Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Is there a taboo against romance in science fiction?



just did a Question which they asked me (among others) to answer.

Here's the Question they emailed me.
[INTRO] From Star Wars to Avatar, stories blending science fiction and romance have persisted for decades in books, films, fan fiction, and even videogames. However, despite such evidence, there are those who believe the two genres can’t, or shouldn’t, be combined.

Q: Is there a taboo against romance in science fiction? What does romance bring to the SF genre? What are some good examples of romance in SF that illustrate this?

So I emailed back and asked how much room do I have? And can I cheat by including links?

(they had NO IDEA of the size of this topic!!!!)

They emailed back and answered 1,000 words max and yes I can use links.

So I cheated my way through the answer, but I wanted to share it with you here because last week, my blog post here was titled: "Why do "they" despise Romance?"


That post is based on a discussion on a twitter chat #scriptchat (I also attend and often blog about #scifichat ) about the Romantic Comedy film subgenre. That post answers this SFSignals question at length.

Here's my brief answer.

For at least twenty years, Romance writers have sought to inject elements of SF and Fantasy into Romance novels.

Lately, SF writers have begun to blend Romance motifs into novels.

Certain editors and mass market publishers have found a receptive readership for this kind of mixed-genre product, and others have just bounced right out of the market entirely.

This is a marketing puzzle, a writer's business model puzzle, and a reader's dilemma. Why do these two fields repel each other?

Solve that puzzle and make a fortune because Romance is huge and SF is shrinking.

My exploration of this puzzle has caught the imagination of Heather Massey at http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/ and she has compiled a pair of posts about how hard it is to mix SF and Romance.

followed by

There she focused on my 1978 Award winning novel, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER -- published when there was an absolute, blast-barrier wall between SF and Romance, a taboo stronger than the taboo against words like hell and damn in books sold to libraries (almost all of my fiction, so it doesn't contain much English invective).

In 2010, I found my name mentioned (via feeddemon search) in an Australian blog and discovered a woman who had read UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER years ago, and only now, on re-reading realized that it is indeed SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE and belongs with the modern books she likes. That's why UNTO stood out to the point where she had obsessed over it. At that time, it was almost unique "Alien Romance" - and now it's a genre.


So in 1978, SF readers were starting to accept a romance driven plot.

By 1985, Romance readers started to accept an SF driven plot.

The first novel in my DUSHAU TRILOGY, DUSHAU (now available on Kindle) won the first Romantic Times Award for Science Fiction and shocked the socks off my agent who was marketing me as an SF writer.

Today, if you read the comments on Heather Massey's two posts cited above, you'll see that readers of SFR and Paranormal Romance are devouring novels by a writer who admired some of my novels and founded a career "writing like that" -- SF with a solid romance driving the plot and story, Linnea Sinclair (I adore her books!).

Linnea likes my Vampire Romances, THOSE OF MY BLOOD and DREAMSPY, too.

And there's a generation of writers (and readers) now working to replicate the magic Linnea Sinclair has created who have never heard of me.

Ten years from now, nobody will remember that it was ever possible to write SF or Romance as separate genres.

The reason for that is that both SF(including Fantasy) and Romance are "Wish Fulfillment Fantasy" genres.

We enjoy the stories that show us how to get our heart's desire.

SF delivers the heart's desire of someone who wants to be loved as the one person who actually understands what's going on and can solve the problem innovatively, thinking outside the box.

Romance delivers the heart's desire of someone who wants to be loved because they are more important than war, work, politics or sports - loved, admired and valued because they are understood completely (no matter how far outside the box the guy has to think in order to grasp the intricate complexities of who this very special person (me!) is.

Now you explain to me how those could possibly be incompatible objectives?

Here is a more complete explanation and a long list of examples in the early years of how to blend these two genres

For more examples in current novels:
http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ (my prof review column archive)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://www.simegen.com/jl/ (full bio biblio)
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com (current availability & free chaps)
Can be followed on twitter.com/jlichtenberg
Or facebook.com/jacqueline.lichtenberg
Or friendfeed.com as jlichtenberg


Jacqueline Lichtenberg, a life member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, ( http://www.sfwa.org ). She is creator of the Sime~Gen Universe with a vibrant fan following ( http://www.simegen.com/writers/simegen/ ), primary author of the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! which blew the lid on Star Trek fandom, founder of the Star Trek Welcommittee, creator of the genre term Intimate Adventure, winner of the Galaxy Award for Spirituality in Science Fiction with her second novel, and the first Romantic Times Awards for Best Science Fiction Novel with her later novel Dushau, now in Kindle. Her fiction has been in audio-dramatization on XM Satellite Radio. She has been the sf/f reviewer for a professional magazine since 1993. She teaches sf/f writing online while turning to her first love, screenwriting focused on selling to the feature film market.
Screenwriting: http://www.slantedconcept.com



  1. I'd really like to know how you managed to slip the Sime-Gen idea past the guardians of morality at publishing houses that long ago.

    My first Legion Universe novel had romance (I don't think it was *that* romantic, to be honest), and got rejection after rejection. Picking the brains of authors I met at cons, most of them agreed it was the romance side that caused publishers to blink.

  2. My first short story didn't let any of "that" show.

    It's posted for free reading at

    And the story of that is posted at

    After having a Magazine sale in the series, I wrote the first novel HOUSE OF ZEOR -- and it got rejected EVERYWHERE.

    Even Hal Clement (who graciously read it when I asked him why) said there was no reason it wouldn't sell.

    Eventually, I had begun a correspondence with Marion Zimmer Bradley, who again beyond gracious, read the novel, and said she thought the editor at Doubleday would buy it (after she showed it to DAW Books DON WOLHEIM, who turned it down and later said he regretted that and published later books in the universe as Mass Market (reprint from Doubleday HC then mass market originals).

    I sent it to Doubleday and I think it was more than a year later, got a call that they'd be buying it.

    Then that editor left, and I didn't have a contract for the second book, UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER, but I tried for it anyway -- and got the editorial workout of a lifetime that taught me sooooo much.

    UNTO was first published by Doubleday in HC and won an award. So the THIRD book was accepted, and so on until "they" killed the "midlist" as miika here noted by pointing out the article
    about the collapse of mid-list in the UK.

    How did I sell that first story? I followed instructions in the commercial fiction writing course I was taking.

    1) study the market and the PURCHASING EDITOR'S PERSONAL TASTE
    2) write what will captivate that editor
    3) send it in, very sparse professional cover letter

    Or in the book market case, study the agents blogs online.

    Look in acknowledgements of your favorite novels for mention of an Agent. Psych out that person, write what they would find fascinating.

    I was an avid reader of IF Magazine (and Galaxy and Analog) -- so I knew from the editorials and choices of stories exactly what story in my own universe would captivate. I wrote that to specifications printed in the magazine (length etc), and it sold.

    With the short story credit for the cover letter, the novel sold (eventually!).

    That's how it's done. Start small, demonstrate ability to hit a specific, defined market, hide all the good stuff under the sheen of a market signature, and reveal it later when you've got sales figures behind you.

    Just be sure that what's revealed later actually is the sort of thing that would please the market reached by previous stuff.

    That is what was impossible when House of Zeor was published. There was no market for Relationship-driven SF, for Intimate Adventure.

    Establishing a new genre is hard.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg