Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Western Culture Romance Models—Too Archaic for the Future?

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

This set my mental wheels to turning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyfully yours,


**science fictional