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CROSSROADS: An Exploration of Science Fiction Romance

Amazing Stories LogoFor this week’s Crossroads post at Amazing Stories, I take an in-depth look at science fiction romance, and explore how its non-literary pop culture support may contribute to it selling less than paranormal romance. There’s also an in-depth discussion of how its devices contribute or impede the sub-genre’s accessibility.

Please, stop by and take a look: CROSSROADS: Science Fiction Romance – a Niche Before Its Time?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. merriank #

    I still feel like there is a ‘tone’ when SFnal people talk about the romance genre and that has been reinforced with the two comments on the 3rd post today. Sorry, writing a romance genre best seller isn’t that easy – I go back to the coding issues and meaning of language as discussed in the post as part of why this is so. I also resent the implication that romance readers are gullible readers implied in the comments (subtract werewolf and add an alien). A werewolf is never just a werewolf but is an engagement with the balancing of individual lives and purposes with those of a group and raises the question of how we hold onto our selfhood when we risk immersion or absorption when partnered with a strong other.

    I agree that if you subtract the SF elements and a story could stand in any setting then the question must be asked why SF? I think Lois McMaster Bujold used her stunners and rocket ships and military uniforms to marvellous effect to tell the story of the impact of ‘soft’ technologies on a society. As we see in the news at the moment, it is the control of women’s bodies and access to birth control that matters more than guns in shaping the future. Through uterine replicators and Miles’ and Mark’s and even Simon Illyan’s stories, her books are about embodiment and this focus is very much a romance genre thing and less an SF thing – we live our lives through our bodies and express our connection and experience of the world through our bodies which is why sex is an integral part of a romance genre story and is regarded as one of the ways in which a story is advanced and characters revealed.

    I was also thinking of Ann Maxwell’s Dancer books, the Jaws of Menx, etc written in the 1970s and early 1980s She was writing SFR or at least SF with strong romance elements and I think you could fairly say that stylistically she was similar to Jack Vance. It seems to me there has always been a thread of SFR but it has never been mainstream. SFR has had a continual presence that I think is also shaped by how readers approach books. So for example, the Pern books can be read as SFR or not, depending on reader perspectives.

    Nor do I think you can talk about romance and SFR without considering m/m stories. It seems to me that there may be more SFR in m/m than in m/f romance genre writing – perhaps because of the antecedents of m/m in fandom and slash fiction. Some examples I’ve read in the past year:

    Ann Somerville writes SFR noir with her ‘Pindone Chronicles’ and tackles cross cultural issues in her other SFR stories
    Lyn Gala’s latest story has an alien and a Terran falling in love in ‘Claimings, Tails and Other Artefacts’. They don’t have compatible genitalia
    Aleks Voinov’s ‘Incursion’ novella has a shapeshifting alien and a disabled hero
    Lisa Henry’s ‘Dark Space’ uses bodies in an interesting way to make connections in a war with aliens
    Amy Lane’s ‘A Solid Core of Alpha’ a sole survivor’s use of VR to survive the long journey to safety

    I know we are talking about SFR but in fantasy Melissa Scott’s Point of Dreams books have the love story between Nicolas Rathe and Phillip Eslingen as an overarching theme across three books that are about life in the city of Astreiant (I love all her books).

    I also think Ann Aguirre’s ‘Sirantha Jax’ series is worth considering in this discussion. Sirantha has a love story with March as well as saving the known universe from the bad guys but the realities of their lives mean she can’t stay with him. The alien (non-genitally compatible) Vel emerges as her life companion and perhaps soul mate. He is the one who will be with her always as the worlds change around her. In SFR like this and Lyn Gala’s I think we are seeing the exploration of the meaning of connection with the (literal) other. So does that suggest that the purpose of SFR is different to the purpose of SF?

    February 22, 2013
  2. I’d like to thank you once again for an interesting and thought-provoking comment! (I trust you won’t object if once again I quote it over at Amazing Stories?)

    I think that the “tone” you perceive in SFnal discussions of romance is typical whenever the intersection of different genres is discussed. Most of us who work in one particular genre naturally feel an affinity to it, and that affinity can easily extend to a casual sense of primacy: consider the often fraught relationship between speculative fiction and literary fiction, as an example. Bear in mind, I’m not one to justify any such perceptions of primacy: they are always false, yet they remain a natural consequence of creative comfort zones and familiarity. Part of what I want to do with these Crossroads post is to chip away at that sense a little bit, and perhaps interest readers and writers in the cool aspects of other genres.

    You raise great points about the importance of m/m in SFR, and I’m sorry that I didn’t really have the space to get into it. I think there’s a lot of interesting exploration happening there, and I think that out of much of the SFR it tends to explore connections and boundaries in interesting ways. The fandom / slash connection is also a fascinating one: I’m relatively ignorant of the fanfic environment, and have recently started to rectify that ignorance.

    Your last question – about the purpose of SFR as opposed to the purpose of SF – is particularly interesting. Of the two genres, I think SF has the larger scope simply because it encompasses a broader array of sub-genres and issues. SFR – like all romance – is centrally concerned with power/relationship dynamics, and often the relationship with the Other. SF can be about this, but it doesn’t need to be. This difference, I think, can provide SFR with the thematic focus all great fiction needs. Yet I don’t think that this thematic focus makes SFR “not SF” in any meaningful fashion, any more than a thematic focus on family relationships diminishes the SFnal aspects of Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Relationship. Science fiction is a large enough tent to encompass all of these themes, and to prosper from their interaction.

    February 22, 2013
  3. merriank #

    Happy for you to cross post my comments.

    Another m/m writer who got a lot of mainstream romance readers reading m/m fantasy when she released ‘The Rifter’ as a serial story is Ginn Hale ‘The Rifter’ is a portal story with lots of POV and time slips. It’s dark, wonderful and heartbreaking and rich. It’s about twisted religion and power; courage and sacrifice. Rifter’s serial form means it is big (100,000 words I think) and messy yet the world building is superbly done and the holy bones are truly scary.

    I have to think more about this but reading your posts I have been thinking about the ‘dialogical self’.
    Wikipedia ( ) says:
    “…In Dialogical Self Theory (DST) the self is considered as “extended,” that is, individuals and groups in the society at large are incorporated as positions in the mini-society of the self. As a result of this extension, the self does not only include internal positions (e.g., I as the son of my mother, I as a teacher, I as a lover of jazz), but also external positions (e.g., my father, my pupils, the groups to which I belong). Given the basic assumption of the extended self, the other is not simply outside the self but rather an intrinsic part of it….”

    While DST is a theory of how a Self is constructed and operates in the world I wonder if it has something to say to romance, UF, PNR and SFR stories? Do these sub-genres frame stories about how the Self is constructed from the world and how the world is made (sense of) through the focus on an individual’s journey? I was thinking about this because as a theory it explicitly brings culture as well as the personal into focus as well as putting social power up front as the stuff that is being worked with in the genre narratives. It suggests that these genre stories are personified narratives of social worlds because romance-centred stories are always about a dialogue with an other which makes them inherently stories about connection and the things arising from that connection.

    February 22, 2013
  4. merriank #

    I have been thinking about Doyle and Macdonald’s Mage World series and the eponymous Liaden series by Miller and Lee – every single Liaden Universe® novel ever written (starting 25 years ago) is in print, as omnibus, hardcover, trade paper, mass market, ebook, and/or audiobook editions Both these series were sold and presented as Space Opera but I read them as SFR. You can also see very strong links with Georgette Heyer’s books in the Liaden books too.

    I am now wondering if the excellent and complex world building is what pushes books like these into the space opera niche? As well as the marketing of course.

    February 23, 2013
  5. Just a quick note, Heather Massey wrote an interesting response to my Crossroads piece over at The Galaxy Express. I recommend taking a look!

    February 26, 2013

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