Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Big Love Sci-Fi Part IV: Mystery-Detective Romance

What strange bedfellows I have for you to study today!

But first the list of previous posts in this series:

Here's the first post in this series:

And here's Part II in this series:

Part III in this series:

Readers, please remember my Tuesday posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com are aimed mostly at Romance writers, professional and beginner, best selling and self-published (which is sometimes the same thing!), plus anyone who wants to solve the knotty problem of why the Romance genre and its sub-genres are not held in the highest of all regards by the general populace.

Examining that problem of "reputation" has led us on many goose-chases, some of them quite wild.  And this Big Love Sci-Fi series may turn out to be the wildest yet because it references and builds on many of the discussions we've explored here.

This blog focuses on Science Fiction Romance (SFR) and Fantasy Romance (PNR etc).

As I see it, and have always seen it since my pre-teen years when I discovered SF, there actually is no difference between SF and Romance, they are in fact one and the same thing, a "mystery" that has never been noticed by publishing's marketing wing, though things are changing fast.

I started out writing Science Fiction professionally to argue my case in "show don't tell" -- to demonstrate exactly how Romance and other potent intimate relationships where one from "outside" explores the "inner" content of another person 's (human or not) psyche. 

I quickly discovered this was simply, just, absolutely NOT DONE in professional SF.  So I buried those story aspects so deep the professional editors didn't notice, just as they have not yet noticed that SF and Romance are the same thing, not a "blend" or sub-genre.

The rest of the world solemnly believes that SFR is a "hybrid genre" -- but the truth as I see it, is that no such thing at all is the case.  These two "genres" actually do not differ at all. 

By now, any non-writer reader who is reading this is steaming!  Of course science "spoils" a good romance, and any double-dyed SF reader shuns any hint of Romance. 

And yes, that's true when the two philosophical modes of looking at the world, "modern science explains everything" and "Soul Mates Are Real and the object of life" are viewed as two separate things.  A writer seeing the oil and water distinction will choose a theme that makes that assumption unconscously.  That writer will then struggle with a mixed-genre novel, handling first the SF then the Romance, juggling and straining -- and the strain will show.  Neither reader will be satisfied.

My unconscious assumption is that the Science and The Soul are not oil and water, but part and parcel of exactly the same thing (but I've no clue what that thing actually is!) 

That assumption is woven into the foundation worldbuilding (deep in parts not actually revealed in the novels, but echoed in every character and event) of the Sime~Gen Novels which have now been reprinted and also released as e-books in all formats.

In June, 2011, the first of a pair of novels with an interstellar setting, human-alien intimate relationships, and Karma and rebirth as reality, MOLT BROTHER was launched into audiobook production, so it'll be available on paper, in ebook formats, and audiobook.  The sequel CITY OF A MILLION LEGENDS is under contract for audio -- AND so are all the Sime~Gen Novels but production is only in progress on MOLT BROTHER so far.  Still, it's a career first, and shows how my unconscious assumption of the lack of a barrier between these genres is slowly becoming widely accepted. 

You can find all the Sime~Gen new editions and (click my name on the right) all the Sime~Gen new editions here:


Now we label such products as Mixed Genre -- eventually they won't be seen as two genres "mixed." 

My bet is that this material will be accepted as "Literature" -- real, honest, Literature, and given the very highest prestige of all Literature because it is the hardest to write and the most difficult to understand in full (i.e. every time you re-read one of these novels, you read a totally new novel you never knew was there, which is the mark of a classic.

So watching this trend develop, I have just read in quick succession two novels which, if you study each carefully, may actually take you another step on the path to creating that Romance Literature that stuns the world and changes minds.  That mind-changing effect was, traditionally, the function of fiction.  There was such a thing as an "Important Book" because of the way drama can convey ideas that can not be absorbed or entertained in any other context.

 So here are 2 novels for you to study and BLEND into this new Literature.

They might be viewed as BIG LOVE stories (totally plot-driving LOVE) and neither is really "Romance" -- but that lets us dissect them more easily.

1. Laurell K. Hamilton's #20 in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, HIT LIST.

Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 20)

2. Still Life with Murder by Patricia Ryan writing as P. B. Ryan (for a time free on Kindle, but it's #1 in a series)

Still Life With Murder (Nell Sweeney Mysteries (formerly Gilded Age Mysteries))

The Anita Blake novels are, as you know, huge best selling, trend starter novels.  The kick-ass Fantasy Heroine Anita Blake started the Kick-Ass fantasy female trend.  It wasn't the FIRST of its sort, but it became the most imitated. 

Patricia Ryan -- Oh, you might need to read my entries on Pen Names to understand this.



Patricia Ryan is one of the founders of Backlist eBooks, the group of widely published professional writers who have retrieved their rights and posted their own e-book versions.  This trend is particularly strong among Romance and Mystery writers because publishers of those genres don't generally do reprints.

So when Pat started the posting project for this series, there was a big discussion on the Backlist eBooks List about Pen Names.  She settled on the advice of using her main byline with "writing as" and the original byline the book was published with.

Pat's won many awards.  Here's what she says about this particular novel:

Book #1 of P.B. Ryan’s acclaimed historical mystery series featuring Boston governess Nell Sweeney and opium-smoking former battle surgeon Will Hewitt, Still Life With Murder was a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award. Long thought to have died during the Civil War, Will is arrested for murder, and it's up to Nell to prove his innocence. Originally published by Berkley Prime Crime.

So this novel is about a pair, a "couple in the making" perhaps, who team up to solve mysteries using their MEDICAL DIAGNOSTIC THINKING.  He's a doctor, she was training as a nurse, and both are supremely intelligent.  He's a morphine addict (really death's-door addict when they meet), and echoes Sherlock Holmes.  She is you or me in another life.

So the "science" in Patricia Ryan novel is medicine, or Healing.  In the age this is set in, it wasn't much of a "science" but the thinking methodology was already in place and improving the practice of medicine. 

The "Romance" harks back to Part II in this Big Love Sci-Fi series, about the place of illness in fiction. 

Addiction is a type of illness, and many couples form around the problem of one person's addiction and another person trying to "cure" them.  Psychologically, that is of course futile, scientifically it's idiocy, but people still stubbornly do this.  The "Rescue Complex" is scorned by the general public, and the tendency is to shrug it off, label it "Love Makes You Blind" (or stupid) and walk away from the emotional pressure cooker.

However, if you look at Science and Soul as indistinguishable, what you see in this "Rescue Situation" is two Souls drawn together because of some prior life issue between them. 

The esoteric, Kaballah based, theory is that to accomplish the Soul task of making the whole world a better place, certain very highly evolved Souls take an incarnation amidst a horrendous Situation, and improve the world by climbing back to their more 'illuminated' state.

To my eyes, Patricia Ryan has drawn a picture for us of two Souls, Soul-Mates definitely, who have "descended" to the darkest levels of human existence (both have horrendous histories), and in this series are launching themselves into a journey upwards. 

I have only read the first novel, but Patricia Ryan is one terrifically competent craftswoman with Talent beyond belief, so I expect the series to be solid.  This is what I see.  The point, to my way of thinking, has to be that neither alone could achieve this climb.  Together, they will suffer harrowing defeats and take giant leaps of faith for each others' sake, and ultimately LOVE CONQUERS ALL.  They are Soul Mates, and they will live Happily Ever After -- never a doubt.  However, what keeps you reading is the texture of the spiritual journey, the "could I do that?" and "would I?" and "do I want to?"

All of that is coded into the worldbuilding via Theme, and it's so seamless you will have a hard time dissecting this novel to see how she did what she did.

Now, the interesting thing about the Karmic story Pat is not writing overtly, is that along the way they climb this steep path by HELPING PEOPLE.  They solve mysteries, murder mysteries, get involved in people's lives, come to understand the darkest and the brightest motivations, and the PRICE OF LIFE.  The risks and the rewards are all on that Intimate Adventure level I always talk about.

Pat worked her magic in "the real world" in a historical setting.

Laurell K. Hamilton is working in an alternate Earth with Vampires, bacteria-based shapeshifting into various critters, necromancy, and creatures so old they have nearly infinite "power." 

After the first novel where Anita becomes embroiled in the affairs of a Vampire (Jean Claude), gradually the novels in this series become long, drawn out, intricate, involved and "hot"  sex scenes.  Usually, the sex is "dark" rather than joyful celebration.  But these sex scenes do not (usually) stall the plot.  However roundabout, the gyrations of bodies leads to some change in Anita's magical abilities or status in the magical community.

Anita joins (Bonds magically) with a large number of people of various sorts (Vampire to all kinds of shapeshifters), and frankly it gets tiresome.

However, in 20 novels, Anita has changed, matured, defused a lot of her psychological "buttons" and has less of a hair-trigger temper.  She's less defensive, and less apt to pick a fight just for the exercise.

Anita is a cop.  Originally, she was a Vampire Hunter -- unofficially slaying Vampires who killed people, to unofficially police the preternatural community.  She was especially good at it because she's a talented necromancer, and that's how she earned her living (Raising the dead so they could rat out their murderers).

So Anita is on the "good-guy" side of things, helping people, protecting people from being murdered by preternaturals, and with each effort, each job, she gets sucked further and further into the world of darkness.

At the 20th novel, I'm not at all sure Anita will ever make it back to the Soul state she started with.  I have not enjoyed watching her path downwards.  I'm not sure she wants to claw her way back up -- maybe next lifetime she'll become a Patricia-Ryan Character.  I'm not sure Anita cares.  If there's a Soul Mate for her in this series, it's Jean Claude and recently we've rarely seen him, and haven't seen him doing Good.  But Anita and Jean Claude are DEFINITELY "Big Love" candidates. 

Hamilton has painted a very dark world for us, one with a huge lot of Sex and even maybe some Soul, and a dollop of Love here and there outside here Relationship with Jean Claude.  Anita still has a tiny bit of the Honor she started with and she clings to that, but is still letting go of it one bit at a time.  Very dark.

My personal truth is Patricia Ryan depicts the world I live in, and Hamilton depicts a nightmare I'd never even have.  It just doesn't connect with me, personally, on that level.  Ryan though has my combination down pat. 

But that's personal.  When you're learning the writing craft, training yourself to do this stuff and make it come out a) Best Seller and b) revealing depiction of inner Realities  -- you have to read and analyze things all around your sweet-spot and not just in it.  You have to get to where your writing is personal, yes, but also not at all personal at exactly the same time.  That's the dividing line between amateur and professional.  There's no way to explain that line to those who haven't crossed it -- just as there is no way to explain this Private/Public line I've been discussing in BIG LOVE SCI-FI to those who haven't adventured across it.

Do an in-depth contrast-compare of the THEMES of Patricia Ryan's Nell Sweeny Mysteries and Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake mysteries (yes, Anita is a Federal Marshal and solves mysteries while Sweeny is a nurse/Governess who solves mysteries), and ponder how these two series serve different readerships.  (Me?  I'm a card-carrying member of BOTH readerships!  But I'd pick up Anita Blake's story in her next lifetime.)

Patricia Ryan's kickoff novel for the Nell Sweeny Mysteries has no sex in it, but scintillates with nascent Big Love.  Ponder how that works, and what it means in terms of that Public/Private dividing line.

Laurell K. Hamilton's entire series is almost nothing but sex scenes interspersed with all-out magical and physical violence.  I THOUGHT it would become a fabulous Vampire Romance, but it swerved in a totally different direction, the destruction of an Honorable Character.  Keep in mind, I haven't read the rest of Patricia Ryan's series yet.  (they're $2.99 on Kindle)

Now go back and re-read the previous entries in this blog series -- BIG LOVE SCI-FI -- thinking hard about these two novel series and what they have in common -- and how opposite they are.

What is the difference?  Is it genre?  Or Philosophy?  Does each philosophy need a genre?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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