Science Fiction Romance

Let me start where it all began. In my dad’s book collection. Like any good dad, he made sure to build my Nancy Drew collection and when the time came, Jane Austen and the Brontes, but he also gave me hard cover Stephen Kings for birthdays and Christmases when I got to my teens. But most importantly for my future as an author, he gave me full access to his book collection. He was a SFF book club member and his cup runneth over with Asimov, Herbert, Silverburg, Heinlein, and yes, a few female authors like Andre Norton.

My first Harlequin read was from a basket of books my great Aunt kept full of those little pulp books. I was pretty young, maybe 12ish, and I enjoyed it but I didn’t have access to them frequently. So I continued to turn to a King novel, a collection of Asimov shorts, or another re-read of Pride & Prejudice or Wuthering Heights. It wasn’t until college, when I thought I needed something different than the assigned literary canon, that I picked up a novel by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Shanna was eye-opening to me, and I loved it. From then, I fell in love with the Romance genre.

There you are. My favorite genres Science Fiction and Romance, apparently too far apart to intermingle. For a while, I looked through the SFF aisles for female Fantasy authors, and found Fantasy with Romantic Elements. (A favorite was the Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon).  Even though there were some SF books with romantic elements, there weren’t many. And having not really found the futuristic romances of the 90s (I was too busy with college and first job to read much) I kept looking for what I wasn’t finding. I think this is a common experience for many readers who enjoy romance–Looking for as much romance as possible in the SFF section of the book store.

Then as a web programmer with a few gadgets at my disposal and a need to read in the dark with a kiddo in the same room, I discovered ebooks in 2006. I discovered Science Fiction Romance! I felt as if I had finally hit the jackpot. At the time, I read exclusively from small presses. I glommed authors such as Marie Harte, Barbara Karmazin, Michelle Pillow, Mandy Roth, and Leigh Wyndfield. From there, I found other authors such as C.J. Barry, Susan Grant, Eve Kenin (aka Eve Silver), Angela Knight, Kim Knox (one of our very own–first published SFR in 2007 with 7% and Rising from Samhain), Linnea Sinclair, and Kathleen Scott, who I’ve asked to visit us with her take on Science Fiction Romance (April 23rd).

I believe that after the futuristic romances of the 90s, SFR got a big push through the work of those early ebook authors. And those stories tended to be hot. Readers were looking to ebooks to find what they couldn’t find in print. The sexual content of these stories were high, integral to the plot, and enjoyable to me as a reader. They made sense to me. They still do. Since I started reading futuristic, I’ve read everything from erotic romance to lightly sensual. From a sex-based plot, to romantic elements, but I come back to the ones with heat because that’s what I enjoy.

To me, when a hot romance is written skillfully and believably, it draws me in that much more on an emotional level. The physical aspects of the relationship are there to move the commitment forward to an optimistic ending. Frankly, it’s also there for the reader to enjoy. Like all genre fiction, that aspect may not appeal to all readers, but it works for me and it works for many others, as shown by the success of Jane’s Warlord by Angela Knight, Laurann Dohner’s New Species series, Lauren Dane’s Phantom Corps and Federation Chronicles.

This genre gave me a love of reading again and it propelled me to start writing. It also showed a willingness to address taboo subjects, create unique worlds, and frequently featured action focused plots that had me turning the virtual page. Social and technological themes are addressed through the lens of the starring relationship. But an important distinction I have found in the sexuality depicted in erotic/steamy SFR directly contrasts some of what I had found outside the Romance genre in SFF: sex that was disturbing, twisted, or just flatly depressing. I’m glad to have found a more optimistic approach to sexuality in SFR.

No matter where a reader may fall on the SFR spectrum from Romance to hard Scifi, from no steam to full on, they all have one thing in common, an optimism for the future. That is a side of the genre that makes me glad to have found it and I rely on when I pick up SFR.

Happy reading!

***

Ella Drake is a dark paranormal and science fiction romance author. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, & Goodreads. Her Science Fiction Romance, Desert Blade is a near-future post-apocalyptic romance from Carina Press. Currently available SFR: Silver Bound, Jaq’s Harp, Braided Silk & Firestorm on E’Terra. And now from Lyrical Press, MetalMark.

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16 comments

  1. cmtorrens · · Reply

    Great post! Love a lot of the authors mentioned. SFR highlights the romance in a gritty, violent and often dystopian outlook in the genre, and that’s what I love about it.

    1. Yes! and even in a dystopian, Because the romance still has a “good” ending, it gives a ray of hope in that darker world.

  2. Crazy. This was almost exactly my experience on the fantasy side of SFF, right down to the Stephen King, romance, ebook progression. I’m new to reading SFR. You were my gateway author, Ella.

    1. It’s funny how that progression seems to have worked for so many of us & I am so happy to have been your gateway 😀

  3. I grew up with a similar experience, reading my dad’s sci-fi books/magazines and my mom’s romances, then wishing for stories that combined both. I was unaware of the proliferation of SFR ebooks — and never read an ebook — until I found Carina Press and published Stellarnet Rebel. Your Desert Blade is still one of my favorites!

    1. I found ebooks to be that perfect place for me as a reader & so happy Desert Blade worked for you!! I’m hoping more authors and more readers find Carina Press and other publishers willing to get niche stories out there. More SF and more SF Romance!

  4. Well said.

    I was pretty much on my own when it came to discovering SF/F/Romance, but I was fortunate to live by a great library as a child and I visited it often.

    I’m so thankful for ebooks because it provided a much needed home for SFR. It’s great to see so many authors having the opportunity to deliver various settings, plots, and characters to readers.

    1. Yay for libraries… as a side note, it makes me sad that so many libraries are closing because there are so many people out there who don’t have any other place to find their reading home.

  5. Great post, Ella!

    I grew up reading Anne McCaffrey–I found Dragonflight when I was 12 in a motorway service station on the way back from a school trip to France–and read it twice in one weekend. I still remember the secret thrill of characters having a relationship. It started me off writing sort-of romance, but I still didn’t think it was “allowed’. (There were no books in my house growing up but my own, so I did read a lot of stuff I wasn’t supposed to–Tropic of Capricorn, anyone?–and my parents had no clue what I was reading. 😀 )

    Roll the years forward to about 2005 and I was still reluctant to put full blown romance into a story. Then I discovered the HQ forum and Luna/Nocturnes. I had a stab at writing contemporaries…eep…then pushed forward into putting a character’s relationship and sex life–yay!–at the heart of my SFF stories. I haven’t looked back.

    And thanks for the 7% and Rising mention! 😀 That story started pre-romance time…and the first ending wasn’t quite so HEA…

  6. I love it! You found McCaffrey in a service station. Makes me wonder who left that book and did that reader even envision how it could impact the next person to pick it up. (I might’ve snuck some Henry Miller, but I’m not confessing!)
    and I know I for one am glad you changed 7% to have a HEA!!!

  7. There is just something about scifi romance. I discovered it by accident when I was younger (Dara Joy). Now I am hooked. There are just scenes/plots and issues that work in scifi without offense which makes for some great reads. Great post!

    1. I found and enjoyed Dara Joy as well!
      and I so agree. there are plots that work so well in a SF setting. It can give such a unique perspective to delve into issues without being overly bogged down by them or feeling as if you’re reading an essay. Great point!

  8. Really enjoyed this, Ella. You were destined for SFR.

    I’ve found so many talented authors through SFR. And I’m always impressed when any writer combines science fiction and romance and finds a way to make both parts work. It’s one of the trickiest combos I can think of.

    A love of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s pulp romantic SF led me here. But I always wanted stronger heroines. SFR is all about that. It’s an exciting genre right now–cutting edge. The hot stuff is fine, but I think too much of it relegates the SF to little more than an interchangeable backdrop. And it’s nearing a tipping point for me personally.

    Like you say, Ella, if it’s integral to the plot, it’s all good. Same with action, tech jargon, future politics, etc. They can all overwhelm a story. Luckily, there’s so much variety now, thanks mainly to ebooks. Something for everyone.

    1. I do think I was destined for SFR!
      Writing Romance of any subgenre can be tricky because of the balance between genres, and yes, agree that the balance in SF also applies to the action, the tech and the politics.

      I’ve been thinking about “wallpaper” SFR/Futuristic. Basically, where is that line? And what exactly makes the backdrop interchangeable? Is there a responsibility of the author to be sure to include enough SF elements to meet the idea of genre requirements? Or is it enough to say, “this happened on a spaceship” and it allows the freedom of the story to explore a relationship/sexuality without being confined to this world? Is it a matter of taste, when all is said and done? I think as readers and authors, you and I would draw the line in different places.

      I think you could stretch this and say does it matter if the backdrop is interchangeable? (not positing an answer, truly asking a question). For instance, could you take something like I am Legend and drop it into a warzone rather than a postapoc NY?

  9. That’s a great question! I think it is a matter of taste, depending on where you’re coming from. As a SF reader, it drives me nuts. Once you start treating the SF as just a backdrop, or a setting, with little regard for world-building, you’re not really there for the SF. And that’s when I tend to tune out. You’re writing a [fill in the blank] in space. Or a futuristic [fill in the blank].

    There’s no rule that says you can’t do that. But I also think it’s a backward step for SFR or erotic SF. Maintaining the integrity of the genre you’re combining romance with is, for me, one of the main reasons I’ll buy your romance. If you’re putting in the effort to make the larger world believable, your romance will be more plausible to me.

    I’d say I Am Legend has to be post-apocalyptic. He has to believe he might be the last man on Earth. But you could change it to a warzone and still have a lot of the themes and fears intact. Or a medieval castle. The backdrop can be changed, if you take the time and effort to make me believe those characters are of that world, and not just plonked in there because, hey, they can be there if they want.

    I wouldn’t say there’s a line to be drawn. A story can take place in one room, with no props, and be driven entirely by sex. Or romance. Or murder-mystery. Even on the most nondescript spaceship. If you can pull that off, fantastic. But frankly, you could remove the SF from SFR and not be losing anything.

    1. I haven’t seen I Am Legend, but you made me wonder if there’s been a medieval plague/zombie type novel? That would be interesting. Especially considering how isolated everyone was in medieval times, anyway, a story about one knight left after the black death would really work.

      Sorry, off topic. 🙂

      For me, the SF has to be integral to the R, not wallpaper. I want to see how the future, the technology, the politics and the alien appendages affect the relationships. So far as I’ve read, writers of dystopian, futuristic, space opera, cyberpunk, etc, seem to do this well. Steampunk… sorry to say… not so much (present company excluded, of course!). I’ve read some steampunk that felt as if the characters really could have been ANYone ANYwhere — but just happened to be wearing a corset and riding a train, or whatever. What my friend Jill calls the “find/replace” steampunk: Take a draft of any romance. Replace “airplane” with “airship.” Replace “shirt” with “corset.” Replace “electronic” with “clockwork.”

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