Thursday, May 7, 2015

You can't have science fiction romance without the science

I thought I had a topic picked for this week's post, but after I read Heather's post over at the Galaxy Express, I got so hot under the collar that I just had to add my two cents worth.

Do go over and read the article if you haven't. I'll wait.

This, I suppose, is the other half of the discussion we were having last week. Remember that? You can't call it science fiction romance unless there's ROMANCE. And sure, SFR is a combination of two genres. If that's what you want to call them. I gave you my perspective on that here.

But let me tell you, if you can't call it SFR if the romance is missing, you sure as hell can't call it SCIENCE FICTION if there's no science.

And I, for one, won't read it.

I've never made a secret of the fact I'd like to see a science fiction → romance category, as well as a romance → science fiction category. That is, the romance adds spice to the science fiction. If others see it the other way around – other world (or whatever) settings add spice to the romance – that's fine. Everybody's different.

I love science. I can't add up to save my life, but I'm good at logic. It's a useful skill when you're a computer programmer. I've gazed up at the stars in wonder from a very young age, had my own astronomical telescopes and read whatever I could handle in popular science about astronomy and cosmology. And I need hardly add I understand IT and concepts such as artificial intelligence. Naturally, I read SF. My favourites were Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and more recently Jack McDevitt. And I read them for the science. I don't read straight romance.

I have no idea which publisher Heather talks about in her article. But I find the whole concept that SF romance readers would prefer the science component 'dumbed down' an absolute insult. It goes into the same you've-got-to-be joking basket as the one about women can't write hard SF and women can't be superheroes.

Several years ago a friend who was an eminent Napoleonic scholar, an acknowledged expert in the field, wrote a book entitled May 1812 which was a love story told against the backdrop of the Napoleonic war in Europe, and the assassination of the British prime minister in May 1812. For the author, the romance, though important, was an integral component of the historical events. An agent asked two things of her – to disguise the fact she was (ahem) female by using her initials as the author, and second, to take out a lot of that aggravating historical stuff and beef up the romance. Maybe a sex scene or two.

Eventually, she published with a very small press, her story unchanged, although she did use her initials - M.M. Bennetts.

I tell this story to illustrate that it's not just us SFR folk. And that agent was a woman. I did have to wonder if the editor/exec Heather referred to was also female.

Sometimes we women are great at shooting ourselves in the foot.


  1. Couldn't agree more! I might be somewhat biased since I came from reading SciFi - and especially hard SciFi like Arthur C Clark, Asimov etc - rather than romance, but to me if you don't have both it isn't SFR. I'll happily read SFR from right across the spectrum from SF with lighter romance, to lighter SF with a strong romance, but dumb it down? No. By all means give us variety but don't dictate SFR only as romance with dumbed down science.

    1. Needless to say, I'm in total agreement.

  2. >to take out a lot of that aggravating historical stuff and beef up the romance.

    Holy smokes. That sounds like misguided editing advice. They probably demanded those changes just for the market, not for the sake of the story. Ugh. I'm glad the author stood her ground.

    And yes, we do shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes, especially if we neglect to question our assumptions about the way things are.

    Thanks for the link love and for continuing the conversation. Here's another interesting and related article: "We Have Always Been Here" by Stephanie Zvan:

    1. It was, indeed, changes to suit the market. There's always room for a regency romance. And this one was written by somebody who studied the period in excruciating detail. In fact, I've seen her correct "regency romances" which got the facts deplorably wrong.

      On the other hand, the agent seemed to think there wasn't as much interest in historicals. That was before "Wolf Hall" and "Downton Abbey" of course.

  3. I find both the article about dumbing down science and your reference to the historical almost unbelievable. Note, I said "almost". What is with these people? Do they think women are stupid? I am so insulted. It's like the people who think women can't tell the difference between romance novels and real life. Unbelievable.

    Thanks for telling it like it is.

    1. I really fear these people do think women are stupid. Put us in a corner with the children. Or in the kitchen. I just hope some of the powers that be actually read some of these discussions.

  4. Strong women scare some people. Their reaction is to denigrate what they do

  5. I am a male sci-fi reader who had a strong mother and a big sister. Romance has its place because it can help 'deepen' a story. Love/revenge can be powerful motivators that people can relate to. Evil zombies on the rampage might work but make the character desperate and just a decision from you and the story becomes more rounded and IMHO better. Evil Rampaging Zombie vs Desperate dad seeking cure for sick child?

    Very few people think of themselves as evil and the addition of Love can help explain why good people do bad things.

    Upon reading the linked article I am wondering if the rant is needed.
    The key phrase used is: too difficult for their readers to understand
    I like Romance but I prefer sci-fi. Some books can be way to 'technical' in their science. The Stone Series by James Mathew Cox (esp book 2) comes to mind as an example, I reached overload reading the second book and it did put me off reading more in the series. Which is perhaps a bad thing as his next instalment is about the guys honeymoon and I think it might be worth a read when it is out. Which means its less technical (I hope as it’s a WIP), more romantic and still action packed.

    The phrase used makes me wonder if it could be ‘too technical’ for the general public. Having to refer to a glossary at the back constantly does not help the flow of the story.

    Referring to Deoxyribonucleic acid will probably make people stop and wonder what it is. Saying DNA allows people to understand.

    A good editor will mention that reading the story requires an advanced degree in biology to understand.

    SFR is usually light reading. I do not struggle reading it and the book can be picked up and dropped down at will without causing any problems. Sci-fi books are not ‘light’ some may be hard but most are medium.

    If the editor/publisher had come back with ‘make this book lighter’ would you be complaining?

  6. You make valid points. If you've read some of the other comments, though, you'll no doubt notice a trend. I refer you to this paragraph in Heather's article:

    "Author X has over a decade of experience in publishing and she's also a longtime SFR fan. I know she reads it regularly because I've had many conversations with her about various books. I've read her SFRs and even one of her paranormal romances and they fall squarely within these genres. Her sci-fi elements are solid, but not of the hard SF kind. This isn't a case of an author trying to get a romance publisher to release a hard SF book. Far from it."

    This author knows her subject and knows her market. Her books are not of the hard SF kind. So that leaves me thinking that whoever asked for a lighter version was just plain condescending, taking a tilt at readers who 'wouldn't understand'. It's reducing readers to the lowest common denominator. Personally, I'm happy to learn something new from a novel and I like a bit of technical description to give authenticity to the science. To take it a little further, I have occasionally started an SFR where the story isn't much more than sex on a spaceship somewhere. For me, they're DNF.

    I suppose we're all different.

    As Heather has said, this kind of 'dumbing down' isn't new. It's as if these publishers don't understand that the SF component in SFR is every bit as important as the R.


Comments set on moderation - all spammers will be exterminated!

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 5 RWA Golden Heart finals between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of Science Fiction Romance, our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.