Sunday, November 30, 2008

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Mergers & Acquisitions: Interview with Natalie Luhrs of Romantic Times BOOKreviews

And...we’re back! If you listen closely, you can hear our winsome galactic whistle blowing, which means we’re only seconds away from departing. Let’s get right down to it!

With romance being “a billion-dollar-a-year industry,” one would think science fiction publishers might make a more concerted effort to cross-pollinate and reach out to romance readers. There’s clearly gold waiting to be mined in them thar literary hills.

To wit: The recent paranormal romance and urban fantasy booms.

These recent genre explosions visibly demonstrate that many romance readers gravitate toward novels outside the genre and/or are willing to explore new stories.

Right now, pubs get an "A" for effort, but the situation brings to mind an ice cream truck trolling for customers in the downtown business district instead of the city park. Sales are sales, no matter where they originate, and lots of potential exists regarding a strong SF-Romance merger.

But, who will cross the finish line first?

One company that’s leading the pack in this regard isn’t a publisher at all—it’s Romantic Times BOOKreviews!

In what historically has been a magazine for romance readers, I think Romantic Times’ evolution with the inclusion of SF/F reviews and articles is amazing, but not surprising—romance readers are often game to try something new. (More so than SF readers? Hmm...that’s a smackdown debate for another day.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the magazine, or just needing a refresher, Romantic Times is “a magazine for fiction lovers.” You can read about the birth of Romantic Times and its founder, Kathryn Falk, in the History section of its Web site.

In addition to the magazine itself, Romantic Times has an active online community. There you can find content ranging from the RT blog to message boards to “In the News” to videos and podcasts (look for Linnea Sinclair’s in March 2009). Click here to view part one of “Smart Bitch Sarah Interviews Author Ann Aguirre” and here (scroll down) to view parts two through five.

There’s an “Ask the Author” feature, too. I found the one for Eve Kenin! For aspiring authors, there’s a whole buncha links under “Writer’s Tips” with articles by authors and other industry professionals.

I also had the pleasure of “running into” Natalie Luhrs at Tor.com, where she commented on The Official Science Fiction Romance Thread.

As the Romantic Times BOOKreviews Senior Science Fiction and Fantasy Reviewer, Natalie Luhrs delivers informative reviews about the latest SF/F books. Her bio page describes how she came to write SF/F reviews for Romantic Times (and you can sneak a peak at her favorite SF/F authors and television shows, too).

Since I’ve been reading Romantic Times regularly and following the SF/F reviews in particular, I couldn’t help but seize this opportunity to interview Natalie about her work.

The Galaxy Express: With so many great stories published, how do you pick books to review?

Natalie Luhrs: The first thing I do, every month, is look at what I've been sent by the publishers--if I have it in hand already, I'm much more likely to include it (note to publishers: RT's deadlines are 2 months prior to publication; as of November 2008, I'm reading for February 2009). I also follow a lot of authors' blogs and refer to Locus's Forthcoming Books page.

Once I have the list of books, I figure out how many there are and how they get split between the SF/F section and the paranormal section (all urban fantasy goes into paranormal). I then look the books over in more detail and make some judgment calls—particularly if I have way more books than I can include in a given month.

In terms of judgment calls, mainly it has to do with if the book looks interesting to me or to RT's readers, if it's in a series that has prior coverage, and if the author is part of my mental list of "must review" authors.

Small press and e-books in the section are handled by someone else; I'm not completely sure what their process is.

TGE: Please describe any exciting new trends you've seen in SF/F.

NL: I don't see nearly as much epic fantasy as you'd expect, and a lot of what I do see is really superb. One of my favorite epic fantasy authors is Brandon Sanderson and I think he does an absolutely wonderful job at taking ideas and plot elements that have been used to death and twisting them around. There are other writers doing the same--Charles Stross's Saturn's Children comes to mind as a great recent example of SF.

And, of course, there's the huge boom in urban fantasy. I started reading urban fantasy in the early 1990's and am a huge Charles de Lint and Emma Bull fan, so while I'm thrilled that more people are reading the subgenre, I also worry that there's more of a focus on quantity rather than quality. Luckily, a few series do buck that trend—T.A. Pratt's Marla Mason series is a particular favorite.

TGE: What's on your personal To Be Read list?

NL: Lots of things! The first three Vlad Taltos books (Steve Brust), The Fall of Kings (Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman), a complete re-read of Kage Baker's Company series in the correct order now that the main story arc is complete, Sly Mongoose (Tobias Buckell), Nation (Terry Pratchett), and Soul (Tobsha Learner). Most of my personal reading these days is re-reads, but since a lot of what I review these days I'd otherwise be buying for myself, it's all good.

TGE: Can you recommend any upcoming/recently released books that combine science fiction and romance for visitors of this blog?

NL: I'm going to be honest: The books I review are selected based on their science fiction and fantasy content, not their romance content. So I am probably not the best person to answer this question. However, some recent/upcoming books that I've enjoyed are T.A. Pratt's Dead Reign, Christopher Barzak's The Love We Share Without Knowing, Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains, Elizabeth Bear's All the Windwracked Stars, and Sharon Shinn's Fortune and Fate.




TGE: What advice do you have for aspiring reviewers?

NL: Read widely in whatever area you're interested in reviewing.

Don't worry about not liking a book, but if you're writing a review--be it on your blog or in a forum, stop and think about if what you're not liking is actually a problem with the book or if it's just something that's not to your taste and make it clear in your review which is which.

Don't personally attack the author. There are authors whose work I don't enjoy but that doesn't make them bad people. It just makes them people who write books that don't work for me.

Conversely, don't worry about the author or publisher's opinion of your review. You're not writing the review for the author/publisher, you're writing it for the reader. That's not to say that it isn't exciting to find yourself quoted on a paperback edition, because it totally is, but if that's why you're writing reviews, then I'd like to gently suggest that you've got your priorities mixed up.

TGE: Is there anything else you'd like to share about your review work at Romantic Times?

NL: I've talked about this before and in other venues, but it's such a privilege for me to be able to introduce new readers to my favorite genre. I've been reading SF/F since I was a teenager (with a brief break in my twenties for mysteries and romances) and I really can't say enough about how excellent I think the genre is. It has its flaws—just like anything else—but the joy I get from reading a really well-crafted SF/F novel really makes up for all that.

Natalie, thanks so much for your time and dedication!



More neat stuff awaits: Visit Not A Pretty Girl and check out this most impressive list of books that Natalie has reviewed for Romantic Times! You can also dish with her about “knitting, spinning, and other fiber geekery” at Bellwether.

So tell me, insightful passengers, what are your thoughts on SF publishers actively pursuing romance readers? Know of anywhere else where SF & Romance are, uh, (for lack of a better phrase), coming together?Mr. Smilely

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Monday, November 24, 2008

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Tofu Turkey Time-out

Given the pending U.S. holiday, The Galaxy Express will be on hiatus (docking at Jubilee Station at Epsilan Eridani b) until Sunday, November 30, 2008, when our intrepid locomotive will continue its journey into the splendiferous realms of science fiction romance.

In the meantime, feel free to mix and mingle while listening to the festive melodies of our resident Mix Master...!

There’s plenty of links and fixin’s to last you all week.

My latest posts at Tor.com:

Enter the Eyepatch!

I Was a Fairy Tale Virgin

Dear Author presents a stellar, in-depth profile of Lois McMaster Bujold.

And speaking of the popular author, Frances Drake reviews CORDELIA’S HONOR & BARRAYAR.

Check out Michele Lang’s (NETHERWOOD) essay, Speculative Fiction: What If…., followed by her jazzy short story Fatal Error, hosted by agent Lucienne Diver on her blog.

Also at the same blog, Patti O’Shea explains how “No One Roots for the Terminator: Realisitic (and Sympathetic) Kick-Butt Characters in a Paranormal World”.

Mars: Out. In: Thirteen Extrasolar Planets, courtesy of Lisa Paitz Spindler.

Pssst…pass it on: Smugglivus is Coming!

At Genreville, Rose Fox features a smackdown (sort of): Publicity vs. Marketing.

Deborah Cooke (known to us as Claire Delacroix) blogged at Penguin last week. Hunting and Gathering is about her journey of researching for a story.

Over at Alien Romances, Linnea Sinclair explains what to do about all of those extra punctuation marks in We was happy!!!!! (writing tip #1). Then, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Margaret Carter up the ante in Gift: Giver: Recipient and Work with Boundaries, respectively.

Finally, I’m taking up a virtual collection to support a great cause. Laurie Green of Spacefreighters’ Lounge eloquently emphasizes the importance of “Putting the Science Back in Science Fiction Romance” in I’m on a Campaign.

Happy eating—and reading!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, November 23, 2008

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RED Contest Winner!

Congratulations, Mandy! You've won a copy of Jordan Summers' RED.

Please email your name and address to sfrgalaxy "at" gmail.com

Many thanks to everyone who entered. Jordan, it was great to have you with us!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, November 20, 2008

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Author Supernova: Jordan Summers, Part III

“So Little Red-Riding-Hood pulled the string and the door opened. The wolf, seeing her enter, hid himself as much as he could under the cover-lid of the bed, and said in a whisper, ‘Put the cake and the pot of butter on the shelf, and then make haste and come to bed, for it is very late.’”

These sinister lines hail from an earlier, non-Disneyfied version of the famous crimson clad miss...one in which the plucky lass doesn’t live happily ever after. *Gasp!*

Whether it’s a mash-up with a comedic wink-wink approach (SHREK), or a serious examination bringing out their inherent sex and horror (THE COMPANY OF WOLVES), fairy tales are certainly ripe for contemporary re-imagining. After all, stories that remain as popular as these for over hundreds of years certainly must resonate universally, don’t you think?

Welcome to our continuing celebration of Jordan Summers, an author who provides a twist of romance in her apocalyptic trilogy/fable. And so without further ado, strap on your red cape, grab a slice of cake with butter, and dig in…!

The Galaxy Express: You’re an author who boldly goes where your Muse takes you. What are the challenges—and the joys—of being a multi-genre author?

Jordan Summers: When I first started seriously writing, the biggest challenge was being allowed to write in multiple genres. There were (and still are) a lot of agents out there who want you to focus on one genre, and one genre only. They want authors to build a name before moving into other genres. That was pretty much impossible for me. My brain doesn't work that way. I've always been a 'whatever sounds fun that's what I'll write' kind of gal. Now it's not much of a problem, since so many authors are successfully writing in more than one genre.

TGE: You’ve described RED as a science fiction story with fairy tale elements. What’s your favorite fairy tale and why?

JS: Actually, I consider RED to be a dark fantasy with sci-fi elements. The sci-fi comes from its futuristic setting, but at its heart, the book is a dark fantasy. My favorite fairytale would have to be Beauty and the Beast because I think it's such a terrific love story. Brings a tear to my eye every time. Little Red Riding Hood would be a close second, even though I never liked the ending of that story. I felt bad for the wolf.

TGE: Having done a significant amount of research for your books, what do you consider to be the top five most important elements of worldbuilding?

I hate to admit this, but I didn't do much research for the DEAD WORLD trilogy. I made it all up. I simply imagined what it would be like to live in a post-apocalyptic, environmentally barren world where science and technology continued. I asked myself a lot of questions like: What would survive? Would people know what certain animals looked like, if they'd been extinct for over a hundred years? What happened to all the zoos in the world? What kind of transportation would still be around in a gasless world? I decided on hydrogen vehicles since they're already in development (and use in Germany).

I also took Maglev train technology a step further. If governments were destroyed in the war, how would the world be governed? Would it be governed? I broke my world into independently governed republics. I also created an International Police Tactical Team that operates as a world police force. I took DNA profiling a step forward and made it to where everyone had to be registered with a republic in order to be considered a real citizen. This entailed giving a DNA sample and getting computer chipped so that you could be tracked via GPS. I basically used technology that exists already and took it a step further. It becomes quite frightening when you do so.

I think the most important aspects of world-building are: Consistency, clarity, description, characterization and believability.

If you're writing any book, you need to make sure that your world remains consistent. Set up the rules for the world right away and do not break them…unless you can give the reader a compelling/believable reason why. Make sure your world is clear. Try not to confuse the reader. Description varies from author to author. I'm not a naturally descriptive writer, unless I'm writing a historical. I have to 'work' at putting description in. My belief is that a little description goes a long way, so make it count. I also believe that the setting of a book should be treated like a 'character'. Make it real. Breathe life into it. And finally, no matter what type of world you create, make it believable. Readers will follow you through any world as long as they believe it 'could' exist.

TGE: RED has very dark elements, but you’re known for stories that end on an upbeat note. Please share a little about your method for resolving these two elements in terms of craft.

I actually didn't resolve these two elements—at least not neatly. I'm a firm believer that you have to stay true to your story and your characters. With RED, I set out to write a darkly disturbing twist on a fairytale. Most fairytales are dark. Over the years we've tried to lighten them up. The rest of the Dead World series has lighter moments mixed in with the darkness. I feel that the storyline ends appropriately given the set-up I created. I knew going into the Dead World trilogy that I was making a departure from my usual type of romance writing. It became obvious once the killer appeared. I knew it wouldn't be believable if I twisted the end to match my other 'lighter' work. That said, I did follow basic romance guidelines in the sense that my hero and heroine end up together in the end.

TGE: Which science fiction romance book, film, or television show rocked your world?

This is tough because there are a lot of terrific books, films and TV shows out there. For books I'd have to say, Ender's Game, Old Man's War, Stardoc, and anything Pratchett. It's harder for movies because I LOVE so many of them. I guess I'd have to say the Matrix (Ghost and the Shell), Star Wars, Aliens and Blade Runner. They're all so good. Yes, I know I'm cheating by not naming just one. As for television shows, when I was a kid, I loved Lost in Space. My most recent favorite sci-fi TV show is Firefly. Terrific characterization on that show.

TGE: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or science fiction romance in general?

Readers should know that when they pick up one of my books, they're in for an adventure. :)

I think science fiction romance is coming around again. There seems to be a renewed interest in the genre, which is wonderful. It's waned for a lot of years. I think readers are going to see a lot more releases over the next two years, if the recent sales are any indication. Gives us all something to look forward to in the future.
Thanks for having me.



Jordan, thanks for visiting The Galaxy Express, and for your art!

Now, one lucky passenger will win a copy of Jordan Summers’ RED! Why shouldn’t it be you?

The deadline for the drawing is Sunday, November 23, 2008, at 9 p.m., EST. In order to get your name in the proverbial hat for a random drawing (contest limited to U.S. residents), all you need to do is huff and puff and leave a comment for this post.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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Author Supernova: Jordan Summers, Part II

I hope I’ve created a gritty, roller-coaster thriller. I want the reader to walk away from my book saying, “Wow! Didn’t see that coming. My heart is still pounding.”

Welcome back to our continuing celebration of author Jordan Summers!

The above quote (excerpted from her Fangs, Fur & Fey interview) struck me because I routinely expect that type of adventure no matter the particular blend of science fiction and romance. It’s why this sub-genre is a particular favorite of mine.

I’ve been spoiled by stories that have left me crackling with electricity and sobbing by the end because it’s so difficult to leave that world.

For me, the blending of different genres and elements (e.g., post-apocalyptic fairy tale) automatically lends a certain level of intrigue and excitement. Unpredictability. That’s where I get my “high on reading” rush.

By its own nature, you’re more likely to find such experimentation in niche markets but blending the elements effectively isn’t easy to accomplish.

Jordan Summers greeted that challenge, however—head on.

In the following linkage, you can find out exactly what her journey entailed and how Jordan's trilogy came into being. It's inspiring words for those who want to see their own books in print.

Interviews:

* Hot off the press and just for you, Ramblings on Romance provides a recent interview with the author.

* Fangs, Fur & Fey interviews the author and among their questions is the query: What might readers be surprised to know about Jordan Summers?

* At Much Cheaper Than Therapy, she describes authors who inspire her such as Lynn Viehl and Dara Joy.

* And at her Midnight Moon Café interview, Jordan reveals a little bit about what’s in the pipeline.

The Book:

* Learn about RED’s evolution in this feature at John Scalzi’s Whatever.

* Kmont and Katie Discuss Jordan Summers’ RED [beware Spoiler Alerts] (and Kmont praises Ms. Summers for “'going there’ with the villain” (!)).

Genre Fun:

* Kiss Me, Cyborg in which Ms. Summers dishes on the Q.T. what some RT editors think may be the next big thing (hint: it begins with "sci" and ends in "fi"). She also blogged about Sci-fi Romances (and whoa, 72 comments piled up!).

* Jordan Summers is a regular at Romancing The Blog. In Cha-cha-cha-changes in Reading Tastes… she explores the allure of other genres that seduce one away from the romance aisle.

And stay tuned.... After you’ve sampled more Jordan Summers in an exclusive interview later this week, the good ship Galaxy Express is also giving away a copy of RED, her post-apocalyptic adventure! (Dare you miss it? I dare think not!;)

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, November 16, 2008

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Author Supernova: Jordan Summers

“Things are never as they seem and the characters are never who they think they are…"

Jordan Summers

We all have those times: intervals when we simply have to break from the everyday routine.

Sometimes it’s a physical craving, choosing Boo Berry instead of bran flakes for the morning repast (or as complicated as folding into a proffered Kama Sutra position). Other times it’s answering a mental call—like foregoing the latest Reese Witherspoon RomCom for more adventurous fare in the vein of Rampo Edogawa’s MÔJÛ.

Taking a break from all the usual suspects can excite our senses and invigorate our imaginations.

When it comes to writing books, Jordan Summers likes to shake things up. A lot. Her stories range from urban fantasy to erotic romance to contemporary/suspense. You can never pin her down in any one genre, but you read her books to confound that routine, and that’s where Jordan Summers delivers.

From the author’s Web site:

I’d like to say I’m the life of the party, a laugh a minute kind of gal, and outrageously cool, BUT that would be a slight fabrication.

I’m actually an ex-flight attendant with a penchant for huge bookstores and big dumb action movies. I prefer quiet dinners with friends over maddening crowds. Happily married to my very own Highlander, we split our time between two continents.


Click on over to read the rest of her FAQ. Jordan Summers is also an active blogger and touches upon a variety of topics. Since she’s a fellow SF/F fan, aspiring authors would do well to check out her industry tidbits.

What if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf turned out to be the same person?

RED (Tor-Forge) is the first of a trilogy called The Dead World Series. It’s an unconventional and multi-faceted romance. SF elements are part of that mix, which drew me to investigate more about it. Not only that, but embedded within the story are dark elements enticing enough to shake any jaded romance reader out of her ennui.

War is brewing in a near-future world where murder is all but unheard of and the existence of creatures known as the Others has yet to be proven. In the end, one woman will face her fears to stand and fight.

Gina Santiago is a member of an elite tactical team in charge of protecting the world. She’s devoted her life to apprehending the most heinous criminals that prey on society—and now she’s after the worst one yet.

On her own, with no backup, the trail takes her to a dusty, tight-knit town on the fringes of society, where everyone’s a suspect. Even the sexy sheriff, Morgan Hunter, isn’t telling her everything.

The closer Gina comes to finding out the secret of this sleepy little town and its big, bad sheriff, the more scared she gets—because she’s beginning to realize that she has a secret, too. A secret that will change her life…and make her the killer’s next prey.


RED will be followed by SCARLET and CRIMSON.

Later this week, I’ll be giving away a copy of RED, and you can also look forward to an interview with the author. In the meantime, join me in welcoming Jordan Summers to The Galaxy Express!

While Chef passes around bowls brimming with bodacious Boo Berry, regale me thusly:

If you could turn any fairytale into a science fiction romance, which one would you choose?

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, November 13, 2008

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Stephenie Meyer’s THE HOST – Is It Science Fiction Romance?

THE HOSTStephenie Meyer’s THE HOST is the story of Wanderer–a member of an alien species, known as “souls,” who are fast taking over the Earth. The aliens are implanted inside human hosts, thereby taking over the body and displacing the human who had lived in it. Wanderer is implanted in the body of Melanie Stryder–a young woman who had chosen to attempt suicide rather than have her body taken over by the aliens.

Wanderer, a legend among her species, soon finds that Melanie has no intention of being displaced. Melanie refuses to fade away. She remains entrenched, while trying to prevent Wanderer’s excursions into her memories. The stakes are high. Wanderer is being pressured to reveal the location of any other surviving humans. Melanie is desperate to prevent Wanderer from discovering the existence of two people: Jaimie, her adored brother and Jared, the man she is in love with.

When Wanderer starts finding her way into Melanie’s most secret memories, Melanie decides that her only hope is making Wanderer love her guys as powerfully as she does, so she unleashes all her memories of love into Wanderer’s mind–with world-altering consequences.

For those of you who haven’t read it yet I don’t want to go into the plot any further than that. For what it’s worth, I was unable to put the book down, and wandered around quite sleep-deprived until I finished it. I strongly recommend it. And you might find a box of tissues kept close at hand quite useful, too.

But does this book, which has been on the NEW YORK TIMES Best Seller list for several months, qualify as Science Fiction Romance? There’s no doubt that it qualifies as science fiction (albeit that is being marketed as, “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.”) But does it equally qualify as a romance novel?

According to Wikipedia: “Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

Without giving away too much of the ending I have to say that yes, this novel most definitely meets this definition. The entire plot is driven by the refusal of one woman to give up on love. The earlier scenes, as Melanie introduces Wanderer to the nature of her love for Jared, and her desperate longing for him, are among the best in the novel. In the end, the future of Earth and the survival of humanity come down to one thing–love. Oh yes–I know a romance novel when I read one.

So, if you’ll take my word that this is Science Fiction Romance, then I must ask the question: is THE HOST the first SFR blockbuster novel? Will the success of this novel encourage readers to explore the other offerings in our SFR world? Will publishers be more willing to take a chance on SFR submissions? Will current published SFR authors benefit? Or not?

And if you completely disagree that THE HOST is SFR, I’d love to hear your opinions. [Heather’s note: If we can have a spoiler-free discussion, that’d be appreciated]

Be seeing you!

Agent Z.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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Western Culture Romance Models—Too Archaic for the Future?

At my debut Tor.com post, “Green Eggs And Ham,” one person commented that he/she experiences “…suspension-of-disbelief issues with contemporary Western culture romance models occurring in an SFnal** context that is different from our own.”

This set my mental wheels to turning.

Regardless of time period, no two people experience love the same way, not in the same city, not in the same country, not in the same culture. So when I read the above comment, I took notice because there is validity to that statement. Some authors who blend SF and romance receive more leniency than others do when it comes to exploring alternate romance models in the storytelling. But are authors—and readers—repeatedly overlooking a key element?

In Possessed by Love: Gender and Romance in Morocco, the authors ask, “Just what is 'being in love,' and is it similar in different cultures?” Regarding science fiction romance, I would ask, is it similar across different time periods, specifically, the future?

With current perceptions held by many that some foreign romance cultures and customs on our own planet seem too alien, could readers embrace such experimentation in science fiction romance books?

Now, if you will, consider the “common practices of romance” (excerpted):

* Holding hands or walking hand in hand
* Private conversations (including distant ones over the phone, by written communication or even the Internet)
* Kissing and hugging
* Dancing
* Eating together
* Sleeping together
* Physical intimacy

Can we assume that these practices will continue unchanged in the near future? What about 300 years from now? Or 700? Or 10,000? What about in different cultures in the future?

For example, what if it became the norm that hand-holding was considered more intimate, more erotic, than kissing? What cultural changes might be responsible for such a shift?

In “Cultural Differences,” Laurel Avery notes: The hardest part is to remember not to make any assumptions about how the other person is supposed to behave or react, which is really valid in any relationship, even between people from the same culture.

The above statement made me wonder if SFR authors should keep that sentiment in mind when creating love stories set in the future, and how open readers would actually be to a variety of cultural romance models.

I’d like to open up this issue for discussion, so here are my questions to get it started:

* Should science fiction romance authors strive to avoid making assumptions about the fundamentals of romantic love in the future on a consistent basis?

* Do science fiction romance authors in particular have a responsibility to demonstrate greater sensitivity about this issue?

* Would agents, editors, and readers be receptive to SFR/futuristic romance tales based on non-Western romance models? Why or why not?

Dizzying though this issue may be, it reminds me yet again about another fantastic direction science fiction romance can take and expand upon exponentially.

In the end, the only limits we have are those we choose to embrace by suppressing our imaginations.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

**science fictional

Sunday, November 9, 2008

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Catch A Rising Star: Nathalie Gray

Nathalie Gray is the author of eight futuristic/science fiction novels, and she plans to take over the world one reader at a time. A 2007 Romantic Times winner, she writes action packed stories with gritty, flawed heroes and heroines. Dark, comedic, and sometimes darkly comedic, she'll transport you to a roller coaster ride of a future.

And pssst…I know some juicy details about her! Check this out—she has a hopeless crush on Chow Yun-Fat! (Click here—later, of course!—to learn more about this iconic Chinese action star. You won’t regret it.)

When Nathalie isn’t watching YING HUNG BOON SIK, she lusts after Italian soccer players and exploding space ships—sometimes simultaneously! ;)

This globe-tripping author is a rabid fan of R.A. Salvatore. But SF/futuristic is her favorite genre so click here to read about her path to publication and how she goes all gooey over SOYLENT GREEN. Nathalie Gray is also a guest blogger at Alien Romances. Her debut post was A Long Time ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…MY ASS!

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Nathalie in the Phantom Café with a stellar view of Barnard’s Star and let me tell you—I simply could not look away from her silver go-go boots. So I’m sure it was a decidedly surreal experience for Nathalie as I asked the questions while my gaze remained glued to her footwear.

But, since she had Roberto Baggio sprawled across her lap, I think it all worked out in the end.

The Galaxy Express: Please describe your writing voice, but in the form of a recipe.

Nathalie Gray: Oh, it'd have to be a cake! Let's call it "Nat's Love & Rivets Cake". And it'd go something like this:

* Half a cup of BAM!

* Three heaping spoonfuls of KABOOM!

* Add some OOH LA LA to taste

* A stick of (enter onomatopoeia of choice)

* A good three fingers of rum (gotta have rum)

* Place into the word-geek oven of The Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk's Elements of Style

* Let bake for seven years at Fahrenheit Slush Pile degrees

* Pull out burning hot Nat's Love & Rivets Cake

* Show to friends, squee, then enjoy

Wake every day and rummage for ingredients to make another cake. Then another and another...




TGE: Your books contain exhilarating adventure, spicy sexual tension, and inventive worldbuilding. Great stuff, but speculative fiction also explores the grand “what if?” ideas. What are some of the deeper themes you explore in your work, whether you knew about them going into the stories or not?

NG: Everyone has their own interpretation of a story's themes, whether it was the author's intent to explore them or not. I think redemption is one theme to which I often find myself drawn. I dissolve in a blubbering pile of Jell-o when I read (or watch) a story where the villain does this one thing that triggers a positive resolution, often to his/her own destruction.


TGE: If Space Pirate Captain Harlock fought Caribbean pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, who would win?

Ha! Sorry, but Jack wouldn't stand a chance. Harlock would wipe the deck with Sparrow's bandana/wig combo, would give him The Evil Eye (because incidentally, Harlock wears an eye patch that raises his Cool Factor high enough to require oxygen masks) and after destroying Sparrow's puny ship would sit pensively in a dark place while brooding and playing his ocarina. Captain Harlock, he's that good.

TGE: What is the most challenging aspect of writing a sex scene? The easiest?

NG: Me, I'm all for in medias res—starting the story in the middle of the action. BOOM baby. Life is short. The reader trusts you to get to the point before they die of old age. As for sexual tension I think what's omitted is unbelievingly sexy. I love when an author creates a mood then lets things sink in, lets the sprinkling of fairy dust settle. What I found challenging at first was slowing the action down to explore the intimacy between the characters. I was afraid to lose momentum, let the iron cool. There was a space station to blow up! A world to save! But because I'm lucky to work with the best, I've learned to use these special moments of tenderness and discovery to further the overall goals. Namely, destroy the baddies and finish together.



TGE: What are a few of your favorite science fiction romance books, films, and television shows?

NG: So many titles, so few years to my life. A distillation of what makes my inner Chihuahua chase her tail with savage glee is:

Books – Dorchester's Shomi line, the Durham Red and Kris Longknife series (although I often have to add the romance myself as I read *sigh*), Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, John Scalzi, Richard Morgan when he's feeling gentle (or gentler).

Movies - The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Aliens, Chronicles of Riddick (yes, I know, I'm a dork), Dark City, Spaceballs, and the list goes on.

TV series: Albator (or Captain Harlock for the Anglo-Saxons in the crowd), Lexx, Space: Above and Beyond because I had a serious crush on the handsome colonel Ty, the new Battlestar Galactica, Babylon Five and its spinoff Crusade, Firefly.

What, we're out of time already? Damn.

TGE: After you achieve galactic domination, what’s next?

NG: You're right, world domination is only the first step. But I wouldn't be much of an Eeveel Overlordess if I shared the details of my plan of Doom, now would I? Suffice it to say that places like Galaxy Express, where the luv and the kinetic energy guns are welcome and celebrated, would receive a substantial gift in the form of cabana boys in silver thongs (or not), unlimited supplies of books and The Perfect Reading Chair. That's how much I love you!

TGE: That’s very sweet of you to say! Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work?

NG: Love and rivets aren't mutually excluding. You'll find both in any of my stories, from my tortured and scarred heroes (and those who are fashionisti), to my irreverent heroines who talk too loudly or curse a bit too much. They love as hard as they fight and as rough as they play. Life is too short for half-measures. You can find my books online and in bookstores, from (so far...please refer to previous question) my most excellent publishers Ellora's Cave and Red Sage.

Come on. Don't be shy. Come visit me at www.nathaliegray.com



Nathalie Gray’s GLADIUS will be released this month on November 26:

In a faraway colony crushed by tyranny, only the strong survive. His cardinal rule is simple. What Dar Skara wants, Dar Skara takes.

And here’s a great gift idea for the science fiction romance lover in the family: The author’s forthcoming release, CHIMERA, will be available in December 2009.

Nathalie, I had fun chatting, and thanks for your art!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Written on

Wanted: A Few Good Villains

Space pirates, scientists, cyborgs, mercenaries, and soldiers are just a few of the fantastical characters populating science fiction romance adventures—and that’s just the heroines! *hits drums* Ba-Dum-CH!

But what’s missing from this picture?

Two words: Darth Vader.


Vader


Ask anyone about his or her favorite aspect of STAR WARS and I guarantee at least all of them will mention Darth Vader. He’s an integral part of the story. Generally, people equate the STAR WARS saga with Darth Vader (and with good reason).

Here’s the breakdown as to why His Vaderness is so popular:

* The fashionable black uniform
* He’s a cyborg and a Jedi
* Insidious sense of humor
* He has a deep, dark secret
* That voice!
* He’s unapologetically evil, but…
* Experiences redemption

Darth Vader is not an admirable character because of his nefarious ambitions and acts. There is no excusing his abhorrent behavior.

However, he’s an admirable character in spite of those negative qualities, probably because Lucas layered him with relatable, accessible vulnerabilities. As a result, Darth Vader raised the standard for villains everywhere. He’s part Victor Von Doom, part Darkseid (wearing a samurai helmet no less).

But to belabor the obvious, STAR WARS is a film. And there are plenty of memorable villains in films and television shows.

What about the villains of science fiction romance books?

To be precise, I mean the current, evolving SFR sub-genre and futuristic romances. While I’ve enjoyed many of these books immensely, I feel that most have fallen short as far as the villains are concerned. If science fiction romance is going to make a name for itself, you must ask yourself one question:

What would Darth Vader do?


What am I looking for exactly? Diabolical, heinous, ruthless—those are just a few of the words that should spring to mind while encountering the exploits of a science fiction romance villain. Yet he or she should also harbor fascinating personality quirks such as a vivacious charm, bizarre habits, or a dark sense of humor.

Not into villains with an acerbic wit? No problem—they can be full of angst and layered with enough sympathy and relatable motives to make you forget for whom you’re rooting at times. No matter how authors construct villains, these characters should make not only a fashion statement, but also a statement about human nature.

My concern with the current crop is that they are much too tame and/or two-dimensional. Other times I’ve found them to be frustratingly vague creatures. I’m often told that the villain is to be feared rather than experiencing visceral dread firsthand. Occasionally, I wonder if the villain is much more treacherous in the author’s mind than he/she is on the page.

So why does this aversion to truly extraordinary villains exist? For lots of reasons, I’m sure. Perhaps they’re too horrifying to either write or read about, or a reminder of the evil in our own world from which many readers want to escape for a few hours. Or maybe authors make a conscious decision to focus on other story aspects.

Whatever the reason(s), I’m calling for a reassessment of the issue. No one should try to mimic Darth Vader, but why not create villains of the Darth Vader mode? Why hold back and make it easy for the hero and heroine, not to mention the reader? If it serves the story, I say knock it out of the park solar system!

Here’s why authors should strongly consider what a few great villains could do for science fiction romance:

Villains Command Conflict

Don’t be stingy with conflict. Conflict is the heart of a great story whether it swings more toward SF or Romance. Multi-layered villains can drive conflict in so many ways. When Darth Vader invites Luke to join him, that scene is rife with conflict. The two are dueling, and Luke has to fight not only on a physical level but also on an emotional level. Then he has to somehow reconcile that he’s related to such a father.

Darth Vader is so corrupt that even loners like Han Solo can’t help but become involved in the war. Luke, Leia, and Han have that much more to overcome because of Darth Vader’s sheer malevolence. Without a riveting villain, the hero and heroine can’t reach their true potential.

The conflict suffers. The plot suffers. The romance suffers.

Even if there’s no personified villain and conflict stems from interpersonal problems between the hero and heroine, please strive for realism. If they’re going to separate, make it a dang long time. If one or both threaten to break up, follow through on it. Avoid the conflict-sabotaging disconnects that occur when characters think one thing (“I can’t stand that arrogant bastard!”) but do another (hot kiss follows).

Rethink any villains that are nameless, faceless evils. Whether it’s military conglomerates, insidious government factions, The Blob, or whatever, handle these nebulous entities with care. If you must have them, give them a face and make that character work hard to earn the title of villain. Even a non-humanoid alien or some Lovecraftian monstrosity should be a complex, layered character.

In short: Let’s not forget or forgo the lessons of Aristotle’s POETICS or top points of Hegelian dialectics.

The Branding of a Genre

To accomplish all of this, dear authors, you’re going to have to make a few sacrifices changes and multitask like a mother.

For example, in exchange for a well-crafted villain and searing conflict, you’ll have to relinquish some of the space devoted to sexual tension and sex scenes. Yes, I know what your agents and editors are telling you, but too many books sacrifice conflict, plot, characterization, and potential villain jackpots for repetitive passages about a heroine’s lips or the hero’s hard body. Those are great when used judiciously, but they lose impact if that’s all there is to the story.

Readers can educate themselves beforehand if exciting conflict and villains aren’t their cuppa. I can understand that some people don’t care for high levels of intensity so I’m not calling for every SFR or futuristic romance to be like that—why waste anyone’s time? But unless sex/sexuality issues are integral to the plot, it can only take a romance so far.

Another angle would be to make passages do double or even triple duty (e.g., build characterization, conflict, and sexual tension all in one sentence). Symbolism, metaphors, and similes can deliver much with just a few words.

There are choices to be made if science fiction romance is to evolve and proliferate rather than just survive. You, the authors, get first crack at defining what will make SFR a must-read sub-genre. The goal is to create SFR stories that are more than just the sum of their parts (and interfacing body parts). Intriguing villains and bracing conflict are integral to that process.

Paranormal romance has its Alpha males and hot sex. Historical romance has its rakes and witty heroines. Romantic suspense has its SEALS. The list goes on.

If science fiction romance is going to distinguish itself, authors and readers can explore avenues such as breakout villains to give its reputation flair. There are so many options to explore. These characters can have a redemption arc. They can turn out to be the hero or heroine (within reason!).

And of course, they can be just plain twisted.

With the glut of Scorching Wicked Hot heat levels in romance books these days, what is something other than sex that can draw readers to SFR like flies to honey? We already have great heroes and heroines, worldbuilding, and adventures, so I propose adding a few great villains into the mix.

Science fiction romance shouldn’t try to compete with paranormal or erotic romances. I can find great sex scenes anywhere. But incredible villains are a much rarer treasure, and they’re waiting for us to discover them.

Wouldn’t it be great to have science fiction romance stories with villains so compelling that readers venture into new territory just to see what all the fuss is about? That’s what happened with STAR WARS. STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN is another example of what can be accomplished with a superbly crafted villain.



Now, of course there can’t and shouldn’t be a supervillain in every book—ho hum, boring. But where they lurk, they should lurk BIG. Make them cool. Make them provocative.

Make the villain a suave Svengali so irresistible that a reader won’t—or can’t—look away.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Written on

Blast Off!

With the 2008 U.S. presidential race now over and etched into history books, you’ll need something else to gab about at the water cooler. Why not grab a tall, cool glass of SFR for libations? (But if you wanted to sneak in a little political discourse, I wouldn’t blame you ;).

In the meantime, let's get to it:




* A science fiction romance play? Who’d a thunk? I COME FOR LOVE is that perfect Saturday night date. (Thanks to Mfitz of Flying Whale Productions for the link.)

* Forget Everything You Know About Black Holes and The Six Billion Dollar Cyborg (for all of you Kel-Paten fans) are my two latest Tor.com posts. I also headed "Inside The Blogosphere" at Grasping for the Wind for a discussion about Battling It Out.

* Congratulations to Susan Grant for her double PRISM 2008 win! Both Susan and Rowena Cherry were nominated for this award so please join me in a virtual round of applause.

* In addition, Susan Grant has updated her blogroll to feature Skiffy Rommer sites. How cool is that? Thanks, Susan!

* There’s also an interview with the author at Writers At Play courtesy of Lisa Paitz Spindler.

* Leapin’ Lizards! V Gets Rebooted. *Heather wipes away tears of joy* Now my life is complete! (Now where's my afternoon hamster snack?)

* I’m excited to announce that LoveSpace is gearing up for more science fiction romance action, so drop by and say hello.

* Way to go, Ann Aguirre—WANDERLUST was a September 2008 PNR Staff Top Pick!

* When in doubt, focus on relationships.

* Let the salivating begin! The Book Smugglers offer a nifty teaser about Linnea Sinclair’s eagerly anticipated book HOPE’S FOLLY, and here’s an early review! And if you’re about to catch up with her latest release, Frances Drake reviews the author’s SHADES OF DARK.

* Marianne de Pierres participated in a discussion on how to Build Believable Characters.

* Congratulations to Robin D. Owens whose HEART FATE landed at #6 on Amazon’s Best Books of 2008! (Thanks to Kathy for the link.)

* For anyone who has Sharon Lee & Steve Miller on their TBR list (and that’s all of you, right?), now’s a stellar time since Ace is releasing the entire run of Liaden novels!

From the authors’ FAQ:

Ace Books will begin releasing the entire run of Liaden Universe® novels, starting with Agent of Change, in November 2008 and continuing at about the rate of one a month, finishing up with Crystal Dragon, in December 2009. (Thanks to Jen D. at the Intergalactic Bar & Grille for the link.)

* Ramblings on Romance gives us a taste of RED via an interview with author Jordan Summer.

* Get with the program—the early space program, that is—by reading Space Savvy, courtesy of Spacefreighters’ Lounge.

* If you write scorching futuristic adventures, Ravenous Romance put out the (booty) call for “An erotic STAR TREK/BATTLESTAR GALACTICA/SERENTIY - everyone on the ship actually having the sex that's implied”

* Ann Aguirre recommends Liz Williams’ NINE LAYERS OF SKY for readers who enjoy SF with romantic elements.

* Enduring Romance reviews Pauline Baird Jones’ THE KEY.

* And finally, lest we forget that futuristic love knows no bounds, Io9 brings us 30 Burning Sci-Fi Bromances.

Enjoy! Our nav system just informed me we're nearing Antares, so I want to toast the supergiant!

Guten Tag, Antares!


Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Written on

Science Fiction Romance Undercover

Space Ice CreamI think it’s safe to assume we’ve all had this experience: You enter a store with the intent to purchase one item. Just one. In fact, you’re so dead sure that you don’t even grab a basket or cart.

Maybe you only need a bottle of shampoo, a box of diapers, or a gallon of milk. Or maybe your mission is something more sublime, like a midnight run for a container of Dreyer’s Dulce de Leche.

But despite your best intentions of grabbing one--and only one--item, you invariably find yourself walking out with two or three (if not four or five) different items.

Sound familiar?

Science fiction romance is like that sometimes. You buy or borrow a book thinking it’s going to be straight SF, but then the story surprises with the appearance of a romantic subplot or thread. Or, maybe you knew the romance was there to begin with but its presence is much stronger than suspected.

Of course, we’re discussing books released by SF imprints here--not romance publishers. (I think it's safe to say that someone’s in trouble if they release a book with an undercover romance!)

Often, neither the cover, spine, or jacket copy give the romance in these books away—which means that we’re sliding into romantic SF territory. But sometimes the “elements” are surprisingly robust.

Word of mouth is often the main sleuthing strategy we must rely upon to discover them. Recently, there was a discussion at Kimber An’s latest Romancing The Blog post. A commenter posted that she thought she was buying straight SF but ended up with “Romance instead.” She also noted that, “The people who’d like to read them will pass them by...”.

Are we chickens, that we must hunt and peck for these books?

Again I jest, but there was a time when romance in SF books was strictly verboten with some publishers—and not that long ago, either. I’ve heard that the penalty for attempting to include a romantic subplot could be pretty severe.

Whether SF publishers forbade authors to include romantic elements in order to preserve genre “purity” or because of prejudice against romance stories, I don’t know. Whatever the reasons, I’m sure they’re complex. Makes me wonder, though: Without that ordinance, would there have been more romantic SF/SFR on the shelves over the past twenty years? We’ll never know, of course, but hats off to the authors who fought for that creative right.




The following books (with the exception of the Sharon Shinn selection) are those I read and either didn’t anticipate the romance/romantic elements, or didn’t anticipate it’d be so prominent. Most definitely do not fall in the category of a traditional romance, so buyer be warned if that's all you're seeking. But even if much less screen time is given to the romance, many of the elements are there:

THE OUTBACK STARS by Sandra McDonald
THE HIDDEN WORLDS by Kristin Landon
SHARDS OF HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold
WHITECHAPEL GODS by S. M. Peters
MORTAL ENGINES by Phillip Reeves
Sharon Shinn’s Samaria books (recommendation courtesy of Genreville’s Rose Fox)
ACORNA by Anne Mccaffrey
WATCHMEN & LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN by Alan Moore
RETURN TO THE STARS by Edmond Hamilton

The above list is just my personal sample of science fiction romance undercover books—I’d love to hear about yours. (And don’t forget to bring the ice cream; we'll be passing by a particularly warm supernova next!)

Joyfully yours,

Heather