Sunday, June 29, 2008

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Those Who Walk Among Us...

Once upon a time, I had a Roswell phase. Not the television series, though it seemed like a fun show (it had romance, too!). I’m referring to the Roswell of Area 51 fame in New Mexico—yanno, U.S. capital of secret alien technologies. Being an SF enthusiast, Roswell kind of goes with the territory.

Now I can’t for the life of me remember the source, but I once read an article that really made me think in a Herculean way about the phenomenon of aliens making contact with Earthlings. The author—I’m paraphrasing here in a big way—basically proposed that if aliens (of the non-invading mentality) really did make contact, the event would throw our societies into chaos.

Chaos of the mass hysteria kind. Governments would collapse. Riots would erupt. Cultural upheaval ensues. In short, the author stipulated our psyches would be unable to assimilate the experience. Aliens in our midst would create such cognitive dissonance that it would drive us insane.

Of course, the truth of that supposition remains to be seen. Given that an alien envoy couldn’t possibly visit every country on the planet at once (er, I’m assuming), I have my doubts about any subsequent global anarchy. It’s also possible that many countries would actually be receptive to such visits, let alone the hordes of scientists and SF fans in that category.

Still, the hypothesis gave me pause. It’s scary and disheartening to contemplate humanity’s vulnerability in such fashion. No doubt, there’d be plenty of strong reactions, ranging from helplessness to disinterest to violence. Regardless of what may come, writers and filmmakers have also lent the topic much thought. This type of prognosticating lurks in the drive to create shows/movies/books that feature alien-human contact. I have my own personal favorites, the first being Kenneth Johnson’s V, the television mini-series.




V is a highly ambitious and well-executed production despite the limitations of a television budget. Aliens, known as “The Visitors” make contact with Earth bearing honeyed words and generous overtures, but they are not what they seem.



The mini-series (and subsequent spin-offs and novels) balances a thematic presentation of the consequences of alien-human contact with both action and a surprisingly high number of romantic subplots.

I’m sure there isn’t a soul left alive on this planet who hasn’t seen V, but if you haven’t, please do check it out. Yes, it unleashes a share of B-movie moments, there’s no denying that fact. However, the creators took the story dead seriously and it boasts a fair level of tension around the issue of how humanity might react to aliens arriving on the proverbial doorstep (or "UFO Welcome Center", as the case may be).

Another great treatment of this theme is the movie ALIEN NATION and subsequent television series of the same name.




These shows involve nuanced presentations of life on Earth in the face of alien contact. The alien “Newcomers” adopt Earth cultural practices—perhaps more gracefully—than humans adapt to their presence.



According to the Wikipedia entry:

“The storylines generally revolved around morality plays on the evils of racism and bigotry using Newcomers as the discriminated minority. As fictional immigrants, Newcomers could "stand in" for hot-button social issues about African-Americans and Mexican-Americans (as well as sexual minorities like gays) and invert the usual expectations. For example, during the run of the series, George became pregnant (the male of his species carrying the fetus for part of its gestation) and during much of the episode dialog included such lines as, "If you females had to feel the pain we males feel during pregnancy, there wouldn't be any babies." The series offered insightful social commentary by illustrating what it means to be human and the often bizarre rituals we observe.”

The romances do an excellent job of echoing the greater themes, though at times the flavor is bittersweet. Whether Newcomer or human, the cast is pretty hot, too!

Lucky for us, ALIEN NATION: THE ULTIMATE MOVIE COLLECTION has just been released on DVD. SciFiChick recently presented a sweet breakdown on the specs.

So whenever an otherworldly race decides to make the pleasure of our company, we can invite them over to enjoy our art—and indulge in some sweet DVD extras! Watch these shows for the entertainment value, love them for the hope they deliver.

Now—what’s your theory?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Friday, June 27, 2008

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SHADES OF DARK Review Extravaganza!


The Book Smugglers and Ramblings On Romance are conducting a joint review of Linnea Sinclair’s SHADES OF DARK.

Tomorrow, The Book Smugglers will be hosting an interview with Ms. Sinclair. But that’s not all—you’ll have a chance to win a copy of SHADES OF DARK.

So what are you waiting for?!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, June 26, 2008

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What’s In A Name? Everything and Nothing

There’s an interesting discussion happening over at Futurismic right now: How to define a genre—and why not to bother. If you’re an SFR fan coming from the SF side of the equation, you’ll particularly appreciate this post. There are some very insightful comments.

This one specifically caught my attention:

But somewhere the [sic] has to be a line (not “has to” because we decree it, but “has to” because there is) between what we can call SF, and not—SF. Obviously, most Harlequin Romances fall into the not-SF category, but there are one or two that try (not necessarily successfully) to force their content into a SF world.

Since this blog is devoted to SFR, I thought the comment had relevance to our journey here.

I agree wholeheartedly about the need for broad categorizations of genres. But while I believe the quality of SFR varies, I wonder about the “force their content” phrase. I thought it was interesting that romance was mentioned, number one, but I blinked a bit at the perception that the romance genre is trying to force anything on anybody.

I think that the spirit of the column was about inclusiveness in the science fiction genre (that’s what I took from it). But it also highlights the challenges facing both SF and Romance, especially from a commercial/marketing perspective.

Thoughts...?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

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The Missions of Agent Z., Intergalactic Spy Episode 1 – Final Decisions on the Final Frontier

Greetings, readers! Agent Z. here, checking in after my latest mission, and I’m happy to be back on my home planet. I’ll tell you more about my mission to the Planet Gor another time.

I ran into a little problem with my cybernetic chamber on my way to Gor, and was jarred awake mid-flight. I won’t go into the problems I had fixing the darn thing, but it was a good thing I woke up, because unbeknownst to me my ship had fallen into a massive rift in the space-time continuum (don’t you hate it when that happens?) and I had a helluva time getting myself out of it. One minute I’m knee-deep in the electronic guts of the sleep chamber; the next I’m dressed in a fur bikini and am staring at two very fine specimens of manhood—Captain James T. Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. (Insert dramatic pause here!)

As I glanced around, I couldn’t help but notice that a many-tentacled thing was pointing a weapon at my head and a human male in a monochromatic suit was demanding my final answer. The situation was serious. In order to heal the rift in the continuum I would have to choose a Captain to mate with. (This is the sort of situation my employers neglected to mention when I interviewed for the spy gig. Bloody typical!)

Kirk stood there, dressed only in a pair of too-tight britches and a torn shirt, his naked chest oiled and gleaming, his hair carefully tousled, his smile as devil-may-care as ever. He raised one eyebrow questioningly, as he looked me up and down. He seemed quite happy with the situation.




Picard distracted me from my viewing pleasure with a dignified harrumph. My eyes turned to him, just as he was tugging impatiently on his tunic. My eyes alighted on his massive bald egg head, and then drifted down to meet those endlessly compassionate eyes. He smiled a slow, mysterious smile.



I would have to choose. (Yeah, it’s tough being an intergalactic spy.) I turned to the man in the monochromatic suit. “Any chance of getting to test drive them?” I asked.

“I need your final decision!” he boomed. “Or it’s death—for all of you!”
The tentacled thing shoved the barrel of his weapon against my temple.

I made my choice. I did my duty. I did the deed with the captain of my choice. I healed the rift in the space-time continuum. All in a day’s work for an intergalactic spy! (I need to ask for a raise!)

But discretion is an important part my job description and I make a habit of not kissing and telling. The reputations of Kirk and Picard are safe with me. Well, sort of. If enough of you readers, writers and other aliens are willing to share, then I could be persuaded to, also. So, tell me. Who would you have chosen? And why? And do you think I deserve a raise?

Be seeing you!

Agent Z

Monday, June 23, 2008

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State of the Science Fiction And Romance Union

Now that The Galaxy Express is a little over a month old, I decided it was prudent to present you, my devoted passengers, with a time capsule post. As the title indicates, today we’ll hold a colloquium on the current state of science fiction romance. Then we’ll continue on with our reading adventures and meet again in the future to revisit the position of the genre.

Foremost on our itinerary are these two questions: How did science fiction romance evolve, and what is its present status? For the answers, I consulted a guru of the highest prestige. An expert among experts. A master of the maestros...well, you get the picture.

The Galaxy Express is proud to welcome Sime~Gen universe grande dame Jacqueline Lichtenberg!

Ms. Lichtenberg graciously took time from her busy schedule to answer questions about SFR and its profoundly illustrious history. Hurry now and read on, because you won’t believe your eyes!




The Galaxy Express: In terms of craft, what makes a strong science fiction romance story?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg: The best SF is an amalgam of "What if ..." and "If only ...." and "If this goes on ..." Using rigorous futurology, based in all the known sciences from the physical to the mystical, bracketing the "soft" sciences such as sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology, etc. one has to build a world that reflects a science fiction postulate.

The "romance" is not in the worldbuilding and usually not in the science itself. Romance writers who first fumbled their way into the "futuristic" category made such a horrid mess that the Science Fiction Writers of America members basically just sneered at them and dismissed their efforts.

That changed rapidly as SF Romance writers began to take the SF backgrounding more seriously. They are good writers and know how to research historical backgrounds to a fair thee well, and nail say Egypt in the 1920's creating marvelous atmosphere, and so it was just a matter of learning not to "fake" the science.

Now, given a solid SF style worldbuilding exercise, the writer must tell a whopping good Romance story. Not necessarily involving sex, but today's trends are more toward long, explicit sex scenes.

What makes a good SF Romance is a co-operative melding between the Science and the Romance so that the sex scenes carry the science of the story forward at a good, adventurous clip, and the Science scenes carry the Romance forward at a blistering hot-sweaty clip without ending up as huge expository lumps thinly disguised as dialogue.

So what makes a good SFRomance is what makes any sort of story good -- a plot that whizzes along at just the right pace.

I often define plot for my writing students as "the rate of change of situation" -- and if each and every scene changes the Situation of all the main characters, increasing the suspense, foreshadowing and building anticipation toward an event that satisfies that anticipation -- then you have a good "strong" plot. With that, you can build any kind of novel in any genre.



TGE: When did science fiction romance/futuristics emerge as a distinct genre?

JL: Ah, a history lesson. Let me...start at the beginning and sketch the developments as I saw them.

I started selling SF in 1968 with my first short story, OPERATION HIGH TIME, set in my Sime~Gen Universe. OPERATION HIGH TIME is posted online for free reading [here].

The /sgfandom/ section of simegen.com contains millions upon millions of words of Sime~Gen fan fiction much of which is professional quality work. Like my Star Trek itself and my Star Trek fanzine Kraith Series (also posted for free reading on simegen.com), Sime~Gen has attracted a lot of very talented writers.

The best introduction to Sime~Gen is the Omnibus Reprint; the Unity Trilogy [is] currently available on amazon.com.

When I sold Operation High Time to Fred Pohl for WORLD[S] OF IF MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION, I didn't know that what I was trying to write was Science Fiction Romance. I hated Romance for the same reason I hated Soap Opera (my mother was a fan of Soaps and I watched hundreds of hours of it). I crafted the story in an SFR universe in such a way as to hide the SFR nature of the universe premise because I deliberately aimed the story to tickle Fred Pohl's interest—and it worked.



(More on that at www.simegen.com/jl/IFS~GConnection.html.)

At that time, Romance seemed to me to be nothing but stupid stories about stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons.

In Science Fiction you had stories about smart people doing smart things for smart reasons—and that to me was the very definition of pure entertainment.

That view was crystalized before the 1970's and the women's movement made it clear how nefarious use of language denudes women of the natural heroic attitudes and reliance on female intelligence.

Star Trek fanzines of the late 1970's and 1980's explored the female hero and the feminine side of the male hero and most of those fanzine characters were very smart. Women wrote stories about Spock because he was smart. Then they wrote stories about what kind of really smart woman he might be attracted to.

Kirk & UhuraAnd quietly, in the dark corners of a fandom of a stupid thing like a TV show (you have no idea how fans of Star Trek were derided during those years), SFR was born. True SFR.

Alien Romance...deep, committed intimate relationships (and yes, even sex) between a human woman and an alien male.

For the first Christian SFR I know of – see www.simegen.com/fandom/startrek/showcase/.

SpockSpock's alien sexuality was actually invented, or sparked off by, Theodore Sturgeon. I have an essay on that [here].

Then fans couldn't stop writing about it—women fans. "Get Spock" stories formed a whole sub-category and are, I believe, the earliest real SFR. Writers had the SF part of the worldbuilding done for them and could concentrate on the R part.

Alexis Fagan Black who wrote and published the writings of others in Star Trek fanzines attempted to sell some really great original SFR novels (using a different byline) to the mass market press and basically failed to break through the barrier.

Editors were convinced that combining genres limited the audience.

At that time I was writing Sime~Gen and novels in other universes very quickly, always driving plots with the explosive energy of increasing intimacy among the characters. And I was studying the Star Trek fanzines for what they were doing that the Mass Market so firmly rejected.

I finally defined the illusive quality that Star Trek fanzine writers strove for that Mass Market editors rejected out of hand.

I called it the HIDDEN GENRE and named it INTIMATE ADVENTURE.

Intimate Adventure is what you get when you replace the "action" of Action Adventure (which editors insisted all SF must be) with Intimacy. The action takes place on the field of intimacy, not battle, and that drives the plot to a resolution.

For a full definition with examples see: www.simegen.com/jl/intimateadventure.html.

It turned out a few years ago when I was discussing this with my some time collaborator Jean Lorrah (a Professor of English) that what I was attempting to define is not actually a "genre" but rather a "plot archetype" and we believe we're the first to identify it.

Yesterday I discovered a new group on Amazon identifying some of my books as Intimate Adventure. And they are that.

In the late 1980s and 1990's, Romance mass market began to explore what would happen to romances if one of the characters was a vampire. That sub-genre exploded because it allowed Romance writers to explore the same material that Star Trek fanzine writers discovered in Spock and that I was mining for material in Sime~Gen and other universes.

I then set out to write my own SF Vampire novel, THOSE OF MY BLOOD—still available on Amazon. And followed that with DREAMSPY. Intimate Adventure with vampires in space. But published as Science Fiction in hardcover—but not Mass Market.

THOSE OF MY BLOOD DREAMSPY


So then the question, "When did science fiction romance/futuristics emerge as a distinct genre?" basically comes down to the question, "What do you mean by emerge?" The distinct genre was founded, I believe, in Star Trek fandom's early Get Spock stories. At least one generation of writers (20 years worth of career effort) [emphasis mine] tried and failed to establish that genre in Mass Market SF. Then a new generation of editors came on the scene and a new generation of readers and the constant beating on that stone wall paid off.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, that stone wall funneled that story-telling pressure aside into the Romance genre, emerging as the FANTASY offshoot Vampire Romance. I turned fantasy Vampire Romance into SF Vampire Romance with THOSE OF MY BLOOD 1988 (for the publication timeline, see my bibliography).

I don't know what publisher first used Futuristic Romance or SF Romance as a label on a book spine, but by the time that happened, the genre was well established.

TGE: How has the science fiction romance market changed over the years?

JL: Soon the Vampire Romance craze had peaked and began to fall off. There came a point when they were most popular when writers couldn't sell them to editors at all and they started to turn up as e-books and I followed them into the e-book market. But the Romance market had gotten the message. You can sell more books when you mix genres—not less!

So the "changes" have subsequently been explorations of various kinds of mixtures of genres and even SF/F has things like the Anita Blake series and all its imitators. TV has Buffy and all its imitators.

My theory is that genre is defined not by what is present in the story, but rather by what is absent—by what is prohibited.

"Literature" is what you get when you combine all genres. And I think that's where SF/F/R is headed—to a combination which is mainstream, academically lauded Literature.

I believe we have won the battle we fought when they cancelled Star Trek with a sneer. We have won mainstream status for Science Fiction. It is respectable and taken seriously as Literature. And that's largely because of the combining of other genres under that label until what you have is INTIMATE ADVENTURE.

TGE: Thank you, Ms. Lichtenberg, for your time and hard-won insights.

THE BLACK FLAME


Ms. Lichtenberg’s comments are very enlightening. Science fiction romance has been striving for years decades to gain recognition within both the SF and Romance arenas. Isn’t it ironic, considering the parent genres have sought validation for so long themselves?

Of note is the inevitable comparison to the paranormal market, when publishers/agents once told authors there was no market. But serendipity (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), persistence, and artistic vision (ANITA BLAKE: VAMPIRE HUNTER) won out, resulting in a blitzkrieg of paranormal romances. Well, the sex helped, too.

Science fiction romance books, in my most humble opinion, is currently holding the baton that paranormal romance gripped in the 1990’s (Film and television are slightly ahead of the curve with series like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and FIREFLY, fare such as SERENITY and basically any of the new superhero films, which more often than not feature a romance). Of course, genres cycle, but what I find fascinating are the reinventions of genres that accompany each rise in the market. This particular phase is definitely one to watch—or read, as the case may be.

What’s on the shelves now is great, but too few. SFR fans are loyal almost to a fault, but even we crave variety as much as the next reader. I think one reason (SFR) fan fiction is so popular is that it fulfills a need for these stories, a need that for a number of reasons mainstream publishing can’t (or at times won’t) satisfy. I’m eager to devour more of the current renditions of SFR, as are others.

So when I had a chance to make my voice known, I did. Recently, I approached one editor to chat about the science fiction romances she had worked on (this happened at Comic-Con ‘07, where quite a few NY publishers were shilling their wares). I asked if she had any more in the pipeline. My inquiry was met with a perplexed, almost fearful expression, whereupon I was directed to a number of paranormal romances spread out on the table. I have nothing against paranormal romances. I enjoy paranormal romances. But that’s not what I wanted to learn about at the moment.

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised by the editor’s response, but I was.

I also wonder why some industry insiders discourage certain ideas by established authors. In my mind, very few (non-sexual, non-violent) concepts would be considered too bizarre or strange for readers of science fiction romance. That is to say, speculative fiction. Don’t mix the genres, some said then—and apparently now as well. This despite the popularity of fan fiction, films, and television shows over the years that blend SF and romance in some fashion.

Clearly, SFR is a genre that refuses to go away.

Of course, there are editors, agents, marketing departments, and booksellers who champion the genre. In addition to the folks on the teams of established authors such as Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, Colby Hodge, and Susan Kearney, Dorchester devoted an entire line to it. Agent Laura Bradford and Anne Sowards of Ace/Rock opened the door for Ann Aguirre. Angela James, Executive Editor of Samhain Publishing has been particularly vocal about her interest in acquiring science fiction romance stories.

To be realistic, I don’t expect SFR to reach the same level as paranormal romance. Certainly not overnight (although it’d be nice. Reminds me of the early days of anime, when one practically had to sell her soul for even a poor quality copy of CHÔJIKÛ YÔSAI MACROSS. Now anime is a mainstay of American culture). However, I can hope.

We fans have waited nearly half a century, perhaps longer. We can wait a few more years. Romantic suspense, fantasy and historical romances—they are wonderful genres and deserve to flourish. But don’t be surprised by the growing number of SFR fans gathering on the sidelines, watching.

Waiting.


I see....


Now it’s time for a few SFR predictions:


* Short-term, the market may slow because of the weakened economy, but will rebound later
* One or more established authors will move on to other genres, leaving a vacuum
* There will be rise in SFR submissions by aspiring authors
* A breakout smash will come, but it will likely hail from an e-publisher(s)
* Josh Whedon, or someone like him, will create the next Buffy science fiction romance television show—or even R-rated film (in other words, SFR strictly for adults)
* Books responsible for launching a trend after the economic slump, or in spite of it, will feature high concept stories, accessible technological wonders, and iconic characters that will give Han Solo and Princess Leia a run for their money
* Explicit sexual content will play a part, but it won’t be a requisite component

So there you have it. Naturally, I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks as well. Come forth and comment!

As Ms. Lichtenberg noted, many, many writers, both published and not, strove endlessly during this past century to break down the barrier so that we can enjoy science fiction romance today in all of its glorious forms. I say it’s time for a new generation to take up the torch. Twenty years is a long wait. Let’s not waste even a second more.

Skiffy Rommers, unite!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, June 22, 2008

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Celebration: The Life and Work of Octavia Butler, 1947 – 2006

From the files of Agent Z:

February 24, 2006 was a very sad day. Only a few weeks before I had been in a massive book store searching for a novel by Octavia Butler. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the SF section, so I complained to one of the staff. She pointed me in the direction of the African-American Literature section. It was fitting to see Butler’s books up there alongside Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, but I regretted that she was no longer being shelved in SF. Two weeks later I heard the news that Octavia Butler had died.

Octavia never had it easy. Her father was a shoe shiner, her mother a maid. Her mother often took her daughter with her on her rounds, cleaning houses. Octavia, a painfully shy child, found her solace, despite her dyslexia, in reading and writing. After watching THE DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS and deciding she could have done a much better job, Octavia wrote her first science fiction story. She was twelve years old.

She earned her publication in the time-honored fashion: with a series of dead end jobs to subsist on and a growing pile of rejection slips. Writing did not come easily. She wrote slowly, painfully, painstakingly. She wrote for years before finally being published. Eventually she won two Nebulas, two Hugos and became the first SF writer to be awarded a McArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. On receiving the grant she joked they never would have given it to her if they had actually tested her IQ.




Octavia Butler died in 2006 of complications related to a fall. Her legacy was twelve novels and one collection of short stories. She told extraordinary tales of men and women, of humans and aliens, of war and peace, of strange pasts and even stranger futures. She wasn’t technically an SFR writer, yet human and human-alien relationships, in all their complexity, are at the forefront of her work.



In trying to sum up the life and work of Octavia Butler, I find myself stumped. Her stories were disturbing, wonderful, thought-provoking, never predictable and very hard to categorize. Maybe I should just allow her to speak for herself.

"I am a fifty-three-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer. I'm also comfortably asocial--a hermit in the middle of Seattle--a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive."

She would have been sixty-one this year. Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler. Thank you for the stories.

Credits:
Octavia Butler’s WikiPage: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_Butler
Excellent Octavia Butler Fan Site: www.octaviabutler.net/
The Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund: www.carlbrandon.org/butlerscholarship/index.html
NEW YORK TIMES Obituary: www.nytimes.com/2006/03/01/books/01butler.html

Be seeing you.

Agent Z
Heather

Saturday, June 21, 2008

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Dig These Great Giveaways!

Two more contests just materialized:

A SHADES OF DARK Pre-release Giveaway courtesy of Jace Scribbles, and...

Ann Aguirre will mete out an ARC of WANDERLUST over at Something Wicked. (Plan on sharpening thy creative skills to enter this one.)

Also, if you subscribe to Tor.com right now, you can snag a free PDF copy of IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN by Kage Baker.

Good stuff, eh?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, June 19, 2008

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Ask Not What Your Galaxy Can Do For You....

Greetings, Earthlings! This is Agent Z., Intergalactic Spy, reporting for duty. Houston, I have a problem! Business is booming and I’m being offered more missions than I can possibly handle. My employers have offered me a huge bonus if I can recruit a few more agents. I’ve been employing my highly sophisticated research and headhunting skills *coughgooglecough*, and I have found this likely candidate:




“When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires—Mali, Songhai, Egypt—had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.”

Her name is Dr. Mae Jemison. Check out her resume:

Born in Decatur, Alabama in 1956, she entered Stanford University at age 16, graduating with degrees in Chemical Engineering and African/African American Studies. She took a medical degree at Cornell, interned at U.S.C. Medical Center, Los Angeles, and then did a two year stint in the Peace Corps.

Inspired by Sally Ride and Nichelle “Uhuru” Nichols, she applied and was accepted for NASA’s astronaut program. In 1992 she became the first African American woman in space, aboard the shuttle Endeavor.

“The first thing I saw from space was Chicago, my hometown …When I grew up in the 1960s the only American astronauts were men. Looking out the window of that space shuttle, I thought if that little girl growing up in Chicago could see her older self now, she would have a huge grin on her face.”

After retiring from NASA, she started her own science and technology company and conducted international science camps for youth. Later, she move into academia, holding professorships at Cornell and Dartmouth, while continuing to raise money for charities and promoting equitable health care around the world.

She found time to walk the runway at Fashion Week, and is also a dancer, a choreographer, and yup—she’s a Trekkie.

Quotes by Mae Jemison: womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/mae_jemison
Mae Jemison’s WikiPage: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mae_Jemison.

So—what do you think? Do you suppose she’d like to add intergalactic spy to that amazing resume? Or do you have another suggestion? Tell me—who do you think I should recruit and why?

Be seeing you!

Agent Z

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

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Time Enough At Last

Don’t you wish you could travel back in time a la Bill & Ted?




I sure do. I’d really dig an opportunity to savor the spectacle of ancient Egypt, witness the birth of our planet, view the Industrial Revolution in action, or change the course of that one fashion gaffe—the time when I accidentally tucked part of my skirt into the back of my pantyhose after using the bathroom at work and didn’t discover it until well after I had already walked out to my car, driven across town, ambled down a neighborhood street, and hooked up with a girlfriend of mine and this hot guy....

Oh my...did I say that out loud?

*Cough*. Anyway, when it comes to time travel, H.G. Wells had nothing on science fiction romance (unless you count us all falling head over heels for hubba-hubba star Guy Pearce in 2002’s THE TIME MACHINE).



In the mood for some trippy time travel tales? Here’s a list to get you started:

TIME TRANSIT by Kay Austin
ONCE A PIRATE by Susan Grant
OUT OF TIME by Marilyn Campbell
WALKING ON THE MOON by Susan Sizemore
QUINN’S WAY by Rebecca Flanders
JANE’S WARLORD by Angela Knight
MARSHALL’S GUARD by Isabo Kelly

If cerebral is your favorite flavor, check out THE FOUNTAIN (admittedly, this film has different layers and ways you can interpret it). If you prefer a love story that is unabashedly full of heart, brew a nice pot of tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon and lose yourself in SOMEWHERE IN TIME.



And check this out: For your convenience and traveling pleasure, SciFiChick.com has compiled the Top 10 Ways To Time Travel!

Let’s break it down: Why is time travel so alluring? If you could travel through time, what go-go gadget would you use? Where/when would you travel to fall in love?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, June 15, 2008

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Man Titty Does Not Compute

Today’s post about science fiction romance covers was inspired by discussions here, here, here, and here. And lest we forget, here, here, and here, too.

Naturally, that meant we had to have one here. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Not only do publishers and booksellers grapple with where to shelve science fiction romance, but there’s also a question of which cover styles would most effectively market the genre. The issue is twofold: Branding the genre itself, and branding individual authors.

For the publishers of SFR, there’s a learning curve happening right now. A number of SFR scribes define themselves as such on their Web sites and in other promotional venues. The plots are changing in both tone and focus. Word count expands as the stories become increasingly epic, and the worldbuilding/external plot plays just as significant a role as the romance.

As a result, there’s a push and pull between sticking to tried and true romance cover strategies, and venturing into more SF cover territory. Or vice versa.

For example, here are two of Linnea Sinclair’s original covers:




The publisher redesigned the covers recently:



This change has little to do with art, and everything to do with branding an author and attracting readers from the larger romance market. Understood. But when so many adventurous romance readers with impeccable taste (Oh, phooey, who says I’m biased?!) “cross the aisle” anyway, how effective a change is it? How needful?

Time and sales will answer that, of course, and I’m certainly a big advocate for expanding the SFR market. It makes me wonder, though—assuming the spine had the word “romance” on it, would there have been a big outcry from readers had booksellers shelved her books with the original covers in the romance section? Wouldn’t it have been a lot quicker and more inexpensive just to add “Romance” to “Science Fiction” than a complete cover overhaul?

A few of Susan Grant’s covers strongly reflect the romance factor:



But then here are the covers from her newest and pending releases, respectively:



That’s quite a bit of variation for just one author. Not only does it reflect changes in time, reader tastes, and marketing strategies, but also the challenge facing publishers who strive to position books to appeal to the widest audience possible (which, ironically, may not be the best course of action when it comes to SFR).

Jan Zimlich’s SFR books offer up the classic clinch cover. The look of Susan Kearney’s books has been pretty consistent, while Dorchester’s Shomi line has its own twist happening.

Let’s examine the cover for Ann Aguirre’s upcoming WANDERLUST, and then BARRAYAR by Lois McMaster Bujold:



Very striking. No man, no clinch, very female centric. There’s also about a 17 year difference between the two books, although one could argue not much has changed.

With such variation of stories, budgets, and skills/tastes of cover artists, how can publishers uniquely market SFR, appeal to diehard fans, and attract new readers?

Having traveled far and wide across ye olde Milky Way, we of The Galaxy Express have answers. So, publishers, if you’re wondering how to dazzle us into emptying our wallets, here are a few suggestions about SFR covers—for free!

* Whether you’re a print or electronic publisher, invest some dang money. I’m not suggesting this doesn’t happen across the board. But cheap, poorly conceived digital effects are just that—cheesy. The hardworking authors deserve smashing great covers.

* Co-op the comic book industry strategy of occasionally putting out two different covers (and as you’ll note in the Enduring Romance article linked above, Jacqueline Lichtenberg is also a proponent of a similar idea). Transform the books into collectors’ items. But the images have to be stellar. Again, it’s an investment. Don’t hire the cousin who “took a Photoshop class one time.”

* Use stepbacks! The outer cover can depict the SF nature of the story, and the inner scene can feature the hero and heroine in all of their romantic glory. Or do the reverse. Either way, it’d be totally righteous. What a bang for the buck!

* Keep the hero clothed. I understand that man titty sells a book better than any other type of cover, but we’re not talking about the vast majority of romance books here. There’s nothing sexier than a man in uniform whether he’s a starship captain, space pirate, or brainiac scientist. Man titty makes me feel manipulated by marketing shticks. On the other hand, a uniformed hero will draw me into the story from that very first glimpse.

* Go Hollywood retro—stuff like that never gets old to genre fans. It’s hip, and readers will instantly “get” the reference.



* Less CG, more Caravaggio

* Go dark. Unless the story has a severe case of comedy, SFR covers and title fonts should reflect the serious themes these tales explore such as war, death, hostile aliens, powerful inventions, and the unknown.

* If it fits the story, go vintage. What could be more striking than a cover paying homage to the SF/SFR greats of the thirties, forties, and fifties? Pulp is perfect!



* Heroine + weapon/battlecruiser = Cool

* Embrace the fact that SFR is a blend of genres. Show off that mix of romance, action, and adventure. Make the cover a package deal just like the story.

All I’m saying to industry insiders is this: Know your niche market and exploit it. If there are any authors, editors, marketing folks or booksellers that would like to weigh in on this topic, please do.

I’m sure all of my discerning passengers have thoughts about this issue as well as excellent ideas about SFR covers that readers would like to see. Don’t hold back—describe your dream covers!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

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Cyrano de Bergerac Had Nothing On This Guy

Agent Z made a drop tonight, and I just had to post it right away. Thought y’all might appreciate this in light of the Love & Artificial Intelligence posts.

Becoming Human

Isn’t it romantic?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Written on

MOONSTRUCK Winner!

Congratulations, David, you’ve won a copy of Susan Grant’s MOONSTRUCK! Please email your name & address to sfrgalaxyNOSPAM@gmail.com.

Thanks to all who entered, and check back for more giveaways as The Galaxy Express chugs along.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Author Supernova: Susan Grant, Part III

Welcome back to our Susan Grant lollapalooza. Hope you had fun perusing her interviews (and don’t forget to bookmark her Web site). Recently, the prolific author agreed to answer a few questions about her art for the fine passengers of this intergalactic locomotive. Read on!

The Galaxy Express: What inspires you to write science fiction romance?

Susan Grant: Simply put: It was a natural fit. I loved reading and watching SFR. So, I wrote what I could never find enough of on the shelves. I’ve enjoyed space adventure and science fiction all my life in books (too many to list) and movies (Terminator, Star Wars), and TV (Babylon 5, Star Trek TNG). The stories I liked the most were the ones that gave the relationships a bigger role.

TGE: Describe your style of science fiction romance in three words.


SG: Adventure—militarily and aviation(ly) accurate—romantic.

TGE: What is the sexiest/coolest technology you've created for your characters?

SG: One of them was my “gravity generator.” Most books don’t address just how it is that the characters aren’t floating in zero G. If the ship is large and rotates, you’ll have gravity, but how many times is this just blown over? So in my Star books, my ship had a grav generator. Now, what is created can also malfunction. Sporadically. I had fun with that!

TGE: What themes will readers discover about science fiction and romance from your stories?

SG: I hope that if they come to this genre from the other two in a pure sense they might learn to like the other, i.e. a romance reader may see that SF isn’t so cold and techy. They’ll also discover what a great “couple” romance and SF make.

TGE: Any other comments about the genre, or any news about your work you'd like to share?

SG: Yes--my heartfelt thanks for your fantastic blog/website and all the support you and the readers here show SF Romance and Romantic SF writers. It’s so cool to see our work showcased in such a respectful fashion. We’ve long been the poor step-sister of genres due to our mixed heritage, and support like this is a tremendous help in getting the word out about our books.

I’d like to add my own thanks—thanks!—to all who commented this week, and for your enthusiasm about Susan Grant’s books.



Now you have another chance to win a copy of MOONSTRUCK! The deadline for the drawing is 9 p.m. EST on Sunday, June 15 (contest limited to U.S. residents).

To enter, post a comment and tell me which of Susan Grant’s SFR book covers strikes you the most. Or for the very adventurous, blow me away with anagrams of MOONSTRUCK.

Susan, it’s been a pleasure having you aboard!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

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Author Supernova: Susan Grant, Part II


Congratulations, Frances! By the order of our impartial and oh-so-random randomizer, you’ve just won an autographed copy of Susan Grant’s MOONSTRUCK. Please email your name & address to sfrgalaxyNOSPAM@gmail.com.

Everyone else, stay tuned for a chance to win a copy of MOONSTRUCK! (To those who didn’t win but have already commented, your names will automatically go back into the proverbial pot.)

Now back to our featured author.

Susan Grant is a born and bred SF lover, so you won’t steer wrong with her books. (Well, okay, this is probably true of most of the authors featured here but it bears repeating—cue evil grin.) She’s also one of the recent wave of veteran authors who are redefining the subgenre. Science fiction romance has undergone a makeover you don’t want to miss.

In the comments section at Dear Author’s review of MOONSTRUCK, Susan recently unveiled the prototype for the cover of Warlord’s Daughter, the next book in the Borderlands series. That is some seriously excellent...hardware. (Hey, does anyone else suddenly feel warm in here?)



But there’s much more to Susan and her illustrious career. I’ve sampled the galaxy (and scavenged a few far-flung planets) for links to various interviews and other goodies. Chow down:

Harlequin Page

Dorchester Page

Lisa Paitz-Spindler’s Danger Girl Friday: Brit Bandar

MOONSTRUCK featured at Enduring Romance

SciFi Chick.com interview

Chat with Susan at Writerspace

All About Romance interviews/columns



Interview at Magical Musings

Interview at A Romance Review

An interview at BookLoons

And finally, interviews at Paranormal Romance One and Two.

If you’re an aspiring SFR author, it would behoove you to peruse these interviews, et al because Susan Grant has the cosmic wisdom to help make you an informed consumer of what it takes to compete in a, uh, competitive publishing market. SFR has historically been a niche market, but with authors like Susan Grant, the times they are a-changing.

Tell me what you think about that.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, June 8, 2008

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Author Supernova: Susan Grant

(New feature alert! A week-long extravaganza will spotlight one author’s work throughout the week. Generally, this will coincide with that author’s new SFR release. Be on the lookout for giveaways during these times.)

Gather round, my good passengers, for we are about to embark on another exciting chapter in the cosmic tome of science fiction romance.

If you’re a consummate coffee connoisseur, you never crave just one type of roast. One day nothing will satisfy but a dark, smoky flavored French roast. Another finds you sipping a mellow Costa Rican with a sweet, spicy aroma. Then there are the evenings you flood your taste buds with a triple latte spiked with rich caramel, mocha, and topped with decadent whipped cream.

(Don’t despair. Master Chef is barreling down the aisle with a loaded cart of steaming java. Tea as well, if that’s your poison.)

Where am I heading with this, you’re wondering, other than a brain-splitting caffeine buzz? To me, the above passage touting coffee’s myriad qualities perfectly encapsulates the work of science fiction romance author Susan Grant.

Author. Pilot. Mother. Susan Grant has done it all. Published since the turn of the 21st century, this RITA award winner and NY Times best-selling author contributed a striking 10 novels to the SFR genre (as defined by TGE). Her stories range from dark and gritty to unabashedly romantic to pop-culture comedic--sometimes all in the same book!

Now we’re talking adventure!

The Galaxy Express wishes to extend a hearty congratulation to Susan Grant for her latest release, MOONSTRUCK! It launches her new Borderlands series. Let me tell you, there is some seriously good buzz zipping around the outposts about this tale.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about Susan Grant or need a refresher, her Web site is chock-full of information about her publishing history, books (including excerpts), favorite links, and more. ("Chock-full," get it? Sorry, Susan, I couldn’t resist!) In upcoming posts, you can also look forward to learning more about Susan’s work as well as an interview with the maestro herself.

Here’s a little bit about MOONSTRUCK to wet your whistle:

MOONSTRUCK
by Susan Grant
HQN Books
June 1, 2008

ISBN-10: 0373772599
ISBN-13: 978-0373772599
Paperback & Kindle Edition

PEACE IS FOR LITTLE GIRLS.

And Coalition starship admiral Brit Bandar is one tough woman. A mere intergalactic treaty could never get her to trust the Drakken Horde. There was too much bad blood between the Coalition and the Horde and, for intensely personal reasons, Brit wasn’t sure that she was through spilling it! But now a peaceful accord has made Finn Rorkken, a notorious Drakken rogue, second-in command on her starship – and through some grand cosmic irony – front and center in her thoughts...and her heart.

WARLEADER. PIRATE.

Either title sat easily on Finn’s battle-hardened shoulders. Though second-in-command to “Stone-Heart” Bandar? That would take some getting used to. Peace required as much sacrifice as war, so he’d comply even if his reaction to the gorgeous admiral fell decidedly outside protocol. But would he end up kissing or killing her if the galaxy’s tentative truce turned into all out war?

Read an excerpt here.

Now that I’ve got you all riled up, check this out: Right now during this Author Supernova one lucky passenger will win an autographed copy of MOONSTRUCK courtesy of this ever gracious author. (contest limited to U.S. residents). Check back later this week for another contest.

In order to get your name in the proverbial hat (the winner will be chosen at random), please leave a comment for this post. The deadline is Tuesday, June 10 at 9 p.m., EST.

Go ahead now and place your orders for Chef (sky’s the limit). Give a shout-out to Ms. Grant and welcome her aboard The Galaxy Express. (Oh, and you can chat about her books, too!)

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, June 5, 2008

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Got Villain...?


Great villains are like hot sex—endlessly addictive. I know I can’t get enough. Let’s face it: villains are cool. Stylish, commanding outfits? Check. Witty, smarmy one liners? Check. Creator of the most powerful weapon/ship/army/invention ever? Double check!



Villains are incapable of thinking small. Fer gosh sakes, how many times have we read about one of them scheming to take over the galaxy? The cosmos? I mean, talk about ambitious! If the hero and heroine aren’t careful, the villain will steal the show, and often does. Isn’t it just wild that the resident baddie often possesses more pizzaz than the hero & heroine combined in some stories? Color me fascinated.

Though they often receive their just desserts, villains are (mostly) people too. It’s especially rockin’ when one of these characters has an actual personality, a character arc, and finds redemption. You don’t encounter them too often, but when you do, it’s breathtaking to see it unfold. IRON MAN comes to mind. For another example, partake of Susan Grant’s YOUR PLANET OR MINE? and HOW TO LOSE AN EXTRATERRESTRIAL IN 10 DAYS (keyword: Reef).

Sometimes the villain isn’t a person at all--it could be a deadly environment, a corporate or military conglomerate, or an alien species. Talk about love under pressure!

And is it just me, or are the villains we all love to hate found most often in the science fiction universe (not that I’m biased or anything)?



In no particular order, here are some memorable villains:

Darth Vader (STAR WARS, duh)
Leader Desslar (SPACE CRUISER YAMATO)
Lex Luthor (SUPERMAN)
Cancer Man (THE X-FILES)
Diana (V)
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (DUNE)
The Borg Queen (STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT)
Agent Smith (THE MATRIX)
Char Aznable (GUNDAM)

In the “what the heck, let’s include them” category:

Dr. Doom (FANTASTIC FOUR—-but not the egregious film)
Dr. Octopus (SPIDER-MAN)
Dr. Zachary Smith (LOST IN SPACE)



I think what these villains all have in common is that they are noble at heart, but events conspired to warp them psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually to the point that their values became woefully maligned. It’s really kind of sad, to think about the type of heroes and heroines they might have been.

Know what? That paltry list above doesn’t even scratch the surface. Tell me about a villain who surprised you. Chat about a villainous character with actual nuances, or complex psychological makeup that defies stereotype and two-dimensionality.

My vote goes to Dr. Hans Reinhardt from THE BLACK HOLE. Not an SFR movie, but he was a man with a vision...and he did pass some awfully smoldering looks to Dr. Kate McCrae. (Too bad he couldn't pass along a few needed script rewrites as well!)


Joyfully yours,

Heather