Monday, June 26, 2006

Why do SF readers boldly go everywhere...but the bedroom?

Okay, first let me state that I'm not talking about ALL SF readers. So put your laser pistols back in their holsters. Second, I can't take credit for the subject line. I filched it from author Barbara Karmazin and maybe I can talk her into responding here.

But the point is this: I'm a long time and avid reader of:
Science Fiction /Fantasy
(not necessarily in that order) and it's only in the SFF venues do I see an author's novel being trashed for including a romantic plot or subplot.

I certainly have never seen a romance reader trash a novel for including a mystery or speculative fiction plot or theme. And I've never personally seen a mystery reader trash a novel because the detective had a love interest.

But put a love interest in an SF novel! Incoming photon torpedoes! Ion cannons firing at will (poor Will, why does everyone fire at him?)! A segment--a certain segment of SF readers go totally ballistic. Their beloved genre has been sullied. Damaged. Insulted. A LOVE INTEREST? LOVE? That...that...::shudders:: four letter word? LOVE?

It baffles me.

Or maybe it doesn't. We live on a planet in which love is equated with weakness. Hatred, violence, bigotry and criminal activity are "manly". Strong. Bad is good. Caring and compassion are for weaklings. You know: wimmin.

What baffles me even more are the wimmin SF readers who uphold this philosophy. Romance in SF/F is bad. Sex is SF/F is punishable by tarring and feathering. Some arguments I've seen by those who support this is that a female character in an SF story who falls in love is being 'objectified' or manipulated into a stereotypical cultural norm (ie: wimmin fall in love as if that's the only thing they can do).

Well, my characters fall in love. I personally can't envision a future (if the SF is set so) or a planet/star system I'd want to spend time in (and that's what you do when you read a book) that doesn't value companionship. That doesn't recognize the importance of emotional intimacy, physical intimacy. (I'm not saying I can't ENVISION an emotionless society. I'm just saying I don't want to spend ALL my time there.)

So one of the things that my characters experience in my books is falling in love.

It may come as no suprise to you that I'm happily married. Very happily. Since 1980. And while yes, my husband is an enormous center of my life, I've also been a tape-recorder-wielding news reporter and a gun-totin' private investigator. Love didn't diminish my abilities in either of those careers. So I rather figure if I can do these things--and be all these things--so can my characters.

One last thing. I've often wondered if those SF readers who recoil from SFR also recoil from listening to rock/pop music in which the lyrics plainly are about the singer's feelings for someone else? And I'm not talking Barry Manilow type music, either. But Springsteen. Billy Joel. Led Zepplin. Van Halen. (Does anyone think "Hot For Teacher" was about an arsonist?) ZZ Top. (Oh, "Legs" was about fried chicken, right?) . The list (and the beat) goes on...

Hugs all (because yeah, my characters aren't the only ones who have emotions),


  1. Great post.

    I run into the same Great Love Rejection when I try to convince people that horror and romance are made for each other.

    I think there is an unfortunate belief in some genre fans that "love" = "fluff." That serious genre fiction only deals with ideas, not emotions. And certainly not love.

    Part of that attitude might stem from some romantic fiction that is fluff, but there are certainly themes about romantic relationships and sexuality that are speculative, or horrific, enough to satisfy any genre reader.

    Off the top of my head, I think Stephen Donaldson's Gap series, Octavia Butler's Wild Seed series, and Clive Barker's Imagica showcase how a speculative take on romance creates powerful fiction.

    I'll be interested in reading any comments here that defend keeping sf romance free!

  2. I'm not sure but I speculate it's hardcore sci-fi fans, guys that read Asimov and Clarke, that protest romance within a sci-fi setting. They don't want their dry science interrupted with girlie stuff.

    In fact, I read a review of Finders Keepers, I think it was, where a guy trashed the book because it was "just like a romance in space." My question is this: did he not READ the back of the book? When a blurb includes info about a male and female protagonist, you can usually figure there's going to be something happening there.

  3. Ana,

    Great point, but haven't these guys noticed that Asimov had a love story in one of the three parts of THE GODS THEMSELVES. A guy from Earth fell in love with a girl whose home was the Moon.


    Rowena Cherry

  4. Also, I speculate that the dorks who don't want to read about romance and/or sex have no shot at same so it's depressing to read about someone else getting what you've never had and never will. ;)

  5. Joyce, I'm aware of the fluff rep and I'll state yes, there's romance fluff out there. There are also fluffy mysteries and slapstick horror books. And on and on. But I don't judge ALL mysteries by one cozy and I don't judge all thriller by one Mel Brooks' movie. I don't know why SF readers (some! some! not all!) have this tendency: Oh, there's a relationship in the book. Bad.

    Ana, I found far more humorous the reader who posted on Amazon that he bought Finders Keepers because of the babe on the cover and then trashed if for having romance on the pages. So, it's okay to LOOK at something romantic or sexual but not read it. ::scratches head in bafflement...::


  6. I think we're in the middle of a sea change, and it's the old school hold-outs getting their panties in a twist. What they are protesting is actually ongoing relationships rather than the one-night stand type of romance. I say this because the Captain Kirk model, a new alien babe every week, long ago became acceptable. No wonder slash fiction began; the only long-term, meaningful relationship Kirk ever had was in fact with Spock. ;-) That model continued with the other Star Trek series; characters hook up, but it never lasts. All relationships are short term (for the most part--there are obvious exceptions like O'Brien and his wife, etc., but for the MOST part).

    But SciFi has see a change in that model in recent years. Babylon 5. Farscape. You might count Firefly, although it didn't last long enough to prove my point, alas. All feature relationships that are more than the "babe of the week" variety.

    Some people find this change threatening. I don't know why, precisely. Perhaps it's because the more you have emotionally invested in the characters, the more possibility there is for you to feel pain when something horrible happens to them. Because, unlike romance, sf makes no promise of an HEA (Joan Vinge's Psion books being a classic example). Maybe it's just that some people resist change. Maybe it just isn't their thing, simple as that.

    It is changing, and it will continue to do so, and NY is slowly catching on, as is Hollywood. But these are monolithic corporations, and tend to be slow to change. And if they think sf with romance doesn't appeal to teen-aged male geeks, they're selling teen-aged male geeks short. I know, because some of them are my readers. ;-)

  7. And another thing!

    Good stories have characters that capture the reader's hearts as well as ideas that challenge their imagination. Should it be a big surprise that the one genre of fiction that consistently deals with characters' emotions and conflicts sells the best?

    If SF wanted to broaden its market, the authors would do well to appreciate that characters carry the stories, and that characters in love often have the most at risk.

    Okay. I think I'm done ranting. :)

  8. Linnea Sinclair has raised a valid point here -- and Barbara K (whose books I don't think I've read but now think I want to) -- has nailed it on the head.

    Barbara's story of her life as a reader is almost identical to mine. We diverge only at the point of trying to sell that fiction written in high dudgeon protest of the "neck up SF" we grew up on.

    I did succeed, after a fashion, to get the "relationship driven plot" into the mainstream SF marketplace, starting with my 1974 first hardcover, House of Zeor, and to my utter astonishment, won the 1985 Romantic Times Award for my galaxy spanning chase/rescue human/alien romance, DUSHAU (the first of the trilogy, DUSHAU, FARFETCH and OUTREACH).

    But I can't say that I did better than Barbara. At that time, there was no e-book market -- indeed, there wasn't really a WWW! And the mid-list book was thriving in Mass Market. Today the readers I write for, and the type of book I write, is gravitating toward the e-book field.

    The Dushau Trilogy was Mass Market only, but hopefully will be in e-book soon.

    With the "sea change" that Elaine Corvidae has spotted, I feel I am now living in the world I was born to live in!

    True, we still have resistance to overcome, but the way ahead seems clear, and the e-book market is leading the way just as fan fiction brought us this far.

    And it's quite far indeed. Years ago TV Guide admitted that the relationship driven TV shows were the most popular.

    There are, of course, all kinds of Relationships -- Romance being only one, and actually only the beginning of a whole spectrum of possible evolving Relationships. And they all generate grand novels!

    There is a standard way to test a piece of art to see if it's well composed. And I think you will find that books that pass this test do not trigger mature readers to the kinds of acerbic objections Linnea mentions.

    1) If you can take out the science, and you still have a story, it wasn't science fiction to begin with.

    2) If you can take out the Romance and still have a story, it wasn't Romance to begin with.

    Now, if you've written an SF/Romance or Futuristic or Alien Romance, and you can take out the SF, or futurology (yes, you can't just SET a story in the future and call it "futuristic" -- you must do some futurology which is a science) or remove the Non-human parts of the Alien in the Alien/human romance and still have a story, then you didn't have an SF/Romance etc. to begin with.

    If you can take out the Romance AND the SF and still have a story -- it wasn't an SF/Romance to begin with.

    Science Fiction isn't about today's science -- it's about where today's science is wrong, and what might actually be the case. It's about inventing new things.

    To be SF at all, a story has to be built on one of 3 elements: "What if . . .?" "If only . . ." or "If This Goes On . . ."

    Great, classic, award winning SF combines all 3 in the same book.

    Romance isn't about an existing Relationship. It's about a CHANGING relationship -- a potential relationship. It's about the ideal relationship and making the ideal real which causes the participants to change deeply.

    To be Romance at all, a Romance has to include one of the elements -- "What does she see (or not see) in him?" "What does he see (or not see) in her?" "Does sexuality create the relationship or obstruct it?" "If these two bond, what will happen?"

    A good, solid, classic Romance has all three of those and more!

    I think you will find that the vast majority of the SF readership will not object to the Romance if it is integral to the science, and vice-versa.

    Integrate all 6 of those questions into a single unified theme, and you can't fail with an SF/Romance.

    What SF afficionados object to in most of the SF/Romance on the shelves today is that these 6 elements are not inextricably woven around a core of rigorous futurology.

    (J. D. Robb comes to mind -- such a good story; such shoddy workmanship.)

    Scientific errors, lack of extrapolation explained in "show don't tell," and treating space travel and science in general the way Star Trek did, will draw fire regardless of whether you have a Romance in the mix.

    Think of it this way. If you somehow get a Historical Romance published where (without meaning to signal an alternate universe) you have people from the 12th Century wearing clothing that wasn't invented until the 13th century, described by names not in use until the 14th century -- Romance afficionados would pan the book scathingly. Hot sex scenes won't save you.

    If Historical Romance demands facts be accurate and abundant, why shouldn't SF-Romance demand that the facts be accurate and abundant?

    The SF "facts" have to be extrapolated from existing science, and you have to play with the reader the way a Mystery writer does -- leading the reader through clues to understand where our modern ideas of science are wrong, and "What if?" our ideas are wrong -- what would that lead to? What inventions?

    Remember Poul Anderson's method (also Hal Clement's method) of creating aliens from Earth species. C. J. Cherryh does this too. To create an alien sexuality, you take an Earth creature and give it intelligence -- then you run through the entire process of evolution to see how they come to dominate their world.

    You have to create the mathematical model of that planet to understand what intelligence would dominate it.

    Then you create their society using known methods of anthropology and linguistics, starting with the biology of their reproductive mechanism, the anthropology of their religions trying to control that biology -- and so on through each and every science studied today.

    When the scientific facts are accurate, abundant, and rigorously extrapolated, then inextricably woven into theme and plot so that you can't remove a single one and still have a story -- you won't have SF readers scoffing at the Romance.

    They'll pant for more!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  9. What excellent posts! I just want to point out two distinguished male SF authors who have done in-depth relationship fiction -- from the Golden Age, Theodore Sturgeon, and nowadays, Spider Robinson. Why it didn't catch on when such a highly respected big name as Sturgeon did it decades ago, I don't know. Remember his classic story about the homosexual aliens being returned to their planet by a two-man Terran ship? Jacqueline, what IS the name of that story? Darn. The theory that emotional content, esp. lovey-dovey feminine stuff, was incompatible with hard science has certainly been a prevalent notion, at least in the past. Asimov, I believe it is, mentions writing angry letters (as a teenage fan) to his favorite magazines when they dared to introduce the distraction of a love interest into SF stories. As I think he himself points out, though, those love interest subplots were usually unimaginative bits of fluff tacked onto the real plot to give the hero someone to rescue. E. E. "Doc" Smith, however, had romance subplots in his Lensman novels. And Edgar Rice Burroughs' first John Carter novel, A PRINCESS OF MARS, would surely be published as a futuristic romance today, since the love story is a very important component.

  10. Ditto, Evangeline, on convincing female readers to read SFR. The complaint I get--besides the technobabble one and that from, as has been pointed out, a gal with a cellphone, an iPod and all the other toys--is that there are too many strange words in the story (ie: alien planets and names). So then I ask them what they do read? Oh, historicals, contemporary, Regencies. Ah, I say, and I spell out R-E-T-I-C-U-L-E and ask them to 1) pronounce it and 2) define it. Most can't. Oh, they say--some sci fi word? No. An 18th century woman's drawstring handbag. A common terms in lots of romances.

    Historical novels are replete with strange words. But that doesn't seem to phase them.

    So how do we get the fear of sci fi women to read SFR? ~Linnea

  11. I guess I'm an oddball. I didn't read SciFi growing up, don't read it now, and never (ok, actually refused) to read a romance until I was 22. I prefered ghost stories when younger, but I did grow up on reruns of Star Trek (original), Lost in Space and the like because dad really liked those shows. Today I was Stargate and Stargate Atlantis for my weekly SciFi fix. One of the most memorable books I read is Ravyn's Flight by Patti O'Shea. It's on my keepershelf. It was the perfect blend of action, SciFi elements, and romance.

    I'm still relatively new to the writing world, though I began seriously writing in 2002. I began with a contemporary, it went nowhere. I then wrote a paranormal which to my immense surprise sold. My first release was a myth retelling making Medusa the heroine, and my second was The Drigon's Fall. People have no idea what I went through with that first SciFi. First off, the Drigon is a ship. Many people thought I had misspelled dragon. I still haven't figured out where the editors got those mystical, magical crystal balls that tells them just what there will and won't be in the future. Owning one of those would make writing SciFi so much easier. What's my point? I'm getting there.

    As I said before, I'm not a SciFi reader--not in the traditional sense anyhow, but I do LOVE a good romantic SciFi. Like in The Drigon's Fall, you get the techno stuff, you get the adventure and new worlds, and you get a wonderful romance. When an unknown entity is killing off crewmen and out to get the hero/heroine too, the pair need the romance to reaffirm life, to let them know they are still alive and to give them a reason to keep fighting even when the odds are against them. Trying to save a world or a ship will only get the hero so far. Love, love is the driving force that makes him be able to do things he'd never have thought he could do. Love makes us stronger, not weaker.

    I admit, I took a break from writing SciFi after the Drigon, though that's as much because of health reasons as anything else. I had to get some paranormals out of my system, but at the moment, I'm back to the SciFis. Reader reaction has been mixed. Some are excited at the thought of new SciFi stories to read, while others could care less. I'm only one person and cannot read minds, I'm not even very good at reading expressions or body language, so I can only say what works for me. I enjoy creating new worlds, new races of beings. Having a ship cruising through space where the possibilities are endless is fun for me.

    The future is upon us. As more and more books go digital, more and more women are getting into technology. My mother is one of those anti-techno gals, but she now has a computer, a digital camera, cellphone, TiVo, and a Z22 palm handheld to read ebooks on. I hope that with the familiarity women are developing with electronics, they'll become more and more open to SciFi romance. It's a hope anyhow...a dream. The future is as close as tomorrow. Besides, a good story is a good story, regardless of its setting.

    Heather *the rambler*
    (comment also posted at MySpace)