Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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The Art of Managing Romance In a Danger Zone

During a recent email exchange, a friend and I discussed how much we enjoy reading about characters who are tightly focused on saving the day in (non-erotic) sci-fi romances with some kind of danger component or important mission. In other words, regardless of the characters' ages, the couple conveys an ability to delay sex-related gratification when danger looms.

For me, dangerous situations/missions are at distinct odds with feeling sexy and relaxed. Often time is of the essence, a villain is on the couple's tail, and/or the characters get seriously grimy. Such situations don't seem conducive to nurturing the physical aspect of one's romance, nor do I expect them to.

Many of these stories feature characters who have an important job to accomplish while enduring unpleasant physical situations (e.g., lots of dirt, heat, sweat, alien bugs, injuries, etc.). Yet sometimes one or both of the couple will engage in mental lusting or even sex at a time when I'm thinking, "Shouldn't they be more focused here?". When a couple's lives and/or the lives of other characters are at stake, I bring an expectation that sexual thrills will either already have taken place or be delayed until after the danger/mission has passed. If the couple doesn't seem to be worried about dying or preventing a catastrophe, becoming distracted by sex risks devaluing whatever it is they're trying to save.

Sometimes it feels as though the sexy times are shoehorned in to titillate readers on a specified timeline, regardless of what's happening in the external plot. Therefore, sexual interaction in some situations becomes less plausible or even implausible. It doesn't help matters that I've heard of editors asking authors to do this in non-erotic SFRs. This aspect represents one of the challenges of writing SFR at a time when the overall trend has been for steamier romances.

That said, there are plenty of sci-fi romances wherein couples stay focused on the mission or even just their jobs. Here are a few from my reading experiences.

The romance in Carol Van Natta's OVERLOAD FLUX evolves in the context of corporate crime, specifically the "corrupt pharma industry" mentioned in the blurb. I'm also a fan of mystery and police procedurals in SF, so it was a win-win all around!

Here's the blurb:

The Central Galactic Concordance has been stable for two centuries, but trouble is brewing. A pandemic is affecting hundreds of civilized planets, and someone is stealing the vaccine...

Brilliant investigator Luka Foxe's hidden mental talent is out of control, making him barely able to function in the aftermath of violence, and the body count is rising. The convoluted trail leads to a corrupt pharma industry and the possibility of an illegal, planet-sized laboratory. In the face of increasing threats, he must rely on an enigmatic, lethal woman he just met, but she has deep secrets of her own.

Mairwen Morganthur hides extraordinary skills under the guise of a dull night-shift guard. The last thing she wants is to provide personal security for a hot-shot investigator, or to be plunged into a murky case involving sabotage, treachery, and the military covert operations division that would love to discover she’s still alive.

Two more lives in a rising death count won’t bother their enemies one bit. Their only hope for survival lies in revealing their dark secrets and learning to trust one another.


Mairwen and Luka seem like they're in the 30s or 40s. Both are seasoned professionals. They're also dealing with secrets and the pressures of their jobs, as well as managing the stress of past traumatic events.

During their investigation, they develop a slow burn, "sweet" heat level romance. The sexual tension is mild-moderate; mental lusting was used judiciously. When it was time to do some investigating, that's what Mairwen and Luka did. When they had some downtime, each contemplated their growing attraction to the other. As their romance evolved, they went so far as to steal a kiss, but knowing the time constraint of their mission they would break off immediately. This is the type of romance where a simple brushing of hands—which was all either of them could manage at times—holds enormous weight.

Lynn Rae's SALVAGED DESTINY also features a couple who pretty much kept their attraction separate from their work until such a time when they could feel more relaxed and more importantly—safe. Delphine Browen works in her family's recycling business on the planet Sayre, which places her in a strategic position to help security officer Lazlo Casta locate and recover a cache of military weapons.

Here's the premise:

Delphine Browen knows what it takes to survive on the rough agricultural planet of Sayre. She helps with her family’s recycling business, prospects for minerals in the Outlands and keeps clear of corrupt officials. 

When a handsome security officer recruits her for a secret mission, she’s suspicious. But it’s his allure that worries her the most—Lazlo Casta makes her feel things she finds hard to ignore. Things that involve getting up close and far more personal than a simple salvage operation. 

Lazlo wants to impress his boss and prove to himself he can handle a clandestine assignment. After meeting Del, he’s certain she’s the woman for the job. He vows to keep their interactions professional, even though his thoughts often stray to sharing activities that involve horizontal surfaces. 

Retrieving the weapons brings risk and unexpected danger. Can Lazlo protect Del while they explore the chemistry sparking between them?


SALVAGED DESTINY reads very much like a "day-in-the-life" of Del and Lazlo's courtship. The romance unspools at a relaxed pace and develops largely during breaks from the mission. It's almost like an office romance since they struggle to effectively balance their career and relationship needs as well as maintain appropriate boundaries.

KS Augustin's RESTORATION features a mature heroine tasked with an unusual job:

Van Motaff, renowned philosopher and Rahfonist, is looking ahead to Retirement, but the planetary government has other plans. Something unprecedented has happened—a young, male Rahfoni has been raised by aliens for the past thirty years—and Van has been chosen to restore him to Rahfon society.

Even though the eyes of two worlds are on her, Van thinks the job will be straightforward enough. But when her charge, Eton Abless, is injured, an irate governor interferes, demanding that the young man be neutralised as a potential political threat. Van resists and finds herself falling into a forbidden romance with her student…a romance that may mean the end of her reputation and career, and his permanent exile. As her options narrow, Van is forced to face the conclusion that the only way to save Eton may be to lose him completely.


RESTORATION offers a subtle romance on the "sweet" heat level side, one fraught with multiple conflicts. I'd describe the SF: romance ratio as closer to 60:40 since numerous issues require resolution during the course of Van and Eton's developing bond. Additionally, this story features a heroine with a fully-realized life, including friendships, family, career, and the complications that come with her advancing age. If you prefer older SFR heroines, RESTORATION makes for a wonderful choice.

Sheryl Nantus' IN THE BLACK (Tales From the Edge #1) pairs a star ship captain with a space sheriff. With a murder to solve, they recognize hopping into bed in order to act on their attraction isn't a prudent choice. Their relationship is playful without sacrificing plausibility, especially given the time-sensitive nature of their mission. The main sex scene is hot and worth the wait.

Even the blurb promises mature characters who recognize the need to put aside personal feelings in order to save the day, which for me made the romance all the more poignant:

When Sam Keller left the military, she ran to the far end of the galaxy. Now she captains the Bonnie Belle, a spaceship full of courtesans who bring a little pleasure to hard-up men on mining colonies. When one of her girls turns up dead, it's Sam's job to find out who killed her, fast.

Marshal Daniel LeClair is as tough as steel and quick on the draw. But when his vacation gets replaced by an assignment to help find the killer, he can't help angling for a little action with the saucy, hard-charging Sam. She's got brains, attitude and a body he wouldn't mind investigating.

Sam, six months lonely, might just indulge him. But the Guild that owns the Belle wants the case closed yesterday. With pressure coming from all quadrants, Sam and her marshal clash over false leads and who's on top. But when the killer threatens the Belle again, romance will have to wait. It's a captain's job to save her crew, no matter the cost.

Have you read any similar romances featuring couples with mature/mission-focused outlooks? If so, I'd love to hear about them!

Joyfully yours,