I think for SFR to "boldy go" from niche or subgenre to its own category, it needs to first begin to be recognized as such within the romance and paranormal romance communities. One way to begin is with a dedicate contest. Many years ago, there was such a contest called the Sapphire Awards for published SFR novels. It seems if such a contest existed in the past, there would certainly be support for one now. And maybe for more than just published works.
Probably one of the most SFR friendly contests is sponsored by RWA's specialty chapter Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormals. The On The Far Side Contest has categories for Futuristic (which includes Hard SF/SF and General Futuristic) and Time Travel (including Time Travel/Steampunk and Historical with Paranormal Elements).
With the subgenre up and coming in popularity, maybe a dedicated contest is what SFR needs to showcase "the next generation" of SFR in all its many forms.
How would you envision such a contest? Maybe we should start with a discussion of the categories. How would you define the basic "segments" of SFR? I have a few suggestions to get started:
Near Future Romance -- A futuristic romance set sometime within the next five to thirty years that takes place in a world very similar to today's but with technological advancements. Near Future might involve exploration of our solar system, but not extended space travel. Many of todays social and environmental concerns might carry forward, or be compounded or somewhat resolved, in this future.
Space Opera/Adventure -- Space battles, pirating, command ships, excitement...and love! Examples: Think Star Wars with a greater focus on Han & Leia's romance.
Time Travel/Steampunk -- Time travel undertaken through technological means to any era in history, or an alternate universe, with a strong romantic plot.
SFR Erotica -- Any category of SFR when the heat level and explicitness qualifies as erotica.
Should alien romance have its own category or should the inclusion of alien characters not be a consideration for category division?
Should SFR/Erotica not have it's own category and compete side-by-side with less explicit works?
I think we'd also need a clear-cut definition of what is and isn't SFR. Here's one proposal.
Science Fiction Romance is a story with a basis in technology (rather than magic or magical abilities such as shapeshifting). The romance should have equal importance in the plot with the exception of Science Fiction with Romantic Elements category, where the technology, politics or world-building may play a more important role in the story, though the romance and emotionally satisfying conclusion would still be a requirement.
Generally, vampires, werewolves, fae, elves, demons and angels are not SFR characters, however, genetics or various alien species may have characteristics of some of these fantasy norms, provided they are presented via an acceptable scientific explanation for their existence.
STARTING AT GO
Ideas and discussion are the first step in any new project, but what's next? Would a dedicated SFR contest be more likely to begin as an offshoot from an existing contest, or evolve independently? Do you think there's enough support within the SFR community to sponsor a SFR contest?