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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 009) – Sex in Science Fiction + Interview with Brent Weeks

In the ninth episode of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester is joined by Jeff Patterson, Matthew Sanborn Smith, Jay Garmon and John DeNardo to discuss:

What is the role of sex in science fiction?

Authors Philip José Farmer, Robert Heinlein and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name just a few, have all had sex and sexuality in their stories in one way or another. Science fiction and fantasy is full of examples of blurred gender roles, cross-species sex, virtual sex – are these legitimate points to move the story forward or are they simply there to sensationalize the prose? What are some examples of sex in science fiction that, good or bad, still stick in your mind? What are some examples where you felt it was completely out of place?

Later, Patrick Hester sits down to chat with New York Times bestselling author Brent Weeks. His Night Angel Trilogy consists of The Way of Shadows, Shadow’s Edge and Beyond the Shadows. His new series, Lightbringer, has launched with the new novel: The Black Prism.


About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

10 Comments on The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 009) – Sex in Science Fiction + Interview with Brent Weeks

  1. Great conversation, guys. I’m sorry that I couldn’t take part as originally planned. I’m posing this same question over at the SFR Brigade shortly to keep the conversation going.

    A couple thoughts I had while listening to the show:

    • I think sex in any novel should, like any other element, either move the plot forward or develop/reveal character. How explicit a particular scene is or should be, IMO, depends on the voice of the author and also what needs to be revealed about plot or character. If a sex scene seems to occur out of nowhere, sometimes it’s because the author didn’t set up sexual tension between the two characters. I think this is one of the areas where the Romance genre excels. In Romance,the tension between the characters builds to an obvious physical and emotional crescendo. A love scene between the heroine and hero fundamentally changes the characters as it forces them to confront intimate details about themselves or their partner. This is why, IMO, Romance sex isn’t porn — no matter how graphic a scene it is, in Romance the sex has a purpose that can’t be extracted from the rest of the story.
    • John brought up the Richard Morgan sex scene in “Altered Carbon.” While that scene was definitely explicit, I didn’t think it was actually gratuitous because it showed the lengths the characters were willing to go in order to remain young and attractive. I thought it revealed how sad a person Miriam Bancroft had become over the years of reinventing herself. She had never moved beyond the idea of tying her self-worth to being attractive. I also thought the scene set up the character development Kovacs went through later in the book when you compare that sex scene to the one with Kristin Ortega. The first scene was purely physical for him — he sort of pities Miriam — but later he’s genuinely falling for Kristin even though he knows how messed up that is and how dangerous it is for him to let that happen. He doesn’t know whether Kristin is with him because she’s attracted to him or just because he’s using the body of her imprisoned lover and former partner. For this reason, I think the scene with Kristin, even though slightly less explicit, was actually more disturbing. Both scenes intricately demonstrated the implications of the science Morgan set up in the book. Because of the character development involved, I thought both scenes were warranted.
    • Someone brought up the idea that science fiction was for so long a “boy geek” world and also wondered about the popularity of the tattooed heroine on so many Urban Fantasy covers. Every genre has to have a visual short-hand to communicate to readers what kind of story a book is. That’s what the tattooed heroine is for Urban Fantasy. For Science Fiction it’s often space ships or some giant landscape of a futuristic city. For Fantasy, it’s elves or swords. For Romance, it’s the  visual called the “clinch” of the couple embracing or — in a direct reflection of the Urban Fantasy covers — a naked or mostly naked male torso (and lately, often tattooed especially in Paranormal Romance). I think the Urban Fantasy covers work because they appeal to female readers as an empowerment visual similar to how so many comic book covers of superheroes kicking butt have for many male readers, but also because, hey, it’s a tramp stamp. Male readers are at least going to look.
    • Publishers are still grappling with a visual short-hand for Science Fiction Romance, but a few of my favorites include Lilly Cain’s ALIEN REVEALED, Kim Knox’s GAMBIT, any of Linnea Sinclair’s covers both the original and revised versions (although that could be a whole other conversation), Gini Koch’s ALIENT TANGO AND TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN, and R. Garland Gray’s DARKSCAPE: FIRST HEIR. We’re seeing the male torso covers show up in SFR on books like Jess Granger’s BEYOND THE RAIN and BEYOND THE SHADOWS as well as most of Susan Grant’s covers (even the Star series reissues).

    I’ll post a link shortly once I get the SFR Brigade article written. Great show!


    Interesting topic.  Too bad there were no women on the panel.  Maybe that could be remedied in a future episode.  Samuel R. Delany would be a good guest for this.  A list of all the books mentioned in the show would be nice.  People need to get over their sex hangups in America.  Laurell K. Hamilton says America thinks her books have too much sex, and Europe thinks they have too much violence.  I’ve learned to ignore book covers completely.


  3. Great show. Very interesting topic that could be expanded upon in a longer format and could also bring in some more people to get a larger spectrium of responses. The interview with Brent Weeks was fun as well. Keep up the great work guys.

  4. Great podcast, and I’d like to contribute my own two cents.

    First, what Lisa Paitz Spindler said.

    Re: SF films with gratuitous sex scenes: I’d argue that not only the sex scenes but the *romance* in some of those films are gratuitous and meant to draw in female viewers. Hollywood marketing at its self-serving best. Being female myself, when it’s gratuitous it grates on my nerves, but when it’s not, I’m all for including it because I love a good romance/hot sex scene with my SF.

    Speaking of, I’m hoping that the upcoming film “The Adjustment Bureau” (which is being advertised as “science fiction romance”) will demonstrate how love scenes can be integrated into an SF film without feeling gratuitous.

    Regarding sex in SF targeting a specific demograhic:

    Despite the gratuitous/mechanical sex scenes, was/is sex a possible SF code for “romance” or “relationship”, at least in some stories? Perhaps a way to acknowledge that sex exists in the context of a relationship, and particularly in a romantic one? I’m having a difficult time imagining a discussion of sex in SF without addressing the relationship aspect. I think the two go hand in hand.

    Further regarding demographics, lots of early Spock fan fiction was Spock-in-love stories. These stories were written by women (but not necessarily *just* for women) and they fed the desire for SF-romance hybrids that mainstream SF didn’t, er, satisfy. Given the underground nature and size of the audience for such fan fiction, I’m also wondering how successfully sex in SF was targeting anybody, least of all female fans of SF.

    Luckily, today we have subgenres like science fiction romance that targets readers who enjoy blends of SF and romance, of varying heat level–even if publishers don’t call it that.

    I agree with the panelist that discussed Tanith Lee’s SILVER METAL LOVER. The political and romance elements in that story were well integrated.

    Regarding gender of protagonist: I think that done well, readers will relate to the sexual experiences of either gender (although reader subjectivity ultimately plays the final role).

    As a romance and an SF reader, my experience is that in subgenres like science fiction romance, both the hero and the heroine are the protags. With dual POV so prevalent in this subgenre, readers can engage with the character arcs of both, as well as the romance/sex experiences of both. A win-win if you ask me.

  5. Lisa – great stuff, all valid points.  Wish you could’ve joined us but I understand – family comes first! 🙂

    Tam – yeah, we had several of the female contributors set to be on but then various real life things stepped in to squash our plans.  See Lisa’s comment above for her take on the subject.

    8Bitdad – Scott!!!  Nice to see you over here on sfsignal!  I really enjoyed the interview with Brent and I’m glad you did too – he’s an awesome guy.

    This is an interesting topic and I’m sure this isn’t the end.  Even if we don’t revisit it on the podcast, a mind meld or something would be fantastic. *looks at JohnD*

    Heather – wow, excellent comment.  I think that scifi is constantly evolving.  Where it used to be that the publishers were marketing to guys or young guys, I think now the readership is very diverse and they recognize that, they market for that and it’s a good thing – hell, it’s a great thing.


  6. About skype breaking up after an hour, it’s a certain chip in usb headphones.  It happens on TWIT all the time.


  7. Tam – interesting! of course, I don’t use USB headphones… 🙂

    It’s always been that way though. In the early days of just me & John A recording, we’d have tons of Skype issues – 99% of those were solved when I ran Cat5 instead of WiFi.  I know Skype does some strange caching in the way it handles VoIP and, add to that the fact that I am running the Mac verion, which doesn’t get a lot of love from dev and you just get weird things, me thinks.


  8. Gentlemen,

    I’ve been following your show for the past two months and have been inspired by what you set out to do. This episode, however, was lacking if not down right insulting.

    One: you absolutely needed at least one female for some semblance of balance if not better dynamics.

    Two: consider having a gay or lesbian SF author next time you talk about gay SF sex unless your goal is to alienate gay SF listeners.

    Really… was the Brokeback Mountain joke necessary?

  9. Blair Proctor // October 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm //

    there was a Star Trek: Enterprise Episode that used a third gender the cogenitor… and thats the name of the episode as well

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