The other reason is that on this blog and elsewhere, the topic of science fiction romance (what it is, where it's going, why it does what it does) is hot. To get a recent sampling beyond this blog, go here and here and here. And the one from last year which I still get emails on, here. This doesn't include the four-day Science Fiction Romance/Futuristic Workshop at Romance Divas two weeks ago. (You have to register to read the forum posts but it's worth it.)
So why do I write it? If you've been following any of these discussions you know that the genre is still experiencing growing pains, it gets dissed from various camps for things the other camp loves, no one's really sure where to shelve us and publishers aren't sure how to market us. So why write for a genre with so many inherent issues when I could write something already defined, established and easily available everywhere paperbacks are sold?
Because of something Jacqueline Lichtenberg noted in an upcoming column (yeah, a bit of time travel here—she sent me an advanced copy of her monthly column because my book, The Down Home Zombie Blues, is mentioned in it). The esteemed Jacqueline wrote: Reading SF or Paranormal romance is good exercise for learning to judge character – and learning to trust.
And that just smacked me right in between the eyes with a gosh-golly-dang it all with the absolute truthfulness of that statement. Reading SF Romance is a good exercise for learning to judge character.
We're not talking literary characters here, although that's how that's achieved. We're talking the everyday attributes of those within your sphere.
But doesn't reading any kind of fiction accomplish that? you ask.
Good question. My goodness, you're bright. Yes, it does. Reading fiction puts you in the driver's seat of someone else's feelings and experiences and—if you've half a brain and even a quarter of a heart—builds empathy and compassion.
I just think SFR—because of its very otherness—does it better.
Sometimes we don't want to specifically face how unsympathetic we are. How we lack compassion. And if the characters we're reading about are like us in thought, actions, deeds and experiences, that lesson might be a bit too much "in your face" and not be accepted as easily. Or it might be more easily overlooked. "Hey, stockbrokers (or gym teachers or real estate agents or soccer moms) don't act that way here in (fill in the blank with your locale)." So the vicarious experience goes flat. We reject the experience because we all know some gym teacher or veterinarian or store clerk who wouldn't feel that way or say those things. So we don't. The lesson cut too close to the bone for us to comfortably assimilate it.
But ah, science fiction and more so science fiction romance. Since none of us are Stolorth or Wookiie or Kif or furzels or fam, there's just enough of a disconnect, of a distance that we can step into the "other's" skin and accept the experience without feeling that it's, well, really a lesson in compassion aimed at us. Because, well, we really don't need one, right?
Once a lot of the hard-SF purists stopped dissing "media SF" like Star Wars, the realization surfaced that issues of racism, cultural taboos and ethnic diversity were at the heart of many of the shows. When Kirk kissed Uhura, viewers sat back and said, wow! He's handsome, she's gorgeous… was there a message about interracial relationships there? Maybe. If you wanted to see it. But Star Trek also taught us (well, those of us who were listening) to see beyond skin color and country of origin. It was hot dude kissing sexy gal. Wow.
I often get asked if there are "messages" in my books. I occasionally (well, more than occasionally) get emails from readers who've noticed certain messages. Are they there?
My answer is always the same: if you want to see them, they are. Lightly layered in, sometimes more heavily layered in.
In science fiction romance, you can do that. In Gabriel's Ghost, there's the reaction of humans to Stolorths. The treatment of Takas. In An Accidental Goddess, there's the problem Gillie faces when confronting her own image enshrined in a temple. And in my upcoming The Down Home Zombie Blues, watch how Commander Jorie Mikkalah views us here on Earth.
I'm not the only author who plays with this. Read Robin D. Owens fantasy series for Luna, read Susan Grant's Otherworldly Men books. Read Colby Hodge and Stacey Klemstein—the latter especially for dealing with "the other," especially if the other is us. Rowena Cherry couches her messages in humor. Then there's Catherine Asaro, Patti O'Shea, S.L. Viehl, Susan Kearney, Lisanne Norman… all authors who certainly could write to easier plotlines and markets (and some, like Kearney and Viehl, already do, branching out to non-SF genres). But here we are for the most part, hip-deep in SFR.
Science fiction permits an author a palette of far more intense and diverse colors than contemporary fiction does. It also permits a buffer called "other" than does make lessons or messages feel so much less like lessons or messages. It's a larger than life venue. Exaggeration doesn't feel quite so much out of place. So the experience is deeper, richer, more intense and yet, in many ways, less confrontationally obvious.
Yet it makes us think, makes us feel. The very vividness with which we create our worlds and characters stays in the brain and the heart. They are often so different. So we, readers, think about them a little more. It's fun to explore that difference. Even if in the process, we learn something about ourselves.
PS: that pencil sketch above was done in the early 1980s. Just shows you how long I've been thinking about these things...