That’s why strictly speaking neither Gone With The Wind nor Romeo and Juliet qualify as romance-genre fiction. They don’t end with a positive (happy) commitment between the two lead characters.
Interestingly, what seems to twist the anti-grav panties of the SF set is this very same thing: the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This seems to be a kicking-point when speculative fiction is combined with romance.
What I’ve found interesting, though, is that the non-romance reading set in SF seems to layer a deeper assumption of EVER AFTER on to that HAPPILY than many of the authors—myself included—intend.
A month or so back, in a shameless and blatant effort to get a buzz going for my February 24, 2009 release, Hope’s Folly, I offered electronic ARCS (Advance Reader Copies) to a handful of book bloggers. Most had read me before. Most were chosen because they’d read me before. Stacking the deck, Linnea? Sure. But Folly is book three in the Gabriel’s Ghost/Dock Five universe (both monikers are floating around out there.) I’m not out there to get bloggers to go WTF? as they try to catch up with the storyline.
But as happens with electronic copies, they get passed around to other bloggers (and I’m fine with that). So I was interested to find a blog comment on Hope’s Folly on a blog (Oct. 16, 2008) I’d not specifically sent the ARC to. The comment was decently positive except it raised the issue I’ve started to raise above. The assumption of EVER AFTER.
To wit: “I'm not a romance reader; I'm very much a sf/f reader. Perhaps it's not so surprising, then, that I really enjoyed the sf parts and was mildly appalled at the romance parts. I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship. *sigh*”
Things like this make me want to pound my head on my desk, more than I usually do.
Here’s a direct quote from the Folly manuscript where the main character is giving some very realistic appraisal to his impromptu and admittedly foolish marriage to the other main character:
Am I—via the character—not saying exactly that? People in real life and in books get married for all sorts of reasons, many of them not the wisest or best. They either make it or they don’t but they do—in fiction and in real life—have the option of trying.
“So, how’s our second week of dating going so far?” he asked. Most people dated first, then got married, but that wasn’t how their life had worked out. Marrying her had been an impulsive move. But it was a move he wanted to be permanent.
So did Rya. The fact that she now had her M-R-S degree, as she called it, was no guarantee of permanency. A real marriage took work. Commitment. Patience and respect.
And that took time.
So now they were dating. Married but dating. Philip rather liked the idea.
At book’s end—and this is really the last two pages—that’s all my characters are doing: realizing the situation they’re in is not the easiest and asserting that they’re willing to at least try.
Since when does TRY equate LASTING?
In the minds of SF readers who read romance, that’s when. I’ve seen this corollary far too often in blogs and reviews from SF-ers dabbling into SFR.
They assume—ASSUME—that because the two main characters are in a compatible situation on the last page that it’s white picket fence and roses forever.
None of my books promise that. None.
It’s an OPTION. It’s never a GIVEN.
My books end—as most of my readers know—at a point where the two main characters in the romantic relationship have either overcome or ignored whatever major conflicts separated them and are willing now to give their relationship the biggest, bestest try they can. That’s all. It’s a potential of a future together but it is not a guarantee of a future together.
Now, for romance readers who want to envision a FOREVER for my characters, that’s fine. Again, it’s an option. Not a given. But at least the romance readers aren’t damning me for it. Or—to take what I would see to be the opposite side of the coin—they don’t write in blogs that I haven’t shown the two main characters breathing their lasts breaths together at age ninety-nine and then going on to be buried side-by-side in graveyard plots marked Mr. and Mrs.. That, to me, is as much of an off-base interpretation of a science fiction romance novel as it is to assume that the characters have, at book’s end, a perfect and forever after relationship simply because they’ve decided to HAVE a relationship.
Let’s parse that blogger’s comment:
“I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. “
Of course it’s infatuation. Every relationship one week in is highly based on infatuation. Physical (and other) attraction. But without infatuation, without physical (and other) attraction, the relationship would never start. That is where relationships start and from there the infatuation matures and the physical attraction matures and the relationship matures.
Moreover, in Folly, both character are very aware this attraction is nuts, too soon and at the wrong time. And they spend a lot of book-time realizing that:
Rya stayed by the ladderway, alternately damning herself and calling herself an idiot. She now had a ridiculous, full-blown crush going on Admiral Philip Guthrie, and every time she thought she’d managed to get hold of her emotions and shake some sense into her head, he’d lean against her or look at her with those damned magnificent eyes, and her toes would curl and she was lost.
This was just so very much not like Rya Taylor Bennton. She did not get crushes on guys—not since she was ten years old, anyway. Rya Taylor Bennton found hard-bodies who amused her and bedded them. Sex was fun, great exercise, super stress relief. Nothing more.
Then Philip had walked—well, limped—back into her life, amid guns blazing and punches flying. And in two, three short hours her life changed.
Further, I never said it was True Love. The characters never say it’s True Love. Rya sees it as a ridiculous crush.
As for Philip:
He was certifiably insane. He was sure of it. These past few months, the physical damage his body had taken, the stresses of losing one command and gaining another, the deaths of friends and crew—it had all taken a toll. That was the only explanation he could come up with as to why he was so emotionally vulnerable to—and fixated on—Cory Bennton’s twenty-nine year old daughter.
This had to stop. But when the lights had failed again and he’d almost found her in his lap, and then when all means to escape the ready room were exhausted and she was again those few tantalizing inches away from him, and he had the damned stupidity to make the flippant comment that if he’d been ten years younger...
Hell’s fat ass. He was certifiably insane.
She was twenty-nine. She was Cory’s daughter. She had some young buck named Matt hot for her back on Calth 9. She was not for Philip Guthrie, divorced, jaded, and limping around like some ancient—yeah, Welford had deemed him so—relic.
Plus, he had a ship to refit and a war to get under way.
But when he was around Rya... he just wanted to keep being around Rya.
This was not good.
Both realize AND TELL THE READER they’re not at the point to experience True Love. They can, however, experience the beginnings of an attraction that can lead to love and can, legitimately, share that they feel that way. Just like in real life.
What I feel I’m seeing here and in other blog comments like this is an unwitting-or-otherwise filling in of the blanks: This is a romance so this must be about True Love. (Side Note: I don’t think one can define True Love and I wouldn’t attempt to.) There is an assumption that an HEA ending also means Perfection. No more problems, ever. (Tell that to Dallas and Roarke in JD Robb’s IN DEATH series.)
Maybe at one time in romance novels, the Ever After in the HEA acronym did mean an unequivocal forever. But looking at romance fiction today, I don’t think that’s true anymore. I don’t think romance readers buy into “Perfect.” I think romance readers do relate to and respect characters who TRY. Who care enough to TRY.
Moreso in SFR, where there are so many other variables, I think a white-lace-and-roses perfect romance ending would be unrealistic. I don’t write them. That’s why I’m so surprised when some readers take it upon themselves to insert them—and then damn me for it.
I don’t see the same SF readers assuming every one of the antagonists or every one of the political problems is completely vanquished at the end of an Honor Harrington book or the end of a Cherryh book. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series is, what, eight, ten+ books in? And Bren Cameron still has a lot of work to do. I can’t think of one SF or Fantasy novel I’ve ever read where I felt that Life Was Perfect from thereon in for the characters. Even if the bad guy was shredded, the princess rescued the prince, and the evil empire was in disarray.
I don’t know why some readers cement the assumption of an unequivocal Ever After onto many romance novel endings when they clearly don’t depict that. They DO detail it is possible. They do NOT detail it is absolute.
One more note on the “one week” comment and “That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship.”
I know this gal who picked up this guy in a bar in New Jersey back in February of 1979. End of February, to be exact. It was strictly on physical attraction: he was a 6’4”, green-eyed, blonde-haired hunk. They didn’t see each other nearly as much as Rya and Philip do. There was no daily basis thing. There also wasn’t the chance to see each other under fire, working, striving and surviving, which I think adds a different dimension to how and when a relationship progresses. But even given the normal weekend dating kind of thing, and the nightly telephone calls, this guy moved in with this gal after three weeks. He gave her an engagement ring shortly thereafter.
This guy and this gal will hit their 29th wedding anniversary in October of 2009.
Okay, this guy and this gal didn’t know True Love in one week. It took three weeks. And almost thirty years later, it’s still there.
I love you, Robert.
HOPE’S FOLLY, Book 3 in the Gabriel’s Ghost universe, coming Feb. 2009 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books: http://www.linneasinclair.com/
It's an impossible mission on a derelict ship called HOPE'S FOLLY. A man who feels he can't love. A woman who believes she's unlovable. And an enemy who will stop at nothing to crush them both.