Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Alien Admiral's Cyborg

I really enjoyed reading Sharon's post the other day about Romance (the genre) and how it got its 'trashy' reputation. My first reaction was embarrassment – because I'll admit I was a bit that way in the past. Then I thought about it a bit more, and realised what I was thinking about is the Barbara Cartland, Mills & Boon style of Romance. The stories are formulaic, as far as I could tell contemporary, and there was NO SEX. This was a good many years ago, you understand. In that respect, at least (sex), Romance has grown up. In my teens I glanced through a number of these novels, rolled my eyes and went back to fantasy and science fiction. However, I had a relative who devoured them. She had a hard life and I think for her, Romance novels were an escape, a place she could run off to and hide, and maybe vicariously live the life of the heroine who got the happily-ever-after she never had. For other women, maybe it's a way of going back to the time when they were young and beautiful, and reliving (or rewriting) the past. I don't know.

Not that I never ever read Romance books – I just didn't know that's what they were. For example, the Angelique series. And then I was introduced to SFR with Games of Command. These stories have world-building, and a plot other than the romance to keep me enthralled. I have also learned that writing any book isn't easy, and writing 'series' romance novels has its own challenges. More power to those who can do it. I can't.

And that brings me to titles. We had a fascinating discussion in the Facebook SciFi Romance group, talking about titles in SFR. (If you're not a member, go and join – it's a great group for readers.) Meredith Gurr, a great supporter of our sub-genre, posed this question.

I've been pondering for a while, but Winter's post prompted me to pose a question about SFR titles specifically. [Winter's post said 'Ugh… the secret baby trope has infiltrated both my beloved SFR and PNR']

There is a profusion of titles containing the word Alien. And added to that, Lover, Mate, Bride, Abduction, Slave, Heart, Taken by the Alien, Bonded to the Alien, etc., all with obvious romantic and/or sexy times content.

No doubt many of us already have our go-to favourite authors and SFR tropes, irrespective of the book titles, but I was just wondering how authors and readers feel about the identical or similar titles out there. Whether it's becoming confusing, overwhelming? Negative market saturation, for example, some readers may be dissuaded from checking out books, perhaps due to "you've read one, you've read them all"? (this could equally apply to PNR and YA dystopias, PNR and SFF). Any other thoughts?

The responses were truly fascinating. Do have a read on Facebook – the thread is easy enough to find. For me, the question resonated. Back in the day I would curl my lip at the Romance titles starting with 'Millionaire' (now, of course, inflation has caught up with us, and it's Billionaire), 'Sheikh', 'Duke' etc etc. where somebody takes a job as the [insert title here]'s secretary or something, and then this despicable tyrant type falls madly in love.

SFR encompasses any level of sexual behaviour, from no sex, through to BDSM, erotica, menage, LGBTI etc. That's absolutely fine. To each her/his own. But it seems certain formulaic titles sell better than others, often depending on the level of sex expected. Eg Meredith's example of 'Bonded to the Alien'. It will have a ripped torso on its cover and there will probably be lots of sex. Please understand that this is strictly my opinion, and that I'm not singling out any title, any author, any book. These are just examples which may or may not be real.

I have an aversion to anything with 'alien' in an SFR title. I just cannot get my head around the notion that somewhere out there in the endless darkness a species has evolved that is close enough to us in DNA for us to have sex. Anything's possible, of course, but to me it comes across as monkeys writing a book. Let's face it, we share 98.8% of our DNA structure with chimpanzees, but mating with one? Yes, I have 'aliens' in my Morgan Selwood books, but these people are genetically engineered humans who have lost their history. Perhaps some of the authors who write 'alien' books do the same thing. I don't know. Sure, it may be possible for two different species to fall in love, but even in Beauty and the Beast, it turns out the beast isn't quite what he seems.

I don't have the same issue with 'cyborg' titles. I think it will happen that humans will incorporate intelligent tech into their bodies. We already have bionic limbs that can be controlled by the mind.
However, I steer clear of dubious consent titles using words like 'slave', 'abduction', 'breeder' and the like, whatever else is in the title.

And yet the 'alien' titles, and 'breeder' titles seem to be immensely popular. Perhaps that's because such titles tell the browsing reader immediately what they're going to get and that's what they want.
Perhaps I should rename my book Morgan's Choice to The Alien Admiral's Cyborg. (See fun cover above) Ravindra is an alien admiral, and Morgan is most definitely a female cyborg. But then, if readers were to expect a series of steamy sexual encounters they would be sorely disappointed. Yes, there's some sex, but the story is about a developing relationship between two people from two very different cultures – and an external threat, and how that brings them together. That tattoo is important, too.

It's a difficult task, giving a book a title. Please share your views. What leads you to take a look, what puts you off, and what would you find disappointing?


  1. OMG seeing that cover first, I immediately thought yay, a new cyborg book LOL!

    Speaking of a "ripped torso", I'm thinking maybe if a book cover design incorporates SF elements, e.g. spaceship, another planet, galaxy, etc., the cheesy titles may not have as much of a potentially negative impact and, indeed, could perhaps lessen the need to resort to a self-explanatory title. I actually think I prefer titles that don't immediately convey what readers can expect from the story before starting to read it. Instead of using the title, perhaps a descriptive phrase mentioning aliens or including other key words somewhere on the cover (kind of like what's done in movie trailers of old)?

    I've often had to suspend disbelief when it comes to said ripped torso aliens so conveniently being sexually compatible with humans but, hey, it's fiction, right?! As for "alien" being in titles, I'd be quite happy if there weren't any, just regular/enhanced human beings! But then again, where would your excellent Ptorix Empire series be without the Ptorix?!

    1. Thanks, Merry. Yes, it's fiction and a matter of can you suspend your disbelief? I'm wary of the 'trigger' words because I think it won't be what readers expect.

  2. I really don't have much to add because not only do I agree with your points but I came from exactly the same background and viewpoint on romance books. Yes, I am tired of seeing naked male torsos on starry backgrounds with Mate, Breed, Captive etc in the titles because those are definitely not my kind of books. However, I am so not a typical reader (as has been pointed out to me many times when discussing marketing) and those books do sell. I have cyborgs and aliens and androids, all at varying heat levels and varying amounts of on page sex, but they don't sell very well. Maybe if I relabelled them (like your fun suggestion above) and had more man chest, they would sell better. But that's not me. That's not how I want to brand a book. Sure, it's apparently bad marketing, but I don't want to look like everyone else. So I'll keep my individuality and my crappy book sales for that tiny bit of the market that doesn't go for nekkid torsos either. :P

  3. Right now I have two books out in the same series. One has the naked torso on the cover and the other has a space ship on the cover. They are both about the same sexual content, but the one with the body is selling marginally better than the one with the spaceship on the front. Go figure.

  4. OMG I had forgotten about those books! The small page count, and contemporary covers. I actually don't think I ever read one, and I definitely had the same bias (not really fair since I never read one, but there it is). Sort of the opposite bookend to the true bodice-rippers (and I did rid a couple of those).

    That is an excellent point about the generic quality of those "alien, slave, etc." titles. As I mentioned in Donna's post today, it suggests a cookie-cutter approach to the story (which may or may not be present). I'm glad you won't be changing your title! :)

  5. "I just cannot get my head around the notion that somewhere out there in the endless darkness a species has evolved that is close enough to us in DNA for us to have sex." Yes, that! Readers often call my characters "aliens" but I make it clear they are all various subspecies of humans, all evolved from humanity but having different physical traits or appearances because of the collective impact of their various genetic pools and environmental factors.

    I have a hard time getting my head around true aliens that would be sexually or reproductively compatible with us. As Greta pointed out, look at the diversity on this planet alone with all the species branching off from the same ancestors. It seems aliens would be so diverse, there would be no common ground. It's hard to have a romance with a horseshoe crab. But, for the sake of the "fiction" I can suspend disbelief to read such a tale. I just can't suspend it enough to write one.

  6. BTW, Greta, I'm so glad that isn't your cover! LOL

  7. My only current alien/human romance (Imprint in Tales) mentioned the theory that some of the humanoid races all shared a common ancestor and hence were physically compatible (though not genetically - no alien human hybrids!). The next one I have upcoming - well, no spoilers for you, but it won't just be an alien who happens to be compatible. It's...complicated. :P
    And while I hate to raise the subject, let's face it a certain amount of bestiality has been recorded throughout human history so I don't completely write off the idea of a non-compatible alien and a human but...*winces*...won't be writing it personally.

  8. I'm still chuckling over "It's hard to have a romance with a horseshoe crab."

    And yes, the thing about half breed 'aliens'. That was one of the things that put me off Star Trek.

    Thanks all for commenting.

  9. I think the alien prince's cyborg swallowed my comment


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