Imagine a world, very much like our own Earth, with recognizable places and technologies. But populate this Earth with three very different races of beings. One race is human, much as we have always known humans to be. Messy, emotional, not particularly strong or fast. With a modicum of intelligence and artistic flair. Equally capable of greatness and mediocrity.
Another race, the Psy, shares a basically human genetic code predisposed to psychic talents—telekinesis, psychometry, telepathy, medical diagnosis, empathy, even foresight and teleportation. The heavy downside of these psychic talents in the past (madness and violence) has led to the institution of a strict universal training system from birth to eliminate all emotion in the Psy. Their only real connection to each other is through the PsyNet, a kind of WiFi of the mind. Without that connection, individual Psy wither and die.
The members of the third race on this alternate Earth are the Changlings, whose genetic code contains generous doses of animal DNA. They may be wolves, leopards, even rats or hawks by nature and can transform from “human” to animal form when they so desire. Though they are fully sentient, their behavior is influenced by their animal nature. Thus, the wolves and cats are strongly attached to pack or pride and follow hierarchical patterns within their communities.
All right, now you have the world. It’s based not on fantasy but on genetics, anthropology, sociology and political science. If I were to give you even more details about what went on in the Psy world or the Changling world or between the three races, you’d see that even more clearly. So what we have here is obviously the basis for a great science fiction story, right?
Those of you who are fans of NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Nalini Singh are already way ahead of me on this. Wait! you say. Not only do we have the basis for a great science fiction story. We have the basis for a terrific, best-selling SF Romance SERIES (EIGHT novels and counting).
So how come no one calls Nalini Singh a Skiffy Rommer? Why is her name not mentioned along with Linnea Sinclair and Susan Grant and Ann Aguirre and the others when we talk about great SFR writers?
Several things could be at work here, and not being much of a conspiracy theorist, I tend to favor the Occam’s Razor approach. Maybe a lot of my fellow Skiffy Rommers have not had the pleasure of reading one of Nalini’s excellent Psy-Changling novels. That’s an easy fix. Run right out and get the first in the series, SLAVE TO SENSATION, the story of a Psy empath and an alpha panther Changling working to stem a bloodbath brought on by a serial murderer in a world that is supposed to have eliminated violence. The book is breathtaking on many levels—in its creation of this alternate world, in its style, pacing and intricate plot and, so satisfyingly, in the depth of its relationship between the lovers at its center.
Primarily, though, I suspect Nalini is missing from the rolls of science fiction romance because she has been marketed as a PARANORMAL romance writer. That’s what the back of her books call her, after all. Her covers, particularly in the beginning, stressed the shapeshifter aspects of the Changlings (hey, I’ve got nothing against hot werewolves, either), and the titles could have referred to almost anything. I’m sure at no point did her agent sit up and say, “Hey, Nalini, you know this is really science fiction. Let’s make sure all the SF fans out there know that and call this a science fiction romance!”
Somehow, I imagine the conversation was very different.
Nalini: “Well, you know, this is science fiction. Just with a lot of hot romance.”
Agent: “Only 14-year-old boys read science fiction.”
Nalini: “That’s not true. I love Anne McCaffrey.”
Agent: “Okay. But no one in ROMANCE reads science fiction.”
Nalini: “Well, couldn’t we take out the romance and sell it as science fiction?”
Agent: (choking) “I’m trying to make a living here. Doesn’t this thing have—whaddayacallem—werewolves?”
Agent: “Yeah. BAM! You’re a paranormal romance writer. And don’t you forget it.”
Of course, one thing that I’m sure Nalini Singh would never have suggested was taking the romance out of any of her books. She may be a fan of Anne McCaffrey (she lists McCaffrey’s PERN series among her favorite books on her website), but she considers herself to be first and always a ROMANCE writer. She started her career in series romance for Harlequin (Silhouette), and is committed to giving her lovers the same kind of happy endings that once were required by strict guidelines.
Nalini gives her heroes and heroines and their relationships the central focus in her books as well, the hallmark of the skiffy rommer, as opposed to the SF writer adding a few romantic elements to the mix. And just in case you weren’t paying attention earlier, those romances heat up the page. No 14-year-old boys allowed, please. (Though if they EVER got a hint of what went on in most of these romance novels, the boys would never go back to STAR WARS. My husband is a huge Nalini Singh fan.)
So I hereby lay claim to Nalini Singh on behalf of all of her fellow Skiffy Rommers (whether she claims US or not), and urge all SFR fans who have not had the pleasure to seek out her Psy-Changling series. (Stay tuned to this space for a review of Nalini’s latest book in the series, BLAZE OF MEMORY. Coming soon!)