Not too many years ago we writers had a choice of whether to classify our books in BISAC as romance, or a subset of science fiction (which did not, and does not, include a romance sub-category). This meant we had a choice of whether to upset Romance readers (note the capital R), or the Science Fiction fraternity (note choice of word). When BISAC included a science fiction subgenre under Romance we rejoiced. Hurrah! We've made it! Yep, me, too.
But now, a year or two down the track, I've had a re-think. Because I don't write Romance -> science fiction, I write science fiction -> romance. I don't believe they are the same thing.
In any system of classification, the wider category dictates the basic characteristics. Thus in the case of cats Felidae is the family of cats. A member of this family is also called a felid. (From Wikipedia)
Living cats belong to the subfamilies:
- Pantherinae – comprising the tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopards
- Felinae – including all the non-pantherine cats
Similarly, under Romance there are no less than thirty-two subfamilies, one of which is science fiction. (see BISAC listing). And all of them must adhere to the basic requirements of Romance.
Quoting from the Romance Writers of America website Romance novels must have:
· A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
· An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.
Certainly some writers can deliver a Romance in a sufficiently "science" science fiction setting to satisfy the Romance requirements. Linnea Sinclair's Hope's Folly is one such. But even there, if you read the 'reviews' on Amazon, you'll find that not everyone loved the 'agonising over feelings' mixed up with the action. I received similar 'reviews' for The Iron Admiral: Deception. Too much romance and not enough science fiction.
But while, as far as I know, Linnea Sinclair didn't break any of the undeclared rules of Romance, I did. The female MC in the Iron Admiral books is a married woman, committing adultery, even if her estranged husband is a philandering asshole. When I wrote Morgan's Choice, Ravindra was married when he met Morgan. I saw that as an opportunity to highlight the differences in culture between the two societies, and add a degree of conflict. But my editor told me Romance readers wouldn't be pleased, so I killed Mrs Ravindra off.
I've several times received a shot across the bows for not adhering to the expectations of Romance readers, most recently with Ella and the Admiral, where both the protagonists are married to someone else when they meet. I'm sure many of my fellow authors have grappled with similar issues, where they want to write about something real that happens to real people, but they need to decide whether they must modify their approach to give Romance readers what they expect.
Having said all that, I have no quarrel with Romance or any other genre. The categories are there for a reason, which is to help readers choose a book to their taste. I get it. Romance readers expect positive, upbeat stories with an HEA or an HFN, where the plot is all about the romance and anything else is a subplot. If the story happens inside a spaceship, that's enough to earn the label Romance->science fiction.
And there, I feel, is the rub. I was never a Romance reader. Sure, I've read a couple of Mills and Boon titles in my time. But I stress, only a couple, which were truly forgettable. For me, a romance by itself was never enough of a story to hold my interest. I preferred – still do – science fiction, fantasy, and crime. However, while you'll find love interest in fantasy, human interaction is very often missing from science fiction books. That's why I decided to write books with that element included, in much the same way that modern crime novels tend to show a character study of the detective, along with the murder investigation. Toby Neal's Lei crime series is an example. I could cite others.
For me as an author, romance is a subplot of a science fiction story. I've never made a secret of it. My by-line says it all – fast-paced action adventure with a dollop of romance. And if you asked me, I would tell you that I view Hope's Folly in the same way. Would the story stand up without the romance? Yes, I think it would – but it wouldn't have been as much fun. Another example is Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight. Unlike some people, I'm happy to accept it's an SF story. The relationship between Lessa and F'lar is a very important part of the plot, but I'd hesitate to call it a Romance.
I would love to see a new BISAC subcategory for Science Fiction -> romance, which would signal to potential readers that while they can expect a science fiction story with the futuristic aspect they would expect, there will also be messy, squishy bits and talk of feelings. But the romance, while an integral part of the plot, need not be the main story arc. That way the hard SF aficionados, and the die-hard Romance readers, could be warned off, and I could write about adulterers and other real people on a battle cruiser without offending anybody.