Sunday, August 30, 2009

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EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (And Other Deep Thoughts)

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASYEARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)…whoa, Nellie! 1988?! Has it really been over 20 years? Ouch.

I watched this film just one time, right after it first hit home video. As a result, my memory is as fuzzy as the fur on the aliens in that flick. At the time, I felt obligated to see it as an SF fan, more so than from any real interest. I recall it as a roller coaster of sexy, campy fun, and to the film’s credit, it didn’t aspire to anything more. (What do you expect from something based on a Julie Brown song—80s high-concept or a New Wave MACBETH?)

For the uninitiated, the basic plot doesn't exactly aspire to rival Lars von Trier: “A spaceship with three furry aliens lands in a California girl's swimming pool, so she makes friends with them.”

Yep, that pretty much covers it.



Now when it comes to films like EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, you either go along for the ride or just fuhgetaboutit. There’s almost nothing to poke fun at because the film pokes fun at itself. It’s almost pointless to criticize such lowbrow fare—no matter how titillating the neon pop of late 80s fashion, but regardless, I did have one beef with EGAE:

The aliens, Mac (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey), and Zeebo (Daman Wayans) were only deemed attractive after stylist Candy (Julie Brown) removed their fur. It bothered me when I first watched the film, and a story I’ve been reading reminded me of it again.

But I must detour for a moment to gush over Jeff Goldblum. He was hot, hot HOT in this film. Volcanically hot. The man is an Adonis. The shallow side of me cheered in full pom-pom mode at the unveiling of his luscious bod. Let’s feast our eyes for a moment:

Jeff Goldblum Earth Girls


Okay, that was lovely, but now back to our show. At the risk of reading too much into EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, it seems as though the homogenization & humanization of the three aliens symbolizes our deep-seated fear of the alien “other.” The film is a comedy yet it openly (but not deeply) explored that issue. The film tells us that bonding with a humanoid alien is kosher as long as they look exactly like us. For all we know, they had pink-colored blood or three hearts, but what mattered most was their outward appearance.

(As an aside, I heard that the Fox studio suits asked James Cameron to tone down the aliens in AVATAR in order to make them appear more human. Needless to say, Cameron won that particular battle. Thank goodness.)

On a related note, earlier this year I read Ann Somerville’s e-novella ON WINGS, RISING and I’m currently reading REACHING HIGHER. Both m/m stories are sensitive explorations of falling in love with an alien although I hesitate to even describe the characters with such a loaded term since the Angels are actually a race of telepathic winged humanoids. And yes, they have fur. Back, Candy, back!

Unlike the goofy, 4th grader rendering of otherworldly beings in EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, Ms. Somerville takes the idea of interspecies love dead seriously. The portrayal is quite tender, and her detailed prose celebrates the Angels’ fierce beauty as well as their otherness. They become as seductive for the reader as they are to the human characters. Given the realism in these stories, it’d be horrifying to think about stripping these characters of their fur or molding them to some narcissistic version of ourselves.

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY and the work of Ann Somerville represent two vastly different ways science fiction romance can depict interspecies love. Both show it can be done convincingly, albeit along wildly divergent paths.

What the film and Ms. Somerville’s stories also address is the issue of what constitutes attractiveness in a mate for the characters. I can wax poetic about Mac’s handsomeness but at the same time, I must question the assumption that his furred appearance is less beautiful than his non-furred state. Yet the “Earth Girls” found them attractive without fur so I have to accept that. It’s not a big stretch since the movie taps into my cultural expectations.

On the other hand, in a story such as ON WINGS, RISING, the author challenged me to put aside my sense of ideal beauty and suspend my disbelief regarding what the hero/hero thinks is ideal. Because it’s his romance, after all.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Saturday, August 29, 2009

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Stories in Purgatory

MephistoClose to three years ago, I read an unpublished manuscript written by a friend I met through an online writing community. It had a fantastic premise and was loads of fun. A publisher would probably consider it YA, but I consider it YA SFR. Lots of comic-book style action, a sweet romance, and a unique coming-of-age tale.

My friend eventually landed an agent, albeit with another manuscript. The agent, however, agreed to take a look at her YA manuscript. I helped out with another read to provide feedback before it went on submission. I’ve probably read the story maybe three times now, and it still felt fresh and fun. We were both excited at the prospect of her selling this project. I just knew the cover was going to be fabulous. I was looking forward to featuring the book at The Galaxy Express.

But then the unthinkable happened.

My friend had to fire her agent. The agent stopped returning emails, and obviously lost interest in not only this YA project but also the other manuscripts she’d been submitting. Now my friend will have to start looking for an agent all over again (the first round took her over ten years). What’s frustrating is that she’s a prolific writer who is open to revisions. I lost track of how many she did for her former agent.

I’m really in a funk over it. But not just that. About two years ago, I read part of a rough draft of a romance for another writer friend, and even in its nascent form, the writing and story popped. She moved on from that story, but wrote others. Earlier this week, I learned that one of them was turned down by a publisher whose style and preferences she had carefully studied. Okay, so that’s the nature of the biz, but it still stinks.

On top of that, another friend, a screenwriter, came "thisclose" a couple weeks ago to landing several million dollars to fund the production of a script he had written. I’d read it—and also loved it (trust me, it's good and commercial!). Then the funding all fell through at the last minute. To be clear: my friend would not have made a million dollars. Far from it. But it would have been a very healthy amount and the start to a promising career.

Yeah, it’d be fair to say that in all of these cases I’m biased, but I can’t see any compelling reason that these projects couldn’t be published/produced. This doesn’t even count the SFR stories I know of that have yet to find a home. It’s on my mind since all of the above happened within weeks of each other.

I haven’t stopped to analyze the issue completely, but for years I’ve gone through spells where I mourn the books I may never get to read, or the films/TV shows I’ll never get to watch. Or there are stories that make me go, “I wish I could read/watch more of that.” I should never say never, but on the other hand, reality is reality.

This isn’t to say that I’m not grateful for all the wonderful books/movies already in existence. In fact, I’ve got a nice fat list of books I’m getting ready to purchase, and my DVD collection is overflowing. And goodness knows, there are more important things to worry about.

At any rate, the most frustrating aspect is to have knowledge of projects that are full of promise, and yet all I can do is watch in vain as they hit a brick wall. Then I get cranky thinking about the risk factors in the publishing and film industries and how that creates a barrier between me and my entertainment.

On the bright side, all of the writers mentioned above are the persevering types. I’m going to stay positive and predict that within the next few years, I will be able to not just blog about their success, but shout it out to the stars.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, August 27, 2009

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The Romance Heroine is Not a Side Dish

Regarding Love Romance Passion’s recent post, 6 Reasons Why the Paranormal Character is Always Male, I was intrigued by Keira's reason #2:

Strong powerful hero + average heroine = swoon. When an extraordinary specimen of the male gender sits up and takes notice of a rather ordinary female it is easier to place ourselves in the heroine’s shoes. That’s not because we think of ourselves as unworthy, this formula just makes it more accessible for readers. This scenario also tends to fill the tenderness and protectiveness side of the fantasy.”

Keira's explanation prompted a lot of reflection on my part. I appreciate her break down because it, along with other online discussions I’ve seen, clarifies what the romance heroine means for many readers: that of blank template so the reader can imagine herself as the heroine.

I’m no exception to this function as I’ve read romances where the heroine becomes all but invisible, and I process the story in terms of what it’d be like to interact with the hero on the page before me. I’m referring to stories where the character development is clearly skewed in favor of the hero (because if a heroine is “average” or “ordinary,” what is there to develop?).

Frankly, I’m torn about this issue. I can understand the appeal, but on the other hand, I think it does a great disservice to heroines that otherwise might have been portrayed with a lot more personality and depth.


I think this “average heroine” template works better in some genres than in others. I can easily slip into the fantasy if I’m reading a paranormal or historical romance. Not so much if I’m reading science fiction romance or romantic suspense. In fact, my expectation for SFR is that the heroine is going to be just as flashy and filling as the hero, if not more so in some stories.

I certainly appreciate the challenge of rendering both an extraordinary hero and extraordinary heroine with equal measure. How does one compete with a suave vampire or glamorous space pirate heroine? The hero and heroine shouldn’t necessarily be competing with each other for the reader’s attention—or should they?

To be clear, I have a preference for heroines in SFR to have the “special” qualities, or at least special qualities that rival those of the heroes. I love anti-heroines, for example. I’m excited about the endless possibilities for heroines in SFR. Quite frankly, I don’t want them to be average heroines. I want to experience the heroine’s adventures along with her; I don’t want to be her. I envision these heroines as a living, breathing person—someone separate from me, not an excuse for me to fantasize about falling in love with a dashing starship captain.

I recently finished Susan Kearney’s THE QUEST and the heroine is the captain of her own salvage ship. Boo-yah! The hero’s special quality was his psi ability. Both had something unique, strong, and powerful to bring to the relationship, and neither overshadowed the other (though I ultimately thought it was the heroine’s arc that stood out).

Many recent SFR heroines are exceptional and so perhaps my fear is that the trend won’t continue, or that it will fall victim to marketing departments that are only interested in pimping selling the "blank template heroine" to readers. I admit I have trouble relating to the desire for this fantasy in book after book after book, even as I’ve slipped into that mindset in the past.

I just want to feel as passionate about the heroines as the heroes…is that so wrong?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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Of Robots, Androids, and Cyborgs...

A recent exchange with TGE passenger BevBB (Bev’s Books) made me realize that I was overdue for a post about robots, androids and cyborgs—namely, a handy guide to these wonders of futuristic engineering.

Immersed as I’ve been in the culture of SF, I sometimes forget how perplexing many of the genre’s tropes can appear to the uninitiated. Therefore, I reasoned that readers new to science fiction romance might have an easier time with the learning curve if there are references available.


Astro Boy


With that in mind, I compiled basic information about robots, androids, and cyborgs. These kinds of characters are pretty ubiquitous in SF/SFR, but the distinctions between them can get pretty complicated.

Here’s the lowdown:

Robot—“…an electro-mechanical machine which is guided by computer or electronic programming.”

Droid—“Droids are robots seen in STAR WARS, DOCTOR WHO, and BEN 10 and is a registered trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd.”

Android—“An android is a robot or synthetic organism designed to look and act like a human.”

Cyborg/biomechanoid—A being who is a “synthesis of organic and synthetic parts.”

Roy Batty


Replicant—“…a bioengineered or biorobotic being created in the film BLADE RUNNER (1982).”

Automaton—steampunk robot or android. Automatons are powered by steam, electricity, or clockwork mechanisms. (Did you know…the term "android" appears in US patents as early as 1863 in reference to miniature humanlike toy automations? Holy rivets & dirigibles, Batman! If that’s not a steampunk romance in the making, I don’t know what is!!)

In science fiction, “Authors have used the term android in more diverse ways than robot or cyborg. In some fictional works, the difference between a robot and android is only their appearance, with androids being made to look like humans on the outside but with robot-like internal mechanics. In other stories, authors have used the word 'android' to mean a wholly organic, yet artificial, creation. Other fictional depictions of androids fall somewhere in between."

Another factor related to the nature of robots, androids, and cyborgs is that of artificial intelligence. Science fiction associates…AI with such human traits as consciousness, sentience, sapience and self-awareness. There are loads of stories about androids evolving to the point of sentience, usually involving an exploration of the consequences/implications.

Frequently—and confusingly—a robot or android character seems to be sentient, but it’s actually an anthropomorphic device in play. Sometimes this device is used to good effect; other times it’s just annoying (case in point: Twiki from BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY, Rosie the maid from THE JETSONS,Vicki from SMALL WONDER).

Below is a sampling of who’s what from some popular SF shows and films:

Metropolis


Maria (METROPOLIS (1927))—robot

Annihilants (FLASH GORDON)—robots

Data (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION)—android

Borg Queen


The Borg (STAR TREK: TNG)—cyborgs

R2D2 & C-3PO (STAR WARS)—robots

Analyzer (SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO)—robot

Cylons (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA)—

“The Cylons of the 1978/1980 series are…an advanced reptilian race who created the robots (who were referred to as Cylons within the show) to serve them, maintain their vast empire and to man their military forces in the face of a sudden population drop that eventually led to the Cylons' extinction…”

In the updated [2003] version, the Cylons were created by humans as cybernetic workers and soldiers…the reimagined series includes twelve Cylon models that are nearly indistinguishable from human beings…Much of the Cylons' technology is based heavily on bioengineering and/or synthetic biology rather than conventional robotics.

Daleks

Daleks (DOCTOR WHO)—“…organisms from the planet Skaro, integrated within a tank-like mechanical casing.

Bishop (ALIENS)—android

The above is barely the tip of the robotic iceberg.

For a handy big-ass reference, you can also check out Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of fictional robots and androids. Warning: it’s highly addictive.

If you’re hungry to taste some android/cyborg lovin’ right now, check out Catherine Asaro’s SUNRISE ALLEY and its sequel, ALPHA, Linnea Sinclair’s GAMES OF COMMAND, and Tanith Lee’s SILVER METAL LOVER. (Special mention: Susan Kearney’s THE QUEST includes biomechanoid villains!)

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Monday, August 24, 2009

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The Coming eBook Explosion [Updated 8-25]

Sony ereaderThe CleanTech Group recently announced their projections on the carbon footprint of electronic books vs. regular “treeware” paperbacks. Coming as no surprise, the eBook readers win out here (danke to MobileRead for the heads up).

But that’s not the purpose of this post.

They also announced a slew of statistics that I found interesting—namely how many units have been sold in the U.S. and the projected sales in the next years. In short, they expect a lot of people out there to join the ebook revolution. A lot.

If these projections turn out to be only half right, this could dramatically boost niche genres like science fiction romance.

How many have been sold to date? CleanTech states:

e-readers are still a niche technology, with a little more than 1 million units sold to date.

Slightly over one million…? Not bad for this nascent tech, especially when you factor in the extended economic gloom we’ve experienced. So what about the Kindle…?

Amazon typically holds its cards close to its chest, refusing to release concrete sales numbers of its device even to shareholders. But according to CleanTech:

In the United States, Amazon currently holds a 45 percent market share of e-reader devices, with one main competitor Sony trailing at 30 percent.

Hmm, Amazon is fighting hard to “own the brand” of eBooks, and they’re clearly winning that battle to some degree. Many people now refer to every standalone ereader device as a “Kindle”—be it a Sony Portable Reader, iRex iLiad, or Bookeen Cybook. (It’s the same with every MP3 player being an “iPod,” regardless of whether it’s from Apple or not.)

Okay, this is all fine and interesting. But here comes the article’s real revelation:

Continuing in the CleanTech report, they also postulate that combined eBook hardware sales could reach up “to 14.4 million in 2012” [emphasis mine].

14.4 million eBook readers sold! Hmm, now achieving that number in a little over three years does sound a little optimistic to me. But even if that figure only conservatively climbs to ~65% of that by 2012, we can still expect to see slew of new eBook devices out in the hands of readers.

And new hardware demands new software—or in this case, new ebooks.

Headless EyesYou see where I’m going with this. Just how the VHS explosion in the mid-80s drove every wacky movie ever made to store shelves—just because new VCR owners needed food for their machines—this technology could provide just the tipping point SFR needs.

What are your thoughts on this? If HEADLESS EYES (yes, this is a real movie) can see a release through the late, lamented Wizard Video (with their extra large VHS boxes and gory as hecka-heck cover art), shouldn’t we expect mainstream SFR stories to start popping up more and more?

And speaking of....

Looking for a home for your manuscript? Quartet Press wants your SFR! The newest romance epublisher is launching a sub-imprint devoted to “…fantasy/science fiction/urban fantasy with romantic elements” according to editorial director Angela James. Ms. James also stated that “We’ll be targeting some extra marketing efforts at these sub-imprints as we get going because I think there’s a place for both in the digital world.”

Also, Red Sage is seeking novel-length manuscripts and will consider SFR. Editor Sasha Knight of Samhain recently tweeted that she’s looking for more futuristic romances to build her list.

Hmm, I think we’re onto something here! Thoughts…?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

UPDATE: Sony has just announced three new Readers today. One has 3G wireless capabilities and allows you to check out ebooks through local libraries. At $400, that model is definitely pricey, but a cool concept in motion nonetheless. You can read all about the new editions here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

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Laurie Green's P2PC a Finalist in Two Contests

Skiffy Rommer Laurie Green of Spacefreighters' Lounge shared some exciting news with me today. Her science fiction romance manuscript, P2PC, is a finalist in two separate writing contests. One is from the Utah RWA Heart of the West (paranomral category), and the other is with the Southwest Writers (SWW) SF/Fantasy/Horror category.

Congratulations, Laurie! Fingers crossed for you.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


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RT Book Reviews' SFR Feature

Can I get a "Squee!"? (Or maybe three?) RT Book Reviews is going to present a feature on science fiction romance in October 2009. Here's the teaser from the Web site ("Coming Next Month"):

SCI-FI ROMANCE
The current recession is leading to rising sales in romance and sci-fi novels; will this hybrid genre be the next big thing?


I can't wait to see what they have in store. I know of a few authors who have participated in interviews for the spotlight. Hats off to you, RT Book Reviews, for your continued support of SFR.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, August 20, 2009

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DEFYING GRAVITY: Has SFR Landed on Network TV?

Defying Gravity


Ever since I was a child, I’ve cried during pivotal scenes from films and television shows. This habit was like catnip or fish bait to my two younger brothers who endlessly teased me over it. During family movie nights, tears would roll down my face during the emotionally wrenching climax of whatever film we’d be viewing. Then I’d hear the unmistakably sound of mock sniffling from the other side of the couch. Followed by bursts of laughter.

Well, my brothers have grown up, but other things never change.

Several nights ago, I watched the pilot episode of DEFYING GRAVITY on hulu.com. I’d heard about the show from Laurie Green, proprietor of Spacefreighters’ Lounge. And since she helped turn me on to Sandra McDonald’s terrific THE OUTBACK STARS, I sat up and listened when she blogged that “…DEFYING GRAVITY is science fiction romance….Four men, four women, and a six-year mystery mission in space....”

Now, even with Laurie’s stamp of approval, I had my doubts. Because of the potential time investment, I’m very picky about my television shows. If I do start a series, nine-and-a-half times out of ten I’ll choose an SF show if one’s airing. (I made an exception for ENTOURAGE, but with Ari Gold in the house, who wouldn’t?!) But televised SF doesn’t always deliver. Or sometimes it’s not there to watch at all.

In The Great Sci-Fi Divide: Why don’t we want science fiction on TV?, there were many insightful comments about why there aren’t more SF shows. Here are a few I culled together:

• Budget considerations/inferior quality because of lower budgets
• Competing mediums: SF fans obtain their SF from other sources (e.g., Hulu, DVD)
• TV series are often canceled before they end, resulting in viewer mistrust
• SF is considered too complex for TV, which is seen as a form of mindless escapism (which speaks to a marketing issue since SF films are frequently positioned as action movies)
• The mythology/speculative elements overshadows the characters
• Multi-episode story arcs alienates viewers who haven’t watched from day one
• Advertisers will only support what they perceive the “typical” viewer wants
• Large-scale, epic stories don’t always translate to the small screen (exceptions: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STAR TREK)

There were other reasons cited for the so-called divide, and in truth, they all probably play a part. Even though I’m always happy to hear about a new SF show, there’s always the possibility that the negatives will outweigh the positives. So why did DEFYING GRAVITY leave me in tears when I watched the pilot?

I enjoyed it. A lot. The tight focus on the characters and their emotions really got to me. I didn’t cry through the whole episode (because boy, would my brothers have a field day with that, even now). The part that started the waterworks was the montage scene toward the end with the angst-driven song. I couldn’t tell you the name, but it’s been in my head for days.

The production values worked for me. Especially since I was fresh off of an episode of SPACE: 1999, I was impressed with how far television has come in depicting spaceships and their accessories. The near future setting was refreshing. The bit with the nano suits and how the writers worked in explaining them was very inspired, and made for very accessible SF.

From the acting to the writing to the cinematography, there was plenty to enjoy. I especially liked that last shot, where we discover that Ajay placed the you-know-what on the hull. Come to think of it, I shed a few tears over that scene as well.

DEFYING GRAVITY is not a perfect show. I would have liked to see a few harder science fictional elements (but this is network television after all. Le sigh). I thought the writing could have been stronger, and some of the relationship dynamics played out along rather predictable lines.

But there’s enough present that I could commit for the long haul if the show found a stronger overall voice. DEFYING GRAVITY could succeed if it stayed focused on character driven stories, used a limited number of settings (e.g, Mission Control, the Antares), and delivered content via smaller scale, standalone episodes. As Laurie noted, it certainly has a strong science fiction romance flavor, probably more than any other SF television shows that have preceded it.

In this review, Todd VanDerWerff noted:

Theoretically, a space-set workplace soap opera could work and work really well. There’s been enough Star Trek slash-fiction over the years to suggest there’s a vocal contingent of sci-fi fans who might really like that, and there’s something refreshing about the idea that having weightless sex in the cockpit could send the craft hurtling into the sun if you’re not careful (or something).

Overall, I believe DEFYING GRAVITY is a step in the right direction for SFR on television. I wonder where we’ll leap to next….

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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SF With Romantic Elements: A Sampler

GalaxiesWhen I blogged about Kissing Cousins: Japanese SF and Science Fiction Romance, Sissy Pantelis—author and co-editor of the French SF magazine Galaxies—shared mucho delicioso information about a number of SF short stories with romantic elements. I didn’t want this information to be lost among the comments, so I did a little googling here, a little rearranging there, and am listing the information here for future reference.

I figured it’d make a good resource for those times when we might be in a position to find such stories, like trips to bookstores or conventions. But if you can’t wait that long, there are a few free stories you can enjoy right now.

I cut and pasted Ms. Pantelis’ commentaries in their entirety for the most part. My additional observations/additions are bracketed.

Sally forth and discover what might be to your liking:

Will McIntosh (his short stories appeared in Interzone, Black Static, Strange Horizons [links you straight to his stories], Asimov's,....). Romance has a central place in Will McIntosh's stories…Soft Apocalypse [review], Unlikely [free podcast of the story], & Bridesicle.

[...Unlikely is a story about how injuries and accidents are decreased within a community when a certain guy and girl are in close proximity with each other. Is it fate or is it a statistical anomaly?]

[The "Bridesicle" in Will McIntosh's story is a woman named Mira who has been cryogenically frozen after "dying" in an auto accident. She is revived for a "date" by men who are considering spending a lot of money to repair and revive her so that they could marry her. This isn't an easy set-up for Mira and she must find a way not to be "killed" again when she doesn't satisfy a prospective husband. This was a very touching story and well-worth reading.]

Year's Best Science FictionBruce Sterling's "The Blemmye's Strategem" published in Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection (2006).

[When I did a search of the title, I found this comment:

One of the best SF stories I have read is Bruce Sterling’s ” The Blimmey’s Strategy”(reprinted in the Best SF of 2005 if I am not wrong). There is this nun who is a genius in business;a chief of the order of the assassins who is a poet and a romantic; a rather kind alien who is in love with a disgusting creature, the love story between them being as moving as Romeo and Juliet of Shakespeare.

An alien in love with a “disgusting creature”?! That is just so cool! I want to know more….]

Year's Best 6British SF writer Chris Beckett’s "The Marriage of Sky and Sea" (romance is very important as the main hero changes when he falls in love with a woman from one of the worlds he explores.) [This story first appeared in Interzone, March 2000, and was “reprinted in "Year's Best SF 6", edited by David Hartwell and published by Harper Eos, 2001.” Here’s a review.]

THE BELOVED OF MY BELOVED by Ian Watson and Italian surrealist SF writer Roberto Quaglia. The stories in this book are erotic, inventive, original at the point of view of SF. There is true romance associated in inventive SF, especially in two stories of the book: "The Grave of my Beloved", a very beautiful love story that I considered as a masterpiece. And "The Beloved Time of their Lives" is considered as one of the most beautiful and romantic story in the book…. [Here is] Eric Brown's review in The Guardian.

Thanks again, Ms. Pantelis!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, August 16, 2009

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Heroine Pilots in SF: Too Many or Not Enough?

Marianne de Pierres Dark SpaceIn a review last year at Calico Reaction of Marianne de Pierres’ DARK SPACE: BOOK 1 OF THE SENTIENTS OF ORION, blogger Shara Saunsaucie White states the following while setting up the book’s premise:

“…Baronessa Mira Fedor is on the run after she learns that her innate, inborn talent to fly ships (really? ANOTHER ONE? What IS it with women writers and this particular device?***) is going to be stolen from her.”

And here’s the footnote:

“*** = Not that I haven't enjoyed the ones I've read. But I never paid attention to this plot device until someone told me how overused it was when Grimspace was released, and then I realized that Catherine Asaro uses it, as does Kristin Landon, and now I see it everywhere. Every time I consider an SF written by a woman, it uses this device…at this point in my reading, I'm finding it a cliched convention.”

I thought it fascinating that the three authors Ms. White referenced were ones who write SFR. But are heroines with the innate ability to pilot starships really such a cliché? Already?

Aguirre DoubleblindColor me blissfully indifferent, but I didn’t see the connection between the heroines in the books of Asaro, Aguirre, and Landon until Ms. White pointed it out (I came across the review of DARK SPACE a few months ago). I’m bemused by the connection more than anything, especially since I read a number of the books in question within the same year. Perhaps it’s just a case of one reader’s pet peeve, or simple odd coincidence to read about similarly enhanced heroines several times in a row.

But I do wonder: Are these heroines any different from all the heroes with the same ability? After all, in the stories of the authors noted above, both male and female characters possess such talents (even if only in passing reference). Why does it become a plot device when heroines across several books share a similar ability?

My feeling is that it’s not so much of a plot device as a case of heroines playing catch up when it comes to the roles traditionally cast with heroes. In SF, authors such as de Pierres, Asaro, et. al. are simply leveling the playing field.

If male authors are writing these characters, I haven’t encountered them (but I’d love to know about such books). Which begs the question, why aren’t men writing these characters? And if they were, would it be a plot device then?

Well, I don’t know if I care about the answers to those last two questions. Let the guys do what they want. Women authors are taking charge with these types of heroines and I say go for it, no matter how many we end up with.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Saturday, August 15, 2009

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Cover for Katie MacAlister's STEAMED

Check out the steampunkalicious cover for Katie MacAlister's forthcoming novel STEAMED. Here's the set up:

Jack Fletcher's heart is about to get punked.

Computer technician Jack Fletcher is no hero, despite his unwelcome reputation as one. In fact, he's just been the victim of bizarre circumstances. Like now. His sister happens to disturb one of his nanoelectromechanical system experiments, and now they aren't where they're supposed to be. In fact, they're not sure where they are when…

…they wake up to see a woman with the reddest hair Jack has ever seen-and a gun. Octavia Pye is an Aerocorps captain with a whole lot of secrets, and she's not about to see her maiden voyage ruined by stowaways. But the sparks flying between her and Jack just may cause her airship to combust and ignite a passion that will forever change the world as she knows it…

Airships, huh? Sweet.




Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, August 13, 2009

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Guest Blogging at Love Romance Passion

Love Romance Passion is a romance review blog, but there's lots of other goodies such as author interviews, in-depth articles, and industry news. Blog mistress Keira invited me to guest blog about SFR and I couldn't have been more delighted.

Come on over to read Defining the Genre: Science Fiction Romance.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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Extreme Makeover: CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG

I have a strong attachment to the films and television shows of my youth.

Recently, I had the opportunity to re-watch CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. To my recollection, I’d only seen the film once, with vague memories about it since. But I knew it had neat-o steampunk elements. It had romance. It had Dick Van Dyke. So, I pop the disc in the player and hit ye olde play button.

That’s when youthful nostalgia collided head on with grownup reality.

I wanted to really enjoy seeing this film again. Really. But it has so many flaws. It was a chore to finish it. I can’t imagine how it captured the attention of any child, no matter how vast her attention span, back in the day.

And now, with apologies to fans everywhere, I must be the bearer of sad news: CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG is just a really bad movie.

For one thing, Chitty Chitty herself has nothing to do. She’s the star of the show, but keeps getting shunted aside by yawn-inducing musical numbers. They were clearly just padding. Even the titular theme song sucks. If I had been that car, I’d have had my agent pull me out of the deal on the first day of shooting.

What’s with the whole storytelling sequence? Structurally, it was a very strange tangent. It dulled any sense of danger or tension because within the context of the film, it was all make believe.

Villains? Weak. And far too many of them. (The fact that this story is geared toward children is no excuse for such a scatter-brained approach). The only standout villain was the Child Catcher played by Robert Helpmann. Even the presence of Benny Hill as the Toymaker wasn’t enough to save this film’s sorry ass.

So how could this film be salvaged?

First, a little background.

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968) was based on the children’s book CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG: THE MAGICAL CAR (1964) by Ian Fleming (as in Bond. James Bond. Goldfinger’s in the movie, too). It starred Dick Van Dyke as smokin’ hot inventor Caractacus Potts and Sally Ann Howes as the deliciously named love interest, Truly Scrumptious.

Fleming in turn was inspired by “Chitty Bang Bang,” which “…was the informal name of a number of celebrated English racing cars, built and raced by Count Louis Zborowski and his engineer Clive Gallop in the 1920s...”.

I was also surprised to discover that one of the screenwriters was Roald Dahl (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY).

The basic plotline is as follows: An eccentric professor invents wacky machinery, but can't seem to make ends meet. When he invents a revolutionary car, a foreign government becomes interested in it, and resorts to skullduggery to get their hands on it.

Here’s the trailer:




Despite such high pedigrees among the cast and crew behind CCBB, director Ken Hughes reportedly hated the finished film. Well, buddy, I feel your pain. This is a classic example of when a bad film happens to a good premise. Instead of Hollywood focusing on unnecessary remakes (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, the upcoming MAD MAX redux), why not salvage a story that has proven its timeless potential despite the 1968 celluloid catastrophe?

Therefore, I present an Extreme Makeover for CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG:

The Plot

It needs a complete overhaul. First, trash the godawful musical numbers. Trust me, you won’t miss them. The soundtrack needs to be much more somber. In fact, I recommend darkening the film’s overall tone.

I enjoyed the story’s prologue—that Chitty was a race car nearly destroyed in an accident. Let’s even retain the “found treasure” aspect that brings the car into Potts’ possession. That said, Chitty needs a lot more steampunk elements. She can still transform into a boat and also fly, but I want to see other infernal devices as well.

We need to ditch the storytelling sequences and give this film a more linear plot. Potts discovers Chitty and rebuilds her. Potts loses Chitty. Sexual tension develops between the hero and heroine. Potts, Truly Scrumptious, and Chitty overthrow villain. The End. Oh, and I suppose the kids can stay in the picture.

The Hero

Did I mention how smokin’ hot Dick Van Dyke was in this film? I almost hate to mess with success in this regard. The newer version would call for an inventor that was a little less bumble and more angst. I’d also give him more sophisticated inventions. Does anyone really remember what his food-cooking machine made? Exactly.

The Heroine

Truly Scrumptious will no longer be relegated to simple love interest. Instead of being the daughter of the candy factory tycoon, she will be the tycoon. Throw in flirtatious bantering, a few smoldering looks, and a Big Misunderstanding to sweeten the pot.

The Villain

I learned about this trivia from the Internet Movie Database: “Helpmann's character [The Child Catcher] has often been named as one of the scariest characters ever to be brought on screen.” Now, I wouldn’t go that far, but he was definitely solid villain material. I recommend expanding his role to make him the sole villain of the story. Drop the child catcher angle and keep it simple: he’s out to steal Chitty for his own nefarious plan of world domination. He commands a fleet of airships and other mad steampunk wonders.

The Car

More airships, more battles, more Chitty. I don’t care how it’s done, but at some point in the remake, CCBB should battle the villain’s fleet of airships. I must see this scene before I die.

Chitty links:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Books & merchandise with several cool images)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (I’m sensing a pattern here. Anyway, this site contains in-depth information on the book, the film, and the musical).

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: My intent with this post is to rethink how a good concept could be remade into something better—not offend any members of the Chitty Chitty Fan Club, who I assume must be out there.

However, having said that, if you're one of the people who immediately think, "Hey, I LOVE that movie," I have to ask: When was the last time you saw it? There are films I loved as an 8 or 9-year-old that I would have a hard time sitting through now. This, as I just discovered, was one of them. I was pretty excited when I first found the DVD.

What about you? Any films that rocked your cinematic world in second grade, but turned out to be less than great later...?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

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My Interview at Writer & Cat

I invite you to sniff out my interview with Meankitty at Jody Wallace's blog, Writer & Cat.

The Cat from Outer Space


Purr, indeed!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, August 6, 2009

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Does Science Fiction Romance Need More Alpha Heroes?

ConanI’ve been thinking a lot lately about why science fiction romance lacks for more new romance readers. I have my doubts it’s the science fictional components. Rather, I’d argue there’s a stronger case that the lack of abundant Alpha heroes in the genre that cause it to fly under the radar.

Alpha heroes are present in virtually every romance subgenre (e.g., vampire, rake, business tycoon). In fact, the popularity of paranormal romances is practically synonymous with the Alpha vampire/shifter/demon heroes.

I have nothing against Alpha heroes per se. My concern is when it seems to define a genre/subgenre as a whole. In Paranormal Romance VS Urban Fantasy, Jordan Summers wrote:

"I also think that readers are moving to Paranormal Romances because the books are hero-centric…I think alphas lend themselves to paranormal romances.”

Which echoes SB Candy’s observation in On the role romance novels play that romances “…portray female fantasies, and most women-who-like-men want their fantasy men to be dangerous yet nurturing and protective.”

Then there’s this comment by AQ in response to the SB post:

“But are women in romance novels really the protagonists?

“On a percentage basis of the entire genre, my impression of current romance novels is that the heroes are primarily the protagonists while the heroines are the primary point of view character (or narrator) and that if the hero has a point of view that it’s been heavily filtered through a feminine narrator to fulfill the female fantasy aspect Candy mentioned above.

“The hero has generally has the major emotional character arc, the hero has the goals while the heroine tends to be reaction mode, the hero still is the one to primarily confront/defeat the villains (not always still talking percentage impression here). The heroine are generally victimized/traumaitized (romance tropes: fated mates, captive, blackmail/revenge, secret baby, etc.) Yes, the heroines survive and score moral victories but again these victories seem to be the result of reaction rather than action on the heroine’s part or through action by the hero. Hence my perception that the hero is generally the protagonist and not the heroine.”

I suspect that all of the above is why SFR hasn't found a larger audience yet. Ms. Summers goes on to state:

"But I believe now readers are looking for the fantasy (ie a strong male who’s willing to take charge, protect what’s his, and isn’t ashamed to say so)."

When I read that statement, I didn't see the hero-centric aspect. I saw the damsel in distress scenario. (And this isn't a response to Ms. Summers directly; it's my reflection on the issue at large.) With such diversity in the romance community, is this fantasy really so prevalent? Did vampires etc., tap into the ultimate damsel in distress fantasy?

In response to the My Paranormal Malaise post at Dear Author, Lisa Paitz Spindler asked:

"Why is it the paranormal character is so often the hero and not the heroine?"

Yeah, what's up with that?

Are readers looking for *the* fantasy or *a* fantasy that takes them through a wonderful romance, regardless of who's in charge? In the future, technology can be the great equalizer. I'd have a difficult time buying a big bad Alpha male taking charge and doing all of the protecting when the heroine has access to all kinds of advanced weaponry, or engineering/robotic feats at her disposal.

As Lisa pointed out when she sent me AQ’s comment, many stories in science fiction romance don’t subscribe to the hero-as-protagonist mode. In SFR, a heroine is just as likely to be the protagonist, or at least share top billing. And she’s just as likely to be an admiral, scientist, or space pirate.

One thing I love about SFR is that I get more variety—both hero-centric and heroine-centric stories. We can't strictly associate SFR as replete with Alpha heroes or as being hero-centric, yet these very aspects are both an appeal and a bane. Many readers like variety, but publishers need high concept stories that are easily repackaged over and over again.

SFR is not so easily repackaged. I've been wondering if readers who love Alpha male heroes can enjoy SFR heroes, who more often than not tend to be "good guys." The genre offers heroes who are strong yet not dominating (e.g., Admiral Philip Guthrie from Linnea Sinclair’s HOPE’S FOLLY, March from Ann Aguirre’s GRIMSPACE, and General Thomas Wharington from Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA).

What do you think? Can SFR attract new readers with stories that involve non-Alpha heroes, and wherein the heroine is the true protagonist? Or are romance readers in general too addicted to a certain type of fantasy?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: Thanks to Lisa Paitz Spindler & Alison for their contributions to this post.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

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Interview with Jess Granger, Author of BEYOND THE RAIN

Jess GrangerJess Granger is no stranger to all of us aboard The Galaxy Express. Today is the official release date of her debut science fiction romance novel BEYOND THE RAIN (Berkley Trade).

To celebrate the book’s release, Jess Granger is hosting Release Week Madness at her Butterfly Blog. She’s giving away a signed copy of her book to one lucky winner every day this week!

Today’s post is Meet Our Heroine. Check out the interview with her heroine Cyani and get your name into the hat for a chance to win.

Ms. Granger was also kind enough to participate in an interview. Read on!

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

Jess Granger: I think a lot of things inspired me to write science fiction romance. One of the main reasons I love writing in the genre is I discovered I really love world building. When I was younger, some of the earliest attempts at writing were more high fantasy. Now I’ve found I enjoy the more grounded nature of science fiction. Sure, using an energy converter to leap macrospace by cutting through dimensions might be just as much of a fantasy as casting a spell to influence the weather, but there’s something about that sort of world building that fascinates me.

I like it when things feel like they could be real. I also like looking up at the stars and imagining the universe as an endless possibility. Even with high fantasy, I’ve always tried to make the magic world mesh with Earth, then just felt disappointed when I figured it couldn’t really exist anywhere on the planet. I even felt that way about OZ when I was a little kid, and I still try to figure out where in the heck Middle Earth is supposed to be. Talk about frustrating.

When I can look up at the stars and believe that Azra is out there somewhere, it makes everything seem more tangible.

As far as romance goes, when I started writing, I knew I wanted to write romance. I’ve been a big fan of the genre since I was a teen. Romance is awesome, so I put the romance story arc front and center. I don’t see why the romantic arc ever needs to take a back seat.

TGE: Describe BEYOND THE RAIN in three words.

JG: Dark, emotional, and explosive.

TGE: What kind of research did you do for the story?

Beyond The RainJG: I turned to lessons I learned on cultural anthropology to help create some of the cultures in the story. For example, the Makkolen people are non-nomadic, and their fortified “cities” become like islands on the savannah. Genetic diversity is going to be in their cultural interest. Needless to say, “mixing things up” is an important part of their cultural heritage. Figuring out their marriage rituals, then trying to view those rituals through their eyes, instead of my cultural perception, was really entertaining.

I’ve watched a lot of documentaries on the early formation of the earth in prehistoric times to see how different chemical compositions of the atmosphere have influenced the climate of the Earth, and how tides and ocean currents can change weather patterns.

I also have a keen interest in animals, and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how a fox would evolve into an arboreal species, becoming more catlike, while retaining many of its canine qualities, or how a cat could become a true rainforest canopy dweller and efficient hunter.

So a lot of little tidbits went into my world building to try to make the worlds seem rich and real, but still something beyond our world.

TGE: Please share the story about your path to publication.

JG: I took a writing class to goof off my last quarter of college. I had to fill out my schedule, and it looked like fun. I’d always enjoyed writing. I had a great time, and other students were very encouraging. I came out of the class feeling like I had the glimmer of some sort of talent at this, even if I was severely lacking some basic skills.

I decided I wanted to try to write a romance novel, because making a career of this business seemed like a natural fit for me. I loved the genre, and I knew I had my best shot at breaking in to romance. That was back in 2000. Needless to say, it took me a while to break in to this market.

I wrote three shape-shifter full length novels. If I looked at them now, my face would probably melt like the dudes at the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. After realizing I had some learning to do, I practiced by writing fan fiction. It helped me get a handle on the basics, learn great pacing skills, and I honed my voice.

After that, I wrote a short novella for an e-pub. It was another historical shape-shifter story. When I tried my hand at writing Space Opera, everything seemed to fall into place. I found a critique partner worth her weight in conductive trillide, and two years later, I sold my first full length novel to Berkley.

TGE: What was the most exciting aspect of worldbuilding for BEYOND THE RAIN? The most challenging?

JG: I love everything about world building. I like developing my characters as well, but when I work on my planets, they almost become like characters to me. When I feel like I can live and breathe in these places, I know I’ve done my job.

The biggest challenge for me are the tech aspects of the story. I have some fun with it, but I’m a notorious Luddite, and so I’ve got to stretch to create ships, com systems, weapons, robots, etc. I’m working on that though. I find I get most inspired by illustrations artists do of ships and star bases. I’m also inspired by the art in science fiction themed video games.

TGE: What are some of your favorite science fiction romance books, films, and/or television shows?

JG: My family used to have a tradition to watch the Star Wars trilogy like a big marathon every Christmas. We also used to watch Star Trek the Next Generation during dinner at eight every night. My older brother had Battlestar Galactica bedsheets. I played with my very own Transformers, and got up every Saturday extra early to watch Voltron. I loved Stargate. I really loved Galaxy Quest. I enjoy Mercedes Lackey’s stories, and Asimov. I was completely taken in by Gattaca, and loved the subtlety and romance of that story.

Shoot, I’m surprised I didn’t spend every weekend as a teen dressed up and at a convention somewhere. These things were so deeply ingrained into my being as a child, they’re a part of me. I think it’s part of the reason Space Opera feels so natural.

TGE: If you could take only one kind of butterfly to a desert island, which kind would you take?

JG: One that could survive. I don’t know if there’s a butterfly that hosts on a coconut palm, but that would probably be the best bet since coconuts are the single greatest oceanic travelling plant species on the planet. If I were on a desert island, chances are, coconuts would be there too.

But I think I’m being a little too practical. If you are really asking what one species I would like to have around if I couldn’t have any other species around, it would probably be a tiger swallowtail. My breathing stops when I see them in the garden.

TGE: Do you have any news to share regarding future projects?

JG: I am so excited that BEYOND THE SHADOWS is slotted to be a May ’10 release. That’s tentative, but hopefully everything will work out. Beyond the Shadows is the story of Cyani’s twin brother Cyn, and how he turns the tables on the bloodhunter assigned to find him and bring him to justice. I’m so excited about this story. The dynamic between the two main characters is amazing.

Details should be coming soon, with the cover art and back cover copy on my website at www.jessgranger.com.

Thank you so much for inviting me, Heather. I’m a huge fan of your blog.

Click on the links below to discover more about the author and her work:

Book Talk With J&J: Interview with Jess Granger
Ms. Granger guest blogs at The Bradford Bunch
In Hello Your Highness, the author shares her sources of inspiration for BEYOND THE RAIN.

Many happy sales, Ms. Granger!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, August 2, 2009

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SFR Linkfest for August, 2009

New Releases

After The Rain


It seemed like this moment would never arrive, but now the time has finally come for Jess Granger’s BEYOND THE RAIN! I had the pleasure of reading her book several months ago. In addition to the fun worldbuilding, the story features a strong heroine who’s not afraid to make some tough choices—not the least of which is love. This book is especially great for romance readers new to science fiction romance.

Congratulations, Ms. Granger!

Killing Silk


Congratulations also to author Nathalie Gray (MECHANICAL ROSE), who sold a futuristic romance to Samhain Publishing. Look for KILLING SILK on August 18.

Now for More SFR Goodness:

Reissues

WALKING ON THE MOON by Susan Sizemore (available at Cerridwen Press)
GATES OF HELL, also by Susan Sizemore (available from Speculation Press)

Kudos

PNR gave Catherine Asaro’s latest release, DIAMOND STAR, top pick for June, 2009!

Industry

Brass and rivets and goggles, oh my! Lyrical Press has out a call for steampunk (both romance and erotica). Thanks to Nathalie Gray for the link.

RWA’S Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal chapter features an interview with Tor editor Heather Osborn. Check out this juicy quote:

“Right now, I would love to see a great vampire, werewolf, or futuristic story cross my desk.” [emphasis mine]

Romantic Inks interviews Samhain editor Laurie M. Rauch. And guess what? Ms. Rauch reminds aspiring authors “…a lot of our editors are dying for more high-action futuristics…”.

Shiloh Walker outlines “what authors should know about epubs” in Epubs…wondering where to start? (Thanks to Love Romance Passion for the two aforementioned links.)

Laurie Green of Spacefreighters’ Lounge describes My Very First RWA.

Help an SFR sister out:

Aspiring author Ilene Kay has entered a manuscript in the Dorchester Text Novel contest under the Romance-Futuristic category. Her entry is IT HAPPENED ON ARSYNTHIA (scroll down to see title). To read the excerpt, you need to register (it’s free). If you like what you read, you can vote for her story.

Free read!

Aspiring SFR author Bella Street presents a "Gothic-Lite Science-fiction novel series" for your reading pleasure. Check out chapter one here.

On videogames and romance:

We’ve discussed the idea of delivering SFR interactive experiences through the video game medium previously, and it’s delightful to discover that we’re not alone:

Smart Bitches linked to the article A Risk of Romance, which explores the idea of romance authors writing video game scripts.

Another (brief) article discusses the extensive voice acting process that occurred for STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC video game. This li’l tidbit caught my interest:

“If the process behind the game's voice work does nothing for you, perhaps a few more numeric comparisons will float your boat -- the script, which is the size of "40+ novels"”

That’s a whole lot of writing going on—it’d be cool to see SFR get a piece of the action.

Author articles & interviews:

Gail Dayton (NEW BLOOD) guest blogs at FF&P: Steampunk Explained.

Nathalie Gray was interviewed at Writer and Cat.

Patti O’Shea on word count and SFR novels in The Long and Short of It.

Joyfully yours,

Heather