Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Romance and SF

Apparently somewhere in the blogosphere, there are people complaining about romance writers using SF tropes or SF writers using romance tropes, I'm not 100% sure which. Lyda Morehouse posted about this on the Wyrdsmiths blog, and here is my response to her post...

There are obvious overlaps between romance and SF, maybe more than between SF and mystery. All three come out of the Gothic tradition. SF shares a love of logic and problem solving with the mystery and shares a liking for the romantic (in its old meaning) with romance. The original name for SF, which I still like, is "scientific romance."

In addition, a fair amount of SF and fantasy is pretty obviously romantic in the modern meaning of the word. I think at once of a lot of Lois Bujold, especially Komarr, A Civil Campaign, The Curse of Challion and its sequel. Bujold has tied some fancy knots in the standard romance plot, but the power of many of her books is romantic.

The same is true of Cherryh's Foreigner series. The emotional power comes from the story of a many times tested romance, though Bren Cameron is in love with an entire species, as well as specific members of the species, especially his two bodyguards, one female and one male. Talk about a tall, dark and handsome love object! Bren has millions!

Catherine Asaro has set out very deliberately to write SF with classic romance plots. My favorite book by her is The Last Hawk, which puts her hero through four or five classic romance plots in a row, only he's in the female role. She does the same thing in Ascendant Sun, a book I find more problematic.

In general, SF romances are written by women, which is hardly surprising, given what many -- possibly most -- women read as they are growing up. I read mostly SF as a kid, but I also read Jane Eyre more times than I can remember and every book by Georgette Heyer I could find.

I am talking here about novels that belong firmly to the SF tradition, by authors with good SF creds.

In addition, it's obvious that a fair number of romance readers are interested in SF and fantasy themes. Romantic Times is reviewing SF; and there are romance sub genres that deal with vampires and time travel and what have you.

I'm not a fan of genre romance, so I can't comment on it. I would not be surprised to find that romance writers make mistakes when they try to write SF. There is often a problem when people outside the field write SF. They haven't read enough; they don't know the rules; they don't know when they need good science and when they can make do with handwaving.

However, a kind of literature that has so many readers must be saying something important. What is it? And should SF writers be exploring this topic or group of topics?

This is pretty clearly a male vs. female issue. In general, it's women who write and read genre romance. I won't go into why women like this kind of story so much, except to note that marriage is an important decision, and in many societies it's made for women. The classic romance is about a woman making her own choice about who she will marry, which is not a bad idea.

Why aren't men interested in finding their soul mate in a society where marriage is by law monogamous and where all the studies indicate that men do much better married than they do single? Who you marry is a huge life decision, much more important than the decisions in male action fiction, which are mostly imaginary decisions, since most men are not professional soldiers or CIA agents or whatever.

What we are seeing here is a response to two facts. There are a lot of women in SF these days, and they are writing what they like to read; and men in general don't read as much as they used to. The male genres -- war stories, westerns, male action of every kind -- are a small part of the market now, though science fiction still manages to produce and sell a lot of male action.

Complaining about romance in SF is ultimately complaining that there are too many women in SF. Too bad. I will get bent out of shape about romance in SF, when men get bent out of shape about military space opera, also known as crypto fascist military bullshit.

P.S. I reread Lyda's post, and it looks as if the complainers are complaining about SF in the romance genre, not romance in the SF genre. I'm going to leave my post as is, except to remark that I see no reason to worry about what happens in romance, unless you are threatened by the size of the romance market. It's not our field.


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