Friday, May 1, 2009

The Only Thing Worse Than A Trashy Romance Novel Is A Bad Science Fiction Novel

Trashy romance novel” is an expression that’s so ubiquitous, it should have its own Wikipedia entry (I checked. Thank goodness, it doesn’t).

The problem isn’t that some novels are trashy or have trashy elements, but that the term has been applied to all romances by the unknowing masses. “Trashy romance novel,” as generalized to the whole genre, is a “misnomer” if there ever was one.

Ding ding ding! And in the same corner, we have the same people using the term “bad science fiction novel.” The genre has a reputation for being weird, not to mention campy, by non-SF fans. Past movies replete with poorly-executed special effects aren’t helping here.

What the above demonstrates is that both science fiction and romance have something in common: namely, they are considered “ghetto” genres in some literary circles. The irony is that some of those circles involve fans of these very same genres.

Picture science fiction as a glass house. Now envision romance as a glass house. Why, then, do they keep lobbying stones at each other? No book is perfect. And one woman’s trash is another man’s treasure where subjectivity reigns supreme.

But let’s face it, there are elements of dubious quality in both genres that have plagued readers for decades, and authors would do well to avoid many of them if at all possible.

We’ve learned much from the past as evidenced by hundreds of pretty darned sophisticated novels in both genres, but if we want to strike terms like “trashy romance novel” and “bad science fiction novel” from our lexicon, one way to start is to air the dirty laundry and have a frank discussion about the flaws.

I’m not sure there’s an entirely straightforward solution, and certainly there’s not an easy one. I also wonder about how seriously readers feel about this issue—enough to make a conscious change? It’s difficult to believe so when certain snark-infested sites keep stoking the fires of discontent, but they aren’t representative of all readers and authors.

However, I think the topic is important enough that it's worth another discussion about it. I envision this post as a chance (like a summit or something!) for all of us to dish on what we consider to be sub-par elements in these books. And at a site about science fiction romance we have both the right and the authority to shred analyze the flaws of both parent genres! To get things rolling, below are a few select ingredients one can find in trashy romance and bad science fiction novels:

You know it’s a trashy romance novel if it has

• Gratuitous sex/nonstop mental lusting
• Purple prose
• Lurid cover
• Outlandish titles (along the lines of The Virgin Mistress’ Secret Baby Daddy)
• Outlandish plot devices (secret baby, The Big Misunderstanding, amnesia)
• Domineering Alpha Males who Must Be Tamed by…
• …Too Stupid To Live Heroines
• Superficial character development and/or that which defies suspension of disbelief (e.g., heroine in a historical who seems to have stepped right out from the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine)
• Body part euphemisms that defy any kind of language logic
• Cardboard/two dimensional/over the top/obvious villains

You know it’s a bad science fiction novel if it has

• Gratuitous sex, poorly written
• Purple prose
• Pulpy cover art
• Bad science (perhaps the number one complaint)
Bug Eyed Monsters
• Zero character development
• Idiotic moves (e.g., removing one’s helmet in space)
• Too many gimmicks or over-used gimmicks
• Trophy love interests
• Exotic descriptions for the sake of being exotic (e.g., labeling ordinary items a “Zurg Volominator X1,” when it’s really just a toilet).

It’s not to say that there can’t be stories utilizing some (or all?!) of the above elements, because quite a few of those are among the greatest. And I’ve certainly enjoyed my share of “bad SF” when I’m in the right mood. (Heck, I get more entertainment value from repeated viewings of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE than many big-budget “serious” films. Having said that, I still recognize that Ed Wood’s directing prowess doesn’t exactly match that of Werner Herzog.)

But given the outstanding books published in both genres, the bar is pretty high right now so readers would demand a fresh approach. I mean, a really fresh approach, especially if one is combining the two. I’m thinking something along the lines of, say, “The Virgin Cosmonaut’s Secret Amnesiac Alien Baby Daddy.”

Now, tell me what’s on your list. Can the right books change attitudes, or do you think we will be stuck with genre ghettoizing until the end of Time?

Joyfully yours,


Postus Scriptus: Romance cover image snagged from the Smart Bitches post Covers Gone Lindsay, Part 3