Sunday, February 1, 2009

Futuristic Romance Retrospective, Part I: The Pioneers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WHITE SUN by Stobie Piel
THE DAWN STAR by Stobie Piel
STAR CRASH by Elysa Hendricks

2/3/09--Fab update!

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

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

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

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

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

Joyfully yours,