So, along with the massive inequality issues heating up the field, a new subgenre of sci fi has emerged to stir the pot further. Meet science fiction romance, or sci-fi romance: it's exactly what it sounds like. And honestly, it's the only kind of romance I can read, on the rare occasions that I do read romance.
If you think about it, it was a natural progression. It's not like we haven't had a history of romance in sci fi before. Ursula Le Guin, Orwell, and Zamyetin all had romance in their books. In We, the first dystopian book, the romance drives the plot--as it does in 1984. And do we need to mention the frequent romances in television? Movies aren't short on it either. "I love you. I know." Of course, Farscape has a fantastic romance--more than one of them--and Doctor Who has, too. The Trek was never short on romances either. So why are people compulsively vomiting and complaining about icky girl germs with sci-fi romance?
I don't like romance.
Well, okay, that's not entirely true. I like love stories a lot. I like a bit of bittersweetness or tragedy in there, too, because I think it's more interesting, but there's no getting away from the fact that I didn't cry my way though The Fault in Our Stars just because of kids with cancer. And I edit a lot of romances, and sometimes, I do really enjoy them. A good human story is always appealing, and that's where the hook comes from, for me at least. Other people like the escapism and the heady feelings and the 'happily ever after' thing, and I can't complain about those, really. But for some reason, female-coded escapism (romance, etc, etc) is seen as 'worse' or 'icky' compared to male-coded escapism, such as technowank and space ships and that sort of thing.
A brief digression on technowank
As much as I like sci fi, the hard stuff can turn into a very technical description of nuts and bolts and can actually lose sight of the plot. Some people love it when authors get carried away, others fall asleep.
Robots are awesome, but what makes them interesting is all the transhumanist arguments and the 'where does humanity lie', ghost in the machine stuff. It's not about the titano-carboridium alloys. We don't like C-3P0 because of his blank expression or the six thousand known languages in his database, we like him because he flies off the handle and acts as straight man to R2D2. Moya is a great ship, but as much fun as it is to run around her corridors with Dutch-angled camera work, it's the stuff that happens on her and to her that keeps our attention.
Shiny is good.
I think visual formats do have an easier time of it because they can get away with just showing, rather than telling us too much--the 'show/tell' thing can be a bit tricky when it comes to the description end of things. We do need to know what things look like and have some idea of how they work, but finding the balance can be hard. And there is room for those lovely sweeping descriptions of xeno panoramas, big shiny ships, and all that good stuff. And, yeah, I rarely tire of reading about a well-written, gritty spaceport and the delicious food in it. One of the things I loved about the short Star Wars anthologies that came out was that they described Tatooine and the new Jedi Academy in fine detail. It was nice to hear about the little things and the students' person effects and the bacta tanks and 'shimmersilk' robes of dignitaries. The 'shiny' stuff and the worldbuilding are fun for both readers and writers.
Why do we need to fuss about characters?
So, what does this have to do with sci fi romance again?
Well, sci-fi romance is ultimately only as strong as its characters. It's why diversity is so important in media, and it's why those of us defending that get pretty up in arms about it. Some sci fi romance is probably not that well-written, but the same is true of the 'old-fashioned', 'traditional' technowank stuff that relies on shiny bits rather than character development. Ultimately, one or two or even ten bad books do not merit discarding an entire genre. Sci-fi romance needs a little more time to grow up and branch out, sure, but it's a very new subgenre. Ultimately, the potential of more explicitly character-driven sci-fi is really exciting. We can take the settings and the shiny stuff for granted, because sci-fi is established as a genre. It knows what its doing now.We don't have to set up and describe every damn space ship because readers know what they are. That means we can push some boundaries. And ultimately, pushing boundaries while we envision the future is the heart of gold that drives this genre forward.
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on Twitter, Facebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!