- This week, it is my complete honor to have Charlie Alden write a guest article on the cross-over of Science Fiction Romance. Charlie is an author of both novels and of the always enjoyable Smart Girls Love Science Fiction and Paranormal Romance blog which has helped to open my eyes to the appeal of this growing 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!
- Sci-Fi Romance Anthologies: Free of the Ghetto At Last (tor.com)
- Fiction Affliction: Diagnosing August Releases in Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance (tor.com)
- Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks (Orbit, 1993) (sophyanempire.wordpress.com)
- Western Romance, The story of Us – Part IV (texasdruids.com)
- Rocket vision (bbc.co.uk)
- Who Says Sci-Fi is Just for Boys? Not Me! – Joan Lennon (girlsheartbooks.com)
- A novel kind of quote (taholtorf.wordpress.com)
- Guest Author: Kelly McClymer & Giveaway (vanessakellyauthor.wordpress.com)
- But They Won’t Take Me Seriously . . . (jswayne.wordpress.com)