Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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RT Book Reviews Brings On The Science Fiction Romance!

A couple of days ago, I went to the local B&N with my daughter so she could play with the Thomas The Tank Engine set and I could get caught up with the latest RT Book Reviews (October 2010). When I saw the cover, I was like, “Whoa!”, because at the top were the words “Worldbuilding 101: A Sci-Fi Romance Primer.” If that weren’t enough, the cover also featured the title of another article, “Women At The Helm Of The Sci-Fi Fantasy Universe.” Double whoa!

It was my lucky day. RT Book Reviews and its European sister, LoveLetter Magazine (for which I write an SFR column, if you’re new to my blog), have both been incredible about providing science fiction romance coverage. Domestic and international coverage of the subgenre in print mediums is crucial to spreading the word about the subgenre to readers—especially those who don’t spend time online. An unspoken partnership is evolving here, because science fiction romance offers readers something new, and the aforementioned magazines gain fresh content as a result.

It’s a win-win.

In “Shooting Stars: Why Women Are Piloting The Next Generation Of Science Fiction,” Linnea Sinclair (REBELS AND LOVERS) points out that there’s “a growing trend of female characters taking the lead in what used to be a ‘boys only’ club.” She goes on to state that “…the most important thing for new and old readers of science fiction and fantasy novels to know today is that times—and female characters—have changed.”

Very true, and praise Galileo. There are so many great quotes in this article, from the likes of Catherine Asaro, Marianne de Pierres, and Julie E. Czerneda. Contributors to the article stress how women authors bring the human and relationship elements to science fiction/science fiction romance/fantasy. For the most part, the boys wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, and as the saying goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

There’s also an inset titled “Cleared for Liftoff: Sci Fi’s Newest Stars.” (waves to featured authors Katherine Allred and Gini Koch). When asked to name “the most challenging part of worldbuilding,” both of these authors cited “consistency.” That surprised me, but mainly because both authors did such a good job that I’d have never suspected it would be a particular challenge!

I liked the cute “What’s Your Subgenre?” feature, complete with a retro space rocket crewed by some kind of Space Family Robinson. Readers answer a short quiz to find out if they’d be fans of steampunk, time travel, space opera, or epic/high fantasy stories. I cheated and answered mostly A’s and Cs, which makes me a steampunk & space opera kind of gal. Who knew?

The other article was “Advice for Building a Science Fiction Romance—Complete With Its Own Universe” by none other than BEYOND THE SHADOWS author Jess Granger. She wrote a great opening: “Science fiction romance is in so many ways the new frontier of romance. No other subgenre has as open a canvas for innovation, conflict, and the heart-touching bonds of love we all adore.”

Ahhh…music to my ears! I find it exciting and quite a bit surreal to read an article in a national magazine that discusses such an important aspect of SFR. Jess Granger offers strategic advice that can help authors make their worldbuilding more sophisticated.

For example, she suggests making details in the world familiar so readers can mentally picture the world with ease: “If you’re talking about a chair, call it a chair, don’t call it a squarloq.” And while characters should be allowed to take technology for granted, she strongly recommends that authors “Pay attention to details when developing your technology.” Hear, hear. Because readers who know the difference between a “bulkhead” and a “sidewall” (one of her examples) will thank authors for their extra effort. Actually, I had to look up “sidewall” and am glad I did because there are like, three different definitions for it. :-P

Finally, in “Poll Reprt,” RT asked its readers, “Do you read science fiction or fantasy novels?” Heck, no, I’m not going to spoil the answer! You’ll have to read it for yourself. The number is, however, statistically significant.

So thank you, RT Book Reviews, and all the authors who contributed to the feature. We of the science fiction romance community salute you.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Monday, August 30, 2010

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Catching Up With “Summer of SFR” Reviews

I’m catching up with Verona St. James’ Summer of SFR reviews, and wanted to post them in case any of you missed the last few.

The first is about GABRIEL’S GHOST by Linnea Sinclair:

It started out well enough, as I said I enjoyed the action packed opening on the prison planet. I also loved Sully and his cocky personality, he is your typical charming rogue, but I think Ms Sinclair did a good job at giving him many, many layers and slowly pulling them away, revealing them to Chaz and the reader. Unfortunately, I felt like Sully kept too many secrets, especially from Chaz when he professed himself to be in love with her, and the way he very deliberately parceled them out in increments felt much more like a plot device to keep him enigmatic than as an organic part of his character.

She also shared that she had difficulty engaging with the heroine, Chaz:

Chaz was a good heroine, but, and I'm having trouble articulating this, I felt no chemistry with her, no affiliation, no zing. I liked her OK, but there was nothing about her voice or her actions that made me sit up and say, "I want to party with this chick."

I think I’m the opposite of many GABRIEL’S GHOST readers—on the whole, I wanted to know more about Chaz than Sully, even though Sully is presented as the star of the show.

The second book is Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA. Of the hero Thomas, she observes:
Thomas was a pretty likable protagonist, and I appreciated how he was not a Teflon hero. Thomas gets beat-up and bruised and broken, and every confrontation he's in, he walks--or limps--away with injuries.

I appreciated that realistic treatment, particularly considering Thomas's age. Even Thomas himself notices he doesn't bounce back from rough-handling like he would have in his youth. This was a nice deviation from the usual SF hero, who is typically a robust specimen of Alpha-maledom.

She also points out that ultimately, the story belongs to Thomas. Upon reflection I realized that fit with my own observations no matter how big my crush on Alpha.

On a related note, Verona’s reading of ALPHA prompted her to reflect on The Problematic Nature of Immortality.

Lastly, her latest review is Sara Creasy’s cyberpunk adventure SONG OF SCARABAEUS. I skipped most of it since I recently started the book, but Verona concluded the review with:

I'd say if you're interested in complex world-building, a hot hero, and you don't mind a mild cliffhanger of an ending you should give this book a try.

From what I’ve read so far, the story lies in romantic SF territory, but the romance is structured in much the same way as a traditional romance—there’s just less of it in the beginning.

Thanks for your art, Verona!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Saturday, August 28, 2010

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George Mann’s THE OSIRIS RITUAL: More Steampunk Lovin’

Shortly after I blogged about George Mann’s THE AFFINITY BRIDGE (A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation), a Tor/Forge publicist contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in a galley of the next book in the series, THE OSIRIS RITUAL. My response? “Where do I sign?!!” Upon receiving the book, I quickly devoured it. I was reading it for the steampunk, but I was also intensely curious about whether the author would continue the thread of romance he’d hinted at in the first book. I wasn’t disappointed on either count.

However, my purpose here isn’t to review THE OSIRIS RITUAL. For that, you can refer to John DeNardo’s review at SF Signal. Here’s an excerpt:

The three-pronged plot here involves mysterious murders surrounding an Egyptian mummy, a rogue agent who has been mechanically augmented, and a series of women gone missing from a magician's stage act. Each of these story lines hints at the desired mixture of flavors of The Osiris Ritual: the mummy providing the supernatural ingredient, the augmented agent representing steampunk, and the disappearances lending the air of mystery.

Rather, I’d like to make a few non-spoiler comments about the developing attraction I detected between the hero and heroine (your mileage may vary). A romance aspect is present throughout THE OSIRIS RITUAL, but again, as in THE AFFINITY BRIDGE, it’s understated. Newbury is a brilliant investigator, but also tortured man. Hobbes is presented as a progressive, capable woman who may or may not be able to tame him. That’s a recipe for a romance if I ever saw one.

My expectations were met as far as their personal relationship development. Newbury is attracted to Hobbes because she is smart and unflinching in the face of danger. Hobbes finds Newbury attractive because of his investigative skills as well as his expertise in the occult. Of course, he’s also quite the dashing fellow. Still, because of the barely-there romantic subplot, while reading the story and after finishing it, I found myself engaging in quite a few daydreams about how their romance might unfold. All it took was for the author to have Newbury make an observation about Hobbes’ physical appearance, and in my mind I fast-forwarded to the couple Doing It.

But it wasn’t just about physical attraction. Veronica Hobbes has a secret, which was revealed in the first book and has increasing prominence in THE OSIRIS RITUAL. The secret has Very Serious Implications for her relationship with Newbury. It’s a trust issue—one that factors into both their professional and personal relationships and threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the budding romance. The development was enough to make me sigh with pleasure because it foreshadows what could be very intense conflict. How totally righteous it would be if Mr. Mann decided to expand the romance in future books, or at least write a side story wholly devoted to it.

So that’s my take on the romantic angle. If you want a sense of the story’s overall tone, here’s what a review at SF Crowsnest had to say about THE OSIRIS RITUAL:

Equal parts light and dark, the book plays well with the light-hearted dialogue reminiscent of old literary serials whilst the darker aspects are harrowing and nasty. Nasty enough to cause a jolt and to make you think twice about whose safe but not enough to terrify you out of reading it for fear of harm to the characters.

Maurice Newbury, who will inevitably and unfairly be compared to Holmes, is a fantastic lead who meshes a keen intellect together with an addictive personality. His insecurities are human enough and the pressure he puts himself under makes him all the more believable. The writing style is clear and concise, not too over-detailed, not too scarce. It's a book that prides itself on its style and its light adventurous tone, sure it has dark undercurrents but a good novel never lacks that. It's a fantastical homage to a bygone era that changed the world, in both reality and fiction.

And check this out: George Mann has inked a deal for a Newbury & Hobbes graphic novel! Earlier this summer, he posted a sample image from THE OSIRIS RITUAL at his site. A film or television version of the series can’t be far off, can it?



In the meantime, readers can look forward to the next book in the series, THE IMMORALITY ENGINE. Fingers crossed that the romance subplot thickens….

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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Do You Review Science Fiction Romance? Come On Down!*

A few days ago, in Hmm…no reviews, author Erica Anderson (THE ANTAREN AFFAIR) contemplates the lack of review sites devoted to science fiction romance—or even general romance ones that review SFR on a regular basis. She reflected that

This experience has made me incredibly sympathetic to the plight of those authors who, for the last thirty years, have been trying to write, publish, and sell SFR. As an author in 2010, I am, of course, the beneficiary of all of their hard work. They slogged for years to get published because they had to prove that SFR was worthwhile.

She adds that “Nor, in my experience do many general romance review sites spend much time or digital space on SFR.”

There are definitely romance bloggers who have featured periodic reviews of SFR titles, including Dear Author, Enduring Romance, Mrs. Giggles, Dirty Sexy Books, The Book Smugglers, All About Romance, Ramblings on Romance, and Jace Scribbles. But given that many of them are general romance review sites as Ms. Anderson noted, combined with the low, low number of mainstream print books, we can’t expect much more from them.

Or can we?

Is the lack of SFR review coverage solely because it’s a niche subgenre? I’m certain that aspect plays a large role, but could it also stem from the subgenre’s low visibility. How many conversations are we having with romance review sites on behalf of science fiction romance? Are we pursuing the big sites as well as the Mom 'n' Pop ones? Many of them have staff that knows about SFR, but others might be less informed. If we want them to become as excited about the subgenre as we are, shouldn't we try our best to inform them?

That’s not to say we should ambush review sites with neon signs flashing “Pick me! Pick me!”** And perhaps the route to informing them about the SFR titles available for review needn’t always be as direct as an email soliciting a review. Direct contact should happen routinely (whether handled by the publisher or author), but other strategies include being an active members of romance review forums when possible, or doing more on our part to spread the word about any SFR book news.

The keyword being news.

It helps if the books are making news of some kind. Otherwise, we risk others viewing SFR as just another type of romance. Readers—especially if we want a steady supply of stories—can help spread news as well as authors. At this point, either we don’t have much news to offer (which I doubt), or we have it but lack the resources to broadcast it (which is what I believe the more likely scenario).

Since reading Erica Anderson’s post, I’ve been wondering about the idea of a review site devoted exclusively to science fiction romance. It wouldn’t die from lack of print and digital titles, that’s for sure, especially given the long history of stories available (and it could focus on film and television, too). But such an endeavor involves a lot of work, even thought it’d be more like a labor of love.

The way I see it, there are pros and cons:

Pros:

*An SFR review site would help raise the visibility of science fiction romance.

*Authors with SFR stories would have a new venue for reviews.

*Readers can make informed decisions about the stories they want to purchase.

*Readers can gather to discuss what they liked or didn’t like about the stories, and thus the SFR community evolves further.

Cons:

*Why compete with so many other romance review sites?

*The small number of mainstream print releases would mean that the reviewer would need to review digital titles as well as print ones, a task which would be made easier with an e-reader. The prices are going down, but such a device is still out of the reach of many.

*The reviewer would need to be a fan of SFR first and foremost, which ideally would translate to being well-read in both SF and romance.

*He/she would also benefit from having the following on his/her resume: good writing and analytical skills; be SEO savvy (to help raise visibility online); have the time and inclination to run such an operation, which in essence would be a part-time job festivity.

*Finding just the right angle or “hook” for the blog. Humorous? No-holds-barred? Academic? Quirky?

What are your thoughts? Do we need a review site dedicated to SFR? If not, what would you suggest authors do to catch the attention of reviewers?

Lastly, if you’re a blogger who reviews science fiction romance—or would consider doing so, give us a shout out in the comments.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

*As in, the catchphrase used on THE PRICE IS RIGHT game show. Couldn’t help myself.

**From Disney’s FINDING NEMO, of course. What can I say? I’m on a roll today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

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Erica Anderson's THE ANTAREN AFFAIR: More Than Meets The Sexxoring

Sex and politics go hand in hand, and Erica Anderson’s THE ANTAREN AFFAIR reminded me how much science fiction romance readily lends itself to exploring such themes.

The story begins with Colonel Rákōsy Avar of the Imperial Forces who is headed to the planet Antaren for a series of diplomatic talks in order to negotiate an alliance. Heroine Meraya is a kebara, “a woman trained to provide sexual pleasure.” The Antaren leaders offer her to Avar during his stay as a show of their good faith.

I found this story interesting because on the surface, it’s about the erotic encounter between a stalwart military man and a woman who is essentially a sex slave. There are several love scenes involving Meraya surrendering sexually to Avar. His Alpha male glory gives her a taste of how a real man sexually dominates makes love to a woman.

However, beneath the titillating veneer is a story with a definite political theme, one played out against an intergalactic chessboard. In fact, one couldn’t really tell this story effectively without employing erotic elements. Think about the premise a bit further: a woman who is a potential source of Antaren political secrets (because she provides sexual pleasures to the male leaders, and you know how the tongues of male politicians wag in the privacy of their bedrooms) is expected to have intimate experiences with an Imperial diplomat. The Antaren leaders expect Meraya’s complete loyalty, but should they make such a blithe assumption?

[Slight spoilers ahead, but not enough to ruin the plot]

To Meraya, Avar represents a type of man worth serving sexually because he recognizes her worth as a free woman and views her as an equal. For example, he explains to her that:

“In the empire—the place that I come from—there is the idea that hitan is shared. That it must give pleasure to both. We have a ritual called a pair-bond. It is like a promise between two people to share service and pleasure.”

Therefore, Meraya’s story is a bit of a coming-of-age tale since once Avar enters her life, she begins to question the methods of her upbringing as well as the Antaren political hierarchy.

Meraya’s position as a kebara actually has roots in a political role. The story makes a reference to The Life of Tanat, which is about Tanat, the first kebara. Tanat “understood service as an unbreakable bond that required as much of the master as the kebara. Once, long ago, the kebareet had pledged themselves, had entered service willingly.”

In essence, as I understood it, the relationship between the kebara and the masters (“barals”) served as a check and balance system. The relationship was not just sexual, but political. As time passes, all aspects except the sexual ones were lost (this is an erotic romance, after all), and the relationship devolved into that of master and sex slave.

I would have liked to know more about how the relationship devolved because it's such a tragedy. The idea of women wielding major political power through their control over the Antaren men's sexual pleasure is intriguing. How did they lose all of that power? The story only states that “somehow, the old ways had been lost.” But that absence of information made me realize that I’d like to read about such detail in stories like THE ANTAREN AFFAIR. While the erotic scenes were plentiful and fun, there was potential here for a longer story that edged a bit more into the political sphere.

I did have some difficulty suspending my disbelief that the Antarens “controlled a very strategic portion of interstellar space that the empire coveted”, yet also managed to exercise strict control over its female population. In fact, intelligence reports “had no data on female Antarens.” I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility, but I couldn’t help my assumption that a space faring race would have some basic level of gender equality. But ultimately, I feel that was a minor distraction in an SFR story that had intriguing themes and purpose beyond the sexual journeys of the hero and heroine.

Lucky for us, Erica Anderson is working on a sequel. I don’t know if she’s going to take readers to Antaren again, but my fingers are crossed that she takes similar if not more risks with whatever skiffy elements she’ll include in the story. THE ANTAREN AFFAIR demonstrates what erotic SFR can accomplish with a scorching heat level that works with the concept and story scope instead of against it.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, August 22, 2010

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Building Bridges Between Science Fiction Romance Authors And Readers

I’m a fan of science fiction romance (no, really).

La Planete Sauvage PosterGiven the niche nature of SFR, however, I have to frequently search both on but mostly off the beaten path to satisfy my need for such stories. I can’t afford to stick to just one type of medium or distribution system. Furthermore, above all I’m a fan of the subgenre rather than specific authors or filmmakers. I will try any and all stories as well as most of their sources. In fact, I’d probably be that way even if science fiction romance were a hot trend.

What this means for science fiction romance authors is that rock star credentials don’t carry any more weight with me than a pass for an entry-level stage hand. Anyone with an SFR story available for consumption is a star in my eyes.

Authors with digital distribution are just as valid for me—just as “published”—as authors with print distribution. And I will watch any science fiction romance film whether it has theatrical distribution or goes straight to DVD. Ditto for SFR in any kind of visual medium.

Are there types of stories toward which I tend to gravitate more frequently than others? Yes. Will I like everything I read or watch? No. But the point isn’t what I personally enjoy versus what I’m willing to seek out and where I’m going to find it. I love the thrill of discovering stories by new authors as well as established ones.

My feeling is that if you are an author writing in a niche market, it helps to understand how fandom works and how fans like me approach our consumption of the product. Saying that I’m open to any type of SFR story doesn’t mean that I’m not picky. Rather, it means that I’ll make a beeline toward whomever is delivering the stories I want. So why not be there seeking me out when I’m ready to purchase a book?

The reason I want to share all of the above is that it ties into how SFR authors promote their books. We have now entered an age where it’s increasingly vital for authors, regardless of publishing “status” to make direct connections with readers, and especially those who blog or tweet because they are the new hand sellers of books.

I recently read a conversation at The Chrysanthemum Connection in which Romance In The Back Seat blogger Terry Kate wrote about the importance of building relationships between authors and bloggers:

“…the importance of this relationship is why I organized the Book Bloggers and Authors Online Conference, which unlike the Book Bloggers and Publishers online Conference in March died by lack of one halves attendance. The authors. Bloggers came because they wanted to build this relationship so to ask a question - do authors care as much as we do?


I know that many science fiction romance authors care, and I salute them, but I think there’s the potential to build even more relationships. A big challenge, however, is that there’s still a pretty rampant mentality (across all genres) that the author’s job is only to write the books. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it just ain’t so anymore. Publishers who will provide a high print run or major marketing push for SFR print authors are as rare as a woolly mammoth performing a unicycle act in Times Square.

Authors who view themselves as entrepreneurs as well as writers will have an edge regarding name recognition and branding.

Adapting to phenomena like online communities and social networking is crucial if authors are to build an audience. This is especially true if they write in niche subgenres. But the good news is that authors have far more opportunities and control regarding online marketing & promotion than they do in the physical world.

Raising the visibility of science fiction romance is a true grassroots effort. Building relationships with each other is one of the most effective strategies out there. Even if we do nothing more than concentrate our efforts in just that one area over the next few years, it’ll be a great day for science fiction romance.

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, August 19, 2010

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Where Are All The Time Travel Romances With Time Machines?

I love a rollicking good time travel story as much as the next Morlock gal. Some of my favorite films involving time travel include THE TIME MACHINE, BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, BACK TO THE FUTURE, and LOVE STORY 2050 (yes, I plan to watch that Bollywood train wreck again in the future). Not to mention television series like DOCTOR WHO and all of those Star Trek time travel episodes across the various series. I was also a casual fan of Quantum Leap back in the day (and golly, that’s a classic title if there ever was one).

That said, the time travel tales I enjoy the most are those wherein the means of travel has a scientific basis, however nebulous the actual theory behind the device (case in point: phone booths). I find that I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief about the phenomenon of time travel (albeit one of the most fantastical ideas ever) if a character has to invest blood sweat, and tears to create a machine for the journey—or at least learn how to operate one. The experience is even more rewarding if the device is tied to an external plot and has thematic significance, as opposed to simply being a means of transplanting a hero or heroine from one time period to another.

As a science fiction romance reader, however, I don’t really seem to have much of a choice. To wit: Several months ago, I was visiting Dorchester Publishing’s site and noticed that in the submission guidelines for time travel romances, the publisher clearly stipulates that it’s not interested in time travel romances in which a scientific device is involved:

TIME-TRAVEL ROMANCE: A hero or heroine travels through time and falls in love. For present-to-past time travel, traditional guidelines for historical romance apply. The challenge here is to maintain credibility during the transition between the present and the past. The fun is seeing another way of life through the eyes of someone from a different time. The conflict and resolution of the romance arise from the fact that the hero and heroine are from different eras, but should involve more than the secret that one comes from the future.

Beware of philosophizing about the meaning of time, and how the past affects the present. No time machines, please.
[Emphasis mine]

Given the long tradition of time travel romances with their unique nature of decidedly unscientific approaches, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but my head still spun wildly at such a statement. The reason is that I come to time travel from a science fiction reading background, so I associate time travel devices with science. The fantasy/supernatural fan in me enjoys the woo-woo version of time travel, but ultimately I have a stronger preference for science based ones.

For example, I loved Sandra McDonald’s THE STARS BLUE YONDER which involved very trippy time travel adventures for the hero and heroine (and for the full impact of the SF and romance elements, you really need to read the entire trilogy starting with THE OUTBACK STARS).

Recently, I enjoyed an advanced copy of Pauline B. Jones’ steampunk romance TANGLED IN TIME (December 2010) in which characters travel through time by means based in both steampunk and futuristic technologies. In THE LEGEND OF BANZAI MAGUIRE by Susan Grant, the heroine travels to the future by way of "bio-stasis." Colby Hodge’s TWIST has time travel elements, but the device seemed to be paranormal based rather than scientific (but that book also straddled the fence between horror-based paranormal and science fiction romance since it features vampire-like aliens).

My personal preferences aside, the question that begs asking is this: What is it about science-based time travel romances that don’t match the needs of romance publishers? During a scintillating exchange with blogger BevBB of Bev’s Books, I gained some insights into the possible mis-match.

One possible answer is that in a non-time machine time travel romance, the displaced hero or heroine doesn’t usually have control over his or her circumstances. Subsequently, the lack of a time machine keeps the story focused on the romance. The displaced character can’t use the machine to return to her time period, and it's less likely that the story will venture into cross-genre territory by way of an external plot.

Another possibility stems from the fact that while many romance authors have written a time travel romance or two during the course of their career, as a rule, they don’t specialize in time travel romances. If an author decides to write one, she is bound to choose a type more familiar to readers. In other words, time machines are not the default device for the time travel romance subgenre. Why? Could be the other kinds sell better, or perhaps authors consider time machines too technical, and/or too closely tied to mainstream science fiction.

A third possibility is that the time travel mechanism (whatever its nature) has the sole purpose of bringing the hero and heroine together. Anything more and the mechanism becomes a distraction. As an SF fan, I'm still puzzled as to why an author would introduce such a mechanism and not explain it any further, especially if it's a clever one. As a romance fan, I can understand why the mechanism would be exist merely as a means to an end, that end being the romance.

As a science fiction romance fan, however, I don’t see why we can’t have both types of time travel romance. Maybe the market couldn’t support science-based ones during the time travel romance heyday, but the digital market opens up the possibilities considerably. And the idea of the heroes and heroines taking control of their destinies as well as their romantic choices is exciting to me.

For example, it’s easy enough to have a story where the machine breaks down upon arrival, thus keeping the hero and heroine together until it’s repaired. Naturally, the characters would have to jump through hoops in order to achieve that goal, and the h/h can fall in love in the process. That’s just one idea. I believe there are a variety of plot twists that authors can explore.

I want to be sure and feature science-based time travel romances here, but during my routine research of SFR titles, very few stories have jumped out at me that fit the criteria I’m seeking. Now, it’s possible I’ve been looking in the wrong places (and one could argue that LOVE STORY 2050 is a very wrong place to look, heh). If that’s the case, can any of my fine passengers recommend titles? Also, do you think romance readers are ready to try time travel romances in which some type of machine is involved?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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How Much Do I Love Space Pirates? Let Me Count The Ways...

Space pirate heroines are few and far between, so when I’d first gotten wind of Susan Grant’s swashbuckling adventure tale, SUREBLOOD, my interest was immediately piqued. After all, I’m pretty madly in love with space pirate Qeen Emeraldas from Leiji Matsumoto’s SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK. Ever since my youth in Arcadia, I’ve been seeking to recreate my experience with Emeraldas, the most beautiful and deadly heroine pirate ever to sail the celluloid cosmos.

Even after reading SUREBLOOD, I’m still (pleasantly) surprised that the book even exists. Given the number of safe/predictable romances in the mainstream print market, a space pirate heroine is kind of risky—especially for Harlequin. We’re asking romance readers to embrace an extraordinary heroine among the sea of vampires, werewolves, and other assorted Alpha heroes. And, as you might have noticed from the book’s back cover copy, Valeeya Blue is a mom!

Interestingly enough, Queen Emeraldas also gave birth to a child during the course of her adventures. Hers is also a very subversive romance in that she falls in love with a man half her height. I find it fascinating that two people from different continents and cultures, not to mention decades apart, explored the topic of space pirates in love who are also moms. And I, lucky gal that I am, get to blog about it! This is a very surreal moment for me.

Excuse me while I take a moment to reminisce about the timeless romance between Emeraldas and Tochiro:



Like Harlock and Emeraldas, SUREBLOOD is all about space pirates, characters with a reputation for being inherently badass. While the story explores a few dark concepts, the execution was tempered by language and stylistic choices. Characters flirt with graphic violence rather than enact it. For example, at one point, the hero observes Valeeya disciplining a few male members of her clan:

Val pulled the weapon away from a startled Ragmarrk, and for a moment Dake thought she might strike him with it.

While I wouldn’t have minded if the story had been grittier (meaning I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if Valeeya had struck him), I have to remember that there’s another audience for this book. SUREBLOOD is meant for a specific type of reader in mind, namely, for romance readers who prefer light action adventure tales as opposed to a heavy dose of realism. Yet Ms. Grant packed quite a bit of external plot into the mix, so I think there’s appeal for SFR fans who gravitate toward that type of blend.

I also liked the fact that Valeeya Blue had a clear character arc and demonstrated real growth by the end of the story. Ultimately, SUREBLOOD felt like her story, despite the fact that the title is all about the hero. Characters like Queen Emeraldas and Valeeya Blue resonate strongly with me because of their empowering, larger than life natures. I can never be one, but I sure can read about them.

I’ll never tire of space pirate heroines, so keep ‘em coming!

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Monday, August 16, 2010

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You're Invited To An "Out of this World Blog Tour"

A few science fiction romance authors are blogging around town for your reading pleasure. Here's the schedule:

August 14: Sandra Stixrude at Dasef Central

August 15: Linnea Sinclair at The Cerebral Writer

August 16: Pauline Jones at Behind the Pallid Mask

August 17: D. L. Jackson at Forbidden Love

August 18: Lisa Lane at Writer's Habitat

August 19: J. C Hay at Perils of Pauline

August 20: Kaye Manro at The New Sensuality

August 21: Marva Dasef at Backward Momentum

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Sunday, August 15, 2010

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An Interview With Robert Appleton

The MythmakersWhen I read Jayne Ann Krentz’s anthology DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN, I came across the well-known mantra that romance is “by women, for women.” I was previously familiar with the phrase, but after reading about it in Krentz’s essay collection on romance, I realized that I can’t buy into it.

In particular, the “by women” aspect implies a segregation that I’d prefer not apply to science fiction romance. Having read bunches of SF stories by male authors, with and without romance, the idea of science fiction romance being “by women, for women” is too limiting. I certainly don’t object to romance in general being a genre largely preferred by women. It’s the perpetuation of the idea that romance can only be written by and/or written convincingly by women that stymies me. Given that my reading background is in SF/F, I can’t think in terms of anything other than diversity regarding authors as well as stories.

While there have been numerous men who write romantic SF, I hope that there will be those who can embrace the idea of writing the type of romance-focused stories found in science fiction romance.

Robert Appleton is one such author. His space opera novella THE MYTHMAKERS (IMPULSE POWER anthology, Samhain Publishing) is what placed him on the SFR map. And thank goodness for the digital market, because otherwise Yoda only knows how long it would have been before we’d have a chance to read his stories (and he’d probably have been asked to create a female pseudonym at that).

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Appleton so we could learn more about his life as an author as well as his work. There’s also some squee! worthy news he shares towards the end of the interview, so let’s not wait a second more.

The Galaxy Express: Please tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to become an author.

Robert Appleton: I’m a bit tricky to pin down: 30 years old, athletic (soccer, kayaking and hiking), single, and still figuring out what I want to be. My home is Bolton, Northwest England. I have a degree in Film and not much use for it. I’ve served (smuggled) popcorn in a cinema, worked as a civil servant, balanced accounts for a charity, and now I’m writing full-time until I positively, indubitably, inescapably have to get a day job again. If I had to describe myself, it would be as Peter Parker (aka Spider-man, sans superpowers) meets Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. The harder I try, the worse off I seem to end up.

Now then, there’s a really great story about how I first became an author. I just haven’t invented it yet. Seriously, though, I think it was inevitable. Storytelling is just in my DNA. Even filling out a job application tends to incorporate a protagonist, an evil galactic empire and a daring escape (ie. binning the thing). My writing really took off when I started penning poetry—metric verse—on a peer review website. Though there wasn’t much market for it, I improved enough to be published in dozens of magazines and anthologies. But even my poems were story-oriented. So I took the plunge and wrote the first in a trilogy of novellas. The Eleven-Hour Fall was a two-character SF survival story with a touch of romance. It started with a literal eleven-hour fall from an alien mountain, with the heroine holding on to the man she secretly loves (he’s unconscious, and already married) in mid-air. I told it from the feisty female astronaut’s POV, and Kate Borrowdale is still the benchmark for all my SF women.

The first place I submitted it to was a start-up digital publisher called Eternal Press. They accepted it within a day, and later signed books two and three. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found digital publishing so early in my career. Otherwise, given the quirkiness of my SF stories, I’d probably still be pinning rejection slips to my forehead.

TGE: Was there a pivotal event or experience that made you decide to write science fiction romance? What were the challenges of combining the two genres?

RA: I think it was that decision to write my first SF story from a woman’s POV. I’d honestly never read a book written by a woman up until then! Hard to believe, but true—my bookshelf was chock full of Wells, ER Burroughs, H Rider Haggard, Patrick O’Brian, Ian Fleming, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, and Conan Doyle. Romance in those books is minimal at best, and the women are afterthoughts. I knew the hero journey back to front. But it took actually writing a strong female character for me to say, “Hey, dumbass, look what you’re missing.” I then decided to try as many different female author voices in as many different genres as I could. My favourite kind is probably the sassy, brassy, slightly neurotic heroines of SF Romance.

The biggest challenge of combining the two genres for me is that I get carried away with my SF worldbuilding. I have a story arc for the romance, but it can easily get dragged out of shape by the SF perils I throw at my characters. It’s like another author said recently on TGE, the two halves of a SFR writer’s brain are vying for prominence, and the balance between romance and SF is difficult to maintain. Being a bloke inevitably gives my SF half a head start, but I am learning. Romance generally isn’t something I’d write in any other genre, but paired with SF, it’s a pleasure to read and write.

TGE: What was the inspiration for THE MYTHMAKERS?

RA: It was one of those “Wow!” concepts that torment me whenever I get them because I haven’t a clue how to fashion them into a workable story. A drifting alien ship full of Earth’s mythical creatures, found by a female salvage captain badly in need of hope and wonder…at a time when Earth has long been extinct? There were just too many possibilities. I needed five novels to tell Steffi’s story.

Then I came across Samhain’s submission call for space opera romances, and it struck me—what if I could personify the “hope and wonder” instead of just having Steffi meet monsters and magical creatures? What if it was a sweet, innocent romance with a kind of man she didn’t know existed—guileless and untouched by the cynicism of humanity in the future—that gave her back what she needed? Well, there was my hook. And the final inspiration came from Mike Resnick’s Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge, specifically the stitching together of flashbacks to illustrate themes within the story, mine being mankind’s relationship with superstition.

TGE: What are three essential things that SFR fans should know about THE MYTHMAKERS?

RA: It takes you places you’d never expect. The hero is sweet, the heroine getting warmed up, and the action scenes plentiful. Okay, that’s four things. But I’m cheeky, so here’s a fifth: Impulse Power, Samhain’s SFR paperback anthology featuring my story The Mythmakers, Metal Reign by Nathalie Gray, and Hearts and Minds by J.C. Hay, is due for release on December 7th this year.

TGE: Captain Steffi Savannah is cut from the gritty, kick-butt heroine mold. That makes me wonder…what does she eat for breakfast?

RA: ::laughs:: Let’s just say if you like to count calories, you’re gonna need a calculator. On day one alone, she and her crew devour a heart-stopping, full English breakfast.

TGE: Do you have any other published books that might appeal to SFR readers?

RA: My Eleven Hour Fall trilogy has romantic elements, but it’s more of a SF survival adventure. Godiva in the Firing Line is a military SF short novella I loved writing, but it doesn’t have a HEA. I also wrote a fun SF teen romance for Eternal Press—Café at the Edge of Outer Space is a digital short featuring two school leavers of the future, a boy and a girl, forced to mature before their time.

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

RA: I just finished Nathalie Gray’s steampunk romance Full Steam Ahead and loved it. That brand of sassy, brassy heroine I mentioned earlier is in full force throughout Nathalie’s book. Another I really enjoyed was Isabo Kelly’s The Promise of Kierna’Rhoan.

Serenity Joss Whedon

Firefly and Battlestar Galactica (the remake) are two of my favourite SF shows that featured at least some romance. The love stories in BSG in particular are absolutely fascinating to me. In SF movies, The Abyss has my favourite love story, but Avatar, Time After Time, and the 1953 War of the Worlds contain romances that have stuck with me for one reason or another. And I know it gets a lot of stick, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a really unique love story as well, with an amazing climax.

TGE: Is there anything else you’d like to share? What can readers look forward to from you?

RA: Plenty! I’m proud to announce my first attempt at steampunk, The Miraculous Lady Law, has been signed by Carina Press. It’s a Victorian steampunk mystery with a dash of romance, novella length. No release date for it yet, but it’s spurred me on to start a second, epic steampunk story I’ve been wrestling with for months. Tally-ho!

And today, Amber Quill Press accepted my latest novel, erotic SF romance Claire de Lune, for both digital and paperback release. It’s a detective story set in the premier lunar resort during the galaxy’s most prestigious beauty contest. Or James Bond meets Miss Congeniality…with added claws and teeth. When I finished the initial draft last year, it wasn’t as spicy as I’d envisioned (ie. I’d chickened out of the steamy stuff!) so I invited my favourite erotic romance writer, Sloane Taylor, on board to sexify the proceedings and breathe extra life into one of the characters. It must have worked, because here we are, over the moon on Friday 13th.

:: raises glass of Bolshoi brandy:: Cheers, Sloane!

Mr. Appleton, thanks for your time, and for your art.

Yay, steampunk!! That is awesome news. Jolly good show, Mr. Appleton! For more information about The Miraculous Lady Law, read the announcement post at the author's blog, Mercurial Times. Click here to read an excerpt from THE MYTHMAKERS.

Now, hit me up wit some ideas about how we can encourage more male authors to write science fiction romance. Not because Robert Appleton is lonely, but so we can have more stories (because we're special like that).

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Thursday, August 12, 2010

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Erotic Romance + Hard SF: IN ENEMY HANDS Proves It Can Be Done Well

Did you know...Carina Press categorizes KS Augustin’s IN ENEMY HANDS as “Romance, Science Fiction?” However, that’s not the whole…story. In a guest blog post at Leah Braemel’s joint, the author notes that “IN ENEMY HANDS is classified as a hard s-f romance and there's quite a bit of science in there, but it's just another element of the story as a whole. I figure if you can cope with the romance, and the politicking, you can cope with anything!”

I recently had the pleasure of reading IN ENEMY HANDS, and as a result I feel that the story as has a good balance of hard science fiction, romance, and politics. It’s space opera, but feeds your need for intellectual stimulation rather than pulpy action-adventure.

As for heat level, I would categorize it as erotic (sensual rather than hardcore). Upon finishing the novel, it struck me that this story may be one of the first—if not the first—science fiction romance that combines hard SF and erotic romance elements in a successful fashion. (If anyone knows differently, please clue me in because I would like to read more stories like IN ENEMY HANDS).

I think that's a pretty significant accomplishment because such an effort further delineates the potential of science fiction romance as a whole. Erotic SFR isn't limited to rampant sexxoring in space. It can be just as thought-provoking as its non-erotic comrades. Therefore, I’d like to share my (non-spoiler) impressions about the story in terms of how I perceived the blending of the hard SF-erotic romance elements. As for a formal review, I’ll leave that to others.

Before I continue, here's the story blurb:

The Republic had taken everything from Moon—her research partner, her privacy, her illusions. They thought they had her under control. They were wrong.

Srin Flerovs, Moon’s new research partner, is a chemically enhanced maths genius whose memory is erased every two days. While he and Moon work on a method of bringing dead stars back to life, attraction between them flares, together with the realisation that they are nothing more than pawns in a much larger game.

When Moon discovers the lethal applications her research can be put to, she knows she must rescue Srin and escape the clutches of the Republic. But there are too many walls around them, too many eyes watching. They want to run, but they’re trapped on a military spaceship in the depths of space, and time is running out….

Overall, I thought the author did an effective job of blending hard SF, erotica, and romance. The science was plausible and accessible and I enjoyed learning new shtuff, as in this scene when Moon and Srin are starting a work session:

”Srin,” she said, laughter in her tone. “You’re just in time. I want to run some basic computations past you.” She knew she was rushing him, speaking in an enthused staccato, but couldn’t help herself. She was full of energy, and didn’t care if the universe knew it. “I have the feeling I need to modify LeCoeur’s Constant regarding the behaviour of gravity waves in compressed environments. Those are compressed stellar-based fusion environments, of course. We have to start formulating the influence of electromagnetism, radiation, and temperature, so we have a lot of work to start today.” (pg. 59)

I don’t know what any of that is, but I know I like it! Given that Moon is a scientist who specializes in "stellar mechanics," this is the type of detail that makes me want to glom books about the life and death of stars.

While I knew KS Augustin had written erotic SFR, the story blurb didn’t reveal anything about heat level. So going in, I essentially had no expectations in that regard.

One aspect that I was glad to encounter was that the romance didn’t feel rushed, and neither did the first love scene. I think it had to do with the fact that I had a chance to meet and get to know both the heroine (who is a scientist, squee!) and the world before the hero made an appearance.

I felt that the heat level fit with the story, and it helped that Moon was presented as a scientist who also happened to be a sensual woman (although it had been a while since her last date). Just because she had to be clinical and calculated in the lab didn’t mean she had to be that way in her personal life, and the fact that Moon was in touch with her sexuality created a bridge to the erotic nature of the love scenes. If the love scenes had been really raunchy (as I define the term; your mileage may vary), then there would have been a serious disconnect with the other story elements. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

Surprisingly, there were two love scenes that didn’t work as well for me as I would have liked. The reason had nothing to do with the scenes in and of themselves, but more with the fact that KS Augustin did such an entertaining job with the skiffy elements and politics that I wouldn’t have missed the love scenes if some other element had been explored instead. One scene struck me as an erotic “extra.” As for the other one, I didn’t find it plausible that it would happen when it did, but keep in mind this is my personal preference and other readers may feel differently (especially if you are really into multiple love scenes).

IN ENEMY HANDS does not hit the reader over the head with either the hard SF or erotic elements (at least, it didn’t with this reader), but they are all there if you are seeking this type of mix.

I think it’s simply grand that authors have opportunities to write and publish stories that cater to the eclectic needs of science fiction romance readers. Are stories like these a risk? Certainly, because as the author pointed out in my interview with her, a few literary agents felt that the story had “too little sf” to be sold as sf, and “too little romance” to be sold as a romance." This despite the fact that I, the reader--the actual customer--wants exactly that type of hybrid story. We get it, and it's up to SFR fans to educate others if we are actually going to have our peanut butter cups and eat them, too.

The risks are many, but they are the types of risks authors, publishers, and readers need to take in order for science fiction romance to evolve to its fullest potential.

Related posts:

The Politics of a Galactic Dictatorship by KS Augustin
Meet KS Augustin

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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Does Erotic SFR Need To Kick It Up A Notch?*

I read two things recently that made me want to write a post about the state of erotic science fiction romance stories. The first was Kaye Manro’s FORBIDDEN LOVE, an erotic SFR about the sizzling encounter between sexy reptilian humanoid T’Kon and researcher Dr. Maya Belle (read the full blurb here).

FORBIDDEN LOVE is ideal for those who want a fast paced story, but I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with T’Kon and Maya because I found the presentation of his sexuality intriguing. There was a lot of potential for exploring their psychological/cultural differences and how they might have impacted the development of their emotional bond.

I also enjoyed reading about T’kon’s physical description, not so much because I wanted to jump his bones, but because the author included a few nice details that made me believe in such a character. Here are a few examples from a scene in which Maya is checking an unconscious T’Kon for injuries:

Excitement coursed through her as her fingers moved over his chameleon-like skin, hairless and silky under her touch. It felt like cool, wet velvet. Her hand grazed the slightly scaled surface of his muscled chest and a tingle entered her fingertips…

…She touched one of his arms and then the other, examining his slick skin from his shoulder to the carpals and fingertips. What stunning hands, curved and webbed with retractable talons…

…She slid her hands under his torso to check for injuries on his back. Her fingers rubbed along the spiked ridges of his spine, most likely a normal trait given his DNA. She moved further down. Oh my god, he even had a tail. (pgs. 14-15)

Okay, so maybe I do want to jump his bones, but it occurred to me that erotic SFR seems to enjoy the most freedom to explore sexual relationships between aliens and humans (or other exotic pairings) in graphic detail. By graphic, I don’t just mean intensity of the sex scenes, but the level of detail (e.g., type of skin, facial construction, animal-based characteristics, genitalia). It’s a “What if…?” taken to the level of alien sexuality, reproduction, and love.

Erotic romance authors have written about the importance of compelling SF elements, too. Using Kaye Manro as an example, in Setting The Stage: World building in Sci-Fi Romance, she discusses the extensive efforts that go into worldbuilding, using the development of FORBIDDEN LOVE as an example:

Here’s an example from my own world building experience. When I created the premise for the Forbidden series (book one is Forbidden Love, which recently released at Red Rose Publishing) I wanted an astounding species with touches of reptilian DNA. For that, I needed the proper environment for them to exist. Their planet needed to be atmospherically disruptive and wild, a little like Venus but able to sustain life. While in opposition, I wanted the species to be an ancient and peaceful but advanced culture, capable of traveling across galaxies by way of hyper-jumps through invented event horizons.

She also wrote an article about writing science fiction romance, stating at one point that

I’ve always been into science and Sci-Fi so it comes natural for me. But I still do research. If you are interested in writing in this genre, study the relevant science facts and theories as well as reading a lot of both Sci-Fi and SFR books.

So in one sense, erotic SFR is as skiffy as it gets, and many of its authors work hard to create plausible or at least serviceable science fictional elements. But on the other hand, erotic science fiction romance can leave a lot to be desired when it comes to those same factors. That’s not to say that non-erotic SFR couldn’t improve either, but I’ve seen a tendency for authors to be downright lackadaisical with skiffy elements in their erotic SFR stories.

I can be pretty forgiving since I enjoy styles that range from campy to hard SF. Still, I feel disappointed when I encounter a story in which the plot, romance, and erotic elements are entertaining, but the worldbuilding seems an afterthought. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I can tell a difference between a good-faith effort and an author just phoning it in. At the very least, give me a good BS Device.

Which brings me to the second thing that prompted these musings. In response to my earlier post, Where Are All The Science Fiction Romance Loops?, Lizzie Newell shared her thoughts about the focus of the SFR Brigade:

It has romance books set in space but very few science fiction books containing romance. There is too much promotion of what I consider low quality books. These are low quality from a science fiction perspective. No one wants to come out and say they are low quality books because of fear of offending the writers and because SFR Brigade is serving as an advertizing venue for these books.

Let’s discuss it, then, shall we?

Not all of the books featured on the Brigade are erotic SFR, but many are, and I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Newell meant those when she was describing the “low quality books.” I responded to her comment and shared my opinion that comparing erotic SFR to romantic SF is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Apples aren’t low quality just because they’re not oranges. There is high quality erotic SFR and high quality romantic SF, but the expectations are different for each. Some readers enjoy both, some don’t, and power to them all.

But even if Ms. Newell didn’t mean erotic SFR in particular, I still think it’s an important conversation to have. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered previous reader disgruntlement when it comes to worldbuilding (and also plot) in erotic SFR. Even some authors I’ve spoken with have expressed concern about erotic SFR being a throwback to some of the painfully flawed old skool futuristic romances. .

Does the hybrid nature of these stories play a role? After all, when you add an erotic level of heat to an SFR, it’s like mixing three genres. This is especially true if a publisher has expectations for multiple love scenes. Inevitably, something has to be spaced, and it often seems like plot and worldbuilding are the first things to go.

So yes, there are low-quality books in science fiction romance/erotic SFR (for a variety of reasons, not just lame worldbuilding). There will probably *always* be low quality books, but there will also be authors willing to learn and improve their craft. And even if a few low-quality books make it through, some readers may love them, and that's okay.

As Kaye Manro and others have suggested, authors who want to blend SF, romance, and/or erotica would do well to read widely in all of the genres. Because if the “erotic” in erotic SFR is indeed just a heat level (and not erotica in disguise), then readers will have the same expectations for good plot and worldbuilding as they do for non-erotic SFR/romantic SF.

On the same token, let’s not forget that erotic SFR can explore concepts that mainstream SFR or romantic SF can’t or won’t touch—much like the original STAR TREK series explored the issue of interracial romance in Kirk and Uhura’s sultry kiss.

What’s your take? Is erotic SFR just fine as is, or would it gain more readers through better storytelling?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

*I readily admit to shamelessly co-opting Emeril Lagasse’s “Kick it up a notch” phrase. Back when I had cable, I was a Food Network junkie. Plus, Emeril’s Favorite Chinese Green Beans is soooo delicious (even despite the silly recipe title. Think: long beans, not your garden variety green beans.).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Written on

SFR News & Links For August 2010

New releases

STEAMSIDE CHRONICLES – Ciar Cullen

Emily Fenwick, formerly with the NYPD, is now the reluctant defender of 1890 New York. Unfortunately for Emily, who hates "the creepy stuff", she ignored her inner voice, went to a carnival in Central Park, and entered a Victorian tent in hopes a psychic would have some encouraging news about her woefully boring love life. The guarantee she received of meeting a tall, dark, and handsome stranger comes with a huge catch - he lives in an alternate dimension of the past.

Jack Pettigrew leads a quirky band of lost souls in a battle to save New York circa 1890. Nightmares have come alive and threaten to terrorize a fragile era. Jack leads the “punks,” who have been sucked back in time through a vortex. Each has a fleeting memory of their own death–or near death–and must determine for themselves why they have been chosen for this mission. Is Steamside their Purgatory? Could an Egyptian obelisk in Central Park be the cause of the time rift, or is Emily herself to blame for the goblins, zombies, and other nightmarish scenes plaguing them?

If the Punks want to return to 2010, they must ensure there’s going to be an 1891. If they conclude they’re really ghosts, then it might be time to party like it’s 1999.

Read an excerpt here.

SUREBLOOD – Susan Grant

Sureblood

Five years ago rival space pirate captains Val Blue and Dake Sureblood stole one incredible night together. But their brief, passionate history ended with the assassination of Val's father and the condemnation of Dake's clan. Now Val struggles to prove her mettle—to herself and to the dissenters amid her own people. Every successful raid is a boot heel ground into the burning memory of Dake Sureblood—and their secret son is a constant reminder of their shared past….

Ambushed and captured before he can clear his name, Dake Sureblood returns from a hell like no other to expose the true killer of Val's father. But as the identity of their enemy becomes chillingly clear, the former lovers must put aside their mistrust and join forces to protect their clans and their precious son.

Read an excerpt here.

CHIMERA – Nathalie Gray

Secrets Anthology
All warfare is based on deception

Sun Tzu’s Art of war


From the overcrowded slums of a future Earth, he rose as the perfect tool of lethal justice and deception. Cold and stoical by choice, alone by circumstances, he will neutralize any and all threat to his client then move on. Blunt, direct. Nothing personal. But when his next assignment involves a popular politician who’s as smart as she’s attractive, the greatest betrayal would be to deny his heart.

Read an excerpt here.

WILD CARDS AND IRON HORSES – Sheryl Nantus

Their love rides on a spring and a prayer…

During the recent Civil War, a soldier risked his life to save Jonathan Handleston—and lost. With the help of an advanced metal brace on his crippled hand, Jon now travels from one poker tournament to the next, determined to earn enough money to repay the man’s debt.

Prosperity Ridge is supposed to be the last stop on his quest, but his brace is broken and he needs an engineer to repair the delicate mechanisms. The only one available is Samantha Weatherly, a beautiful anomaly in a world ruled by men.

Sam is no fool. Jon is no different from any other gambler—except for his amazing prosthetic. Despite a demanding project to win a critical contract to develop an iron horse, she succumbs to the lure of working on the delicate mechanisms. And working with the handsome Englishman.

Like a spring being coiled, Samantha and Jon are inexorably drawn together. Sam begins to realize honor wears many faces, and she becomes the light at the end of Jon’s journey to redemption. The only monkey wrench is Victor, a rival gambler who will stop at nothing to make sure Jon misses the tournament. Even destroy Jon’s and Sam’s lives.

Read an excerpt here.

Industry

The biggest romance industry news this month hailed from the Publishers Weekly report that “Dorchester Drops Mass Market Publishing for E-Book/POD Model”:

Mass market romance publisher Dorchester Publishing has dropped its traditional print publishing business in favor of an e-book/print-on-demand model effective with its September titles that are “shipping” now. President John Prebich said after retail sales fell by 25% in 2009, the company knew that 2010 “would be a defining year,” but rather than show improvement, “sales have been worse.” While returns are down, the company has had a difficult time getting its titles into stores as shelf space for mass market has been reduced, Prebich explained. Dorchester recently let its field sales force of seven go, although Tim DeYoung remains with the company as v-p of sales and marketing. The editorial team remains intact, although Prebich said the number of titles released monthly will likely be reduced from over 30 to 25. He said the schedule for 2011 is set and Dorchester has books in the pipeline through June 2012.


The article also included the information that “Dorchester’s e-book business has had “remarkable growth” which he expects to double again in the next year.”

The news has shocked many but I personally didn’t find it very surprising. While Dorchester Publishing has been a great source of innovative romances as well as instrumental in launching the career of many authors, the company isn't backed by a mega corporation. I think it's done well to stay afloat as long as it has.

I’m glad Dorchester is doing what it can to adapt to the changing publishing landscape. As far as science fiction romance is concerned, I hope the move to ebooks means more diversity of stories in content, length, and price. Dorchester is known for taking risks on both new authors and niche subgenres. Once the dust settles, I sense an opportunity for Dorchester to partner with enterprising SFR authors who are willing to explore alternate publishing models as well as be actively involved in marketing and promotion.

We’ll see what happens.

In other publishing news, Decadent Publishing has launched! As noted above, Ciar Cullen’s STEAMSIDE CHRONICLES is among the offerings. (Learn more about what Decadent is seeking in my interview with co-founder Lisa Olmstead.)

Sugar Rush

On a related note, I’d like to extend a special congratulations to Skiffy Rommer Kimber An who sold her novel, SUGAR RUSH (YA Paranormal) to Decadent Publishing!

Steampunk Romance

Dear Author reviewed “Here There Be Monsters,” Meljean Brook’s short story from the BURNING UP anthology. The story launches her Iron Seas series, and reviewer Janine Ballard awarded it an A-:

The writing made me feel that I was truly there, inhabiting that world. I found the story absorbing and difficult to put down, and Eben and Ivy were both endearing.

You can also read an interview with Meljean Brook at Dear Author about the Iron Seas series. In the interview, she discusses the definition of steampunk as well as the evolution of her new books:

You pitched the Iron Seas idea to an editor two years ago, describing it as “The Pirates of the Caribbean meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen“. Were these films the ones that sparked the idea?

Oh, god no. Ha! I hadn’t even seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at the time I pitched the books (I’d heard too many terrible things about it). No, I used those movies as examples simply because “steampunk” wasn’t on the romance-reading radar at the time. It was only last year that we saw BONESHAKER, LEVIATHAN, and SOULLESS come out, and speculation and buzz about the genre began to pick up in romance circles. Two years ago, there wasn’t even that.

Granted, there may not have been buzz on steampunk in most romance circles, but here in the science fiction romance community it was a different story: Remember “Steampunk Is The New Black” from September 2008? I do.

And if any of you still haven’t read Alan Moore’s exquisite graphic novel LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (on which the horrible film is loosely based), run to the nearest comic book store or library. Run, I tell you!

Bring it on, baby: Japanese Steampunk (Via SF Signal).

via SFR Brigade

The SFR Brigade posted a few pictures of members who attended the 2010 RWA conference in Orlando, FL. Check out all the photos from the steampunk ball!

Also, the Thursday Tag Parties are still going strong!

Frances Pauli describes her experience as an SFR ambassador during her trip to Spocon.

Around the SFR online community

Over at Spacefreighters’ Lounge, Donna S. Frelick expounds upon why We Love Our “Bad” Science, Part Two. (Click here to read part one).

As writers start exploring the self-publishing frontier, Jacqueline Lichtenberg of Alien Romances poses the question, “What exactly does a professional editor do and why do writers need them?”. Her post is part one of an ongoing series, What Exactly Is Editing?

In Babel Fish vs. Brain Power, Rowena Cherry ponders

…some of the less diverse aspects of SFR: how writers cope with communication between species and races. It seems to me, it's either some version of the babel fish (usually an implanted chip rather than a parasite) or it's brain power and hard work in the language lab (or hypnopedia in the only one of my books where I give a nod to the problem).

SciFi Guy is back with a stellar Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, and SFF releases for August 2010! Check out the spiffy special section for SFR releases!

SONG OF SCARABAEUS

Dirty Sexy Books reviewed SONG OF SCARABAEUS by Sara Creasy. Rebecca notes that this series falls into romantic SF territory:

Color me impressed. Debut novels this good always leave me in awe, and Sara Creasy’s science fiction adventure was a vision to behold. It’s nicely spiced with romance, and yet I hate to call it a ‘science fiction romance,’ for fear of disappointing hardcore romance fans who expect certain things when somebody calls a novel a romance. Let’s just say that this will be a slow-simmer romance, and it will likely play out across two or more books. Actually, the stories that progress the romantic relationships in baby-steps are even more appealing to me, but I just want the romance fans to have their expectations set accordingly. We can turn bitter when we think we’re getting one thing, but it turns out to be another.

And John Scalzi wants to know: Does Your Favorite Sci-Fi Movie Do Right By Its Female Characters? (Thanks to Nathalie Gray for the link).

In memoriam

Kage Baker Remembered at RT Book Reviews (via SF Signal).

Now I turn the mike over to you. Got any science fiction romance news to report, or links to share?

Joyfully yours,

Heather

Postus Scriptus: It’s so good to be back!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Written on

Brief Hiatus for The Galaxy Express

Hi, folks!

The Galaxy Express will be on a brief hiatus until late next week. I recently moved and am working on obtaining Internet access for my new place.

I hope you enjoyed Parallel Universe, and I plan to join the conversations there as soon as possible. Thanks again to all of the contributors for such thought-provoking posts.

Joyfully yours,

Heather