Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part VI: Unconditional Love and Science Fiction - a

Last week we looked at Love and Romance, using thumbnail definitions from Astrology for Venus and Neptune.

Here's a list of previous posts in the "Big Love Sci-Fi" blog post series:

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Part IV in the series:

Part V in the series:

We are turning the subject of Love and Romance this way and that, looking at it from all angles to find a way to create a blockbuster novel/film story that will convince those who scoff at the Romance Genre that they've been missing something important.  Some might then change their minds.

We can see clearly that this issue of respect of the general public is still very hot by noticing this item about the Romance Writers of America convention program:

Friday, June 17, 2011
Written on 7:55 PM Posted by Heather Massey
Does The “Science Fiction Romance” Label Marginalize Female Authors?

Nobody with something to sell wants to be "marginalized" -- it's the horror-buzz-word these days.  The assumptions behind that choice of word could use some dissection, but that's not today's topic here. 

One of my suggestions for why Romance hasn't gained the respect of the general public, and why many Romance genre writers use pen names and neglect to mention their Romance genre credits when marketing work in other genres is that readers and writers of this genre (as with all other genres, almost by definition) share certain assumptions.

The assumptions underlying Romance Genre are simple: Love Conquers All, and the Happily Ever After ending is actually possible in real live.  There exists (for real) such a thing as a Soul Mate, and bonding with such a Soul Mate leads to the HEA ending. 

I discussed this at length here:

In that post, I wrote:
Rarely is an author allowed to challenge the very premise of the genre within a story in that genre. Genre is based on ASSUMPTIONS that are not challenged. That's my definition. Things you leave OUT define the genre, and one of those things is the same in all genres -- don't challenge the genre premise in the plot.

In Romance, it's Love Conquers All that must not be challenged.

In SF it's Science Conquers All that must not be challenged.

In Crime it's Crime is Wrong that must not be challenged.

In Adventure, it's "the solution is not here but somewhere else" that can't be challenged. (home is not a fun place to be).

In Action, it's "There Is No Other Possible Solution Than To Kill The Bad Guys." You can't make friends with the bad guys and turn them into good guys in an Action genre story. (all the rules are changing, remember?)
Also think about this post:

Where I wrote:
Read the comments on that blog entry and you'll find a comment about the HEA ending.

Note that if it's true that both SF and Romance must generate endings that violate the absolute boundaries of consensus reality, then the two genres are not now and never have been separate genres.

So there's no such thing as SFR.

You can't "mix" genres that are already identical.

If you mix two things that are identical, you end up with more of that one thing.

So SF has "proved itself" by having moved the boundaries of reality for many people now living. So they accept this new reality of iPhones and thus most SF no longer seems ridiculous or crazy.

But apparently, no such "proof" yet exists for Romance.

Well, look at the state of the Family in the USA (maybe worldwide). Divorce is commonplace, over 50% in some demographics. And a famous couple ostensible happy for 40 years just announced a separation.

"Falling in Love" has led to bitter disappointment for many who married because of a romantic experience.

In their reality, there is no such thing as HEA.

And they've convinced all their friends and family there's no such thing as an HEA.

Later in that long post, after quoting a long conversation on #scifichat on Twitter about Utopias in Science Fiction, I concluded:

Look over that discussion substituting "HEA" for Utopia.

As noted in the comments to my blog post on "Why Do "They" Hate Romance?"

--- the world out there puts the HEA outside of the bounds of the possible. HEA is impossible just like Utopia.

Even the most imaginative SF writers can't encompass the basic concept. How could you expect their readers to approach it?

Worse, it's not just the HEA concept that's outside the bounds of thinkable thoughts -- it's the very idea of thinking outside the bounds of the thinkable that's unthinkable.

Reverse your point of view to looking at the SFR field from the side of the Romance writer, and you'll find exactly the same problem.

The romance writer imagination *Epic Fail* comes in trying to imagine the world WITHOUT the HEA -- and at the same time can't even think of the possibility of a technological advance (an SF postulate) that might challenge or involve the HEA concept.

Also in "Why Do They Despise Romance" I noted the core theme of the Romance genre Love Conquers All causes negative reactions in some readers who prefer other genres.

That theme is Love Conquers All

You can't change that theme and still have a Romance genre Work.

But the theme is the source of the problem.

"Slushiness" comes from Love not having a very hard time conquering All -- the two get together, and they just fall all over each other despite themselves, and then talk about their feelings as if nothing else in the world matters, their inattentiveness generating no consequences of note.

"Plot Cliche" comes from the genre requirement that the PLOT is the sequence of events leading Boy to Girl, and thus the only possible main conflict in a Romance is "Love vs. X" where X is whatever is keeping them apart.

So the THEME is what the major portion of the potential audience objects to, but you can't change it and still have a Romance.

So what do you do?  How can you possibly popularize Romance to Big Screen proportion audiences?

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me the solution.

The solution is to challenge the theme, doubt the thematic statement.
And after that - (yes, I write long posts)
Most themes that work for fiction are, for most reader/viewers, unconscious assumptions about life.  They are unexamined, taken for granted, "truths" about normal reality.


The Comedy forms have always been the thin edge of the wedge into commercialization of one of those challenges to the unconscious assumptions of a culture. The romcom, stradling the line between romance and comedy has powerful dramatic potential.

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me (most especially while I was writing UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER) to use the plot, the characters, the story, and the worldbuilding (most especially the worldbuilding) to DISPROVE THE THEME and thus examine those unconscious assumptions of my readership -- the adolescent male SF reader the publishers market my adult-female fiction to.

Illustrate, she taught me - show don't tell - the opposite of what you are trying to say.

In this case, "LOVE CONQUERS ALL" becomes "LOVE CAN NOT CONQUER ALL." That would knock it out of the genre, so keep working.
------------End quoting myself---------

And I'm going to leave off there this week to give you time to reread those posts and really think about Love.  Yes, THINK about an emotion, intellectualize your gut feelings.  It's no way to live, but it's good exercise.

Next week we'll look at the Soul and the Creator of Souls.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Cool stuff, Jacqueline, like when you said something about making the Love scientific. I think I'd already internalized that from a lifetime of Star Trek. My characters always have something weird going on. So far, all the heroines I've written for stories I've polished up for submission have been empathic or had some other telepathic type connection to the hero. In the story I just sent to my publisher, the Heroine is an empath and the Hero is a telepath who is unprepared to meet an empath. So, my thought was when they meet it's like two magnets meeting, but she's more powerful. So, when their poles are lined up, they're fine. When they're not, she makes him devestatingly ill.

  2. Reminds me of paranormal romances using the "soul mate" concept as an almost biological phenomenon that binds the hero and heroine together whether they want it or not, even if initially they don't like each other. In such stories finding a destined soul mate is not the solution to their problem but the catalyst for the conflict.