Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In the Beginning, There Was Kirk/Spock

Is there nothing that the duo of Captain James T. Kirk and Spock from the original STAR TREK series can’t accomplish? Not only was Spock-in-love fanfiction an influential force in the formation of science fiction romance, but the dynamic between Kirk and Spock laid the groundwork for the growing m/m subgenre as well.

Kirk/Spock is widely seen as the first slash pairing, but now many SF media fandoms—such as THE SENTINEL, STARGATE, STARGATE: ATLANTIS, BLAKES 7, and SMALLVILLE—have a very strong slash fanfiction following.

Many m/m writers honed their craft and acquired a taste for gay romance through slash, so the influence is important to note. However, slash fanfiction remains more adventurous in themes and exploring unconventional ideas such as mirror universes, gender swapping, and male pregnancy, than professional fiction.

I’m wondering if the restrictions of commercial requirements and an insistence on romantic structures more suited to heterosexual stories accounts for this constricting influence upon commercial m/m SF writers. Perhaps there are more geeks writing romance themes in their SF slash, than there are romance writers who are comfortable with SF themes in their romance. (All the more reason for romance authors, publishers, and editors to increase their scope of competence regarding SF tropes and conventions, as I’ve blogged about previously.)

Another factor to consider is that authors penning original stories can’t rely on an audience’s previous knowledge of the characters, so they must spend time establishing their worlds and characters from scratch. How many authors truly have the opportunity to develop such an endeavor into a long series where they can explore their themes, especially through traditional mainstream print publishers? Not many, I’d wager.

Genre cross-overs yield opportunities for some experimentation, however. In slash fanfiction, cross-overs between fandoms are common and received enthusiastically. The, professional version (i.e., original stories) of cross-overs is to mix genres. Two examples are CRIMSON STAR (vampires in space), and MY FAIR CAPTAIN (Regency England in space).

M/M Themes & Plots

It’s notable that m/m SF rarely focuses on themes regarding gay identity and gender. Either the world is extremely gay positive, or these themes are not presented as a problem.

Here are some examples of themes in m/m SF, along with stories (some of which contain romance/romantic elements) that explore them:

The Outsider/Othering - Ann Somerville, ON WINGS RISING; R.W. Day, A STRONG AND SUDDEN THAW



Marooned - Elizabeth Jewell, CRIMSON STAR

Superheroes - J.M Snyder’s superhero series, THE POWERS OF LOVE; Parhelion, MASKS

Past history, revisited futuristically - J. L. Langley, MY FAIR CAPTAIN and THE ENGLOR AFFAIR


Below is a selection of m/m SF categorized according to setting:

Near future dystopias - Manna Francis, THE ADMINISTRATION

Far future dystopias - Astrid Amara, A POLICY OF LIES and INTIMATE TRAITORS

Alternate Universes - Ann Somerville, PINDONE FILES

Space - Elizabeth Jewell, CRIMSON STAR; Ann Somerville, INTERSTITIAL

On a planet, far far away - J. L. Langley, MY FAIR CAPTAIN and THE ENGLOR

Real world, unreal abilities - J.M Snyder, THE POWERS OF LOVE; Ann Somerville, A FLUFFY TALE; Parhelion, MASKS; Drew Gummerson, “Good Grief”; Jordan Castillo Price’s PSYCOP series

Future Earth - Mark Rudolph, “Going Once

Let’s Get Bolder

Now back to Kirk/Spock for a moment. The creation of slash fanfiction based on this couple was in response to a vast, unmet need to see alternative sexualities and romantic story lines which did not fall within the tradition male-female construct. Yet since STAR TREK first aired, there have not been any canonical gay couples in mainstream media SF until Captain Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones in TORCHWOOD (which also has the honor of featuring the first bisexual main character in any SF show), and very recently, in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (Felix Gaeta/Lt Hoshi—albeit only in webisodes).

Slash is now a mature, and even respected facet of the huge volume of fanfiction produced each year, but as a professional literary genre, original m/m is still in its infancy, and a very long way from being mainstream.

Small press publisher Torquere, perhaps the first e-press devoted to m/m, is less than a decade old, and the boom spearheaded by epublishers such as Ellora’s Cave and Samhain Publishing is even younger than that (professional m/m has risen in popularity basically in the last three years or so). Yet expansion in this genre is inevitable already upon us—albeit along with the growing pains commensurate with any niche market.

The mixture of paranormal elements with hardcore SF might upset the purists, but m/m should be, given its roots, a genre where anything goes. I’d like to encourage authors to use that freedom to its fullest extent. Think a few steps beyond traditional vampires and werewolves transplanted to a futuristic setting—why not create a scientific basis for them? Or start experimenting with other beings altogether.

Given the “very short list of genuine gay science fiction books”, Mel Keegan wants to know “What the heck happened to the flood of top-line, really gay books that are also great science fiction?!”

Good question. And my Spidey-sense is tingling because I detect an opportunity here. For those of you who have ever entertained even the slightest possibility of writing m/m, or f/f, or incorporating any other gender models into your science fiction stories, now might be a fruitful time to surrender to that creative urge. I believe that you’ll find readers among devotees of science fiction romance, and that they’ll find your work.

Doing so could very well benefit m/m SF and SFR simultaneously, one because readers like me are always on the lookout for variety as well as daring, innovative stories, and two because there is demand for these stories in the worlds of epublishing and small/independent presses. Blind Eye Books in particular is “dedicated to publishing science-fiction and fantasy stories with gay and lesbian protagonists.”

The m/m and science fiction romance duo could be a satisfying creative endeavor for writers. The more avenues that authors and readers explore, the more choices they have. Instead of m/m and SFR running on parallel courses, why not actively cultivate such a partnership?

What a fascinating possibility...!

Joyfully yours,