747-400s to China, Australia, Europe, and many other exotic destinations where she finds plenty of material for her innovative novels blending science fiction with hot romance. Visit Susan at Susan Grant“>www.susangrant.com and at Facebook.

Absolutely not. I don’t know why we go around and around with this topic because no genre is pure. Most science fiction stories, like any other genre fiction, contain elements of horror, mystery, and/or military fiction, even comedy, so why all the fuss about romance? I think it all comes down to the taste of the readership, and many science fiction readers simply do not want to waste precious paragraphs on “mushy stuff.” My 18 year old son is constantly trying to get me to write a “real SF book” (his definition, as far as I can tell is fantasy, horror is okay, just not any romance in it.) When I ask why, he explains, “Mom, it’s [insert unPC word beginning with g here that rhymes with day]. Let’s use “dumb” or “gross.” Conversely, ask a romance reader why they don’t like science fiction and you’ll hear things like “dry” “boring” and “stupid guy stuff like ray guns and space ships.”

My feeling is this: if you don’t care much for romance in your fiction, few attempts to combine the two will work for you. No matter how many Mind Meld discussions there are, or blogs, ranting or gushing about one kind of book or another, I doubt anyone with defined reading preferences powerful enough to be participating in this forum will suddenly change…although I’m sure it does happen. For every cliché lobbed from science fiction purists about “bodice rippers” there is an answering salvo of “snickering, socially awkward geeks.” These knee-jerk reactions are why my book covers are often disguised to look like erotic romances rather than the half-breeds of SF and romance they really are. To my publishers, science fiction simply doesn’t sell as well as romance, and by God, they want those numbers (so do I, of course). Yes, Sex Sells, but in MY opinion, few publishers “get it” when it comes to a cover representative of both genres without offending or turning off either reader with a goofy mess or, in some cases, out-and-out misrepresentation. But, I digress. To ME, romance makes a science fiction tale a richer, fuller, more realistic story. I want my science fiction and my romance, too, and when I read a blend of both, you better believe I want the science fiction and the romance elements each to be done well, which really just translates that the particular book is to my personal taste, and that brings me back to my statements in the first paragraph. It’s not about romance (or not), it’s all about individual taste.

I have quite a few great (in my opinion) examples of SFR on my home shelves: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor, Catherine Asaro’s Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas (read back to back) Anne McCaffrey’s Freedom’s Landing, Linnea Sinclair’s Games of Command, and, while more fantasy than SF, Elizabeth Vaughan’s War Prize, which incorporates one of the best, most well-done romances I’ve read in years. Of my books, readers who like hybrids seem to enjoy Moonstruck and Contact (both RITA finalists, like your Nebula, and one a winner), My Favorite Earthling and How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days (SF RomComs), and The Star Trilogy (circa early 2000s and newly re-released). Read and enjoy!

Elizabeth Hand
Elizabeth Hand is the multiple-award-winning author of numerous novels and short fiction. Her most recent book, Illyria, has just been published.

SF started out as a boys’ club, and while it’s opened up over the decades to women, I think that some of the conventions of an insular, guy-centric literary form remain. Thus a relative lack of romance but no lack of bromance. Odd too that westerns, a similar genre rooted in the pulps, have made more accommodations toward romance – I’ve not read many but have known male fans who told me this was the case. Great romantic stories depends on tension – the lovers have to be kept apart, they hate each other till they don’t, etc. etc. Blame it on Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, or on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, or a million other literary couples. Traditional science fiction depends on a different kind of tension (to crib from the Buzzcocks), world-building rather than nest-building, maybe.

Most of the romances I recall from classic SF are failed ones: Brom Helmstrom and the Spike in Samuel Delany’s Triton, Severian and Thecla in The Book of the New Sun. I honestly don’t read that much SF these days, and one reason might be that I’m a romantic at heart. We’ve had the Big Bang: bring on more of the Big Clinch.

Angela James
Executive editor of Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital-first press, and veteran of the digital publishing industry, Angela James is a well-known advocate for digital publishing. James has enjoyed a long and varied publishing career that has included ownership of an independent editorial services business, work as a copy editor for electronic book and small press publisher, Ellora’s Cave, and executive editor for Samhain Publishing. James frequently travels to regional, national and international writing conferences to meet with authors and readers, and present workshops on digital publishing for both authors and readers of all genres of fiction.

Science fiction and romance are two genres that sometimes seem to have a hard time co-existing peacefully between the covers (pause for dramatic effect)…I didn’t intentionally write that play on words but as soon as I typed it, it seemed somehow apropos, because not only does science fiction sometimes see romance as too taboo for intermingling, romance often has the same feelings about science fiction. You can see evidence of this just by looking at the covers of science fiction and science fiction romance books. One doesn’t want to hint at any of that “heaving bosoms” stuff so as not to scare away science fiction fans, and one doesn’t want to scare away any romance fans by hinting at anything too science fiction oriented. As a publisher, there’s a tightrope you walk in order to attract both audiences to one book, without alienating one or the other-or even more disastrously, both.

I know I’m biased because I come more from the romance side of publishing and reading, but in my opinion, and as a long-time fan of the science fiction and romance genres, I think science fiction and romance are perfect for each other. The science fiction aspect allows for tremendous opportunity in unique world building and plot situation. The romance aspect allows the author to have hard-edged, kickass characters who still demonstrate their humanity and softer edges through relationship development, making them relatable and real for readers. Authors who I think have smoothly combined science fiction and romance elements include Linnea Sinclair, Tanya Huff in her Valor series, and writing duo Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

As an added bonus for both science fiction readers and authors (and publishers) adding a romantic element also brings with it the tremendous buying power of romance readers. As a genre, romance and its readers account for approximately fifty percent of genre fiction sales. Nearly half. And because romance as a genre is comprised of sub genres, from contemporary and mystery, to fantasy and science fiction, romance readers are also known as the one group who will share the generosity of their buying power by cross buying into genres outside of romance–including science fiction and fantasy. This remains true despite what I said in my opening paragraph about the taboo working both ways, because at the end of the day, romance readers are adventurous in their reading tastes.

In fact, if you’re at all a fan of science fiction TV shows, you’ll notice this is a truth they’ve long recognized: adding romance gives the show wider audience appeal and improves the odds on the show’s longevity and profit. We could name pretty much any science fiction show and then discuss the associated romance(s) among primary or secondary characters. And, let’s be honest, money makes the publishing world go ’round. But regardless of whether you’re invested in the sales numbers of a book/author, I think for anyone who’s a fan of any genre, the idea of attracting this kind of buying power is attractive because it brings with it the possibilities of increased numbers of titles being published and made available for us to read!

Laurie Green
Laurie Green is an award-winning Science Fiction Romance writer who, in cooperation with several peers, founded the SFR Brigade, a community of science fiction romance authors, writers and professionals. She’s also known as one of the proprietors of Spacefreighters Lounge – a blog that focuses on SF/R news, research and the craft of writing.

Yes, I think there is a bias against romance in science fiction among some groups, those who focus on the mechanics of an unfamiliar technology or culture and have no patience for emotional entanglement of the characters. (Translation: No girl cooties!) But there’s a flipside to that–a growing readership who want the spark that romance can bring to the story arc. (Translation: Ugh, spare me the technical manuals!) No profiling intended, but it’s safe to say the first group is predominantly male and the second predominantly female. But SF and SFR don’t need to be mutually exclusive. SFR is wooing a whole new audience to the intrigue of science and even drawing some formerly solid “hard SF” readers to the relational end of the spectrum, because it puts a human face and heart on the possibilities of science, technology and the future. I think this is a very good thing for SF in general, whatever it’s labeled.

To wit, the success of Avatar. The bond between Jake and Neyteri-the romantic journey-becomes a bridge for Jake between the human and alien cultures. It’s the catalyst that drives him to question his preconceptions about Pandora, because his love for Neyteri opens his eyes to a new perspective, that of the Na’vi. If Jake and Neyteri hadn’t formed their emotional bond, he may never have decided to join the alien cause. Yet interspersed with the tender meeting of the minds in the Pandoran jungle there was also enough eye-popping technology and macho-machine visuals to keep both sides of SF crowd smiling. The story appealed to a wide audience because there was “something for everyone.”

In SFR, the challenge is to create worlds–or even universes–where the history, politics, technology, environment, and/or cultural stigmas create fascinating conflicts the characters must overcome for their relationship to survive. It goes beyond man against machine or man against culture to explore the influences of human sexuality in the equation.

A few good examples of romance in SF that might have cross-spectrum appeal? Catherine Asaro’s Alpha uses interpersonal conflict amid some very plausible, imaginative technology, when a lieutenant general is abducted by the female super-android he’s supposed to be interrogating. Another excellent example-and personal favorite-is Sandra McDonald’s The Outback Stars. The author drew on her Naval experience to create a credible future military where giant ships travel an ancient alien transportation corridor and a romantic conflict between Lieutenant JoDenny Scott and her subordinate, Sgt. Terry Myell, develops in the face of a conspiracy and non-fraternization taboos. Linnea Sinclair’s The Down Home Zombie Blues teams a modern day police detective with a female alien officer who is hunting down interstellar jumpgate detection and repair drones run amok in modern day Florida (ZOMBIE stands for “Zeta Obedient Machines Built for Infiltration and Exploration”). Though not usually considered SFR, I’d also like to suggest John Scalzi’s Old Man trilogy-Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony-which carries a masterful understated romance that spans the story arc of three novels while making the reader re-think life, love, aging, humanity and the pitfalls of DNA-manipulation technology. (And any book that binds two characters at the conclusion in a way that makes me cry-in a good way, mind you-qualifies as SFR in my universe.)

I believe SFR is a subgenre on the cusp of an explosion in popularity, as generations of fans intrigued with the Han and Leia love affair in Star Wars find futuristic adventures of relational discovery also exist in the print medium. And more readers searching out any flavor of science fiction in bookstores has to be a good thing for SF in general, right?

Sandra McDonald
Sandra McDonald‘s novels – The Outback Stars, The Stars Down Under, and The Stars Blue Yonder – are about an Australian military lieutenant, her handsome sergeant, and their adventures in deep space. She also write short stories that have appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy and other magazines and anthologies.

My local bookstore is full of water. Not because the pipes flooded or the roof leaked, but because readers are channeled in an orderly flow down aisles and around islands — science fiction being a small isle of wonder, romance being a giant isthmus covered in green. Some readers cross from riverbank to riverbank quite easily, but the water can be wide, the currents unusually deep. We can say science fiction is upstream and romance is downstream, or vice versa, but it doesn’t really matter – water offers resistance, and often times it’s easier to stay on dry land.

When I think of romance readers, I think of (predominantly) women in search of an exciting story between a woman and a man that will be emotionally and dramatically rewarding. The romance readers I know will chase that kind of story through many a genre on the recommendation of reviews and word-of-mouth. When I think of science fiction readers, I picture (often times) men in search of the technological frontier, pushing boundaries and extrapolating the world to come – with relationships perhaps not the most foremost consideration. The trouble with my interpretations, of course, is that I’m knee-deep in the river and soaking wet in personal and anecdotal evidence. I’m just as likely to drown in stereotypes as anyone else.

Romance brings strong heroines to science fiction, a genre that since its early years has been full of laser-toting heroes. Science fiction brings to romance a vision of how technology might shape our experiences a hundred or thousand years from now. I think it’s easier for a Nora Roberts reader to move from J.D. Robb’s futuristic mysteries (Robb and Roberts being the same woman) to Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre than a hard science fiction fan to cross the water in the opposite direction.

In the end I don’t think there’s a taboo so much as the aforementioned resistance to go against the tidal rivers that many of us have followed in our adult reading travels. It takes courage and faith to step off your island to near or distant lands. That, and a sturdy pair of wading boots. Or you can plunge in barefoot, letting the water cool your toes. Even if you step ashore in a novel that doesn’t interest you, the journey is worth the trip.

Michael Banks
Michael Banks has written SF for Analog, Asimov’s and other magazines, and is the author of 44 books, including several SF novels published under his own name and others. He was Associate Editor for New Destinies, and has been an acquisitions editor for various publishers. His recent nonfiction includes the New York Times bestseller Crosley and a non-technical history of the Internet titled On the Way to the Web.

Science fiction. Romance. Romance in science fiction. Science fiction in romance. Is the concept of the genres mixing silly, or does it work? Can it work?

Nearly a century ago, just as the American short story was coming into its own, strong lines of demarcation were laid out for various categories of fiction in both short and novel lengths. This was a time when the category “romance” did not allude solely to fiction that involved itself with personal relationships. It took in everything from adventure and exploration to the horrors of vampires and the first tentative forays into scientific extrapolation-nearly anything that wasn’t a mainstream tale.

But when the pulps began to rise at the beginning of the Great Depression, when people wanted and needed cheap entertainment and advertisers needed cheaper ways to reach markets-something more sustaining than silent film and lectures and music on the radio-magazine publishers began to target audiences, just as the non-fiction magazines had done. There were magazines for ladies-on housekeeping, fashion, and so forth. And magazines for men. Why not all-fiction entertainments for groups defined by their interests, ages, and circumstances?

Hence, new categories of fiction were defined, beginning with obvious demographics (female and male) and then getting more and more refined. It’s 1930. What can we use to interest young women and lure them into buying our magazines? Of course they dream of romance, it being unseemly for young ladies to go out into the world and have adventures on their own. So, we’ll bring them tales of romance. And we can further hone the leading edge by targeting interests. Western romances, big-city girl romances, aviation romances, ranch and even spicy romances. (The spicy tales were doubtless read by more than a few daring males, the allure of a story that allowed one to imagine that actual sex-or at least heavy petting-had taken place overcame the embarrassment of being caught reading a “magazine for girls.”)

Young men burning with excess energy? Why, adventure and crime tales, and the ever-popular stories of taming the frontier in the old West would serve them well. All the culturally shared themes of modern society and popular history. If not those categories, there were tales of flying, of business achievements and financial success. Excitement galore, spiked with imaginative venues and villains-the Dark Continent, the Yellow Peril, lost cities, ultra-criminals bent on amassing endless fortunes, hidden treasure. But no romantic magazines for men; that would be either pornographic or sissified, depending on how it was presented. Still, sex could raise its head here and there, in the form of women being menaced by evil criminals. The sex mostly happened on the magazine covers, with women draped in diaphanous gowns or tight dresses, their figures so clearly visible that you would think that the artist painted them nude and added the clothing, rags and shadows later (which was often the case). On occasion, one could discern the outline of a nipple, but no doubt many a reader saw nipples where there were none!

But what about those boys (and men) who wanted to really escape, to roam the farthest frontiers of imagination? Those males (and some females) with intelligence who found the G-Men and locked-room mysteries and good guys in white hats boring and repetitive? Youngsters who ostensibly valued intellect over sex and romance. That group could be reeled in with science fiction and fantasy. And SF and fantasy could include sex on the covers, too. Fans paid a price for reading the stuff, though; up through the 1970s, in the eyes of many Americans of all classes reading that weird science fiction stuff was like reading porn.

At some point, as pulp magazines faded and the paperback book entered the popular market in the late 1940s, genres began to mix in the tightening market. Science fiction saw light romance, as in the works of E.E. “Doc” Smith. It was the type of romance in which gentlemen were genteel, and nobody got laid on-camera if at all. SF writers such as Robert A. Heinlein continued this tradition (almost nobody got laid without getting married, and it was still off-camera-even in his later work). Some SF and fantasy authors wrote romances under pennames for financial reasons (Andre Norton, for one). And vice-versa.

But there was no overt sex in mainstream science fiction until the 1970s. By and large, the guardians of the gates at the more prestigious outlets made sure it was so. Editors at Analog and publishers such as Scribners kept the focus for the mostly young, male audience on science, patriotism and clean living. When sex broke out in science fiction, it was in the B- and C-markets among magazines, and low-end paperback publishers who handled books like Philip Jose Farmer’s The Lovers. (Never mind that the imagery of rockets plunging into the mysterious depths of space evoked certain images….)

It could not have been otherwise, for the law said that writing about an orgasm beyond the implication of waves rolling in, or describing stiffening cocks and nipples, or fingers plunging into and tongues licking private places was offensive to the public. In a word, it was pornographic. Which made it against the law to write, publish or distribute such filth. People could and did go to prison.

But the real world eventually outstripped the restrictions on entertainment, in terms of permissiveness and moral perceptions. And right along with the real world, the genres of romance and science fiction ran ahead of what was perceived as right and proper and decent. By the 1970s, aliens were having sex in SF. Humans were having sex in SF (married or not). And aliens and humans were mixing it up in bed, too.

Interestingly, despite the focus on fact and detail that was traditional to SF, it was and remains rare for a tongue to touch a nipple or cock in a science fiction story or novel. Science fiction’s women do not become wet with arousal. Rarely do men or women perform oral sex on partners of either sex.

At the same time, romance novels-rooted in fiction that was “proper” for young ladies and suggestive of nothing-have fellatio and cunnilingus (not quite reduced to the old pornographic level of cocksucking and pussy-eating) galore. Nipples get hard and tingle. Other body parts tingle. Juices flow. But it’s all leavened with romance-with love and caring and concern-and almost nobody gets offended.

So, if women can take on this kind of plunging, kissing, grappling, licking, slipping and sliding in romance novels, why can’t men and women accept it in SF? Are SF readers not horny? Oh, they are, to be sure. I think it has to do with perceptions of the genres. To read a romance is to cut loose and have fun. To read science fiction is an intellectual exercise, sometimes a solemn break to consider the nature and future of humankind.

I think it also has a bit to do with the fact that women and men are wired differently. Women usually perceive the physical acts of sex as part of romance. Men (admit it or not) tend to objectify sex and treat it as something that’s not a part of daily life, and can be part of romance or not part of romance. Perhaps this is a legacy of pornography and the earlier genre distinctions. If you’re out exploring the solar system or saving the universe, it’s a fine and noble endeavor with no room for “minor” concerns like romance and fucking. Science fiction is (ahem) bigger than romance.

If you’re having a romance…well, romance and sex can happen while you’re saving the universe, during a quest for the amulet that will save your land from the vile beasties from the north, or while you are surviving the aftermath of a worldwide plague or nuclear war.

It’s ironic that the literature descended from purity, innocence and romance includes so much graphic fucking, while the literature once thought of as on a par with pornography remains relatively free of sexual, emotional and romantic conflict.

But science fiction romance does work. For an example, see In Enemy Hands, by K.S. Augstin, for one. It’s available as an ebook at Carina Press. The book should convince anyone that competently written SF and romance can blend into a story that satisfies readers of both genres. Sex in science fiction works, as well. See Larry Niven’s Ringworld, for starters.

Heather Massey
Heather Massey is a blogger who travels the sea of stars searching for science fiction romance adventures aboard The Galaxy Express. Additionally, she pens a science fiction romance column for LoveLetter, Germany’s premiere romance magazine.

Is there a taboo against romance in science fiction? Yes, but thankfully that hasn’t stopped many writers from incorporating it into their stories. This taboo appears to stem from some very deep-seated fears because the aversive behavior demonstrated by many fans extends beyond the quality or nature of the romance in question. In other words, romance of any kind, good or bad, of any degree, has been considered taboo in science fiction.

The forbidden nature of romance in SF seems to have resulted from several factors: discrimination against women SF authors (some of whom might have written more SF-romance blends if not for such an obstacle); historical segregation of romance and SF; and fear of genre dilution.

There are readers who don’t want romance in their SF-and that’s perfectly fine. However, I become concerned when some of them dictate it has zero place in SF and go out of their way to deride these kinds of stories. Science fiction is full of tales with action, adventure, mystery, and horror elements. I don’t see anyone complaining about those elements to the extent that they gnash their teeth and pull at their hair over a little romance. SF-romance blends are as valid as any other hybrid stories.

They’re also here to stay.

Including a romance in a science fiction story is one way to ensure that science fiction not only survives, but also reaches new audiences and new generations. I didn’t develop a love (!) for science fiction because someone handed me a hard SF story when I was twelve; rather, I got turned on to it by a romantic SF anime show that at one point featured walking, talking humanoid bee aliens! (Yes, I am woman enough to admit that.) My interest in SF with plausible science came later. But it was the relationships in the show that provided me with an emotional connection to the whole idea of “science fiction.” I cared about the characters, and so the science fictional elements then became relevant to me.

Blends of SF and romance explore what happens when science and technology impact our need for love and belonging. Such stories come in all flavors, shapes, and sizes, and I would like to recommend a few that illustrate an effective integration of science fiction and romance:

Catherine Asaro’s Alpha features a hot heroine android who discovers not only sentience, but also love with an intrepid military man who sees more in her than just an assembly of circuits. Susan Grant explores the darker side of both romance and alien abduction in Contact, a story about an airline pilot who falls in love with her captor.

Kristin Landon’s The Hidden Worlds blends smokin’ singularity action with a mature, subtle romance, and humanity’s future depends on the hero and heroine being able to negotiate a deep level of trust. Jess Granger’s hero in Beyond The Rain is a slave whose unique hormone is harvested as a narcotic, and his survival depends on the military skills of the emotionally guarded heroine-all as a civil war rages across the galaxy.

It pains me to stop there, but over at The Galaxy Express, we’re compiling a list of the “must-read” science fiction romances, so I invite you to check it out for more titles.

And speaking of bee people, for those who are adamant about keeping all romance out of SF, just remember: You’re more likely to attract others by spreading honey instead of vinegar.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

45 Comments on MIND MELD: What Does Romance Bring to the Science Fiction Genre?

  1. Thanks for an interesting post — and for adding to my TBR  pile!

    I think I should quit work and read full time! 🙂

  2. Great responses!

    I can think of two other things-

    1) SF readers have different preferences for sex scenes, but the publishers will cater to the Romance reader because she spends more money on books. This leaves the SF reader out in the cold. Consider this guest post of mine-

    http://www.romancingtheblog.com/blog/2009/09/20/why-some-readers-hate-graphic-sex-scenes

    2) At least half if not more Romance novels have very *unrealistic* MEN in them and this will make an SF reader, especially a male one, groan and not take anything smacking of the Romance genre seriously. It’s like a woman picking up an SF book with a stereotypical Moon Princess on the cover and thinking, “Oh, good grief, boobs that big do not stand up by themselves!”

    These issues are easily dealt with if they’re kept in mind during the writing and publishing process, I think.

  3. What a great TBR list! And Heather, thanks for compiling it all in one place.

    I first found SFR with Ann Maxwell’s FIRE DANCER trilogy (Fire Dancer, Dancer’s Luck, Dancer’s Illusion).  Oh, if only that series had continued!  The beautiful, sensual, subtle and symbiotic love between the heroine and hero is perfection.  I was on the hunt after that. 

    I love fantasy romance too, but there’s just something about the spaceship…  I’m thrilled that more romance writers are running roughshod over the taboo.

    Yvette, if you find a way to pay rent with reading, can you please tell me?  thx 🙂

  4. I’ve enjoyed romance with my SF since Han and Leia in Star Wars. Since then, I’ve sought that same adventure in space/romance in my reading. I’m happy to have found some of the authors listed above and I’m eager to seek out the ones I haven’t read.

    Thank you all for such thoughtful posts.

  5. There is no taboo against it all.  Just go to your nearest book store and try to find SF in the SF section.  You will end up having to hunt through 4-5 romance books for every SF book you find.  Of course, SF romance books all have some type of vampire or werewolf as part of the story, and probably a midriff baring woman on the cover toting a pistol crossbow.

    Sorry, that is a pet peave of mine, as I don’t consider those books SF.  Though, the romance is not why I don’t consider them SF.

    Personally, I’m all for a realistic romance, or at least a semi-realistic one, in an SF book.  I just recently finished a military SF series, The Lost Fleet, and there were two romances spread out over the series.  So, no I dont’ think there is a taboo, just that for a lot of SF readers and writers the romance is a secondary event.

  6. Boys who want no girl cooties in their SF complain that men are unrealistically portrayed in any book that includes romance.  Well, they should give a stray thought to how women have mostly been portrayed in SF, regardless of subgenre, from the Leaden Age on.  Men, for that matter, are no more believable in “uncontaminated” SF .  They’re just flattering to male egos.

  7. I agree with all the titles and authors mentioned by others who answered this question, and I agree with the suggestions in the comments above this one, too! 

    I love Linnea Sinclair’s  novels – and I, too, was disappointed that the FIRE DANCER series couldn’t continue.  It was up against that taboo and was one of the hammers that has shattered it.

    Today, there is a lot of sexuality in SF (and more extensively in Fantasy) — but note, it’s not always romantic. Often the sex scene is injected into the spot that would (in the Action Adventure trope) be occupied by a combat scene, and the sex scene is used in the plot the same way a combat or fight scene would be used.

    A huge taboo has been breached and new genres are being generated.  It’s an exciting time to be a reader! 

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

     

     

     

  8. Alecia Klehm // June 9, 2010 at 11:42 am //

    @Susan Grant – I agree that there used to be mockery of “snickering, socially awkward geeks” but that is disappearing very rapidly. In romance the “nerd” is becoming a popular hero. Romance authors are misunderstanding what we want a lot of the time, giving us a pseudo-nerd who is faking his geekiness. We don’t want him to turn out to be a cool undercover agent or something. Real, wonderful geeky heroes are out there, though.

    I see a lot of mention of Ms. Asaro’s books Alpha and Primary Inversion but the book that curled my toes was The Phoenix Code. I read an excerpt and forgot where. I spent almost 6 months trying to find that book with the brilliant guy who had trouble communicating. My Favorite Sinclair title is still Games of Command. Driven by Eve Kenin (Eve Silver) has another of these terrific guys. When he chose a romantic gift for her and totally missed, he had my undying love. In reader’s groups we are often comparing notes, trying to find more of this kind of hero. Thanks, y’all. Keep ’em comin’!

  9. Alecia Klehm // June 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm //

    As for the taboo of combining the genres, I see the SF fan-base as more adamant about it than the romance crowd… which makes perfect sense. Romance readers are more interested in relationships which would lend itself to being more accepting of others. In Romance chat groups you don’t really see criticism going on between members like you do in SF groups. I have been in both and left the SF ones because of the nit-picking tendency toward criticism in them. The socially awkward genius type is, uh, socially awkward. I enjoy reading good science fiction but I really love people, too, and I don’t think I’m alone. Average people are using technology in exponentially rising numbers. We aren’t scared off by a little techno-babble, anymore.

  10. Great post, Heather! I remember reading Jacqueline’s books many years ago. They were among the science fiction books I read then that inspired me to take up writing in the first place!

    I’ve also read many of the books mentioned on your list and will be on the lookout for the one’s I haven’t read. You haven’t steered me wrong with a SFR read yet!

  11. @Susan Grant – I agree that there used to be mockery of “snickering, socially awkward geeks” but that is disappearing very rapidly. In romance the “nerd” is becoming a popular hero. Romance authors are misunderstanding what we want a lot of the time, giving us a pseudo-nerd who is faking his geekiness. We don’t want him to turn out to be a cool undercover agent or something. Real, wonderful geeky heroes are out there, though.” 

     

    Alecia, just so there’s no misunderstanding, re: that comment about bodice rippers versus socially awkward geeks, it was in quotes to indicate that I was passing on what I have often heard from readers, editors, and journalists, not my personal opinion. I also look for books with the brilliant, aka not neanderthal hero.

  12. This is a very interesting post. I have read science fiction and romance since I could read. I always wondered why you couldn’t have it all. I was so disillusioned by the fact no one wrote it that I wrote a few myself years ago. And they were all promptly rejected because of the unseen dividing line placed there by the publishing world.

    I would scour the bookstores to find a book which would appeal to me and got turned on to fantasy as well which is a little better about having a relationship in a book. But not much.

    When I presented talks regarding the crossing of genres, I would get dirty looks, nasty questions and a host of other things. One time I actually had a man boo me because I said Terminator was a love story. Many times I would ask people if they really thought there would be no sex in space. Once I had put it in a real world context, most started to see what I was talking about.

    It makes me feel great to see so many people are finally talking about this very subject that I’ve been on a soapbox about for years.

    Times have changed and I’m glad to be around to see it.

    Lynn

  13. Alecia Klehm // June 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm //

    Sorry, Susan, I didn’t mean it to sound like you were the target, just that I was commenting on your post.  I’ve read you and have no doubt as to your position.  Very happily SF and Romance.  It’s just such a long article I wasn’t sure if people would find the part I was talking about without the reference.

  14. I suggest that notion of mixing scifi and romance as taboo is becoming moot. The readership for SFR is apparently out there in the world because publishers are acquiring new SFR authors. I’m very much in favor of readers voting with their pocketbooks, even if it puts me out of a job. I’ll adapt. If fans of hard scifi don’t want a serving of mushy stuff with their robots and spaceships, no problem. I suspect converting those readers is out of the question and I know I don’t process life in such a way that I’d ever be able write straight, hard scifi for them. I hope someone else can.

    I wonder if the true question here isn’t about taboo, it’s really about how do we bring more readers (and thus better sales numbers) to the excellent authors writing SFR. I suspect that as more compelling SFR stories appear on shelves and on e-readers, the more readers will be brought into the fold. Some will dabble their toes in the interstellar medium, shiver and back away. Others will plunge in like they’ve finally found a home. Far more will paddle around the edges, slipping out to look at something, then wade back in. How do we sucker in enough readers to pop sales numbers up over bread and butter sales and into something approaching bestsellerdom? I suppose that rests with the writers. Someone, at some point, will tell a tale that resonates far past the boundries of science fiction and/or romance. Or one of the excellent books mentioned above will be optioned for a well-made movie.

  15. This is a great discussion.  For me as a SFR writer, I don’t worry too much about whether or not my SF is ruined by the romance or vice versa.  In a way, it’s beyond the point.  Either a genre reaches out and embraces everything it can relate to, or it cuts itself down until all the books meet the stringent criteria of a very limited number of people.  Both genre survival strategies have their strengths and weaknesses.  Romance has to have year long arguments trying to define what is or is not romance in an attempt to include everyone, and it seems SF has long arguments over defining SF in a way that makes it an island untouched by other genres.  In both camps everyone is arguing, so there you go.

     

    What I’m concerned with as a writer is meeting the needs of the audience I’d like to attract.  I’d like to attract romance readers with a sense of adventure who like high stakes and intense emotion.  I construct my stories to meet the needs of those readers.  So I guess the question becomes, whose needs are we trying to meet?

     

    We could try to meet all the needs of both sides of the readership, and consequently fail to meet the needs of any side of the readership, or we can trust that some of us will be on one side of the spectrum, and others further down.  So long as we all bring eachother up, no matter where we fall on the romance vs. SF scale, it will be a good thing.

     

    I try my hardest to pay respect to the SF side of my writing, while digging in and knowing I’m meeting the needs of those romance readers who want high-flying adventure.  On the converse, if I ever meet anyone who gets going on the SF side of my writing, but mentions they like things more technical, I’ve got a slew of other writers I can recommend.  We don’t all have to write the same thing to bolster one another.

     

    It reminds me of something I heard once.   You can be absolutely right… but you will be absolutely alone.

  16. When I presented talks regarding the crossing of genres, I would get dirty looks, nasty questions and a host of other things. One time I actually had a man boo me because I said Terminator was a love story. Many times I would ask people if they really thought there would be no sex in space. Once I had put it in a real world context, most started to see what I was talking about.

    In my segment of this, in the paragraph that references Star Trek and Star Wars, I almost added something along the lines of “and when they stand against the machines to save humanity” with Terminator as the reference tag. But I kept dithering about including it. 😉

  17. I find it helpful to keep on hand or ready to spout a list of Science Fiction Romance novels which would sway the SF reader into our camp.  These novels combine and balance the Science Fiction and the Romance well, AND they have believable and still wonderful male heroes, AND they’re not too hot or too cold in the bedroom.

    P.S. Personally, I think the taboo is being *bred* out of Science Fiction.  It’s a simple scientific fact. 

     No babies, no future. 

    This concept certainly applies in the metaphoric sense too.  As a writer/reader, I found Susan Grant who led me to Linnea Sinclair who led me to Jacqueline Lichtenberg who was there from the beginning and has mentored many aspiring authors.

    You can’t treat new writers, or children, like a disease and then expect them to do what you want. 

    The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

  18. I think that, just the fact there are so many comments on this thread, shows that SFR is a sub-genre that is mostly overlooked or dissed when it shouldn’t be. And, Chad, although I appreciate your comments, I think that, after reading this thread, you may have to agree that “Of course, SF romance books all have some type of vampire or werewolf as part of the story” is not strictly true. 😉 You have lots of writers now to chase up on.

    I fully agree with Kimber An’s comment that the MEN in romance are often portrayed unrealistically although having been a die-hard SF fan for decades, I can also say that a lot of the portrayal of men in SF by male writers would also not pass muster in the “truth in advertising” stakes. EE ‘Doc’ Smith, anyone? And, of course, the WOMEN in SF were usually weepy little doormats that I had nothing but contempt for. Paying good money to read something barely above wish fulfillment is not the sole domain of romance. Still, I stuck with the genre through thick and thin, so maybe there’s hope for the larger sf reader population as well.

    Great topic, a shout-out to the SFR Brigaders who commented and were part of the Mind-Meld and a special thank you, with warm regards, to Michael Banks.

  19. It does seem that those who want romance out of SF are more of the SF fans than the romance fans. I’m with Lynn — there’s going to be romance everywhere, including in space or on other worlds.

    The resistance to this particular crossing of genres is funny to me in that, again as Lynn pointed out, Terminator is a love story at least as much as it’s a science fiction story. Same with Avatar. Though I’m sure there are plenty of die-hard SF fans who would argue this with us.

    It does seem that the SF readers don’t want the ‘mushy stuff’. Which is too bad. The ‘mushy stuff’ is a part of life; it’s how we keep life going, as a matter of fact. And it’s here to stay. The numbers show it — romance isn’t down in this bad economy, it’s up.

    So does that mean that SF has to adapt or die? It’s already adapting. There are more blatantly SFR books on the shelves right now than ever before, and more coming. Does that spell a death knell for “traditional” SF? I doubt it, but it’s harder and harder to sell the more traditional SF these days. Not impossible, but harder.

    None of us can please all the readers all the time, but I think the SF purists are missing a prime opportunity. SFR will open up the science fiction side to a lot of (voracious) readers. And some of them will, now that they’re in the SF/F section of the bookstore or library, try books that aren’t SFR — either because the book cover looks good, the story sounds interesting, or someone recommended the book — and they’ve now read some SF (due to those pesky SFR books they’ve enjoyed) and know it’s not dull, overwhelming, or whatever preconceived anti-SF notion our example reader might have.

    Carry that along, and you’ll have a variety of SFR readers who begin delving into other types of SF…and soon you could see SF starting to resurge, because more readers are discovering it, and said new readers read a LOT, they tend to read fast, and they want more books to feed their reading addiction.

  20. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see all the contributors, and comments here. SFR needs to come into its own and this is a big step forward. There is so much to say about romance in SF. There are so many reasons why we should promote romance in SF/R as much and a far as we can. Taboos aside, I loved all the views here, the books, everything. Yet I know we do have a ways to go. Still, as Heather Massey says, we are doing it anyway. We are writing the SFR books and we are getting the face of SFR out there. Thanks to authors and promoters of the genre like Laurie Green, and editors like Angela James. Yet if it weren’t for the already published authors like Linnea Sinclair and Susan Grant (as well as many others) where would we be? Without our mentors and those who forge ahead to pave the way for the new authors to follow. As a newly published and still aspiring (learning) SFR author, I will continue to promote all SFR as much and as often as I can. I will write and submit my work. Thanks to all who contributed here. 

    Kaye Manro

    SFR Website 

  21. I would suggest the SFR or SF romance label not be used if you want to target SF field in general.  It would be an immediate turn-off for most men, as the image of Fabio tearing his pirate shirt off comes immediately to mind.  No man wants to read that.  The fact I am the only man commenting seems to support my point.

    @Kaz

    Oh, I completely agree romance novels in the SF field are not limited only to vampire/werewolf books, just that they are the majority.  They just annoy me the most and, in my opinion, have the covers closest to the stereotypical “Fabio” romance cover in the SF section.  Plus, they are the sole reason I don’t go to book stores anymore.  I trully got tired of having them taking up a 1/3rd or more of the SF section.

  22. Oh, I completely agree romance novels in the SF field are not limited only to vampire/werewolf books, just that they are the majority.  They just annoy me the most and, in my opinion, have the covers closest to the stereotypical “Fabio” romance cover in the SF section.  Plus, they are the sole reason I don’t go to book stores anymore.  I trully got tired of having them taking up a 1/3rd or more of the SF section.

    Then shop in used bookstores Or online. Because do you honestly believe that most romance readers like being embassed by some of the covers? Because they don’t and they will still find their books one way or another. Beyond that, though, the romance genre truly is so large and diverse that in order for the knowledgeable readers to find the books that they like, they have to search around. They have to be hunter-gatherers. New brick and mortar bookstores just don’t always cut it.

    Of course, if the numbers for hard-core SF honestly are in decline, there’s not a whole lot one can do about that. Nature always fills a vacuum and the one genre that definitely is out there waiting to fill any vacuum in publishing is definitely romance. The publishers know it and the readership is simply waiting for the books. Voracious, loyal and dedicated. Once they’ve been won over, that is. 😉

    The only true question is whether there are authors willing to write the stories that will sell to them in some measure.

    And it doesn’t have to be a sell-out of science fiction, either. As others have said here in many different ways, romance readers read outside their genre all the time. They simply want a little respect for their reading tastes and expectations at the same time. If it helps to keep getting science fiction published as a genre, is that too much to ask for?

  23. You really read a LOT into what I said, with most of it being wrong.  I didn’t say I don’t buy books, just that I don’t buy them from book stores.  I didn’t say romance readers liked or disliked “Fabio” covers, just that the vampire/werewolf covers in SF are the closest to the “Fabio” covers. 

  24. No, I didn’t read a lot into what was said. I simply took it at face value.

    It’s odd, though. Why would vampire/werewolves be showing up on SF covers anyway? Are we talking about urban fantasies bleeding over onto the SF shelves or something entirely? Now, I could easily see publishers getting carried away with putting hunky space pirates on the covers to sell the books. Or maybe cyborgs. But I guess what I’m asking is whether they (the mainstream publishers, I mean) don’t even know the dividing lines between SF and fantasy? Nevermind romance for a moment.

    Remember I don’t read hard SF so I’m not normally looking at those shelves anyway. My son is usually bringing regular fantasy stuff around but most of them have wizardy-type/dungeons & dragons type stuff on the covers. Although even those are at times tilted towards a romance audience in the blurbs. So, I’m just not getting why vampires and werewolf covers would go on SF shelves anyway. Even to sell to romance readers.

    No wonder you people are having problems marketing the books. 😉

  25. An interesting discussion. Loved all the posts. And I’m finding even more books. Oh my. 

    I’ve always loved a bit of romance (or a lot) in everything I read. My favorite Alastair Maclean books were the ones with a little romance. I’m with Kimber An in not liking the graphic sex stuff, but I totally support readers right to like what they like. 

    The funny part for me, in even being in this discussion is that I’m not uncomfortable with the romance in my books, but my (lack of) geek credentials. And I’m impressed with how kind (for the most part) that authors and readers have been. And I’ve been excited to find what I love most when reading: tons of action and adventure–and a little to a lot of romance. If I hadn’t wandered into SFR, I would  never have heard of The Lost Fleet books and I loved them. I had no idea I liked military SF. But it was the promise of a little romance that got me to try them. Nothing had to heave or be bared. I just wanted to know that someone fell in love. LOL! But it was a story well told that kept me in the books, that got me spend money buying books.

    Anyway, made me think this morning! Not that easy to do before ten. LOL!

    Pauline 

    The Key

    Girl Gone Nova

    Tangled in Time

     

     

     

     

  26. @BevBB

    Yeah, the vamipre/werewolf books are urban fantasy, but they do toss in some oddly placed horror in the SF section as well.  I don’t think the publishers know what do do with those books.  In my mind they are more a romance/horror than fantasy/SF.  Either way the publishers seem afraid to publish any traditional SF.  It’s either the horror/romance or steampunk for 60-70% of SF.

  27. Yeah, the vamipre/werewolf books are urban fantasy, but they do toss in some oddly placed horror in the SF section as well.  I don’t think the publishers know what do do with those books.  In my mind they are more a romance/horror than fantasy/SF.  Either way the publishers seem afraid to publish any traditional SF.  It’s either the horror/romance or steampunk for 60-70% of SF.

    So what we’re really talking about are shelving issues in brick and mortar bookstores which romance readers are also familar with particularly with regard to the boom in paranormal romances and/or urban fantasies over the last decade because they tend to crowd out all kind of other books. But there’s an object lesson there, too. The paranormal romance pretty much started within romance but then bleed over into fantasy with urban fantasy. I don’t see either dying off any time soon.

    Are there natural tensions between the genres? Sure. Are there always going to be? Of course. Then again, the books are selling, the readers are buying and as a result finding more books and author in both genres. Romance and fantasy, I mean.

    Does science fiction really want to be behind just because it can’t get along with the biggest market in publishing?

  28. Kris Hasenfratz // June 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm //

    I think the concept of seperating science fiction from romance is a dated one, and hopefully not really realistic anymore.  Even “hard” or “military science fiction novels have romantic aspects to them, and I believe a lot of the changes we have been seeing are because of societal changes.  As it has become more ok to be expressive of our emotions in society, “softer” emotional aspects became more common in science fiction.  Even military science fiction writers such as David Weber are incorporating these aspects in their books, and it makes for more realistic characters.

     

    I also think the increasing number of serial science fiction storylines with continuing plots encourages the addition of romance to the plotlines.  I mean, although people read both romance and science fiction to escape real life, how realistic (or interesting) would the same characters be for 3 or 6 or 8 books if there isn’t emotional growth, trauma, etc.?  And how many people go for years without interacting with someone they are interested in romantically?

  29. Chad makes a couple of very cogent points.

    It looks like he IS the only male who’s ventured into this discussion and I, too, have to wonder why that is. It’s the SFR Support Group here and I would really have liked a tussle with the XY members of the readership. (Where are all the passionate Jacek Dukaj fans when you want them? LOL) Are the male readers not wanting to offend? Or is this just a topic they don’t care about?

    Also, being an SF fan first and foremost, walking into a bookshop and seeing fantasy and paranormal romance edge out the sf is really annoying. Really really annoying. As you know, I write SFR but that doesn’t automatically mean that I love LoTR and all its clones. (I don’t.) And Anita Blake and her ilk palled after a few books as well. Yet, I can’t seem to find really good SF, whether with or without romantic elements. Bujold is nowhere near as damn prolific as I’d like her to be! And Iain Banks, who also weaves some lovely romance in his space operas, is really losing it in the “bloat” department.

    I was in a bookshop in Australia a few years ago and the “Top Ten SF titles” had TEN fantasy titles on the list!!!! Not a single one was SF!!! So if the SF readers feel a little…besieged, it’s a sentiment with which I can well sympathise.

    Having said all that, romance is here to stay. So I’d really support all the SFR writers because the alternative is … shudder … urban fantasy. 😉 Mwahahahahahahahahaha

  30. I’ll chime in!

    I have no overt aversion to SFR…but the main reason I read science fiction is for the sense of wonder and mind expanding ideas.  So, yes, covers that emphasize romance don’t automatically push my sf button.  However, suggestions being made here about those same books being good reading picks does.  And, as it turns out, I have read some of the authors and books mentioned above and enjoyed them thoroughly. As others have more eloquently stated, science fiction is oftentimes about the characters. The relationships between them — be it tension, friendship, or romance — is just another tool authors can use to engage the reader.

  31. @BevBB

    It is a shelving issue too some extent (however, I think shelves will be moot in 5 years), which in the end is really a publishing issue.  Now I’m sure they make money on the SF romance books (defined as books actively featuring the romance via cover or back cover synopsis, which disqualifies a book series like the Lost Fleet), but I’m not so sure they wouldn’t make money on SF (this doesn’t preclude a romance part, it just wouldn’t be the main element).  I just think publishers don’t give SF a chance, they don’t know how to pick authors for it, and when the first few initial urban fantasy books took off they all jumped on the band wagon and gave SF slots to softer books.  And, now, being human, they have a hard time changing their habits without a breakout SF title forcing their hand.

    Plus, if you are like me and grew up on SF, and you want SF still, how do you find it to buy?  It’s not at the stores, so you are limited to the internet.  There is no way I’m buying a book with a cover like Contact and The Hidden Worlds in the above post.  If that is what I’m limited to in SF…

    Does science fiction really want to be behind just because it can’t get along with the biggest market in publishing?

    …then SF can be behind.

    @Kaz

    I was the only one (John has now joined) because we generally know what is going to happen to us when we jump into this type of discussion…nothing we say will be deemed correct because we are evil men.  I say that tongue in cheek, but it has truth too it.  I, however, happened to be in the mood to take a little risk and commented. 

    Also, in a way, I think most men would view this as a non-issue.  It really is for me.  I’m fine with romance being part of the story, just not THE story in the book.

     

  32. Chad said:

    I just think publishers don’t give SF a chance, they don’t know how to pick authors for it, and when the first few initial urban fantasy books took off they all jumped on the band wagon and gave SF slots to softer books.

    The average reader is intimidated by SF and therefore won’t buy it — that’s why it’s such a niche market in publishing. However, people really do like it if they can be coaxed into reading or watching it. Case in point, when Battlestar Galactica came out Ron Moore made a point to call it a drama that just so happens to be set in space. That PO’d a lot of SF fans because they felt it denigrated the science aspect of the story, but it was just marketing. Along the same lines, viewers were sucked into LOST before anyone realized that it too was SF. When BSG came out there were so many discussions about whether the term “science fiction” was even applicable anymore because, in movies at least, it seemed to be everywhere. The question was why were all these viewers of SF not turning into readers? Because many people think SF books are dry and not character-driven.

    We could have, and have done so elsewhere, a protracted discussion over covers and what they convey about a story, but in the end we really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. CONTACT was a great book and if you’re not buying it simply because of the couple embracing on the cover then you’re missing out.

    Science is awesome on its own, but in a novel the reader needs to see how science could affect them or their world in order to become invested — the dramatic tension has to become personal. That’s done through character and emotions (and that includes all the different kinds of love). If you, personally, aren’t interested in characters’ emotions, then why are you reading fiction when you could be reading Scientific American or New Scientist?

    Regarding shelving issues, I rather like a lot of Urban Fantasy, but I also wish it had it’s own section in the bookstore. Same goes with Fantasy. It is frustrating trying to find SF sometimes on the shelves.

    I was the only one (John has now joined) because we generally know what is going to happen to us when we jump into this type of discussion…nothing we say will be deemed correct because we are evil men.

    And that hasn’t happened, but some of us here have challenged your assumptions, something male commenters are free to do all the time with no one’s ego being hurt.

     

     

  33. We could have, and have done so elsewhere, a protracted discussion over covers and what they convey about a story, but in the end we really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

    Heh. No, People shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I gotta say that they will judge it by it’s blurb description, which brings me to this little jewel:

    The question was why were all these viewers of SF not turning into readers? Because many people think SF books are dry and not character-driven.

    Over the last few months, Heather and I have had many discussions both on her blog and in private emails about differences between how SF and other genres describe their books. Frankly, I honestly believe this is a large part of the problem for many buying SF novels – hard SF, I mean – and I’ve expressed this many times.

    It’s not simply romance readers who like character driven stories or expect to know what the plot of the story is going to be about. I can go to just about any bookstore, online or off, and pick out a random fantasy or mystery novel and the back description will most likely tell me who the book is about and what type of plot it has.

    Try doing the same thing with random SF novels, particularly those that don’t lean heavily towards romance. You’re lucky if they even mention a single character or detail anything about plot.

    They mention the world. The politcal situation. Maybe a war here or there.

    People, no matter how great the worldbuilding, science or technology is, I’m still not going to want buy or read a story when I haven’t been given any hint of whether there’s a character I might want  to root for or some kind a plot I might want to read. It’s just not going to happen because I am going to think it’s dry as dust.

    I will pick up a suspense, mystery or fantasy instead because at least they give me something to be excited about in their descriptions and half the time nowadays there’s romance there too as an extra bonus.

  34. @Lisa

    And that hasn’t happened, but some of us here have challenged your assumptions, something male commenters are free to do all the time with no one’s ego being hurt.

    I would have to agree.  This discussion did not have this happen:

    ..nothing we say will be deemed correct because we are evil men. (mine)

    Quite appreciated.

     

     

     

    in the end we really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

     

    I must disagree.  I only have so much time, so I have to make a judgement call on what to buy.  I basically only have the cover, the synopsis on the back, and maybe some decent reviews on Amazon (critics’ reviews are worthless) to determine what to buy.  I don’t have time to read the first chapter of 10 different books.  So, while I agree I could be missing some decent books there is nothing I can do about it.

     

    @BevBB

    about differences between how SF and other genres describe their books.

    Interesting theory.  I will have to read the synopsis on my books again to see how that plays out.  It would be interesting to see which type of synopsis (character vs. worldbuilding) would be prefered.  I would probably lean toward a worldbuilding synopsis, as I just assume authors are trying to build characters in every book (obviously they don’t always succeed).  Plus, I don’t know if anyone could convince there were good characters in the book in 2 paragraphs on the back cover, as it takes at least one chapter if not more to determine if a character is interesting or not.

  35. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Marge Piercy’s He, She and It (1991), the centrepiece of which is a romance between the main character Shira and the cyborg she has to socialize, Yod.

    There’s a similar situation in Maureen F. McHugh’s short story “Nekropolis” (1994), which is about a woman’s subjugation and her awakening to the desire for freedom, influenced by a romance with an android/cyborg. (I see on Wikipedia that McHugh turned the short story into a novel, published 2001.)

    Elizabeth Bear’s short story “Tideline” (2007) is effectively a romance, between a declining war robot and the boy/young man she mothers and educates. The story also relies upon references to the long tradition of romance: i.e., Arthurian tales and the like.

    One could also frame Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s short story “Boojum” (2008) as a romance, considering the relationship between the main character, Black Alice Bradley, and her spaceship that is also a biological entity/alien, Vinnie.

    Finally, what about Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)? It is very much a story about love and betrayal between Genly Ai and Estraven.

    I suppose it’s a matter of how much one wants to stretch the parameters of what constitutes romance?

     

  36. Many times I would ask people if they really thought there would be no sex in space. Once I had put it in a real world context, most started to see what I was talking about.

    Good call. While there’s plenty of fun to be had with SFR stories that really ramp up the fantasy elements, there’s also plenty of room for ones with more realism.

    I would suggest the SFR or SF romance label not be used if you want to target SF field in general.

    Chad, thanks so much for your contributions. Regarding labels, my concern about dropping the “romance” from the label is that we risk deceiving readers about the presence of a romance in the story. The goal is to accurately describe what’s in SFR so readers who want it can come and get it. And to clarify, “science fiction romance” is a reader & author-driven label, not a publisher one.

    There is no way I’m buying a book with a cover like Contact and The Hidden Worlds in the above post.  If that is what I’m limited to in SF…

    Books like Contact & The Hidden Worlds represent new choices, not limitations–especially in an age of digital books and other mediums. Trends will come and go, of course, but I believe there will always be traditional science fiction stories. Romance isn’t going to invade SF like the proverbial Martians! Rather, hybrids such as SFR represent a trend toward more variety and a possible way to make SF more mainstream.

    It would be interesting to see which type of synopsis (character vs. worldbuilding) would be prefered.

    I don’t see why readers can’t have both.

  37. Chad, thanks so much for your contributions. Regarding labels, my concern about dropping the “romance” from the label is that we risk deceiving readers about the presence of a romance in the story. The goal is to accurately describe what’s in SFR so readers who want it can come and get it.

    The other side of this is the risk of losing almost half the market by putting R or romance in the label.  Not that all men would shy away, but a majority would see that label and not even give it a chance. 

    Books like Contact & The Hidden Worlds represent new choices, not limitations–especially in an age of digital books and other mediums. Trends will come and go, of course, but I believe there will always be traditional science fiction stories.

    I agree there will always be the traditional or hard SF story, but there are only so many slots at the publishers.  The more romanance, urban fantasy, etc. that take the SF slots the less SF novels I have too chose from.  I’m hoping publishers lean one way and others hope they lean the other way.  If it goes the “wrong” way, that’s how it goes.  I can always read espionage and adventure thrillers.

  38. If your cover is good (and I know 99.9% of us have no control over said covers), I’m with Chad and feel that your book honestly SHOULD be judged by its cover.

    My cover for “Touched by an Alien” clearly shows that there will be action and romance, and stuff blowing up. I have male as well as female readers. Is it SFR? Not to my publisher (DAW), but to most of the blogosphere, yes it is.

    But I’m also with Chad in that putting the R onto the SF in the cover or as a special section will indeed cause us to lose readers (mostly male, but not exclusively) who might love our books but not want to pick up anything that says “romance” on it.

    I do wonder if part of this problem is a hard vs. soft SF issue. Then again, Niven’s “Ringworld” series is pretty hard SF (at least it was to me when I first read it, years ago now), and there is a TON of romance – vital to the plot romance – in that series. And many of Asimov’s stories had romance integral to the plot and characterizations, too. Romance is in or drives a lot of Robert Silverberg’s stories, too. And Dan Simmon’s “Hyperion” series is all about the romance, really. And yet no one has complained that there’s too much mushy stuff in that.

    So is it a male author vs. female author thing? Male authors can write romantic SF and it’s okay, but if women authors do it it’s got cooties? Is it the line between 49% romance vs. 51% romance? Or is the problem the labeling, that in trying to add the R to SF we’re creating a problem that shouldn’t exist?

    Or is it as simple as the fact that no one is ever going to like every single book on the bookshelves, no matter who wrote it, what’s on the cover, or what label is does or doesn’t have?

  39. The other side of this is the risk of losing almost half the market by putting R or romance in the label.  Not that all men would shy away, but a majority would see that label and not even give it a chance.

    Okay, I have to laugh (not at you, dear Chad): If we dropped the romance, a majority of the women/romance readers would shy away/not give it a chance. LOL!

    This is where the issue of genre/story element segregation puzzles me. Do the readers who drive the sales for romance and SF not want to know if the books they’re reading are hybrids?

    If your cover is good (and I know 99.9% of us have no control over said covers), I’m with Chad and feel that your book honestly SHOULD be judged by its cover.

    See, that’s the thing: If more covers were good and accurately represented the story (including the ratio of SF to romance), then readers would have an easier time deciding which SFR story is right for them–or something they want to avoid altogether.

    I had a thought:  are we conflating targeting mainstream audiences of each genre with targeting audiences for niche subgenres? Regarding covers, is it even possible to target both simultaneously?

    For example, digital publishers who release SFR seem to be able to take more chances with a niche-specific cover than mainstream print publishers. And when a genre/subgenre breaks out, it seems that that’s the time when covers with common motifs across publishers start appearing.

    Or is the problem the labeling, that in trying to add the R to SF we’re creating a problem that shouldn’t exist?

    I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here and ask if that by adding “urban” to “fantasy,” have we created a similar problem for that subgenre? Inquiring minds want to know: Did “urban” begin as a publishing label, or one started by readers to describe a certain type of story?

    In other words, those who know about the term “science fiction romance” will understand that it’s a code, a secret handshake as it were for those who want to seek out such information–information that goes beyond publisher labels. If one isn’t familiar with it, then he/she will go on about her merry book buying business and either discover he/she likes hybrid novels or not. Does that make sense?

  40. Interesting theory.  I will have to read the synopsis on my books again to see how that plays out.  It would be interesting to see which type of synopsis (character vs. worldbuilding) would be prefered.  I would probably lean toward a worldbuilding synopsis, as I just assume authors are trying to build characters in every book (obviously they don’t always succeed).  Plus, I don’t know if anyone could convince there were good characters in the book in 2 paragraphs on the back cover, as it takes at least one chapter if not more to determine if a character is interesting or not.

    Except, that’s the problem. Prefered to who? Plus, we’re not talking about whether the characters are interesting or not. We’re talking about whether the books are. And if the blurbs don’t even talk about what the stories are about… how does that sell them to anyone but a very limited market of diehard SF fans?

  41. Paula Lieberman // June 15, 2010 at 12:29 am //

    “Romance” has always been in SF–not in all SF stories, certainly, but go back to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson even when he was a young writer (his writing career spanned more than 80 years!), C. L. Moore with reservations (not happy ending assured…), Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, EE Smith, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, A. E. van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull…. Yes, a lot of SF didn’t include women, except to award as trophies for wives–or the mad scientist’s beautiful daughter for the hero’s love interest.

    A lot of that, though, was the culture–until the 1970s there were no women in major airline cockpits, no women allowed as students at Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Caltech, Princeton, Worcester Polytechnic Institute Notre Dame….; no women allowed into military academies, no women allowed in military flight training, women banned from most police and fire departments as other that clerical support staff; women discouraged strongly from going to law school, to medical school and engineering and science programs  admitted at low rates and treated wretchedly generally as students; even when getting JDs, MDs, and Ph.Ds., the job offers were few and far between and not commensurate with their male classmates, even through the 1980s.  A couple male coworkers with math doctorates from two of arguably the top ten universities in math in the USA told me me horror stories about the treatment of their female grad school classmates.  There were no women on the Supreme Court, no female astronauts, few women elected to local, state, or federal office.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley said that she had (probably in the 1960s? even maybe the 1970s) written a book with a female starship captain and had it rejected -because- it had a female starship captain.  I have vague recollections of a late 1960s novel or trilogy by Morgan and Kippax or some such, published by Ballantine, one of the volumes had the title _A Thunder of Stars_ I think, where a female starship officer, faced a choice of career or not.   Until the effects of the feminist revolution hit and the blocked, locked doors stopped being so obdurately closed to women, women didn’t have the options of choosing careers in science without severe deprecation/obstacle, or casually choosing to be a lawyer, a doctor, etc.  The barriers tended to be -very- high, and again, there were careers and lifepaths that were completely blocked.

    Likewise, there were stories publishers and editors wouldn’t accept for publication.  It was a Big Deal when Andre Norton’s first book with a female lead character, Ordeal in Otherwhere (which had a romance in it… for that matter I think a number of her earlier SF novels were, also….) in the early to mid 1960s.   I suspect that it was the first time she was -allowed- to get a contract for a book with the lead being female.  The roles of women in science fiction reflected the roles allowed women in the society the books were written in, and written as -commercial- work which publishers wanted to earn a profit on the sales of.  The publishers asserted that the SF audience was overwhelmingly male and particularly was young males, who didn’t want foci on female human characters. (Some of the strongest female characters weren’t human–Poul Anderson’s Chee Lan, and James Schmitz’ Padagan, for example.   Later Schmitz especially became known for strong huma female lead characters–Telzey Amberdon, Trigger Argee, Nile Etland, etc.)

    But, again, there -was- romance in a lot of SF even with the social restrictions.  The female characters though, often were foils and trophies, even less developed than the often cardboard male characters., reflecting social strictures.   Change happened in the 1960s–Restoree by Anne McCaffrey was basically a scientifictional gothic novel, Sara the protagonist waking up in bed in a strange place next to a large man, her skin a different color and her nose bobbed from their original forms, with her last coherent memories having been on Earth.  Sara was not a starship captain, not a lawyer, not a doctor, not a scientist… she was a relatively ordinary, but very competent, young woman, snatched from Earth and finding herself in a strange setting full of drugged people

    Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote action-adventure science fiction stories originally, but various of them were romances–The Door through Space with scarred Race Cargill, attracted to two women who were twins with hir like black “spun glass,” The Winds of Darkover, The Sword of Aldones (much later completely revisted into a different book) and other novels which names are escaping me at the moment, long before her more feminist novels such as The Shattered Chain and Thendara House.  

    Moving forward in time, social changes unblocking doors, meant that ideas of women having self-determination and their own choice of life path, opened up options in science fiction–Roland Green’s six book Starcruiser Shenandoah series with an ensemble cast, included female admirals, ship captains, mentioned female generals, along with the male admirals and generals.  Romances in the ensemble cast occurred among characters in similar levels of position and authority–relationship levels of equality only available in societies where opportunites are equal and available and not gender-restricted. The romances were among the various plots, but weren’t the overriding plots. 

    Thinking about it, tensions remain, between “traditional” and “non-traditional” as regards romance plots/subplots in SF.  Social/cultural assumptions and baggage limit what readers, editors, publishers, and writers might be open to–romance menages in SF date back at least to the 1960s though rare at least at that time.  It was possible perhaps as a novelty, “what if society allowed polygamy?  What sort of society would that be like, and what sort of relationships could there be?”  Traditional and non-traditional also reflect social roles, careers, and lifepaths–Gordon R. Dickson “Childe” series (what he called it, as opposed to “Dorsai” focused originally on male characters, and archetypes of warrior, believer, and intellectual/mystic.  He later added female career paths of negotiator, beyond the presence of the female romantic lead for the book with romances in them.  His warrior character were male, etc., and women other than female romantic leads, not generally (in my recollection) tending to have significant roles in the stories.

    Contrast that with Lois McMaster Bujold or Elizabeth Moon or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, writing in the 1980 and beyond.  Their combatant characters are mixed in gender.  Bujold’s planet Beta contrasts with Barrayar, Barrayar has an all-male space force, Beta’s is mixed, and the timeframe when the book came out, there were still all-male military schools (e.g., the Citadel and VMI)–there were social changes in progress.  Athos is an all-male planet, where the socially most respected citizens include the obstetricans responsible for creating and incubating the next generation of Athosians. 

     Elizabeth Moon has the planet with gender-determines-social-role-absolutely  society set as a villainous, vicious society.  The transition over to gender-integration had gone very far by the time she wrote the series with that book, and the militaries mostly are gender-integrated, and women have substantiative promotion opportunity–and the self-determination to be equal, or even higher, in rank, than those they get into relatinships with.  Lee and Miller’s books, also, are integrated.

    Anyway, getting back to my original assertion, “traditional” SF doesn’t preclude romance plots.  It doesn’t guarantee the presence of a romance plot, but it also doesn’t prevent it.  The main determinants are what is the story the author is telling–it may or may not have  romance or strong romantic thread/subplot/plot in it.  What matters more, is the publishing and extrinsic social environment, as to whether the publisher/editor regards the story as appropriately including a romance plot, as commercially viable.

     

  42. I just have to say — awesome, incredibly insightful post, Paula.

  43. Very interesting post. Thank you Heather.  

    I was one of those fanfic writers that have combined what I call “real life” to scifi genres and universes I’ve written for–if they were missing.  I have always liked characters dealing with relationship issues along with trying to save the world.  It makes them more human, more compelling, and easy to like.  I have found that I most enjoyed books that did have romance in it along with fantastic battle scenes.  Some of them are listed above.

    However, I do have to agree with the Paula Lieberman’s post that a previous commenter posted.  Here’s a snippet that I most agree with:

    “Anyway, getting back to my original assertion, “traditional” SF doesn’t preclude romance plots.  It doesn’t guarantee the presence of a romance plot, but it also doesn’t prevent it.  The main determinants are what is the story the author is telling–it may or may not have  romance or strong romantic thread/subplot/plot in it.  What matters more, is the publishing and extrinsic social environment, as to whether the publisher/editor regards the story as appropriately including a romance plot, as commercially viable.”

    I think it ultimately comes to do what kind of story is the author telling.  If part of that story includes the telling of the character’s lovelife then it’s a neccessary thing, if not, then I can undertand if non is included.  I’ve read both kinds of stories and while I enjoyed more the ones that included a romance, the ones that did not was no less enjoyable.

     

    Victor.

  44. I am mostly an adventure story reader, so I want things happening – people saving the world, battling evil forces, sheming, whatever. I read science fiction for that reason. I like a bit of romance thrown in, even a lot of it – but I mainly want the adventure. I have tried some science fiction romance and it was simply too much focused on the romance for me – meaning not enough adventure, and yes, too many sex scenes..  they just take up to many pages for me, pages that could have been used for the things that I really like…

    I personally think that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller do a terriffic job in their books – there is love and romance but there is also scope, great worldbuilding, lots of intrigue and adventure. Or Bujold… or the Mageworld books by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonnald….

  45. I don’t think romance is taboo in Sci-fi. They just have to work well together. I love sci-fi books (almost any I can get my hands on) and I love romance novels (a la   <a href=”http://www.soulmatethenovel.com//”>Soul Mate</a> by Ronald Lewis Weaver) and they seem compatiable enought to me.

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