Ye, gods, where to start?
By now most of the science fiction world and half of the romance community have weighed in on the controversy generated by comments made by SF writers Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg in a recent issue of the SFWA Bulletin. (See Pippa Jay’s excellent post earlier this week and the list of relevant links.) This coming on top of Stuart Sharp’s blundering attempt to note the rise of SFR in a post on The Story Hub that sounded more like a scream of “run for the hills!”
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for a couple of weeks (or blissfully enjoying a vacation on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet), the gist of the argument from both of these camps in the swamps of the Mesozoic is: girls are purdy but they don’t know crap about writing science fiction. They’re messing up our real science fiction with their kissy-face fake science fiction stuff. Oh, and some lady writers are particularly purdy. And if you don’t like what I say, you are a liberal fascist (sic).
Some days I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or grab a phaser and just start blasting.
Pippa, in her post, asks, with some justification, is it not 2013? Yes, but as a lifelong feminist and a lifetime member of the NAACP, let me tell you, 2013 is not the 23rd Century envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, where equality rules in the crew of the Enterprise. And I long ago realized that the science fiction “community” is one of the last bastions of male tradition, along with the military, the police and the hard sciences. Just because there were women who wrote it, women who read it, even individual women who were successful at it, did not mean that women as a group were accepted into the fold. And the kind of science fiction that women more generally like to write—with character at the center of the story—lost a hold in science fiction when the market for SF shrank back in the late 1970’s.
So why be surprised that now when science fiction romance is beginning to find some success outside of the traditional SF community—through digital or small presses or even with romance-oriented houses—the old-school guys in SF are squawking? It’s the same reaction I get when I tell my guy friends who read SF that I write SFR. The kindest thing they say is, “You lost me at romance.”
Really? Okay. Because there are these millions of other readers out there who just might be interested in the romance. SFR’s dogged pursuit of the miniscule SF market is just a little too reminiscent of a child begging for the attention of an emotionally-unavailable father. I say we grow up now and seek out a lover who can give us the affection we need.
In the forty years since SF’s last heyday in the Seventies, romance has gone from a narrow focus on stories involving millionaire bosses, pirates and cowboys, to embrace werewolves, vampires, angels, dukes, hometown boys, Navy SEALS, PI’s, and, yes, even some starship captains and sexy aliens. It has become a huge industry with the largest readership of any single genre. According to figures on the RWA website, romance fiction held the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2012, with 16.7 percent, generating $1.4 billion in sales.
By comparison, in 2012, SF/F sales amounted to $590.2 million. More importantly, its core readers, writers, editors and marketers seem largely to be stuck in a time warp. And I don’t mean one in which they’re in the future.
That wouldn’t matter so much if writers of SFR weren’t stuck with the dilemma of finding the right market for their books—seeking out agents, selling to the right publishing house, determining covers and marketing strategies, coming up with taglines and pitches and all the rest. Given the choices outlined above, you would think it would be easy to go where the readers are, but the story should drive the decision and that complicates things. What if the romance in the book amounts to mere elements? Then surely that leaves you in the SF camp? (With the dinosaurs. Sorry.) What if the SF is really tech-y, but the romance arc is clear and, well, hot? Might be a hard sell on the romance side, but no sell at all with the dinos. **sigh**
My agent asked me a few weeks ago if we should try a few of the SF publishing houses in light of a spate of rejections from the traditional romance houses. I thought about it, but in the end we agreed to leave the SF houses off the list. I told her I didn’t think they’d know what to do with me. Given the controversy that has erupted since then, my instincts were right. My stories are science fiction romances and, given a chance, I know romance readers will embrace them. That’s a much larger and more welcoming audience than I would ever have in science fiction.
That decision felt right to me. Sort of like the day I decided to take the straight SF story I was struggling with and rework it as a science fiction romance. Unchained Memory works much better as SFR. And it always feels better to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.