Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi: Part III How Big Can Love Be in Science Fiction?

In this Big Love Sci-Fi series we've been talking about the place of sexual activity in Romance, Love, and science fiction.

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Last week we looked at the place of illness in fiction.

The general subject is all about carnality in life, where it fits, what it's for, and how various societies have handled it.

In the 1800's, carnality was hidden, out of sight, kept from children and even teens and unmarried girls.

Today it's in every TV ad.  In order to make a point, I had to post a Bikini photo on the SIMEGEN Group on Facebook -- because the product that has just come on the market which will shape the next Sime~Gen novel worldbuilding I do is a Bikini!


Possibly that post won't be there any more when you read this.  It's a bikini going on sale made of the new cloth that can use solar energy to power small personal devices (like an iPod or GPS).

So why do you suppose they chose to market this cloth as a bikini first?

And why are they marketing it with an illustration of a Swimsuit Issue perfect model in the bikini?

Wouldn't it be enough to show the bikini on a hangar?  I mean men aren't going to buy it, at least not to wear themselves!  Why show it on a model?

Carnality sells.  Sex and violence never fail as a marketing tool, even (or maybe especially) in a society that keeps such things private.

Remember, from the first blog in this series, that the conflict, the Romance and the steam behind the Romance comes from the tension generated across the border between public and private.

That's rooted in the human adolescence, when awareness of the personal individuality as distinct from the parents first emerges.  And at first, (which is why virginity was so protected and prized) the individual's inner, personal awareness is very tender, very sensitive.

That's why teens tell each other tales of how EMBARRASSED they were in this or that "awkward" situation.

Try to explain "embarrassment" as a major issue to a three year old.  Even a shy three year old just has no awareness of anyone else's "embarrassment."

Embarrassment is sexual, or at least coupled to the new unfolding awareness in adolescence.

Now to the point of this post.

Science Fiction originated as a genre for adolescent males (NOT females!)

With the impact of STAR TREK (and the women's lib movement) on us, girls discovered the glories of Science Fiction.

Those original science fiction virgins discovered a private/public tension dimension that had escaped the notice of all the guys.

They discovered SPOCK!!!  The most "private" creature on the Enterprise.

What was "fascinating" about this alien, what drove the sexual interest, was the huge realm of his life that was PRIVATE FROM US.

Like young virgins everywhere, they were so desperate to know all about Spock that they made up all kinds of stories.

What were those stories based on?  The single episode done by Theodore Sturgeon, Amok Time, which established the Vulcan mating drive (just barely sketching it).

My article on Theodore Sturgeon is here:


And here's one connecting Sime~Gen to the magazine WORLDS OF IF, and Fred Pohl (all related, trust me).


Breaking through that privacy barrier, especially with the SF-premise of telepathic bonding as the root of Vulcan sexuality, fueled the first Science Fiction Romance, and gradually and tentatively (like virgins) explored the carnal issues of sex with an alien.

And since at that time homosexuality was a huge social issue in America, many of those human/alien romances ran permutations and combinations into same-sex relationships.

Why was that so fascinating?  Because it broke a privacy barrier, a taboo if you will.

When you cross a privacy barrier, you enter into INTIMATE relationships.

And it's always emotional, always a loss of emotional virginity, when two people enter each others' private space for the first time.

You might want to read my articles on Intimate Adventure, here:


So how "big" can love be within SCIENCE FICTION and still stay in the science fiction genre?

How much science does it take to ruin a Romance?

Well, just look at that bikini picture in that advertisement I referred to above.  If it's not available, close your eyes and imagine, then imagine that tiny scrap of cloth as the science.

No mere "amount" of science can ruin a Romance. And no "amount" of Romance can ruin a good science fiction story.

It isn't the "amount" (or number of words devoted to) either science or Romance that makes the story work or not work.

It's all in how the story elements are orchestrated (yes, it's an artform!).

The key to learning to "orchestrate" the science, carnality, love, Romance, and Relationship in such a complex genre as SFR lies in that concept of PRIVACY BARRIER.

How "big" the Love is in a story, how overpowering or commanding, how much the Love drives the plot to resolution depends on the author's awareness of the reader's sense of private-vs-public.

The Adventure in Intimate Adventure as I've defined it comes from crossing from that Public space adventuring into the strange territory of someone else's Private space.

SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE where you deal with a human/alien couple caught up in a Romance is all about how very STRANGE that other person's private space is.  How alien.  How different.  How unexpected.

How embarrassing to intrude into!

The measure of "how" big that Love, Romance, and Relationship is depends on how SENSITIVE the two characters are (how virginal), and how sensitive the readers are.

In our society where that bikini ad just had to include a model to sell the science product, you can see the reason why most Romance novels today include a series of increasingly carnal and explicit sex scenes that go on and on and hit and hit harder and harder on the reader's nerves.

As you become less sensitive, you feel those blows less.

To feel a response to a sex scene, you need more and more detail, private-space invading language, coarser language, hammering gyrations described visually -- or you don't think it's interesting.

So as with the classic tale of the Princess and the Pea -- how Big the Love in BIG LOVE SCI-FI is depends not on the carnality of the sex scenes but on the sensitivity of the intended audience.

The typical Romance reader who hasn't yet been properly introduced to SFR is extremely sensitive (i.e. virginal) with respect to SCIENCE.  So any scientific jargon or explanation they must understand to decipher the plot is too much.

The typical SF reader who hasn't been properly introduced to Romance is extremely sensitive (i.e. virginal) with respect to LOVE.  So any LOVE related jargon or explanation they must understand to decipher the plot is too much.

When something intrudes into your sensitive private place, you squirm with embarrassment like a teen.  Is it good to become calloused there?  Is it good to have no privacy?

So the most effective mix of Love and Science for SFR novels is entirely dependent on the previous reading (viewing) experience of the audience and the prevailing opinion on privacy barriers and the value of callousness.

In a harsh world, you might want to be sure your children become calloused.  A violinist develops callouses on the finger tips for a reason.  Our skin barrier has that callousing ability for a good reason.  Callouses revealed to Sherlock Holmes a lot about a person's occupations.  Our bodies and minds custom-make our callouses, and they are part of our individuality (hence a writer can use them to sketch a character in multiple dimensions.)

Now you might want to ponder last week's blog entry on depicting illness in fiction.  When ill, we don't have the strength to hold up our barriers, and our emotional callouses might protect the tender inner parts for a while, but they too will fail.  A person who is ill all the time develops different emotional callouses.  

How sensitive you think "people" should (or should not) be, and how sensitive you think they are, and how to change what is to what you think OUGHT to be, may actually be the source material for the THEME of that illusive work we've been searching for -- the SFR story that hits the big screen and brings real respect to the genre.

The science fiction writer habitually thinks in these areas where ordinary people simply can't go on their own.  It's the mark of the budding SF talent.  Can you think the unthinkable thought and postulate a society where sensitivity is prized, fostered, admired and required?  Can you go beyond that to depict a society (probably non-human) where such sensitivity is in fact the greatest strength and most effective survival characteristic?  Once having built such a world, can you induce the calloused readers of today's Romance novels to visit you there?

So think hard about how BIG you think LOVE is and ought to be, in life.  What has to change to make it the "right" size?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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