Monday, September 9, 2013

Sci-Fi Isn't About Romance? - Round 10

Other than a few comments and one short blog, I've remained pretty quiet on this topic. That's not because it doesn't pain and irritate and sometimes outrage me--believe me, it does. It's just that I'm okay with letting people express opinions that are completely other-side-of-the-universe different from my own.

Freedom of speech is one of the rights we've always (maybe until recent years) prided ourselves on having in this country. When I was young, we were taught to respect, and even consider [gasp!] opinions expressed by others that didn't fit our personal outlook. There was a time when the general feeling was "everyone is entitled to their opinion" though these days that seems to have morphed into "everyone is entitled to my opinion."

This "Keep your Romance out of my Sci-Fi!" group seems to be a banner-waving minority who'd like to champion that school of thought. But, IMHO, some may be simply using the topic to enhance their stats.

Case in point:

There's a difference between freedom to express your opinion and intentionally inciting a reaction. This is why I am choosing to talk about one specific "opinion piece" without including a link. I'd like to state my own opinion of the motivation behind it without feeding that particular fire.

This past week we were treated to yet another strongly worded argument on keeping Romance out of Sci-Fi, and an equally strong push back, which was immediately labeled as being an attack on an author who has a right to express his opinion. (In other words, he has a right to express his opinion, but no one has a right to pin his hide to the wall in an articulate rebuttal.)

In my mind, this wasn't an opinion piece, this was a very sad attempt to stir the pot and feed off the controversy for the sake of hit count. The article was meant to incite, not promote discussion, which became painfully clear by the closing words and the subsequent threats to "turn off the comments." And this is why I don't feel this post was really about stating and defending his opinion at all, it was simply a blatant form of manipulation.

I'm going to avoid direct quotes from the author unless necessary, but let me paraphrase some of the statements made in the article:
  • Some authors who started off writing "true" Science Fiction soon outed themselves by including Romance and that made it unworthy of being called Science Fiction.
  • The Book of the New Sun series written by Gene Wolfe, although clearly labeled Science Fantasy should be discounted because he didn't take into consideration the effects of tectonic plate movement and vulcanism on his dying world.
  • "Not true" Science Fiction contains elements that only women find interesting, like "military dress, palace intrigue, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors." [A debunking of the works of Lois McMaster Bujold].
  • "Not true" Science Fiction novels that includes Romance lack necessary tension. [A discrediting of the Sharon Lee/Stephen Miller Liaden Universe series.]
  • Steampunk is declared a Fantasy sub-genre, because the author has no interest in reading about "zombies, fancy dress balls, smooching warriors, or star-lit dinners..." 

The author closes by claiming he has now, "of course," offended everyone by stating his opinion. Which, judging from his provoking conclusion, was the whole point. Let's stir the pot by insulting some of the most beloved Science Fiction series because they contain elements that don't fit his personal narrow-minded definition of the genre. After all, everyone is entitled to HIS opinion--especially when making such bald, condescending statements will up the site's traffic count and generate a deluge of public backlash. Woohoo! Let's poke the tiger!

So let's look at Science Fiction and Romance debate in a different way--beyond stat-grabbing, beyond personal likes or dislikes, and beyond a futile attempt to defend the "purity" of one small segment of a genre that is fading from the reading public's interest.

Here's my view (like it or not, it's your choice):

>  Science Fiction and Romance are soul mates.

>  Science Fiction is about exploration and discovery. So is Romance.

>  Science Fiction is about looking at situations in new ways and adapting to changing times. So is Romance.

>  Science Fiction is about being inventive, spontaneous and pushing the envelope. So is Romance.

>  Science Fiction is about being forward-thinking and embracing the possibilities. So is Romance.

>  Romance not only belongs in Science Fiction, it shares the same DNA.

So if you think exploring the future, other dimensions or emerging technology isn't tied to romance, you're entitled to think that, I suppose. But there's a growing reading public who vigorously disagrees. And ultimately it's the readers--not the authors, bloggers, reviewers or publishing houses--who will decide what is and isn't Science Fiction.

I rest my case. Please feel free to make yours.

~~ * ~~


  1. His criteria to discount McMaster Bujold also means Honor Harrington is no longer SF. I'd love to see him try and make THAT argument!

  2. Laurie, I agree - I think this was all about inciting a reaction and getting hits. Which is part of why I ignored it, and instead focused on Lightspeed Magazines plan to run a special on Women in SF in 2014. Let's concentrate on promoting the positive stuff!
    Also, the fact that he then went on to complain about zombies in SF amused me. He obviously has a very narrow view on diversity in SF, which to me contradicts the whole vision of SF.

  3. Some people.

    One of the first interplanetary travel books has a whole chapter called "Lovemaking on Mars" (which apparently involves walks under the twin moons, and fighting ten-legged lions). But you know, not real SF, because swords. And love and romance.

    The No True Scotsman fallacy seems to be getting a workout in SFdom. I don't care. I'll write what I please, dark future trucker romance or space bounty hunters. I know it's SF.

  4. Great post, Laurie. Furthermore, I'd like to know what percentage of readers actually PREFERS to read stories with human characters for whom love and relationships are not a priority. Is it truly SCIENCE fiction if characters consistently behave in unnatural ways? I think it was Shiloh Walker's counter-post that said it often seems like a certain set of SF writers/readers wishes we didn't have human bodies at all. I think it's a smalls set, though they can certainly make a lot of noise!

  5. It always makes me laugh when someone states that you can't write XX and call it YY because I said so. Really? Show me your emperor of everything card then, because otherwise, you are in charge of yourself, your opinion and your reading tastes. LOL Good piece!

  6. It's really awful when people who want to express their opinion insist on expressing it by invalidating others.

    The author you criticized would do well to learn that you DON'T need to tell someone else they're doing it wrong in order to express a preference.

    YOU'RE NOT X BECAUSE THE SUBSECTION OF X THAT I LIKE DOESN'T HAVE Y strikes me as a needlessly exclusionary, walleyed way of seeing not just entertainment but the world. How limiting it must be to experience life in such tightly defined dichotomies.

  7. Agreed, Julie. (Hey everybody - if I'm remembering correctly, Julie has an awesome YouTube tutorial on Mary Jane characters.)

    During this latest debate I came across the post below - has a nice, civilized summary of how to write a helpful review. It really is quite easy to do it without being mean, sexist, or minimizing others!

    Unfortunately I think sometimes when readers don't like something, they feel they need to punish or avenge. They take it as a personal slight that the author wrote a book they didn't like, and then they write a very personal review.


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