Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What’s Different about a Romance Set in the Far Future? By @CarmenWBuxton

By Carmen Webster Buxton

One of the main reasons I enjoy writing love stories set in the far future is that I can create my own cultures.  If I wrote contemporary or historical romance, I would have to stick to what exists now or what has existed in the past; but by setting my story a thousand or so years into the future, I can make my own rules for what constitutes reasonable behavior.

In my made-up cultures, gender roles can be whatever I want them to be. I can make up societies in which men and women are totally equal and have been for centuries, and cultures where women are subservient to men. In my book Tribes I created a world where there is no marriage because everyone’s loyalty is to his or her tribe, which is always all female or all male; in that world, the people on the very bottom or the legal and social ladder are men with no tribe.  In Saronna’s Gift, the story takes place on a world colonized by religious fundamentalists and consequently, women are chattels of their fathers or husbands. 

And because I’m writing so far into the future, where technology has conquered distance, I can populate many worlds, and then throw characters from different worlds and different cultures into one story. That’s where the fun really starts, because characters with radically different frames of reference can have a hard time understanding each others’ thought processes and motivations. A woman who has been taught that God created men as women’s keepers might have a difficult time valuing her own abilities, especially her ability to think for herself. A man who knows men and women to be equal in rights and talents might not realize how deep a contrary conviction was ingrained in a woman’s thinking.

I can even take their differences one step further and create aliens with totally different histories and cultures. In Alien Bonds, Wakanreans are a species very similar to humans in all their biological systems except for a fundamental difference in how they pair off. Throwing humans into the mix has some interesting results, both for the world and for the characters.

And yet the best part about any far-future love story is, it’s still a love story. Some things never change, and I think the fundamental human emotion we call romantic love will always exist so long as humans exist. My characters fall in love in spite of coming from very different backgrounds, in spite of each of them having a different frame of reference, even in spite of the two of them not being the same species.

To be interesting, a story needs conflict. A love story needs problems to exist between the lovers, and for love to happen in spite of all obstacles. In a far future story, those problems can be wildly unfamiliar, but love can still conquer them. This is what makes reading science fiction romance satisfying for me.


A voracious reader since childhood, Carmen Webster Buxton spent her youth reading every book published by Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, and Georgette Heyer. As a result, her own books mix far-future worlds, alien cultures, and courting customs.

Sometimes a specific event from real life will trigger a story idea for her, but she always works it into a science fiction or fantasy setting. When her parents divorced after 28 years of marriage, this led her to ponder the nature of marriage and create a species that mated for life, in her novel Alien Bonds. But most of her books began merely as an image in her head of someone in a specific situation—a thief selling stolen goods to a fence, a man hunting game in a forest, or a young woman walking behind her father while he looked for someone to buy her. The urge to find out who those people were and what happened to them would almost always result in a book.

Carmen was born in Hawaii but had a peripatetic childhood, as her father was in the US Navy. Having raised two wonderful children, she now lives in Maryland with her husband and a beagle named Cosmo.   


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