I’ve been following with interest the discussion that started with Stuart Sharp’s piece about SF romance, and continued in various places that are mostly explained and collated in this Dear Author roundup.
To declare my allegiances up front: I love romance and I love SF, and people who diss either genre around me do not get a good reception. There are books in both genres that make me facepalm, but Sturgeon’s Law.
Firstly, I think Stuart Sharp has a point that there are people out there rehashing tropes that the SF world has spent years playing with and presenting them as something shiny and new. Mostly, people who think it’s the most shocking twist ever to end a two-people-stranded-after-a-spacecrash story with ‘And their names were Adam and Eve’ are just young, or are unfamiliar with genre fiction of any kind and don’t care to be any better acquainted. And they have their exact counterparts in the romance genre. Generally this involves the most shocking twist ever being the couple not getting together, but believe me, it’s exactly the same phenomenon. What with human beings coming in all ages and from all cultures and having different priorities, we’re never all going to be at the same level of sophistication, and that’s OK.
(Also, to be bitchy, I’ve seen far more in the way of ham-handed treatment of SF tropes from literary fiction than I have from SF romance. But never mind that)
Secondly, just because your particular fan culture has staked out part of the cultural toybox, it doesn’t mean it’s yours forever. Let’s take romance as our example this time. Lots of people like books which focus on a journey to emotional fulfilment with another human being. (Or several. Or a cyborg. Hey, I’m not judging here. I’ll cheerfully read books about were-hedgehogs, I have no grounds to judge anyone.) Many of these people also like scenes exploring the main characters’ sexual relationship. These books are available in the romance genre, and often come with a side order of descriptions of Regency England, descriptions of some kind of nutty theme park that bears about as much resemblance to Regency England as I do to Henry Brougham, cowboys, multiple pregnancies, tycoons, descriptions of wolf behaviour, descriptions of wolf behaviour that bear as much resemblance to actual wolf behaviour as I do to Henry Brougham dressed up in a wolf onesie, gossipy small towns, description of otherwise blameless body parts as ‘nubbins’, and a bizarre fixation with getting exes back together.
You may love any or all of these things. Or they may be like the nasty vinegary salad that comes with the meal you ordered, and you may not want the vinegary salad but instead want a baked potato.
Enter the massed baked potatoes of Young Adult, New Adult, and stories written by people who came up through writing fanfic. I’m not saying baked potatoes are better than salad. I’m saying that if you want the boy-meets-girl (or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl, or person of any gender meets hedgehog) buzz, there are other places to get it.
SF could, frankly, learn from this. Just because they’ve had squatters rights over those ray-guns for the past century or so, it doesn’t mean that no one’s ever going to turn up and say ‘Hey, I also like these props! Let’s share!’ Nor does it mean that the newcomers are going to necessarily be interested in paying dues to climb into the old guard’s treehouse.
If nothing else, I’m interested in the SF versus SFR brouhaha because I’ve never been totally sure where my books fall. Well, I thought I was clear about Firebrand – it’s a feminist steampunk romance – but then it got recognised by the jury for an SF award, so, yeah. The Requite books are at least as much about interpersonal stuff as they are about ray-guns (though there are a lot of ray-guns in Heavy Ice, and at least one ray-gun tyrannosaur chase) and I’d probably say they fell on the SF side of the fence. But I’ve had at least one nice comment saying ‘these are the first romance novels I’d read’ so clearly they were pinging as romance to that reader.
There’s a lot of other hybrids out there, too. I recently got blindsided by what I thought was SFR which turned out to be an adventure story with some romantic elements – it was an interesting story and I’m glad I gave it a go, but I still had that residual sting of ‘But this isn’t what I expected!’
On the subject of science fiction, I’ve also been following Radish Reviews‘ roundup of links concerning the latest outbreak of sexism in the SFWA Bulletin. I’d like, in particular, to draw your attention to Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s powerful piece Hate Mail.
I honestly can’t tell whether people arguing that the problem here is that women are being too vehement are sheltered enough that they’d never considered the constant drip-feed of trollery that is enough to enrage the most Zen of bloggers, or whether they’re arguing in bad faith. I will say that I love SF as a genre, however alienated and disenfranchised I feel from some of its fandom institutions, and for the sake of ray-guns and hyperdrives and all that good stuff, I hope it manages to put its house in order.
And… honestly, if it doesn’t, the toys will still be there for the rest of us to play with.