This blog series posting on Tuesdays is about Science Fiction Romance, how to write it, where to find it. and why this mixed genre is significant in the sweep of human history, or future history.
So, because we focus on writing craft, we have to analyze many novels -- some having science fiction elements, some having romance plots, and some with fragments of each buried within the Depiction.
Reading this year, and watching TV Science Fiction/Fantasy, I've noted many deep themes laced through it all. Romance is surfacing, like a submarine, just showing a conning tower right now.
Romance is the bedrock of the Love Story - and Love is the binding tie of civilization, the cultures that make up a civilization, and the organized governmental entities that are formed by civilizations.
We have a number of countries around the world where we are noticing a "failed state" -- a government that can not keep law and order.
We see small examples of that in the USA big cities -- the shooting wars between gangs, some of them international gangs, fighting over territory to sell drugs, and slaves, or kidnap children to sell, or harvest organs to sell. These international cartels are also harvesting our disregarded geniuses to work as hackers, trying to bring down whatever system they target.
Living against that backdrop, your readers thirst for a good "take me away from it all" or "rescue me" Romance.
But many young readers are entering the "kick butt and break out of here" head-space. They are just fed up with being victims. They want stories about women who rescue themselves, and maybe rescue their guy while they are at it, put the world to rights and maybe save the galaxy in their spare time.
Feminism is loud and boisterous today, but under that there is a recognizable trend of women who don't need liberating because they've never been enslaved. They are adopting feminine flattering fashions, working ambitious jobs, and having kids. These women will read Romance, but also play kick-butt video games as proficiently as their male peers.
These young women are looking for the strategy and tactics of living a good, honorable life, raising kids to be indomitable adults.
Counterpoint to that, current publishing markets are noticing the rise of the "Cozy Mystery" that we discussed here previously. And the news is full of campus movements for safe spaces, stress free living, safety from emotional challenges while learning. There is a readership looking for stories that do not challenge them to change their minds. Mother's Day 2017 produced this article - the title says it all. Parental Burnout is real.
So you see two market trends in conflict.
Always remember Conflict Is The Essence Of Story. As I employ the terminology, Plot is the sequence of deeds and events, while Story is the effect of the Plot's Because-Line of Events on a given Character (how that Character interprets the significance of the consequences of an action) -- which powers the Character-Arc, the way the Character learns basic life lessons in the school of hard knocks, suffers growing pains, and matures in outlook.
Maturing often means changing your mind or opinion about some vast philosophical abstract subject (God Is Real or God Is Fictional Ploy To Control Me). Changing our minds is one thing humans (as individuals or whole societies) resist to the death.
Life's hard pounding Events, disillusionment, betrayals by lovers, betrayals by politicians who promise anything to get elected, overcome that resistance to changing our minds.
Novel plots are made of a sequence of Events that pound a lesson into some Character's head and force the Character to face the Ultimate Truth they would rather die than face.
This is the kind of change we call maturation. But resistance to maturation has produced another old adage (good plotting is made of challenges to old adages) -- "As We Grow Old, We Do Not Grow Different, We Grow Moreso."
In other words, whatever base personality you are born with emerges at first just a little bit, and then as age sets in, that personality becomes more dominant. Depicting that kind of change is called a Character Arc.
We have two (among many) writers topping the charts today who are producing long Series that chronicle the "Arc" of a Character from adult immaturity to seasoned Age.
Both series now have brought their Characters to middle-aged mindsets. One series started with a hot Romance, and still (in married with children stage) features really hot Alien Sex. The other started with a Career Move achieved after much striving within a University, dealt with isolation and loneliness, and forged a solid human/alien sexual and intimate Relationship that has reached stability.
Both these series feature the Family Unit embedded in an extended family.
Both depict how family and ancestry shape and direct a Character's life, and how that may be passed down to the next generation.
They are both Action Series of galactic proportions.
In early 2017, we got the 18th and 15th entries in these two whopping wonderful Series:
They are both tightly focused on a Human/Alien Love Story.
In the Foreigner Series by C. J. Cherryh, the Aliens are the natives of the planet a stray ship full of humans happened upon.
In the Alien Series by Gini Koch, the Humans own Earth and the Aliens happened upon us and planted a colony of refugees.
In both series, the colonists are in the midst of being caught up with by those they were leaving behind (generations ago).
The Conflict and "action" battle scenes are generated by the pursuit, while the two varieties of people living on one planet seem to get along fairly well.
In other words, both (long) series in totally different worlds, circumstances and Alien biologies, are Refugee Stories.
At the same time, both are Generational Sagas spanning many generations.
Both follow family-genetic relationships and descendants while at the same time embedding the Main Characters deeply into a Chosen Family (as my sometime collaborator, Jean Lorrah, calls the Sime~Gen Householdings).
Both the Foreigner Series and the Alien Series are about Characters under extreme stress, learning fast, running for their lives making snap decisions and suffering the consequences -- and changing their minds about what they perceive as "what is really going on."
These are both very popular series, and they are about exactly the sort of situation and Character that a huge percentage of the population find odious.
Nobody wants to find out their thinking is completely wrong-headed. How would you feel if confronted with absolute proof that Climate Change is not the result of human activity at all? Not at all! What notions embedded in your entire view of reality would have to be uprooted and discarded?
You pick up a Romance Novel to get away from that kind of stress or threat of stress. You want to feel that if everything isn't wonderful right now, it will surely be wonderful tomorrow.
You want to ride with a Character who is finally-finally meeting that special, specific Someone whose very existence will make everything wonderful.
When in the mood for a Romance, you don't want the complications that a Family adds -- yet the characters came from somewhere and if the Romance pans out, will likely have children and grandchildren. In fact, even if the Romance does not pan out, they might have children and grandchildren to complicate the families they do marry into.
Families are an irritation and an inconvenience. In fact, many feel that Family is an impediment to happiness. Just think of the angst surrounding that invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner. Or remember that the "Home For Christmas" commercial that was a heart-warmer for so many years no longer runs -- and there's a reason for that.
The real life experience of your readers is that Family is a Pain In The Neck -- they don't want to deal with their Mother or Father.
Check out recent TV Series that depict someone with a Parent nosing into their affairs. The Parent is always a source of disruption, difficulty, maybe embarrassment. In ROYAL PAINS
the father of the brothers running Hankmed concierge medical practice abandoned his family leaving the boys to take care of a dying mother, is known as a confidence man, spent time in jail, and through interacting with his grown boys now, finally starts to "reform" -- but we're never wholly convinced.
Find a currently popular TV Series where the parents appear on the show, and are admired, emulated and loved dearly.
In the TV Drama about Lawyers, Suits, we have an aging Grandmother who is beloved and emulated (sort of), but who dies early in the series. Her teachings of morality are repeated but not lived up to.
In fact, the entire "Characters Welcome" showcase on USA Network never involved a warm, loving, "Leave It To Beaver" or "Brady Bunch" family.
I have raved about all of these "Blue Sky" TV Series because they formed the basic Character Study necessary for good Science Fiction Romance -- the plot dynamics were rooted in Relationships while the Action was just decoration.
Now, the newest crop of TV Series might be called Dark Skies, not Blue Skies. This trend will reverse, but for now this is the reflection of reality the large TV (broadcast and streaming) audiences accept as plausible depictions.
I keep using that word, depiction, because we've discussed it at depth. Here is the index to the Depiction Series:
Here is Part 27 in that Series
While I suspect Gini Koch's Alien Series will make it to the TV Series screen (the writing is intensely visual and feeds the Gamer's thirst for action), I would be surprised if the intricate family relationships survive translation into the broader audience.
No matter how big a Best Seller a book might be, the viewership of a TV show is orders of magnitude bigger. Best Selling books may sell a few hundred thousand copies -- a failure of a TV Series reaches a few million viewers.
That's why novels converted to movie or TV become so distorted -- the larger audience just will not tolerate what thrills the smaller audiences.
You find the same phenomenon with self published novels. Some self published novels are BETTER than anything that can be commercially published because the self publishing writer can please a smaller audience, and thus afford to please that smaller audience more intensely.
Today's larger society is slowly abandoning the Nuclear Family life-structure (Father/Mother/Children), and with each couple having fewer children, the extended family structure of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins numbering in the hundreds does not exist.
That Extended Family structure often breeds the phenomenon of the Tribe or Clan -- a group so large that no one person knows everyone, but yet accords others in the Group the respect due a sibling or parent. A Tribe or Clan usually develops a Leader, often an eldest or richest, who passes down the adages that reveal ultimate truth.
Adages (which quickly become cliche) are sayings you memorize (reluctantly) in childhood, and firmly disbelieve until Middle Age when the truth inside them is finally revealed. A Stitch In Time Saves Nine. It's Just Growing Pains. Pick On Someone Your Own Size.
The set of all adages absorbed in childhood constitutes the framework of a culture -- it is one firm thing everyone you know has in common.
What happens in the Family, Stays In the Family.
The essence of Family is privacy. We present a united front to the world, but bicker endlessly behind closed doors. Bickering is the Sport of Families.
Bickering is an expression of familial Love.
Think about that. Strife is a binding force in human society.
So many of your readers have never met a functional family, never lived inside one, never made the acquaintance of the middle child of a brood of nine or more, and simply do not have a set of Adages in common with you, or with anyone they know.
Family has been the core of human civilization for thousands of years, but now family members are the last people you want involved in your life.
At the same time, statistics show that families without a live-in Father produce children who tend to join Gangs and adopt a dog-eat-dog lifestyle.
Science is telling us, firmly and unequivocally, that Family is important for societies, yet at the same time genetics editing and artificial wombs are being developed that will shatter what family ties remain.
Science is studying brains, spirits, and family formation. But the plot is Romance.
Romance happens when a child grows up and bursts forth from a family into the world. It is a stage of transformation into adulthood and maturity.
Romance can also happen at the end of life -- September Song.
Romance is the expression of the meaning of Family, and the essence of Family is Privacy.
Think about that as you recall what you learned of Plato's writings while you were in school.
Plato was born around 428 BCE (four hundred years before Jesus).
This from Wikipedia:
Along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle, Plato laid the very foundations of Western philosophy and science. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
Plato grew up in a world where the Jews were emerging from obscurity into becoming a force in the Middle East (look at the map: little wooden ships sailed from what is now Israel or Lebanon to Greece easily). The Middle East was the neighboring trading partner to Plato's Greece.
Judah returned from exile in 539 BCE. Israel became a province of Persia under the priests. In 428 CE, Ezra brought the Torah from Babylon to Jerusalem, effectively marking the beginnings of modern Jewish religion. Ezra was a priest who reorganized the Israelite state politically, and organized the new religious system that included study of the Torah: he is known as the "Father of Judaism." Nehemiah, a court official in Persia, returned slightly later to rebuild the city walls and the temple in Jerusalem: this is the "Second Temple" in Jerusalem (the first temple was built by Solomon), so one speaks of "Second Temple Judaism."
Imagine the flourishing Trade economy, the politics, the wars, that framed Plato's productive years, the family adages he absorbed, and the hammering that "life" gave him.
Now consider this from a Biography of a famous Jew of the 20th Century: (I'm breaking the paragraphs to make it easier to read on this blog, but it is a direct quote from this Biography telling of an incident where a fellow named Block met The Rebbe, the head of a Chasidic sect in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Remember, we're talking about Family and how themes regarding Family lace two major novel series together, Foreigner and Alien. Read this quote and think about how those two novel series would have to be changed to make them into TV Series.
"Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History" by Joseph Telushkin
In the circles in which Block moved at Harvard, Plato was regarded with the highest respect, representing the epitome of high culture and civilization. But the Rebbe had a different take on Plato’s writings: He spoke of Platonic philosophy as cruel.
“That’s the word he used, ‘cruel,’” Block recalled in an interview decades later.
What upset the Rebbe in particular was Plato’s social philosophy, his advocacy of the abolition of the nuclear family and his belief that children should be taken away from their parents. Plato claimed that parents influence children to be egotistical, and it would be better if children were raised without knowledge of their parents, as wards of the state.
For Judaism, the family was central, as expressed in the Fifth Commandment; for Plato, the family was destructive.
Although everything Block heard that day about Plato was accessible to anyone who read through his writings, this critique was new to the young philosophy student. He had never heard it offered at Vanderbilt or Harvard, the two universities where he had studied. Yet, as he sat there, he realized it was unarguable (it was clearly expressed in Plato’s writings, though academics ignored it) and that the implications were immense and far-reaching.
In addition to the obvious ills that resulted from alienating children "from their parents, an attack on the family was also the source of totalitarian ideologies. Once you raise a generation of children to be more loyal to the state than to their families, there is no limit to what you can demand of them. In the Soviet Union, as the Rebbe, who had lived under Communist rule, knew, the government glorified children who informed on their parents and sometimes brought about the imprisonment—or worse—of their parents for making anti-Communist remarks or showing opposition to the state.
Raise people to not feel love or loyalty to their parents, and it will not be easy for them to feel love or loyalty to anyone else—only to the state.
The cruelty of Plato’s thinking, the Rebbe emphasized that day, was not just in breaking up the family unit. It was in depriving children of parental love. For it is the parents, not the state and its functionaries, who have a genuine love for their children. And depriving children of this love, which is their due, was perhaps Plato’s greatest cruelty.
Block recalled that a few years later, a philosopher with respected academic credentials stunned the world of philosophy by writing about these aspects of Plato’s writings. In the book, he depicted Plato’s social philosophy as “cruel.” Block remembered being struck by the philosopher’s use of this term, the same word used by the Rebbe. The book caused a furor, but what really impressed Block was that “nobody ever refuted it in any way.” However, as Block recalled, all that this professionally trained philosopher, a man who devoted his whole life to philosophy, had done was “to say the same thing that the Rebbe told me years earlier.”
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Have we become Plato's envisioned world? Is that why the general public rejects the notion of the Happily Ever After ending?
We have discussed Plato's view of the rise of Biblical culture in the neighboring lands previously. He had good reason to view "Honor Your Father And Mother" with horror and perhaps panic.
That epoch of human pre-history could be characterized as a war between pro-family and anti-family cultures.
Until Greece invented Democracy (and later Rome, the Republic), the only forms of government were Kingdoms and Empires, a family based aristocracy in which ordinary people had no say in the direction of their lives.
Kings and Aristocrats got to be the bosses by owning land, which they acquired by killing more people, more savagely than anyone else. Then their children inherited and perpetuated the iron-fisted bossing.
So, since aristocracy was nothing but family and family connections, it is perfectly sensible for Plato to see the only hope of humanity as the destruction of the family. What other sources of information did he have? The family constituted the greatest source of Evil in his world - so advocating its destruction of the family was his way of being kind, not cruel.
But now we can see the results of the disintegration of the Family at the core of society, and the devastating effects on the human psyche. Today we have information and we have options. We are not doomed to practice the profession or craft of our parents.
We are free.
So what do we do with that freedom?
We now live in a society where marriage is optional, parents are to be shunned especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and nobody is personally responsible for the behavior of anyone over 18 years of age.
Note how many of the mass-shooting-rampage perpetrators are characterized as "loners" -- nice folks, mind their own business, but no friends or visitors. If they live with a parent, the parent has no clue what they've been up to in the basement or online.
Disconnecting leads to suicidal and homicidal angst, or to connecting with Gangs, criminals, thugs, and power-makes-right folks.
We know that Love Conquers All -- but how, in this case, can it conquer the disintegrated family? Children raised without Parental Love may experience Romance -- but the fluff-headed blur of Romance turn to true Love?
We see neurological studies (yes, SCIENCE fiction romance can include the sciences of neurology and genetics as well as physics) showing how the brain's neurons forge connections because of experiences (learning). Is there a certain brain configuration that allows us to believe in, and actualize, the Happily Ever After?
One of the things I love about C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner Series is the way she depicts a very amenable alien species based on a civilization without "love" -- an alien physiology that forms strong emotional bonds but literally can not comprehend the concept of Love, not Romantic Love or Brotherly Love or any form of Love.
We also know now that genes may or may not "express" the trait they configure.
We know that early experiences, maybe in the womb but surely during infancy, shape the brain's development and ultimately the adult who will emerge from that childhood. Experiences shape genetic expression and neurological pathways -- humans are extremely malleable, adaptable. That is one primary survival trait of the human species.
Can Romance reconnect the "loner" -- the child of a shattered or dysfunctional family -- to the rest of humanity? Or is that what is happening as families disintegrate and children gravitate toward Gangs, end up in jail and become part of a self-perpetuating criminal culture?
Is the human need and impulse to "bond" as strong as a newly hatched chick to "imprint" on a parent?
The Greeks and Romans used to "expose" defective newborns on the city wall, leaving them to die. Some were "rescued" -- grew up bonding to some stranger. Are we the descendants of those improbable survivors?
Gini Koch's 2017 entry in her Alien Series, Alien Education, focuses sharply on the doings of schools, PTA, Teachers, teenagers, and what happens in a world where a multiplicity of Alien species raise their children in the same school.
Has Gini Koch depicted our world of bonded and non-bonded and un-bonded humans by inventing alien species to represent us all? Are we that alienated from each other?
In these two, long and complex novel Series, we have one of the most profound sources of thematic material for science fiction romance. I recommend reading both series while thinking carefully and precisely about what Family means to humans.
What forces form and hold families together -- what forces rip them asunder -- and most importantly, which is the Good and which is the Evil?
Is your family relevant to your life? Why? Is that even an important question when it comes to Romance? "Who" are you? Does your family define you? Or do you define it? Are you a victim? Or a kickass heroine?