Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Will "Sweet" Science Fiction Romance Survive?

In Why Some Readers Hate Graphic Sex Scenes, Kimber An elucidates a number of reasons for such an aversion. Number seven caught my eye:

“They’re fine with graphic scenes, but if it overwhelms the characterization and/or the plot, they’re going to hate it. They need a reason for sex, not just a place.”

This observation resonated with me because while I’ve enjoyed some pretty wild erotic horror/tentacle erotica/hentai in my time (and still do), I’m actually quite particular when it comes to science fiction romance. My favorite SFR show of all time was downright chaste when it came to the romance, yet I gobbled up hentai manga and erotic fanfiction involving the hero and heroine like there was no tomorrow. But just because I enjoyed seeing them consummating their relationship, I wouldn’t want the original altered in any way. Okay, maybe I'm a study in contrasts. {Grin}

Kimber An’s observation also prompted me to revisit a post I did last year in which I blogged about my preference for less-is-more when it comes to sex scenes in science fiction romance. I’d also recently read MEGAN’S CHOICE by Ellie Marvel, and found the mild level of erotic content intriguing. The interactive novella read more like a steamy traditional romance than erotic romance. Also, as I was compiling a list of publishers who consider SFR, I learned that a few of the erotica publishers release mild erotic romance in a specific category.

All of which said to me that it’s worth exploring whether the market can support sweet/less-is-more science fiction romance (or any type of romance, for that matter. Maybe not erotic romance, but even then, who knows?). I think there is a market…but I can’t offer any hard numbers just yet.

I also reflected further on the topic of sex scenes in SFR—specifically the kind some publishers push for authors to include. When it comes to SFR, I don’t think there’s very much room for sex scenes. Romance, yes. Plot, yes. Worldbuilding, yes. Sexual tension, definitely yes. The genre is about the merging of romance and SF, not sex and SF, and I think that definition applies whether a book is a 50-50 split or veers toward the traditional futuristic romance. (To be clear, I'm not including futuristic erotic romance in this discussion-that genre is *supposed* to be about the sexual journey of the characters).

Authors have many elements to juggle in a hybrid genre without throwing sex scenes they otherwise might not have added into the mix. Unless the word count restrictions lift any time soon, I just don’t see much room. And if it comes down to making hard choices in my science fiction romance, I will choose romance and plot over sex scenes Every. Single. Time.

Take THE EXORCIST for example. It’s a far different experience than horror films today such as those in the SAW franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good torture porn and I enjoyed the first SAW immensely. Ultimately, though, I crave to re-experience the magic that accompanied THE EXORCIST. In that film, the real terror is what’s not depicted on screen. The most horrific scenes in THE EXORCIST were actually very few, but also powerful and ten times more effective as a result.

As in the case with wall-to-wall gore fests like SAW, do romance readers need more and more sex scenes to be satisfied with a romance these days? Or is it that the explosion of graphic sex scenes represents creative freedoms previously denied or suppressed?

I want to believe it’s the latter, because I have a difficult time believing readers—romance readers in particular—are in it just for the sex scenes. Why on earth would X number of sex scenes (one of which might be on, say, page 200), be a main attraction in a non-erotic romance?

Here’s the thing: science fiction romance can’t—I repeat, can’t—compete with paranormal or erotic romance when it comes to graphic sex scenes. It’s already been done. Nor should it try to compete in that arena. I hope authors feel they truly have the freedom to write whatever number or kind of sex scenes that serve the story, and if that means only one sex scene, then so be it.

Science fiction romance has a lot to offer readers who have sated their itch for graphic were-creature sex, or who are simply more invested in the other elements. The challenge is finding those readers—and making them into a force to be reckoned with.

Joyfully yours,