Monday, November 19, 2007

Reader Round Robin: What’s Important?

Since I'm being nibbled to death by deadlines at the moment, I asked readers on my Yahoo Group (which also includes some authors, so look for names you know!) what were the two most important things for them when reading science fiction romance. One of the reasons I asked that question (other than to have them do the work for me in thinking up what to blog about today) is that my group has an interesting mix of science fiction readers, romance readers and paranormal/science fiction romance readers. We're an interesting bunch (which is what happens when the "location" of the group is the Intergalactic Bar & Grille…somewhere out there, second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.) I often read with fascination missives posted by the science fiction contingent on various books (or movies or silly pet stories or…) and then watch how different the flavor is from the romance section. Or not. Sometimes the two factions—which one might assume could never meet, with science fiction being 'the intellect' and romance 'the emotions'—will actually agree.

So here, with their permissions, are some of the answers. Agree, disagree, comments?

1 - What are the two most important elements in a science fiction romance novel for you?

Marydot: Most important element in sci-fi romance for me? I prefer a strong sci-fi plot with adventure, gadgets, and abilities. I came from a romance background and am thoroughly bored with the conventions and gawdawful repetitious lines of dialog that turn up again and again.

Birgit: Most important factors aren't really much different from what I look for in any genre I read: 1. Engaging and believable characters that interact in believable ways--people I would be honored to call my friends and invite into my family. 2. Entertaining and complex plots with excitement and action, that resonate with complex emotions, that follow to their conclusion in a natural and not forced way. I like flashes of humor here and there as well, in all my favorite books, because life is generally like that. You get messiness and emotional pain, ,but then there are always lighter moments.

Jen D: Science Fiction = technology; I prefer it be mostly human not a lot of aliens with amazing supernatural powers, which takes it over into the realm of fantasy for me Romance = believable characters thrown into a situation that draws them together; romance/sex that fits into the storyline, not just 'time for some steamy stuff here'

Lynne Connolly: Believability and compelling characters

Vicky Burkholder: Since we're talking romance and not straight science fiction, that is the main part of a science fiction romance for me. The relationship between the hero and heroine are tantamount to the story. Then give me gadgets or scientific principles (the basis of a science fiction story) or a plausible alternate universe - either our own in a different time or a new one.

Misty R: That the story actually be science fiction and not just a romance that could take place in any setting but just so happens to be out in space somewhere.

Clara Bow: a) A sense of adventure. b) Compelling, larger than life heroes and heroines with sexual tension so sizzling that I'm left aching until they get together.

Robin Greene: Character development is always key for me with good plot and world building a close second. I use LM Bujold (as well as you) as an example here.

Mo: Well obviously since it's a romance, I want to see the romance grow between the hero and heroine, the sexual tension and the emotional connection. Otherwise, because it's also science fiction, I want to see other worlds, other cultures, aliens ;)

David Gray: 1. First and foremost, there must be an engaging story line. A hero's quest or action adventure setting works well for me in that vein. Secondly, I like a bit of lively humor, and my observation -- one of the reasons I so like this genre -- is that the romantic interaction between main characters can often provide this quite handily.

Kathy of Kathys Review Corner: 1) The Romance is the focal point - not the Science Fiction. 2) While there must be aliens, spaceships, new gadgets and otherworldly cultures, the storyline must not get too technical where it pulls the average romance reader (like myself) from the story.

Donna: Active space opera adventure! Strong fiery attraction between heroine and hero with hot consummation of same!

Gerard Gourion: a) the world building quality: the ability to give the reader a full world / universe with its societies, its technologies and its complexities **(Linnea's note: this reader of mine astounds me. He's in France, English is not his main language. Of all the genres to read in a second language, SF must be the toughest!)

Kathleen O'Neil: First and foremost - a GOOD story! With well developed characters in situations that feel real and tech that makes sense. And the story is driven by the growth and interaction of characters without pandering to the romance - the romance must seen real, not pushed into the for just because there's supposed to be romance.

Mary Fitz: The same elements that are important in any novel. The novel has to pull me into its world so that while I am reading it the universe of the novel is real to me. In SF romance it is important to me that both the SF and the Romance work. I don't want a heaving bosom historical novel that someone went through with a "find and replace" function changing castle to space ship and swapping sword for ray gun. I also don't want techno babble with some sex tossed in as an afterthought. I want a story that does not insult my intelligence, and characters more than cardboard cutout personalities.

Eileene Brady: It's hard to pick just two. Female characters that can hold their own and don't give in to the male characters. Romance not sex. There is a difference and I prefer to use my own imagination. It must be a believable part of the storyline, not just thrown in there because there has to be sex.

Mary K: A realistic and believable world. Realistic and believable characters with no TSTL heroines.

Tamara H: a)For me it's all about the character development with a believable romance that fits within a science fiction world. b) It should be a solid science fiction story where the romance adds to the story and is not just fluff on the side.

Patty Vasquez: 1. I like the creativity of world-building. I appreciate the intelligence and the believability of the writing and the fact that I have to think throughout the story. Secondly, I like the soul-deep connection the characters make with each other. It is complex, as humans are, but there are moments of humor, tenderness, anger, tension, and that final look deep into each others' eyes that has the reader sighing....

Mike Helfstein: 1 - It has to be a believable love story (I'm a closet sentimentalist) where the mc's really could fall in love that fast. 2 - The story has to be a "can't put this darn book down" kind of sci-fi story.

Elaine Corvidae: 1) Characterization! If I can't empathize with the characters, I'm not going to "feel" the romance. 2) Plot, because this is why I read SF in the first place. ;-)

DeAnn: Strong/Excellent storytelling (ie good plot, dimensional, complex characters, fine prose) A character that I can identify with (ie a good guy/gal, someone who isn't perfect, but who is intelligent and moral and does their dead level best to do the right thing for the right reasons, and is eventually successful)

Skipper skippy (note from Linnea: also known as the Owner, Overseer and Slum Lord of the Universe. IMHO he's worth the price of admission to the Intergalactic Bar & Grille…): Exploding space ships and sex, preferably both at the same time. If a space ship explodes while our hero reaches climax, then the fireworks he/she sees are real. Besides, explosions are ALWAYS cool, as is sex. That is my motto...write yourself into a corner, have the spaceship explode. Or, have the universe be saved if the hero/heroine have sex. It is a formula that will NEVER fail you. Oh yeah, and also add a boy wizard with a funky scar in your books, that will help also.

So, post your thoughts! ~Linnea, back to deadlines and oh, yeah, don't forget: THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES hits the shelves in the US Nov. 27th (pssst...I hear it's already out in the UK).


  1. Anonymous1:49 PM EST

    As you mentioned, the agreement and contrast within this group is astounding, and in the best possible way. And yes, Ss is indeed worth the price of admission to the IB&G. Of course, Sin's Mango Mojitos don't hurt either. :-)

  2. I loved all those answers! Well, most of them anyway.

    First and foremost, the characters must be real.

    The Kick-Butt Heroine has become a stereotype. No one is born powerful. And no one is powerful all the time. Jorie is a good example of a character who beat this stereotype trap. I have no patience for Too-Stupid-To-Live characters either, but there's a huge difference between them and the flawed or immature character who grows up to win the day.

    I've been happily married for a really long time, so any romance that's a departure for the same-old boy-meets-girl romance is a plus for me. There's a lot more to love, such as the Hero remaining faithful even when the Heroine can't be with him for whatever reason. Likewise, sex is boring and even ridiculous, in my opinion, without unselfish devotion.

    This may be a departure from the Romance formula, but I enjoy SFR with strong characters besides just the standard Hero/Heroine. In real life, we all have family members who drive us up the hull and down the other side and weird friends we keep around just for entertainment. Yes, Tank, I mean you.

    Here's a big one for me - I like stories in which the Heroine is a mother because I worked for a lot of powerful women as a Certified Professional Nanny. I loved them and respected them. It boggles my mind when fiction set in advanced societies still can't grasp loving mothers as powerful leaders! Inevitibly, if she is a mother she's portrayed as an uninvolved one. Do you have any idea what mothers who work outside the home go through to be there for their children?!

    Also, I have a hard time in any Romance novel finding a truly delicious villain. If there is a definite villain, he's usually a cardboard cut-out.

    Secondarily, there must be a strong plot that grabs me by the jugular vein and doesn't let go until the end. (Jorie shoved my nose in zombie doo-doo.) This usually means the personal stakes for the protagonists must be extremely high. It's not enough for them to save the world. They have to save their own souls, as well.

    I believe in Happily Ever After. However, it's a lot of hard work to achieve in real life. People often are crushed in the attempt (divorce, death, adultery, etc..). The stories which really engage me are the ones in which the protagonists overcome personal defeat to Finally Live Happily Ever After.

    Okay, that was long-handed. Must return to home educating my offspring. Buh-bye.

  3. I agreed with most of the answers given.
    I believe a good scifi romance should have believable plots and a couple of main characters that seem real. Anything else is not worth reading :D

  4. Anonymous4:27 PM EST

    I answered the Round Robin on the fly and just realized I forgot to include my pet peeve of SFR or any alternate world fiction. Lack of Consistency!

    World-building has to follow its own rules, and it has to follow them consistently. I can believe in all kinds of weird and crazy crap. If a story requires suspension of disbelief, I'm first in line to hang mine up. But start violating the story's rules and that disbelief is going to come back with a bang as the book hits the wall. I'm not talking about exceptions to rules. I'm talking about the author forgot the rule or it turned out to be inconvenient so she ignored it.

    I realize consistency is hard when writing an alternate world because the rules are largely made up by the author, but man inconsistency makes me crazy. I believe, you see. And my faith is betrayed.

  5. Preach it, maryk! There's also got to be depth and dimension to the world-building. Please, no Martian Housewives!