Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Definition of SF - What is Science Fiction? Part 2 - Science Fiction Romance by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Definition of SF - What is Science Fiction?
Part 2
Science Fiction Romance
Jacqueline Lichtenberg  

In 2008, I proposed a definition of Science Fiction we could use to further discuss how to  create and market Science Fiction Romance.


The over-all subject of these Science Fiction Romance writing posts is to probe the dilemma pioneers of Science Fiction Romance face -- That while science fiction itself has gained an overt acceptance among the general public now even winning Oscars and Emmys, Romance per se has not followed, even though Romance prevails in film in the RomCom -- Romantic Comedy. 

So Science Fiction Romance burst into the Romance novel scene, and showed every sign of taking over the entire field.  The Fantasy and Paranormal branches thrived.  The first to hit impressive sales figures were the Vampire Romances (my favorite which is why I write them.)

Then all of a sudden you couldn't sell a Vampire Romance, and soon galactic adventures just weren't making the cut.

Science Fiction writers, at first curious enough to read some of the Romances,  dismissed Science Fiction Romance written by Romance writers no matter the sales volume.  The reasons they gave were anywhere from bad writing, bad characterization, bad plotting, and bad dialogue, all the way to the real center of the issue, bad science.

Now science fiction has always extrapolated and postulated about science.  The best science fiction -- and best selling -- always postulates that the latest, hottest, most solemnly endorsed scientific finding is simply not TRUE.

Today you'd apply that kind of postulate to modern science and launch a series of novels depicting a future Earth where it turns out that because of measures taken to avert "Global Warming" or CO2 caused climate change, Earth's civilization collapses and can't restart again, leaving the remnants of humanity to live in a world without any metal-working, and no power other than maybe wood-burning.

What if Global Warming is not TRUE?  That's what makes a science fiction postulate. 

The trick is to think the un-thinkable.  Assume it's true. And build a world from that premise.

Star Trek did this exact thing.  At the time (in the 1960's when close-orbit space travel and a jaunt to the moon were in reach), it was a tenet of any "real science" that it is "impossible" to go faster than light.

For decades, science fiction had been depicting galactic civilizations based on this or that kind of space drive -- updated every decade to a new "What if current science is wrong about this?" as science came to new conclusions.

This is the kind of thinking shunned by the brand new Science Fiction Romance writers.

In the beginning, they simply took the idea of a galactic civilization, sometimes with aliens, sometimes not so alien, and wrote a typical Romance of their time using characters like the readers in some way.

Because the readership did not know science, had developed a self-image based on a cultural maxim that said things like, "Women can't..."  the lead female characters in these early novels shared that self-image.  Otherwise readers wouldn't be able to identify with these characters, and thus wouldn't enjoy getting to an HEA.

You root for the home team.  You want to see yourself, someone like you, or someone you admire and aspire to emulate triumph in a decisive and permanent way. 

The plausibility of that decisive, permanent HEA rests entirely on the reader's ability to understand the mechanism that governs the fictional universe (the worldbuilding that illustrates the theme) and thus to understand how and why these characters actually solved the problem.  Solving a problem is answering a question. 

Both Science Fiction and Romance must "sell" the reader on the implausible premise (Love Conquers All) by selling the characters as a seamless outgrowth of their environment which they are capable of conquering and worthy of conquering "if only" they admit their Love and thus Conquer All permanently.

Thus the plausibility of the premise of the World you Build rests almost entirely in the accessibility of the characters who people your world. 

Science Fiction readers and writers rejected these hybrid Romance novels because of the scientific errors (yes, especially when repudiating a scientific principle, one must demonstrate a complete understanding of the principle you are repudiating).  And they rejected these novels because of the self-images held by the characters -- to be the hero of a science fiction novel, you had to have or to develop during the story a Self Image of being capable, powerful, and RIGHT -- more right than the opposition. 

Science Fiction readers also rejected these Romance novels partly because of the HEA which didn't seem plausible considering the weakness of the characters, and the characters' refusal to address that weakness.  Weak characters are ones who can not adjust their self-image to include getting the correct answer when all the other characters cling to the incorrect answer.

For more on the definition and creation of "Strong Characters" see:

That Part 3 has links to previous posts on this topic.

Science is based on the systematic application of principles to generate Questions.

It is question-formulation which is at the core of all scientific endeavor.  Phrase a question incorrectly, and the answer doesn't matter.  You won't learn how to get something to work. 

So science fiction is driven by both Science and Characterization.  The character of a "scientist" must be the central, plot-driving character, and the writer must convince the reader that this character actually does science for a living.

That's difficult because most readers of science fiction did (at that time) do science professionally (for a living) -- and came to this reading material as a bus-man's holiday, a vacation from a profession where you do the same thing you do at work every day just because that's what you most enjoy, what relaxes you, what thrills you.

So most of the writers of early science fiction were indeed professional scientists.

And their writing showed it.  People steeped in good literature scoffed and departed quickly, then heaped public scorn on any Science Fiction Novel or story even if they had not read it.

That's partly why Romance has a bad rep in some circles, even though it out-sells most other genres.  The people who scoff can't find a character in a Romance with whom they can "Identify."  The people in a Romance aren't themselves in another guise.

Identifying with the main character is what most readers seek. 

If you can't identify, then you want to aspire to be that Towering Figure. If you don't aspire to be that Towering Figure, then you already expect to become akin to that main character and want to glimpse your future.

Again: "What if ....I were this character?"  "If Only ...I could be this Towering Figure."
"If this goes on ...I will become this character of face this fate."

Romance is actually, at its very core, very precisely identical to Science Fiction -- but the science it uses is Psychology or other soft-sciences. 

Romance is the bus-man's holiday of the professional mother, family manager, office manager, mediator, problem-solver involved in other people's lives.

Science is about involving yourself intimately with physics, math, chemistry, astrophysics, space-time-quantum mechanics, and the respective engineering issues associated with manipulating the structure of the physical universe.

It's the same kind of involvement and the same kind of HEA -- SUCCESS! 

Science succeeds at conquering incompatibilities between physical objects and human aspiration.

Romance succeeds at conquering incompatibilities between human obstacles and human aspiration.

Both genres center on the human Will overcoming impossible odds to achieve an HEA in at least one department of life, while leaving open the question of what challenges might arise in other departments of life.  (e.g. a Romance may end with wedding bells, but the readers know to ask, "What will these two do with children?" 

Winning a war is just like that -- for the moment, there's peace and time to enjoy.  But you also know there's a mess to clean up, and more disagreements coming, that in fact being the winner just makes you a bigger target.

The two genres are the SAME, and so should not only blend well but engage both audiences at the same time. 

STAR TREK proved that is possible. 

While the aired episodes had some sex, a lot of violence, and a triumph at the end, even when laced with hints of challenges to come, the fans examined the cracks between scenes, the time-spans not chronicled, and connected the adventures with a tissue of complex Relationships among members of the crew.

Millions (maybe billions) of words of STAR TREK fan fiction are extant, and most of it is essentially Romance in various guises, filling in the "real life" experiences of the characters.

In later incarnations, Trek's producers acknowledged the pervasive interest of the fans in the love-lives of the characters and did what Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV Series did, pairing off the members of the crew (or staff of DS-9 space station) with each other in various combinations to see what happened. 

Don't forget the popularity of the TV Series The X-Files was based on such a Relationship that generated lots of fan fiction.

As new generations are becoming involved in fiction consumption (even in video-game format), we are seeing more fiction about the edges of the possible, about "the impossible" and a bigger emphasis on how "the impossible" situation that science fiction postulates affects how we Love, how we Bond, and how we Cope.

For more on generational shifts in taste and how to predict them, see my post on Pluto in the Signs and how tht 20-year cycle reflects in fiction-taste.

The theme I am seeing on TV these days centers on Betrayal in one form or another.  Betrayal (Scorpio) is an obsession (Pluto) of an entire generation that currently forms the highest paying, easily swayed by advertising, market for fiction, those born with Pluto in Scorpio.

Pluto is the ruler or moving signifier of the zodiac sign Scorpio.  Scorpio governs two Houses of the USA natal chart, 8th (death and taxes) and 9th (Justice and Foreign Affairs including Foreign Aid.) 

Revolutions, insurgencies, and revolts (great fodder for a Romance writer ) are fueled by the emotion of "betrayal."  "You promised me one thing and gave me another." 

That "Betrayal" theme of Pluto is currently visible as Pluto transits Capricorn.  Pluto is magnifying power, reveals scandals (and hidden dire illness), and summons do-or-die focused obsession on change, on "turning on the leaders."  Capricorn is ruled by Saturn and is all about defining limits, discipline, efficiency, organization, practicality, necessity.  The current transit of Pluto through Capricorn is seen in the overthrow of governments, the re-drawing of country borders. 

I've been collecting news items illustrating this Pluto in Capricorn manifestation on the world stage.  All the situations in these news articles form venues for great Science Fiction Romance if you can think about them as a science fiction writer and analyze them to the core.


Betrayal can also be associated with Neptune -- and all Romance occurs under major transits of Neptune that blur the edges of "reality" and put you in a softer mood.  Neptune transits let you believe that what you wish to be so is already in fact so.  Thus when the transit is over, the fog lifts, and there is the discovery that what you thought was so is in fact not-so.  Many people, in this discovery-section of the process, point the finger and yell, "You made me believe."  "You lied to me."  "You deceived me."  But the truth is, the yellers actually deceived themselves because of the influence of Neptune.

Neptune effects are discussed in the Astrology Just for Writers blog posts.

All Relationships are Marriages regardless of what you call them.  A Relationship is a merger where each party loses and each party gains, so it is a Marriage. 

Divorce often results from a contract broken, a betrayal of trust or a disillusionment.  Even mortal enemies are "married" to each other. 

I've examined the Marketing implications for writers of the birth of generations with Pluto in different Zodiac Signs here:


Here is the index post for Astrology Just For Writers:


Astrology, while disparaged by science, is precisely the kind of science that Romance Novels use to generate plot.  It is about character, personality, and relationships, but discusses these nebulous experiences in terms of numbers, of times of life, of epochs of experience, of triumphant moments and tragic moments that reshape understanding and expectation of life.

Now, considering this discussion of what Science Fiction is, what Romance is, and why the two fit so perfectly together, consider this discussion below that I found on a LinkedIn Group thread wherre there were a lot of posts, but I just lifted out the Question and my answer for this discussion.

The question is why does science fiction gravitate toward Dystopia, and my answer is in essence, it does not! 

I've given you above the reasons why a short-sighted, merely current sample of Science Fiction and Fantasy might seem to emphasize Dystopia when in fact it does not, and why Utopia is likewise the primary subject of Science Fiction or Science Fiction Romance.

Examine this question's phrasing, think about how you would answer, then read my answer.  If you're a member of this LinkedIn Group, click through and read the thread.  It's interesting! 


Why does Science Fiction gravitate towards Dystopia and not the Utopia that Transhumanism promises?

Clyde DeSouza Author; "Think in 3D", "Memories with Maya". Virtual Reality, Tech Evangelist
------------END QUESTION-------

--------quoting myself----------
This question is phrased in a self-defeating manner.  If you let "others" define the parameters of your choices, you will never solve the real problem but just be manipulated by manipulators, essentially "buying into" a world view that you really do not share.

Think about it this other way (but don't stop here!)  "Does Science Fiction at its best portray dystopia?  Is there something fundamental in SCIENCE that leads to disintegration of civilization?  Is there something fundamental in FICTION that demands portrayal of disintegration of civilization?  Or is there something in MARKET DEMAND that rewards writers of dystopia more readily than writers of adventure, triumph, and success (editors and publishers, too)?" 

As Science Fiction writers we are scientists FIRST, and fiction writers SECOND. To fail to examine the question itself is to fail to think like a scientist.

BTW as author of the Bantam Paperback STAR TREK LIVES! that blew the lid on STAR TREK FAN FICTION and explained why fans were so energized by that TV Series (as opposed to others on the air at the time) -- I can tell you that interviews with Gene Roddenberry revealed he didn't view STAR TREK as utopian, but rather as a simple but necessary improvement in human attitudes linked inextricably to the developments in technology.  He would always say, "When we are wise ... then we will ..." 

That's what SCIENCE FICTION actually is -- the examination of the impact on civilization, via close-ups of characters' lives, of science and technology.  Dystopia is ONE result of that impact.  Utopia might be another. 

As Theodore Sturgeon (author of the STAR TREK episode, AMOK TIME) said many times, "Ask The Next Question."  Do not stop asking.  This discussion's question is an "asking stopper" in the way it is phrased, not in the subject itself.

STAR TREK examined the questions about technology impacting civilization which were obsessing the public at that time, and in every incarnation has addressed contemporary issues.  (Captain Dunsel).  And STAR TREK was about the adventures had along the way toward answering those questions (Prime Directive, IDIC).  Each new answer poses more questions to have adventures answering. That's the spirit of science fiction; a journey.  "What if ...?"  "If only ..."  "If This Goes On ..."  Dystopia is only one of many-many ways to finish those sentences.

Science Fiction reading/viewing teaches how to avoid letting the person who poses the question limit your analysis of the domain of definition in which to answer the question. 

Consider Captain Kirk posing one little question to the Entity discovered at the center of the Galaxy, "What does God need a Space Ship for?"  Study that question.  The way this question about Dystopia is posed uses the psychological methodology of that fake god.  Answer like a real KIRK.

Do not accept authority - challenge it. That is the essence of science fiction, and you will find it in a lot of the characters in SF-Dystopian visions, even if they are not main characters.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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