Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Without the Romance, Dune was just a book about worms...

© Robert Magorien | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Over the last few weeks I've been thinking about the problems in promoting and selling SFR, and even SF if you happen to be a female author. It's bugging me (can you tell?). I've seen a lot of conversations on Twitter about why female SF authors aren't necessarily a minority, but aren't given the same recognition or notice as male SF authors. The most recent discussion was over comments left on an io9 post about gender bias in SFF reviews here. The article itself begins "The good news is that men and women are published in almost equal numbers. The bad news is that books by men are reviewed far more often. So when women get published, you rarely hear about them." They then give the stats that provided that conclusion. Their research found there's a (probably) unconscious bias toward male authored speculative fiction by reviewers, but it was the comments that kicked off the Twitter conversation.

1.Female SF authors only write character driven or even romantic scifi (or as one person said on Twitter "eww, romance") as opposed to action driven.

2.Male SF authors only write action driven SF.

Oh, really?

Response to point 1. I know for a fact I don't always put romance in my scifi. I have two straight scifi stories to match my current two sfr stories. Also, one of my favourite authors is Jaine Fenn, and while there are various relationships including romantic ones, I certainly wouldn't call her books romances. They are SCIFI. And I'm sure she's not the only non-romance SF author the 'eww, romance" person could find if they bothered to look. And "eww, romance"?! What, our characters should live in an emotionless void without relationships of any kind? How realistic is that?

Response to point 2. First up, while my other fave author Neal Asher writes hard, explosive and often gruesome SF, he spend a lot of time on the psychology and relationships between his characters. The Technician, for example, focused in depth on the long-term insanity of its male MC, and the autistic nature of an amphidapt secondary character. While I've yet to find any romance as I understand the term, Asher writes stories that deal with adult humans (oh, okay, and homicidal aliens, tech that could obliterate the universe, and superior AIs are in there too) and his characters react realistically. So I would say there is a balance between characters and action, not one predominating over the other.

Also, the SFR Brigade has several male authors in its membership, and I've met several others who write romance into their scifi. But after a comment by TK Toppin about how if you removed the romance between Paul and Chani in Dune, it becomes just a book about worms, I started thinking about the scifi I'd read as a teen, predominantly by MALE SF authors. Dune - the love story between Duke Atreides and his concubine Jessica that almost destroyed the Bene Gesserits' work by producing the Kwisatz Haderach a generation too early. Paul's love for Chani and his arranged marriage to Princess Irulan. Take those away, as TK said, and all you have is a 'book about worms'. A space opera I'm currently working on reminded me of Friday by Robert Heinlein which, as I recall now (but not at the time) had romantic elements. Asimov's The Robots of Dawn too, where the central female character had formed an emotional and physical relationship with a humaniform robot because the current human society from which she'd come from and the one in which she taken refuge hadn't enabled her to enter a normal relationship with another human being. I'd say the story focused as much on that 'romance' as it did the crime, politics and technology of the story.

Then look at some recent SF films (some taken from books by male authors, but also screenplays written by men, films produced and directed by men) - Avatar, John Carter, and Oblivion. Star Wars (Han and Leia/Anakin and Amidala). Take the romance out of these and you damage, if not destroy the story.

So not only are we in a niche genre, but we seem to be battling very old stereotypes about what male and female authors write, and while we may equal the male authors in numbers, we're somehow invisible. If a man writes SF, whether the romance exists and is mentioned or not, there's no 'eww'. But if you're a woman? Sigh.

I'm off to write a book about worms... :-P

Because it ties into this discussion somewhat, I'm linking to a couple of interesting articles. Heather has posted over at the SFR Brigade blog about the need of innovative marketing for SFR here. And Rinelle Grey has posted about whether we should stick to the old adage of 'write what you know' here.

Pippa's Journal


My YA scifi novel Gethyon releases in less than a week on the 3rd of June! Squee! I've had my final PDF, which I started sending out for reviews requests straight away, and I've already had two acceptances. I'll be doing a month long tour, and you can find all the details of where, when and what I'm giving away here, as well as a ton of guest posts on the technology, antagonists and protagonists, spaceships and even fashion in Gethyon's universe. Now begins the mad panic. Will readers like it? Will they hate it? What the heck are people expecting after Keir?

And if that isn't excitement enough, the Tales from the SFR Brigade anthology should be available from midsummer. Woo hoo! Have you checked out the cover art yet? Here ya go!

In the meantime, I have two other short stories out on submission to anthologies. I should know about the cyberpunk come mid-August, and the other for Champagne Books inhouse call by the end of the year at the latest. I'm still waiting for further details on two other projects that I can't yet comment about - a full length sfr novel and sfr novella. Shh!

And I finally decided on a project for after the month long tour for Gethyon. Entry into The Rebecca closes mid July, and I have a decopunk superhero romance novella I'd like to put in. Last year I entered my sfr novella Tethered, and while it didn't place I got some fantastic feedback and a good score on it. If you'd like more details, check out the LERA contest here. I can highly recommend it for the professional feedback.

BTW, on the subject of contests, if you're interested in entering some you can find the RWA listings (published, self and unpublished contests) here and contests for self-published works (although some, if not all also take small press and/or trad published entries, as well as unpublished) here.

Have you signed up for the SFR Brigade's 2nd Midsummer Blog Hop yet? Come on, what are you waiting for?! Go here! Not sure what to do or what it involves? Go here! Any other questions you can direct straight to me via sfrbrigadebloghop (at) gmail (dot) com. If you're willing to send in a donation, please get in touch as soon as possible because I can't announce a grand prize until I've a rough idea of what's coming. Ebooks are also welcome. :)

Rinelle Grey has posted some useful tips on how authors can use Goodreads here.
Heather Massey now has an awesome list of free or under $0.99 books at The Galaxy Express here. Hop over and check it out! And let her know if you have one that can be added to the list.
The night before last I received an email from All Romance eBooks telling me Gethyon was listed and available to buy. I was gobsmacked, as it isn't due for release until the 3rd of June and isn't a romance. Several moments of panic ensued, especially as the link came back 'page not found' and nada on a search. However, thanks to Laurel Kriegler, Gethyon was tracked down to the Omnilit page. Phew! You can now pre-order my newest release here. Not only that, but just 12 hours later it hit the Omnilit best seller list. At number 1 no less! *bounces* It may not be there now but to have it make it there and so soon left me somewhat tearful. A huge thank you to everyone who pre-ordered it - you are all AWESOME!

Ping Pong
@Donna - I didn't realise Cumberbatch was meant to be Kahn! I honestly can't imagine it. I almost went to see it Saturday - hubs and I had our first weekend away without our kids in ten years - but it was a choice between a film or dinner, and I'm afraid hunger won...
@Laurie - I agree, I'd need more scientific proof to believe in Bigfoot. And yet, every day scientists are discovering new species. If Bigfoot is intelligent, perhaps that's been enough to keep it out of sight - and let's face it, with humanity's ability to wipe species out who can blame Bigfoot for hiding away - but no. Dodgy film footage and footprints aren't enough to convince me.
And thank you for the shout out yesterday. :)


  1. >If a man writes SF, whether the romance exists and is mentioned or not, there's no 'eww'

    Ah, yes, the ol' double standard, alive and well.

    Yet it's why I think mixing SF and romance is one of the boldest, edgiest moves one can make in speculative fiction. Exploring the science of love in stories is still looked at with huge levels of scorn & derision, which IMHO indicates just how much of a powerful force romantic love can be.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, as well as the shout outs!

  2. And again, yeh to all that!! Excellent post. And *blushes* thanks for the wee mention. Hee...

  3. Many of the SF classics we remember fondly as having those elements of romance and character-driven story date from before the Big Split (my term) in the genre sometime in the late 1970's. After that time SF became dominated by hard science and plot-driven stories and, not coincidentally, male authors. Many of its leading female authors turned to fantasy or faded from view altogether. From that time, it's my perception that SF readership remains divided into hardened camps--the "eww, romance" types and those of us who wish there were more books like the THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.

    You can't really compare books to movies, because both men and women will enjoy movies together. When they get home, they read separately. We need to find a way to get them to enjoy the same kinds of books. That would be a trick!

  4. Here's a link to an article at Amazing Stories on just about the same topic:

    There must be something in the air...!

  5. Great post! I can't think of a Sci-fi movie without at least a bit of Romance. I don't think we'll ever get people reading the same thing, but I don't think that's bad. There are certain types of hard Sci-fi that you couldn't pay me to read, but I would never imply they are less than the kind I enjoy, that the people who read them are inferior, or that they shouldn't exist. That is the kind of intolerance that should be, in the words of Back to the Future "erased from existence.":-)

  6. Heather - taking current events at SFWA into account, and a recent post about 'contaminating' SF with romance, I'm getting pretty cross. I really can't believe there are still attitudes like that. But the good thing is those attitudes can't stop us writing and publishing, and won't stop the readers reading what they choose. And that's the one thing that stops me tearing my hair out over the whole thing. =/ Funnily enough someone on Twitter has also directed me to that Amazing Stories article as he was interested in my reaction. I'll get to it Monday.
    Donna - agreed, films are a different matter. But Dune and John Carter were books AND films. I've yet to read Princess of Mars to see how it compares to the film version, but Dune in its book form is hailed as a scifi classic. As someone who reads those kind of books, I always find it difficult to understand why EVERYBODY, male AND female, doesn't read and love them too. Inconceivable! :P
    Karinshah - hello and thank you. No, not everyone wants to read the same kind of book. What bugs me is some people saying our books are somehow invalid or a poor relation, and shouldn't be allowed. Thankfully that's up to readers! :)

  7. I really don't understand why people are so upset by Sci-Fi Romance? As you pointed out, most well known sci-fi has elements of romance in it (A lot of Asimov's work does, and I'm sure many other authors.)

    I wonder, perhaps, if the straight sci-fi writers are feeling threatened? If they don't feel like they can write romance realistically, then I can see why they might defend what they see as there genre. But I think there is, and always will be, plenty of room for sci-fi with or without romance!

  8. Perhaps they do feel threatened. But I read as much straight SF as SFR, and stories in between. But it seems by even more recent posts that SFR is getting some serious attention now, even if from a negative side. :P They say even bad publicity is still publicity.

  9. Why are they upset? Because romance makes more money. If you trace grievances back and back and dig and dig it eventually comes down to money.

  10. Pauline, you're so right! And this dates back to that split between fantasy and hard SF in the '70's. (Sorry to keep harping on this, but old rivalries die hard and this one just won't go away.) Fantasy just took over the bookshelves at that time and reduced SF to almost nothing for a long, long time. The guys clinging to hard SF really took on a bunker mentality that lingers to this day. So, yes, the idea that a "diluted" form of SF stands to make big bucks with the romance audience is a huge psychological threat to them.

  11. It also feeds into the "limited resources" theory. The notion that there are limited # of readers and if they buy my book, they won't buy theirs. I remember so many authors having this fixed market mentality back in the late 90's early 2000 and even beyond.

    Actually, what we've seen with the rise of digital reading is an expanded pool of readers. I can't remember where I read it, but someone pointed out that the internet has been able to tap into hidden readers, people w/o access to bookstores and with small/no libraries close by.

    What has happened is that some of the bigger publishers have lost market share from actual competition. But the publishers who are flexible and responsive seem to be surviving. Bookstores are starting to creep back.

    I can't tell you how many times I've run into someone who is reading more because of digital reading--both print and digital. And part of that surge in reading is because of more choice. IMHO


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