Friday, February 27, 2009

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Giveaway

Katherine Allred, author of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, is giving away an ARC of her debut science fiction romance to one lucky passenger. You can visit her Web site and check out the book trailer here!

To enter, just leave a comment at this post. International entries are welcome so drop by and say "G'day, mate!"

Dawdle not, though! The deadline for entering is 8:00 EST on Sunday, March 1, 2009.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, February 26, 2009

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It’s a Jungle Out There

Jungle rot, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis…these are just a few of the tropical diseases one could incur during a trek through the jungle. Chagas disease is yet another, and it’s transmitted by “blood-sucking assassin bugs.”

Did you feel that vibration just then? It was me, shuddering.

Never mind the humidity—jungles are a veritable cornucopia of creepy critters lurking in the hundreds of thousands, ready to feast upon my exposed, tender flesh. It never ceases to amaze me that so many of my fellow human beings regularly coexist with centipedes, Zodariid ground spiders, tropical fire ants, poisonous frogs, fuzzy moths, and snakes of every length and thickness.

And even with all of that paralyzing heat, you can’t even go swimming, not unless inviting a gang of piranhas to gnaw you to the bone is your idea of a swingin’ time.




I’m not knocking these species…I’m just sayin’ that making the acquaintance of slimy/slithery/scaly creatures is not very high on my list of priorities. Actually, it’s not even on my list of priorities (although I’ll watch a documentary any day of the week and squirm in the safety of my home to my heart’s content).

So Heebie Jeebie Central a.k.a. jungles are out for me, yet I’ll be the first to tell you I’m an armchair enthusiast.

So it was with much voyeuristic fun that I recently finished Katherine Allred’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (Eos, April 2009), virtually accompanying Genetically Engineered Person Kiera Smith on her voyage to Orpheus Two, a planet riddled with jungles where she—what’s that? Oh, I understand your confusion. Ms. Allred was kind enough to send me an ARC, you see…!

Anyhoo, Kiera is an agent for the Bureau of Alien Affairs, and it’s her job to investigate Orpheus Two, a planet in which independent trade company Dynatec has taken a suspiciously strong interest. A handful of the indigenous people are on the verge of extinction, and unless Kiera can learn the secret to reversing the process, Dynatec wins ownership of Orpheus Two. And the corporate overlords would rather win the planet sooner rather than wait for the Buri to die out, if you get my drift….

Honestly, thank goodness that there are people willing to perform this kind of dangerous work. Not just in books, but in real life, too. Scientists, humanitarians, and medical personnel are just a few of the heroes braving the treacherous tropical frontier.

Right now, we have our share of alienish creatures like binturongs and spectacled caimans, but just think of the taxonomical undertaking that would be involved if/when we discover another habitable planet. You could not pay me anything to enter a jungle here on Earth, let alone an alien nightmare of unknown proportions, but I’ll happily pay the necessary taxes so that the advance guard of explorers and scientists can wrestle with the challenge of first contact.

Instead, I’ll be sitting in my armchair, on Earth, watching the holo-vids.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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It’s a “Blue”!

It's time to get down and boogie because there's a host of happenings in the science fiction romance realm this week. New releases, space pirates, and Philip Guthrie, oh my!

A hearty congratulations goes out to Susan Grant, whose MOONSTRUCK made the Library Journal’s Best of 2008 list! Her current book, THE WARLORD’S DAUGHTER, is available now for your reading pleasure. Check out the book trailer here.

And feast your orbs on this particular unveiling: Susan Grant recently guest blogged at Harlequin’s Paranormal Romance Blog. There she revealed the name of her swashbuckling lady space pirate from her forthcoming book—Valeeya Blue! This is the third book in Grant’s Borderlands series. Check out the story:

With a brief and passionate history they wish they didn’t share, legendary pirate captains Valeeya Blue and Dake Sureblood are sworn enemies. Now the chance to prove the truth about his clan’s role in her father’s murder has Dake agreeing to work for the Triad to terminate Val’s swashbuckling ways–if she doesn’t execute him first. But as the identity of the real killer becomes apparent, the one-time nemeses start getting cozy, and soon they’re sharing more than just a spaceship.

Color me sold!

Also, the PEARL winners were announced (thanks to Linnea Sinclair for the info). The notable SFR books are as follows:

Best Futuristic Romance: DARK LIGHT by Jayne Castle (Honorable Mention: HEART FATE by Robin D. Owens)

* Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: SHADES OF DARK by Linnea Sinclair

* Honorable Mention for Time Travel Romance: TWIST by Colby Hodge

* Best New Author: Ann Aguirre

Congratulations, all!



Jess Granger’s Ethel the Space Pirate is still going strong! Check out the latest installment here. And after that, you can read an interview with the author at Cynthia Eden’s blog: Jess Granger…An Author to Watch!

Spacefreighters’ Lounge reviews Linnea Sinclair’s HOPE’S FOLLY, the third book in the Gabriel’s Ghost universe.

Here's another review of HOPE'S FOLLY courtesy of Frances Writes, who dubs the book "an excellent thriller."

And you can go buy HOPE’S FOLLY because it’s out right now!

Over at Magical Musings, Linnea Sinclair muses about Writing Cross Genre.

Fantasy Debut is starting a new feature for unpublished and self-published authors called Discovery Showcase. First up is an excerpt from Kimber An’s The Star Captain’s Daughter. If you’re an aspiring science fiction romance author, this is yet another way to get your name out there.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ Blog presents an interview with book cover illustrator Timothy Lantz. He conceived the art for Dru Pagliassotti’s CLOCKWORK HEART (you know, the one that deserves to be nominated for a Hugo!).

Watch your newsstand: Romantic Times BOOKreviews will include a spotlight on Katherine Allred’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS in the April 2009 issue.

Weigh in about your thoughts on book marketing (along with yours truly) at Inside the Blogosphere: Book Marketing Favorites, hosted by the poetically named "The World in the Satin Bag."

My latest Tor.com post addresses Dear Publishers: Girls Read Comics, Too.

Mark your calendars! From March 9-14, the "Beyond Her Book" host Barbara Vey will be celebrating her two-year anniversary blogging for PUBLISHERS WEEKLY! During Anniversary Week, there will be all kinds of festivities, from author, publisher, and agent appearances to giveaways.

The Galaxy Express will dock at there on March 9 and 14, so drop by and comment those days for a chance to win some science fiction romance swag!

And lastly...stay glued to this blog because I’ll be making a Very Special Announcement here quite soon!

Don’t you just love a good tease?!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, February 22, 2009

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Mr. Hugo, For Your Consideration: CLOCKWORK HEART

There are so many great books—and yet so few awards.

While I’m all for the voters nominating every science fiction romance book that came out in 2008 for the Hugo Award, I must consider a more realistic perspective. There’s a difference between a book that’s great, and a great book that combines elements in such a way that it actually has a shot at being nominated for such a prestigious distinction.

Dru Pagliassotti’s CLOCKWORK HEART is one such book.

This whole literary shebang reminds me of the Oscars, where comedic brilliance in films, SF/F adventures, or commercial films with boffo box office hauls routinely gets bumped for intellectual art house fare (hello, FROST/NIXON & THE READER, sayonara to THE DARK KNIGHT & IRON MAN). It’s a crying shame, yes, but occasionally a film will do an end run around the whole process, with refreshing results (LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING).

Science fiction romance—it could be a contender.

To wit, Mary Fitzpatrick of Flying Whale Productions expressed some intriguing words in her recent review of CLOCKWORK HEART:

“I think the strength of this book is it’s straddling half a dozen genre[s]. It is a prime example of literary hybrid vigor. Unfortunately that may also scare strict genre readers away, and it makes the book hard to market. It will probably keep the book from both the sales, and award nominations it so richly deserves. I read all the Hugo nominees for 2008, and I like several of them very well, but when it comes to texture, storytelling and originality Clockwork Heart blows them all out of the water.

“This book deserves a nomination for the 2009 Hugos.”

Is CLOCKWORK HEART a long shot? Could be, but so was Cinderella, if you asked her Evil Stepmother the wrong people.

Mary adds that: “The plot twists and turns enough to keep any reader guessing what will happen next, and the end, although not a big pink spun-sugar bow, is satisfying enough for a Romance fan looking for a HEA.”

So please, Mr. Hugo, strongly consider a book that, because of its steampunk and romance elements, qualifies it for many as a science fiction romance. What a great opportunity this would be to acknowledge what romance has done and is doing for science fiction: the emotional investment quotient. (And I’m sure previous Hugo winner Lois McMaster Bujold wouldn’t mind the company).

But don’t just consider sending this novel an invitation to the ball because of that. There’s also marscapone icing on the cake because CLOCKWORK HEART is penned by a woman (for a full list of “works by women eligible for 2009 SF awards,” click here).

Thanks, Mr. Hugo! I knew you’d understand.

And for my progressive passengers, if you’re eligible to vote, there’s not much time left! The online ballot is here.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, February 19, 2009

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COSMIC IDOL III: The Final Conflict

And welcome back to the final installment of COSSSSSMICCCC IDDDDDDOLLLL!

Smirking his way up on stage right now, Captain James Tiberius Kirk gladly accepts his award for his stunning vocals. Of course, you may think he had the deck stacked in his favor—and you’d be absolutely right! We are talking about the only person to conquer the Kobayashi Maru.

For tonight’s epic line up, we’ve saved the best for last.

Flying in from Mumbai, let’s hear a ferocious COSMIC IDOL welcome for…Indian Superman and Spiderwoman!

What villain could possibly stand up to their combined might—or their seductive dance moves? (Cinema scuttlebutt says this may have been a deleted scene from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, but I have my doubts. I mean really…how could anyone possibly cut this??)




Whallopin’ Websnappers! What a performance!

Next up, we have Jan Terri and her out-of-this-world smash hit, “Journey to Mars!” See! Jan and pals take the train! Gasp! At a slew of mid-nineties screensavers and PC game cut-scenes (hey wait, isn’t that BABYLON 5?)! And point! As they…board the train again!



What can I add? Arriving at Chicago O’Hare was never so much fun!

Our next entry doesn’t have anything to do with SF, but I simply could not overlook this grandiloquent plunge into romantic fantasy. Every romance cliché you’ve ever read, dreamed, or thought of suffuses every millimeter of this mini-LOTR epic.

If you’ve ever longed for Elric of Melniboné to take the mic, your day of wonder has arrived. Elric’s long-lost, twice-removed cousin’s pool guy leads his newfound lady love before many greenscreens...when three witches attack! The situation grows dire as Dr. Doom shuns his kingdom of Latveria (along with his Marvel copyright) and then…uh, something about a sailing ship, dragons, frost queens, alligators(?), and MATRIX-trained dominatrixes—all set against the Revolutionary War taking place in Narnia. (Okay, I watched this thing five times. Let’s hear it if you can crack its cryptic plot.)



But who am I to suggest a little clarity? This stormbringer doesn’t need story structure. He’s too busy leaping off cliffs, swashbuckling on schooners, and taming those angry snow ‘gators. Tally ho!

Finally, we arrive at an entry that’s just so overflowing with awesomeness, mere words cannot hope to convey its galactic resplendency.

Let’s just say that if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if the DNA of ABBA collided with a space station varsity cheer squad–all while being choreographed by a Swedish Stevie Wonder—well, here’s your answer. (And really, who hasn’t lost sleep mulling over that very scenario from time to time?)

Ladies and muck-encrusted, shambling mockery of men…please give your most heartfelt, non-pretender welcome to Armi & Danny!



Ah, Swedish calisthenics in space have never been the same since…!

And so there you have it. Flood the comments and light up the phone lines now; multi-appendage operators are standing by to take your vote.

Until next time, throw me the whip and the...COSMIC IDOLLLLLLLLL!

Vocally Yours,

Heather


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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COSMIC IDOL II: The Wrath of the STAR TREK Edition

And welcome back to another exciting edition of…COSMIC IDOOOLLLLL!

Let’s hear a big, big galactic congratulations for Cüneyt Arkin and his incredible Exploding Rock Orchestra! Way to go, Cüneyt!

And now…prepare to witness a truly incredible performer. Alien green women everywhere shriek whenever he takes the stage. Busty yeoman in tight red uniforms all despise "love" his sexual harassment.

Yes, that’s right! Ladies and gentle monopods with slightly gelatinous membranes, please welcome the one and only…Captain James T. Kirk!




Wasn’t that…unique!

And, if you listen very closely, you may actually hear Sinatra attempting to claw his way up from the grave every time this peerless performance plays.

But wait! Who is this exotic male specimen joining our competition? Why, it’s none other than that swinging cat, Mr. Spock!

Our favorite first officer makes the only logical decision and strikes back with his Vulcan voice, singing what appears to be cribbed dust jacket copy from THE HOBBIT.

Let's give a rousing "live love and prosper" salute to...Mr. Spock!



Imagine if he continued doing this with other books:

Well, Jane was girl with an at-ti-tude/
She didn’t like her school that was un-der-stood

Then one day she ran into a man
He needed a governess so she formed a plan…

We call her Jane! Jane…Eyre!
She’s all about conviction and that’s on~ly fair!


Captain, sensors are detecting an excellent marketing opportunity in Quadrant Four!

But Kirk rebounds—with a lit ciggie no less!—to mumble croon his way through an Elton John standard. (Prepare thyself for an out-of-body experience halfway through this—and I mean that literally.)

I think…you’ll ha---ve to agree. His staccato style…reallybringsoutthebest…of…this…song!



So gentle, mostly carbon-based beings, now is your time to enact the power you have and vote! Which one of these mind-blowing, star-shattering, universe-engulfing performances will keep you up all night breaking your furniture?

Hit me up in the comments and we’ll see who reigns supreme on the next edition of COOOOoooOOsmic IDOLLLLLLLL!

Lyrically yours,

Heather


Sunday, February 15, 2009

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Welcome To COSMIC IDOL: The STAR WARS Edition

Yes, it's COSMIC IDOL! The # 1 show all across the universe and beyond...where YOU pick the winners.

We’re going to be broadcasting all week, focusing on your favorite romantic tunes. Songs that carry such sizzle they could melt the ears off a gundark.

In our first of three installments, we have a trio that’s sure to turn you to the dark side…of love!

Ladies and gentle-beings, please welcome Princess Leia as she gives us her chemically-enhanced best on Life Day! And if we’re really lucky, we may even get an appearance by the embarrassed strapping Han Solo as his wookie friend daydreams about higher-production values past exploits.

And check it out! Ms. Organa spared no expense as she even supplied dry ice. Now you know it’s spacey. Aces!




Wow! Wasn’t that amazing? Let’s all give her a big round of furry robed applause.

Up next, we have a stunning rendition of the STAR WARS theme that’s as rare as an Imperial Stormtrooper actually hitting his target! How could one possibly top the John Williams original, you ask?

Well, cast aside any thoughts of Meco, and please give a big Tatooine greeting to the romantic, disco-flavored flair that is Masato Shimon (and be sure to tell him Jet Jaguar sent ya)!



Our final contestant today also hails from the STAR WARS universe, by way of the Black Sea. Ladies and multi-tentacled sentients, please welcome all the way from DÜNYAYI KURTARAN ADAM, the Erik Estrada hair stylings of…Cüneyt Arkin!

Gasp!...as our hero takes a momentary breather from punching rocks—which explode!—to cover his hands with a red marker. Swoon!...as his platinum blonde lady friend...with some unique ideas about make-up application…looks deeply into the eyes of her love—all to the orchestral tune of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!

Copyright infringement? Why that phrase doesn’t exist in this universe!



They're all so great! You have a difficult decision before you.

So who has that special something? Whose life will change forever? You tell me as you vote ‘em up or down in the comments section.

Join me next time as we continue another star spanning episode of...COSMIC IIIIIIDOOOOLLLLL!

Tunefully Yours,

Heather


Saturday, February 14, 2009

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Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

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Two Essential Science Fiction Romance Discussions

I’m doing an extra post this week because of two ongoing discussions about SFR that recently started. I know you like a challenge (!) so please check out the following sites:

Science Fiction Romance by Claire Delacroix (FALLEN) is an intriguing examination of the issues involved in publishing an SFR novel. She draws upon her own experience to give readers a behind the scenes view of her book’s evolution.

Additionally, she explores craft and marketing issues that demonstrate how challenging this genre can be to both write and market. She brings up many interesting points so pull up a chair and here’s a cup of space java to sharpen your analytical skills.

Linnea Sinclair (HOPE’S FOLLY) started a thread at Goodreads titled Should SFR be part of PNR? (free registration required). In her opening post, the author invites you to share your thoughts about whether “associating [science fiction romance] with PNR helps or hinders.”

So roll up your sleeves while Chef passes out the red eyes because it promises to be an intense exchange.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, February 12, 2009

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The Fine Art of Dialogue

“All Dialogue is Conflict!”

Author Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s battle call perfectly encapsulates my feelings about dialogue.

I’d recently finished two science fiction romance books as well as one novella, and am currently in the middle of an awesome steampunk story. What they all have in common is dialogue that pops off the page. In other words, dialogue that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty with a lot of conflict—hence this post.

Dialogue is a crucial element to many stories. It’s difficult to do well and easy to fumble. I’m generally a plot gal, but if the dialogue sparkles, I can often forgive a low key plot or even story flaws.

I’m a big fan of conflict-laden dialogue in films, too, and sometimes I wonder how much that medium has influenced how I read/evaluate dialogue in books. Probably quite a bit (“Why am I Mr. Pink?”*). If dialogue is competent, at the least it becomes an invisible part of the process. At that point, I focus more on the story. But if superior fare dances before my eyes, it just makes the experience that much more compelling.

Dialogue is conflict, and great dialogue is infinitely seductive.




Now I’d like to point you to a few intensive posts about dialogue, brought to you by a few of the authors at Alien Romances:

“You don’t understand!” She shouted angrily… (Linnea Sinclair)

Expletive-Deleted & Tender Romance (Jacqueline Lichtenberg)

Speaking and Swearing in Alien Tongues: Reprise (Linnea Sinclair)

Screams of the Vegetables (Margaret Carter)

Verisimilitude VS Reality (Jacqueline Lichtenberg)

Joyfully yours,

Heather

* Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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The Secret Combination For Success

I’m the first to admit, I’m a sucker for starships and space pirates. Heh. Is that so wrong?

But science fiction romance doesn’t have to be all about starships and wormholes. Quite the opposite: more than a few stories explore other settings, couplings, times, and technologies. However, it’s often the flashy galactic adventures that garner most of the attention. Stories set in space or on alien worlds tend to define/represent science fiction romance as a whole, but that's not all there is to it.

SFR has the potential to encompass a pretty broad swath of stories when one considers all the various subgenres of science fiction. Romance has also splintered into various subgenres, many of which would dovetail quite well with their SF “counterparts.” With this subgenre on the cusp of a much wider audience, there is so much unexplored territory that it boggles my mind.

Check out just a few of the numerous possibilities:

Steampunk

What it is: Steampunk “…is set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.”

I think you all know how I feel about steampunk. Well, I’d adore a steampunk romance even better! (While we’re waiting with tapping toes for the wave to hit, CLOCKWORK HEART by Dru Pagliassotti is available from Juno Books, and Nathalie Gray has penned MECHANICAL ROSE, a steampunk erotic romance. Hello, hawt eccentric inventor!)

This category is a goggle-licious example of where authors can take science fiction romance stories. For the very ambitious, you could even explore a steampunk romance in space!

Will also appeal to: Historical romance lovers

Mundane SF

What it is: Mundane SF “…focuses on stories set on or near the Earth, with a believable use of technology and science as it exists at the time the story is written.

With these stories, there’d be no starships, no wormholes, and no interstellar travel in sight. There’s enough existing technology and human couplings to explore without launching into space. Mundane SF also represents a potentially great opportunity to explore tales in a near future setting.

Will also appeal to: Contemporary romance lovers

Time Travel

What it is: Stories involving “…devices and technologies that take people backwards and forwards in time and space….

Angela Knight’s JANE’S WARLORD (and the Time Hunters series that followed) and Isabo Kelly’s MARSHALL’S GUARD are wonderful starts, but let’s bring ‘em back in force. Instead of magical portals/amulets or what have you, make each catalyst for the time-tripping a scientific invention. It's sexy tech, for sure. Oooh, wouldn’t a steampunk time travel romance be absolutely fantabulous?!!

Will also appeal to: Time travel romance lovers

Military SF

What it is: “Military science fiction is set in the context of conflict between national, interplanetary, or interstellar armed forces; the primary viewpoint characters are usually soldiers. Stories include detail about military technology, procedure, ritual, and history; military stories may use parallels with historical conflicts.”

Authors Sandra McDonald (THE OUTBACK STARS) Susan Grant (LEGEND OF BANZAI MAGUIRE), and Linnea Sinclair (GAMES OF COMMAND) have aspects of military SF in a few of their books. Another resource for these types of stories is the ROMVETS, a community of authors with a military background.

But you can’t deny there’s room for so many more!

For more inspiration, please do check out Women Who Write Military Science Fiction Books by Deborah Teramis Christian (thanks to Lisa Paitz Spindler for the link).

Will also appeal to: Action adventure romance lovers (fans of Suzanne Brockmann, I’m looking at you).

Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, & Superhuman

What they are: “Apocalyptic fiction is concerned with the end of civilization through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster or with a world or civilization after such a disaster.... Apocalyptic fiction generally concerns the disaster itself and the direct aftermath, while post-apocalyptic can deal with anything from the near aftermath to hundreds or thousands of years in the future…”

Superhuman stories deal with the emergence of humans who have abilities beyond the norm.... These stories usually focus on the alienation that these beings feel as well as society's reaction to them.”

Eve Kenin’s DRIVEN, Claire Delacroix’s FALLEN, and Jordan Summer’s RED all transport the reader to post-apocalyptic settings with nary a starship in sight. In these stories, gritty, dark, and intense rule the day—oh, and that’s just describing the romances!

Catherine Asaro’s SUNRISE ALLEY is an example of a suspenseful tale involving a hero with superhuman abilities (and for the guys, there’s ALPHA). Superhuman stories have so much untapped potential in science fiction romances. Why not mix and match with other subgenres? GAMES OF COMMAND features a bio cybe admiral hero.

Will also appeal to: Paranormal romance lovers

Cyberpunk

What it is: In cyberpunk stories, the “…time frame is usually near-future and the settings are often dystopian. Common themes in cyberpunk include advances in information technology and especially the Internet (visually abstracted as cyberspace), artificial intelligence and prosthetics and post-democratic societal control where corporations have more influence than governments. Nihilism, post-modernism, and film noir techniques are common elements, and the protagonists may be disaffected or reluctant anti-heroes.”

Rise of the SFR anti-heroes and anti-heroines in this category, perhaps? Yum! Seriously, though, we’re talking about some pretty deep books here. It might even call for a new subgenre of science fiction: Romancepunk!

Will also appeal to: Romantic suspense lovers

Ahh…science fiction romance—the best of both worlds! But let’s not stop here—what are some combinations you’d like to read?

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, February 8, 2009

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Who Should Publish Science Fiction Romance?


I iz thinkin'


This post is more of a lament on my part, having come across comments in the blogosphere a few months ago wherein some other folks lamented about the lack of hard SF elements in science fiction romance novels, mainly those released by romance publishers.

Consider also an issue that dovetails with the one above: There are concerns that some stories—released by SF publishers more often than not—leave readers cold when it comes to the romance. Either there isn’t enough of it, or the execution fell short of expectations, or both.

Both good romance and good science fiction involve a significant amount of craft, and there are plenty of great books in both genres to demonstrate the abundance of talent that abounds. Yet, another related observation I’ve seen put forth is that authors who do both well are few and far between. Is that really the case, or are there other considerations?

All of the above brings me to this point: Might it be beneficial to examine the writing and publishing of science fiction romance as a scope of competence issue? Scope of competence “…defines or limits what the individual within the profession may do and is determined by one’s education, training and experience.”

In other words, to what extent should readers expect an author to be well versed in both SF and romance? (To clarify: I'm not talking about authors getting degrees in astrophysics, psychology, and sex therapy!) Do the books on the market reflect such knowledge—or a possible lack of it?

Authors aren’t the only ones on the hot seat. Are editors equally versed in SF and romance regardless of publisher? Is the ideal an editor who’s had experience editing both SF and romance books? In light of our discussion about the early futuristic romances, are editors on both sides of the genre fence more competent now than they were 20 - 30 years ago?

I realize that scope of competence will never be a formal variable in publishing the way it is in the fields of mental health, law, or medicine, but how would you feel if more authors and editors expanded their science fiction romance skills by adapting the model of continuing education? For example, this might involve becoming more widely read in SF and romance novels, taking advanced workshops, or having manuscripts vetted by the relevant experts.

None of this could be realistically tracked, of course, and some authors and editors have already committed to these types of efforts. But given the concerns that have historically plagued SFR, I can’t help but brainstorm a few possibilities that could potentially address them.

And another thing—should authors write solely to the readership based on the publisher releasing their books? In some cases, it’s probably a balancing act between art and commerce (and career survival). I can understand why, say, inspirational romances won’t venture into experimental territory. I can understand why most hard SF novels won’t have the real estate available for a romance arc.

But why shouldn’t science fiction romance have a little more wiggle room, regardless of publisher?

The issue makes me wonder if publishers are bound by too much by branding when it comes to SFR. Stories from SF publishers could easily embrace more romance, and stories from romance publishers could embrace more science fictional elements. Or is the branding so hardwired that it will override variations in the stories across publishers by selecting out the ones that don’t fit the brand?

For example: Will we ever see a science fiction romance with hard SF elements from Harlequin? I imagine that if a Harlequin author wanted to pen a tale akin to Catherine Asaro’s SUNRISE ALLEY, his/her agent might have to shop the book elsewhere, either because of the perception/fact that Harlequin readers would frantically apply the brakes when it came to such a story, or the publisher itself is reluctant to allow their editors & authors to increase their scopes of competence.

Anyone can publish science fiction romance, of course, but the reality surrounding and constraining creative issues still bites the big one.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Written on

Winner! Winner! Winner!


I just consulted our resident randomizer and the winner is...Susan Macatee! Congratulations, Susan, you've won the futuristic romance giveaway plus a book by science fiction romance author Linnea Sinclair.

Please send your address to sfrgalaxy "at" gmail and your books will be in transit ASAP. Thanks to everyone who entered. Your comments are always illuminating.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, February 5, 2009

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Futuristic Romance Retrospective, Part III: Futuristic Romance vs. Science Fiction Romance

In light of our previous discussion about the futuristic romances of yore, today I pose ye this question: Is there a prevalent negative connotation with the term “futuristic romance” dating back to the SF-romance blends from the 80s and 90s? And if so, how much does it have to do with the very term “futuristic romance”?

To clarify, this discussion isn’t about differences within the subgenre itself. It’s about the marketing labels applied to stories that combine science fiction and romance (romantic SF excluded for the moment). My goal is be sensitive regarding the changing terminology of this subgenre while I speculate about what might be the new and best terms to describe it.

While the label futuristic romance never quite went away, other labels sprung up alongside it: science fiction romance, speculative romance, intimate adventures, romantic space opera, paranormal/futuristic paranormal, and if we really want to split hairs, sci-fi romance.


WIZARD OF OZ ©Warner-Brothers


Bit of a marketing morass, if you ask me.

But let’s return to futuristic romance for a moment. If indeed it has soured as a marketing category, why is the term still so prevalent? Is it simply a case of habit? Is it because the Internet’s vast repository of sites results in a regurgitation of the term every time one conducts a search regarding books in this subgenre? To wit:

In the Wikipedia entry for Romance novel, the subsection is “Science Fiction Romance,” but the definition starts off as “…The first futuristic romance [emphasis mine] to be marketed by a mainstream romance publisher…”

Authors Linnea Sinclair and Susan Grant gave cover quotes for debut author Jess Granger’s forthcoming book BEYOND THE RAIN (August 2009)…and both referred to it as a futuristic romance. Granger’s agent’s Web site also lists the book as such.

When it comes to futuristic romance, it doesn't get better than Sinclair!" --Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine. You can also see that quote on the cover of Linnea Sinclair’s forthcoming HOPE’S FOLLY. Susan Grant doesn’t get off that easily, either—in the January 2009 issue of Romantic Times, her forthcoming book WARLORD’S DAUGHTER is listed under the “Futuristic” category. And MOONSTRUCK has “Paranormal Romance” on the spine. (Is that more effective than just using “Romance” as on her previous novels?)

Or maybe futuristic romance went away in some circles, but not others. Apparently, many of those early books labeled futuristic romance were cringe-inducing enough that subsequent authors strove to distance themselves from the term altogether. But as we saw from the above examples, authors can’t seem to escape no matter how fast they run.

So back to marketing terms: If publishers want to reach the widest audience possible, why not use a term that is easily recognizable? “Science fiction” already existed at the time futuristic romance was coined. Why reinvent the wheel?

What exactly is meant by “futuristic”? Was it created as an attempt to soften the SF elements, or rather to convey that the romance was predominant? “Futuristic” implies stories set in a future time, but it also refers to advanced technology. Was the emphasis on the future intentional? Not all science fiction stories take place in the future (e.g., mundane SF, steampunk).

A major reason I chose the “Adventures in Science Fiction Romance” tagline for The Galaxy Express was simply for clarity. Speaking of clarity…

Marketing labels are extremely important. They convey information about a product and provide for ease of categorization. They also aid in branding books, authors, and genres.

If that’s the case, why split the marketing with various labels? This issue represents a great divide—inserting an unnecessary barrier within the subgenre. It might be the result of different publishers inevitably creating similar products but marketing them according to the demands of the imprint, without researching the competition or trying to outdo the competition. Then there’s the issue of publishers chasing sales by labeling a book according to current trends. Everyone wants authors to profit, but aren’t there more effective strategies?

Whatever the reason, the proliferation of various terms hinders effective brand identification, marketing, and promotion, both for individual authors and the subgenre as a whole. Readers need a certain amount of consistency. Musical chairs is fun when you’re a kid. As an adult trying to make informed purchasing decisions, not so fun.

I think readers are intelligent enough to realize that a few bad apples don’t define the subgenre as a whole, and that over time books and perceptions change. Neither do all readers contemplate books solely in terms of marketing labels.

Many readers are resilient in that they’re willing to give authors and stories repeated chances. I didn’t swear off all future science fiction films just because SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS sucked space eggs. And don’t forget that today’s youth are the adult readers of tomorrow. That represents an opportunity for a fresh start as well.

In light of the above issues, what are your thoughts on futuristic romance as a marketing label? Is the unsavory association with certain books unshakeable? Should it be flung to the far corner of the universe, or salvaged and given a makeover? What about science fiction romance? Does that term have an edge over futuristic romance, and if so, what is it?

Or should we consider another label altogether?

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Written on

Futuristic Romance Retrospective, Part II: How They Went Astray

Today, I’d like to explore the underbelly of futuristic romances. Eh, no, not the bare, curvy belly of the heroine, oft caressed by the hero’s strong, warm hands. I’m talking about that other underbelly—the unsavory one whispered about in forums and emails whenever the subject of futuristic romances arises.

I know. Scandalous.

Specifically, I’m referring to those (many of which hail from the 80s to the late 90s) that have a reputation for cheesy plots, over reliance on romance genre stereotypes, and subpar—some might even say appallingly subpar—science fictional elements.

With an extraordinary history of science fiction novels dating back (arguably) to Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, along with an equally amazing history of romance books extending back to the works of Jane Austen, pairing SF and romance was bound to be nothing short of spectacular. The Big Bang in overdrive, as it were.


Austen Meets Frankenstein


So how did they go astray?

You’ve probably heard about futuristic romances being referred to as “historical romances in space.” Meaning that an SF backdrop has been substituted for a typical historical romance one, and little else changed. It’s true that in some—if not many of these tales—the SF elements are often window dressing, a means of lending the romance a sense of the exotic and nothing more.

Ironically, for many readers the “historical in space” aspect is part of the appeal. Renowned science fiction authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have a reputation for books with a “Regency in space” feel—and the description is intended as a compliment. And it’s not like a few strictly SF books don’t have a reputation for being a Western set in space. So that factor alone isn’t the problem (unless, perhaps, one is a hardcore hard SF fan).

Another complaint is that even if the SF elements existed to any significant degree, the author/editor sometimes got the science wrong. Or the SF was media derived instead of literary derived. But media tie-in SF novels are not only popular but also big business, so that last criticism is suspect as well.

One major oversight in some (most?) of the early futuristic romances would be the lack of any truly speculative elements. Including will-nilly references to starships, hyperdrives or space stations without delving into “what if?” exploration left the SF half of the stories gasping for breath.

Were these futuristic romance authors under a time crunch so severe that they may not have had the time to acquaint themselves with the then-current SF offerings? If they had, the SF sides of their stories might have read vastly different.

But editors played a role here as well. I’m going to quote author Marilynn Byerly, who commented about the subject during my previous post:

“Most romance editors knew nothing about science fiction so they couldn’t spot the problems, and they were absolutely certain that a romance reader wouldn’t understand most of the tropes of sf or the concept that a romance could be about an idea in the same way as a sf novel can.”

Other perceived flaws actually have nothing to do with the fact that it was a futuristic romance, and everything to do with impoverished craft. For example:

* Purple prose

* Over reliance on romance stereotypes & tropes (Alpha space pirate heroes; bland or naive heroines); forced seduction.

* Poor plotting—the problem in some stories was not the SF-as-backdrop, but the plot is a backdrop or afterthought. Still scratching my head over that one.

* The over dependence on complications instead of honest-to-goodness conflict. I can enjoy MARS ATTACKS scenarios or the heroine’s romance with an otherworldly barbarian, but nothing makes me snooze faster than a series of boring, easily resolved complications that don’t amount to a hill of beans. Without convincing conflict, the various tensions (emotional, sexual, psychological) suffered by a landslide.

Taste is very subjective, but it’s often an unspoken agreement among many readers who draw the line at some point when it comes to quality prose, story structure, and characterization. I mean, some of the aspects we enjoy about these books could also be considered some of the worst offenders when it comes to truly speculative fiction.

Somewhere along the way, futuristic romances jumped the shark. Somehow, they managed to lose not just potential science fiction readers, but loyal romance readers as well. Instead of firing up a bold new trend, futuristic romances almost suffered the fate of the dinosaurs. The reasons may be even more complicated than those I’ve laid out above.

Are there lessons to be learned here? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Written on

Futuristic Romance Retrospective, Part I: The Pioneers

Though the evolution of science fiction romance as a distinct subgenre has its roots in fan fiction stories about Spock in love, the futuristic romances that emerged in the 1980s represented a mainstream acceptance for tales blending SF and romance. (“Futuristic romance” being the predecessor of “science fiction romance”). While romantic SF was nothing new at the time, character driven SF stories with a heavy emphasis on the romance arc from traditional print publishers were.

As legend goes, the first official futuristic romance was SWEET STARFIRE (1986) by Jayne Ann Krentz. This trailblazing story presented readers with a tale of swashbuckling adventures among the stars, anchored by a tender romance. SWEET STARFIRE arrived at a time when single title books had become increasingly available, providing authors with more opportunities to stretch their creative wings.

SWEET STARFIRE kicked off a trend that stretched from the mid-1980s to approximately the late 1990s. Some classic reads include:

Jayne Ann Krentz’s SWEET STARFIRE & SHIELD’S LADY (writing as Amanda Glass)
Dara Joy’s “Matrix of Destiny” series: KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS, REJAR, & MINE TO TAKE
Johanna Lindsey’s WARRIOR’S WOMAN
Justine Davis’ LORD OF THE STORM & THE SKYPIRATE
Janice Tarantino’s THE CRYSTAL PROPHECY
Christine Michels’s IN DESTINY’S ARMS

For more information about these and other authors from the 80s and 90s, you can click on each author’s name in the list to your left and check out their Web sites.




There’s a lot to celebrate about these pioneering books. Mainstream acceptance of the subgenre, as mentioned above, is one. Stories blending SF and romance haven’t been big sellers the way historicals or contemporaries have been, but at least they had a seat or two at the table.

Also, readers who love science fictional settings but craved more access to the inner musings of the hero and heroine could have both in one convenient package. Romance readers who craved a sense of wonder in their stories suddenly had access to romances against the backdrop of exotic new worlds and technologies (think STAR WARS for the romance crowd).

Other folks may feel differently, but in addition to the unabashedly romantic appeal of futuristic romances from this time period, I enjoy them for another reason: the camp factor. Camp as in the Roger Corman films of the 1960s—fare like A BUCKET OF BLOOD, which are clearly low budget but strive to entertain despite those limitations and convey an endearing earnestness despite any flaws.

After all, every book shouldn't have its eye set on conquering the erudite heights of ULYSSES; a little literary comfort food is fine, too.

From wildly fantastical worlds and creatures to the telenovela style romances and hawt sex scenes, old school futuristic romances deliver a unique brand of entertainment that’s also an interesting time capsule of the decades in which they were written.

Plus, these books were packaged, in retrospect, in a decidedly retro way. It’s intriguing how so many covers from this era almost completely edge out the SF elements, as if to riotously assert the existence of love and romance in the future through bold, classic clinch covers, splashy colors, and overtly romanticized titles.

I applaud the work of authors who first ventured into this subgenre for a mainstream readership. It ain’t easy gaining ground in science fiction’s turf (even for SF writers!), and it ain’t easy luring uninitiated romance readers into strange new worlds. Indeed, tales that celebrate romance front and center in science fiction are infinitely worthy of our speculation.

Later this week we’ll chug along deeper into the territory of these futuristic romance predecessors to explore their impact on the subgenre, but now it’s time to celebrate them with a giveaway!

Tell your friends! Tell your plants! Tell your friends' plants! Just by leaving a comment for this post, one lucky passenger will win all five of the following books:

THE WHITE SUN by Stobie Piel
STARLIGHT, STARBRIGHT by Saranne Dawson
SOMEWHERE MY LOVE by Karen Fox
THE DAWN STAR by Stobie Piel
STAR CRASH by Elysa Hendricks

2/3/09--Fab update!

HOPE'S FOLLY author Linnea Sinclair is contributing three futuristic romances for the giveaway (gently used) PLUS she will also give the winner one of her books! Here are the titles:

TO TOUCH THE STARS by Tess Mallory
NIGHTHAWK by Kristen Kyle
FIRESTARTER by Kathleen Morgan

So that's a total of 9 free books for your reading pleasure! Thanks, Linnea!

The deadline for entering is midnight on Friday, February 6, 2009 (contest limited to U.S. residents). The lucky winner will be announced on Saturday.

To get the ball rolling, do you have a favorite pioneer futuristic romance? If so, share the love! If you’re an author, is there a pioneering scribe who influenced your work?

Joyfully yours,

Heather