Guest Post: Science Fiction Romance: Your guided tour of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup subgenre!

I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They’re a pretty popular confection these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Hershey’s was clearly worried people would be hesitant to try a sweet that combined chocolate and peanut butter. They even created jingle—two great tastes that taste great together—to sway opinion. It’s a great jingle, but it doesn’t really cover all bases. What if you like one but not the other? I think that’s the reason readers sometimes shy away from Science Fiction Romance(SFR)—they like one but don’t think they like the other. Often they’ve never read the less favored genre.

Since you’re here, at the Archaeologists’ Guide to the Galaxy, I’m going to assume you’re open to SciFi and focus on Romance. You might not be aware that the Romance genre is very diverse. Some stories focus entirely on a relationship and others focus more on a suspense element or even a SciFi one. SFR is just as diverse. My goal is to give you a little more info with which to navigate SFR and to help you steer toward books you’ll enjoy and away from books you might not. I’m not making any judgment calls about what types of books are good or bad; any subgenre will have both good and bad exemplars.

What does Romance add to SciFi?

Let’s start with what benefit there might be to combining SciFi and Romance. There are three core elements in any good Romance novel. They’re the foundation of the genre and often the very reason readers flock to it.  If these elements work for you, then combing SciFi and Romance might also work for you.

  • compelling characters you can root for
  • an emotional journey
  • a happy ending

The first two are not unique to Romance, but they are critical. SciFi has plenty of character driven stories. However, if you prefer the hard science/idea based stories still very much a part of SciFi you will have less luck finding SFR that meets your needs. That is not to say there aren’t any, just that there are fewer of them.

The must have for most romance readers is the happy ending. Because of this, romance sometimes gets labeled as formulaic. It is no more or less formulaic than a mystery, a thriller, or any other genre novel. Genres and the expectations that go with them help readers find books they’ll enjoy. Knowing there is a happy ending rarely spoils a story.

What types of stories fall into the SFR bucket?

Any story that includes romance and some SciFi element can be labeled broadly as SFR. To be more helpful, I can break it down into more specific categories.

Space Opera – Not all space opera incorporates romance, but it’s often an element.  If the story is lighter on romance it will probably be branded and shelved with SciFi. A good exemplar would be Sandra McDonald’s Outback Stars. If the story focuses more intently on the romantic couple and less on the broader canvas, it may be branded and shelved with romance. A good exemplar would be Marcella Burnard’s Enemy Within.

Time Travel Romance – These stories are mostly romance. Often, the only SciFi element is one instance of time travel. From that point on it becomes a historical or contemporary novel with one character out of time. It is a twist on the classic fish out of water tale. I don’t recommend these for non-romance readers unless you have a passion for the historical period explored.

Futuristic Romance – These stories are also mostly romance. Often these stories are set on another world with humans living in an exotic setting or culture, such as Shield’s Lady by Ann Krentz. I don’t recommend these as an entry point for non-romance readers.

Erotic SciFi Romance – These stories are very prevalent in the e-book markets. They are geared toward the adventurous reader. The level of world-building can vary from silly to excellent with most falling along the level of early Star Trek. You can generally tell where in the spectrum a story falls by the marketing blurb. It should be quickly apparent. On the SciFi end of this spectrum I’d suggest Captured by Julia Rachel Barret.

General Science Fiction Romance – Stories that include a solid romance and focus on future earth, space exploration, or technology and incorporate a high level of world-building have traditionally been branded as SciFi but e-retailers are beginning to brand these as Scifi Romance. A good exemplar would be Anne McCaffrey’s the Rowan.

Post apocalyptic, Alternate History, Psychic, and Action Adventure Romance – These books are often branded and sold as Paranormal Romance. They have an integral SciFi element and an equally strong romance element. Often the world building is quite expansive, but served up in a way that is accessible to the non-SciFi reader. They might or might not incorporate a traditional paranormal or horror element, such as Zombies or Shape Shifters. Books such as Nalini Sing’s Caressed by Ice and Joss Ware’s Embrace the Night or J.D. Robb’s Naked in Death all fall into this category.

 That brings the tour to an end. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and will consider seeking of SFR in the wild!

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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15 Responses to Guest Post: Science Fiction Romance: Your guided tour of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup subgenre!

  1. Cathy Pegau says:

    What a great introduction to SFR. Fab examples too : ) Surely this will encourage folks to pick up a book or two.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I hope so. Good Sci-Fi and Paranormal romance is good literature. The problem is that much of it get’s defined by the bad examples.

      Science Fiction and other Speculative Fiction fans should be more sympathetic to this than anyone. After all, for how many years has our genre as a whole been stereotyped by the re-runs of crappy films and dimestore novels from the past?

      • Charlie says:

        People still association romance with purple prose and I don’t think I’be ever read pp in a modern romance.

        And coming from the other side of things – romance readers often think all sci-fi requires Einstein Smarts to comprehend when the reality is that hard sci-fi is growing far less common.

    • Charlie says:

      Cathy, thanks for coming over. Do you classify your new book as sfr or maybe cyberpunk?

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Even with Hard Sci-Fi, if it’s well written, you don’t really need to comprehend all the mechanics in order to follow the story. When the pan-wideget device causes too great a flux in the plasma-injectors we’re all screwed. As for purple prose, that exists in all forms of fiction.

        And yes, Cathy, I’d be very interested to know how you classify your own work. I can never quite seem to define mine too well (somewhere between Sci-Fi Espionage and MilFic I suppose).

  2. Bella says:

    Very concise and helpful. My books involve time-travel, romance, and zombies. See why I get confused? I’m not sure what the heck to call them. LOL But now I know I am firmly SFR. Thanks, Charlie! And thanks for the examples. There’s a couple I’m gonna snap up I had not heard of.

  3. I love every category, have actually of course immersed myself for years in the PSY-Changeling world which Nalini Singh has so lovingly created and JD Robb’s “Eve Dallas” series is not only intriguing but the heat between she and Roarke is a no brainer as to why the books are so widely read. Anne McCaffrey, Anne Krentz and Joss Ware while three authors I have heard of have not read their books yet… I have some of Ware’s waiting on my To Be Read shelves and will read them when she finishes the entire story so I do not get lost with who is who and what is going on from book to book…
    Nice break down Charlie, you pegged things pretty clearly and even though my love of Sci-Fi Romance has never waned my reading of it has fallen way below par for years.. My one book read in the genre that comes to mind in the past few years of course would be True Believers” by Maria Zannini . Just enough romance to spice up the Fantasy Sci-Fi aspects of the story, so I guess it would be a Futuristic Space Opera Sci-Fi Romance with Paranormal elements in it…

    • Charlie says:

      “I guess it would be a Futuristic Space Opera Sci-Fi Romance with Paranormal elements in it” LOL – great analysis! And a great example of why these stories can be hard to pin down.

      • Yes but I have read some paranormal action adventure suspense thrillers too so it is not as easy as people think to pinpoint genres, thus the confusion on where to shelve them in bookstores..

        Case in point, when I first started reading some of Nora Roberts books the ones in series were shelved in of all places Horror section. Of course some of the books that I read by Heather Graham were shelved in the Romance section and they were actually considered to be mystery suspense thrillers with a bit of Horror mixed in… Go find a book nowadays and unless it is somewhere small like WalMart or Target and it might take a while even with help from the book store employees and a computer!

  4. Thomas Evans says:

    This is one reason why it is so hard to sell cross-genre books to publishers… they don’t know where to shelve them. Indeed, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about how one defines Urban Fantasy. Some people associate it only with Paranormal Romance, while I have always thought of it as Gum Shoe Detective stories with paranormal elements.

    But this does raise a point. Where does one look in the book store for Sci-Fi Romance? Sci-Fi or Romance sections?

  5. Yay for book recommendations! And Reeses.

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