Rowrr! Don’t you know it! And right now, the author is having a giveaway. To win a digital copy of his space opera romance THE MYTHMAKERS, all you have to do is leave a comment for the post (the deadline to enter is 3/5/2010).
Anyway, a good portion of Mr. Appleton’s article focused on point of view (POV) in science fiction romance, which made me remember I’d wanted to blog about this issue. POV preference varies by genre/subgenre, and SFR is no exception. However, are there certain POV rules SFR romance authors must follow? Mr. Appleton states that sales demographics dictate the answer:
Most publishers won’t even consider a sf romance, or any type of romance, unless it’s told from a woman’s POV. It just won’t sell…
I’m not sure the above is entirely accurate. In the past, yes, it was typical for an author to tell a romance from the heroine’s POV. Since the late eighties, however, it’s been increasingly common for authors to employ dual POV, spinning the tale from perspectives that alternate between the hero and heroine. Authors and publishers learned that female readers enjoyed delving into the hero’s perspective, especially in stories in which the hero drives the story.*
But what about science fiction romance entirely from the hero’s POV? Why wouldn’t publishers consider this type of story? Are readers truly that averse? I have a difficult time understanding why all science fiction romance would have to be told from the heroine’s POV. It’s a diverse subgenre, and I expect diversity in the storytelling. Lucky for me, authors are availing themselves of the various possibilities. For example, Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA is told entirely from the viewpoint of the hero. Linnea Sinclair’s HOPE’S FOLLY employs dual perspective. I found both books refreshing in that respect, but for different reasons.
In ALPHA, the heroine is an android. Telling the story from the hero’s perspective lent Alpha a mystery she wouldn’t have otherwise had. Plus, I question trying to tell a story from the perspective of a character who is actively evolving into a sentient creature. My guess is that she wouldn’t have been a reliable narrator. She barely knew what emotions were, let alone how to manage and process them. That’s what the hero was for.
In HOPE’S FOLLY, we are frequently in hero Philip Guthrie’s POV. For me, that’s a thrill because even though the author is female, I get the fantasy of experiencing a man’s growing love for a woman from his perspective. It’s especially satisfying if the hero is as sympathetic as Philip. My only gripe with the book is that
[Mild Spoiler Alert]
the love scene is told from the heroine’s perspective. I had become so invested in Philip’s emotional journey that I was really looking forward to the payoff of his response while making love to Rya for the first time. If Ms. Sinclair had employed dual perspective during this scene If Ms. Sinclair had told this scene from Philip's POV, I would have had my cake and eaten it, too.
[End Spoiler Alert]
Mr. Appleton goes on to state that “It’s funny, though, that female sf readers aren’t averse to sf with a male POV.” Which is me in a nutshell, so I understand my comfort level with SFR from the hero’s perspective has roots in my SF reading experiences, and may not be typical of many romance readers. However, I don’t think all romance readers would shy away from stories told from the hero’s POV, regardless of their reading backgrounds.
In the end, the important factor to consider is that romances are about relationships involving two people on an emotional journey. Isn’t it possible that dual perspective enhances the emotional payoff for the reader?
What’s your preference regarding POV in science fiction romance? What about books told entirely from the hero’s perspective—do they stand a chance in today’s market? Would more books from the hero’s perspective attract male readers to science fiction romance?
*While there are undoubtedly many articles and blog posts written on the subject, the topic was fresh in my mind since I’d recently read DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN, a collection of essays on romance edited by Jayne Ann Krentz. See my earlier post here.
Given the refinement of cover art that romance publishers have accomplished over the decades, why oh why can’t they get a handle on the packaging for science fiction romance covers? Covers are usually perceived as the main marketing tool for books. Case in point: listen to this Carina Press Marketing podcast in which Malle Vallik emphasizes their importance.
Paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporaries, and urban fantasies all seem to have been afforded that coveted cover sweet spot--right down to the last ruffle, tattoo, or shade of blue. So why does SFR lag so far behind? During an exchange with author Claire Delacroix (GUARDIAN) on the subject as well as some research, I gained insight into a few possibilities: *Publishers are all about avoiding risk, not incurring it. This is especially true for niche subgenres.
*Lack of sales for said niche subgenre.
*In general, they are not the customer of science fiction romance (see Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s post on Marketing Via Social Networking). Therefore, they don’t know how to package it—either for fans or readers new to SFR.
*Budget issues (e.g., they don’t invest in skilled cover artists; reliance on stock cover images.).
*They haven’t yet encountered that particular SFR that makes them go, “Whoa! Let’s spend some money on this one!” despite the fact that they are not the customer.
*All of the above.
Until publishers decide they want to get serious about branding SFR covers, be prepared for images that are all over the map in terms of style and quality. For example, check out When Bad Covers Happen To Good Books, which features commentary on two SFR covers.
I don’t expect every single cover to nail it, but maybe two proverbial heads are better than one when it comes to packaging SFR. We may not all be cover artists (I draw a mean stick figure, but that's about it), but we are the customers. And even if the quintessential SFR cover arises from an as yet unknown source, it's still an important conversation to have given the importance publishers ascribe to that aspect of a book's packaging.
With that in mind, I’m going to give each of you a virtual hundred dollars for a very important task. Your mission: Share ideas on how to best design a science fiction romance cover, or compile a list of essentials for such a cover. Anyone who is a cover artist by trade is especially welcome to contribute.
As you develop your cover, consider these questions and issues:
What components do you think would help readers identify science fiction romance? What common motifs might unite the entire subgenre (with the exception of steampunk romance, which will probably develop its own visual cues)?
How might your cover appeal to both fans and readers new to the subgenre? How might it appeal to booksellers? Can you appeal to all three simultaneously? Would it make a difference whether the cover was for a digital book vs. a print book? And finally, regardless of medium, what would be your strategy if you could only use stock images?
Earlier this week, journalist Kate Youde contacted me to discuss the growing steampunk romance trend in the United States as part of a steampunk feature she was developing for The Independent on Sunday. I'm excited to share that her article is now available at the paper's Web site. Incidentally, The Independent on Sunday has a circulation of over 200,000 daily subscribers.
Romance writers are capitalising on the growing popularity of the fictional genre, which mixes steam power with science fiction in alternate realities. But it is not just in bookshops that 2010 is set to see a new age of steam: a burgeoning subculture is making its mark from the cinema to high street fashion.
You'll also notice while reading the article that it includes a few notable authors and titles. They are: Katie MacAlister (STEAMED), Meljean Brook and her Iron Seas series, and Nathalie Gray (FULL STEAM AHEAD).
The article also includes this tidbit about the future of steampunk romance in the UK:
Barbara Jones, romance buyer at Waterstone's, said it was "early days" for steampunk romance in the UK but she expected it to become very popular over the next few years. "Steampunk in general is fun and adventurous, as well as being rooted in all things Victorian, which is very popular here but also, crucially, in the US, where most of the strong romance fiction trends start."
Woot! This is great news. Of course, we saw the steampunk romance revolution coming as far back as 2008!
I'd provided Ms. Youde with perhaps enough information to fill three columns, so even if she couldn't use everything because of space limitations, rest assured I left no steampunk stone unturned when it came to answering her questions. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank her again for inviting me to participate.
And check this out: there's even more yummy steampunk romance coverage ahead! This April, LoveLetter magazine will feature a splashy steampunk romance feature. I penned the main column, and readers will also be treated to interviews and articles by steampunk romance authors as well as an editor. All of which means that steampunk romance has gone global, baby!
And here at The Galaxy Express, stay tuned for additional steampunk romance coverage in the near future.
Needless to say (but I'm going to say it anyway!), it's been a thrill to help orchestrate LoveLetter's steampunk romance feature. It's exciting enough to have the privilege of blogging about this hot new subgenre online, let alone have the honor of sharing it with readers beyond the blogosphere.
It’s hard to find a leading character that’s had more of a profound and long-lasting effect on the science fiction romance community than "It Hero" Mr. Spock. Before the original STAR TREK’s premiere, most people had never seen anything like him—both physically (Those ears!) and mentally (That logic! That torture!).
As we discussed previously, it was this compelling, multifaceted characterization that drove early fan fiction. He was the reason why many wanted the show to continue—both in season three and ST:TMP. He’s the reason why we cried during KHAN, and we laughed during THE VOYAGE HOME.
Seeing as how Hollywood appears bent on remaking every film from the time of the Lumière Brothers to date—and how mashups of literary classics are currently all the rage—why not stir the silver screen pot with some SF classics by recasting them with our beloved Vulcan?
And so came the following logical countdown:
# 5 Spock as the alien in STARMAN
This film’s due for a remake anyway. The sting of Columbia greenlighting it and passing on that other little known film called E.T. (you might have heard of it) should have healed by now.
Put Spock in the Jeff Bridges role. He could land on Earth during his time of Pon Farr. There, he meets Lady Gaga in the Karen Allen role. (Gotta bring in the kids and think of the cross-promotion! They can sing duets!) Sparks erupt and the box office explodes. Have him sample some Reeses Pieces too, just to win back some of Columbia’s lost product placement cash. “My mind cannot fathom how such a small delicacy commands such rich taste!”
# 4 Spock as Klaatu
Forget the recent Keanu Reeves misfire of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (please!), remake it with Spock as the lead. The 1951 Michael Rennie seems like a bit of a precursor for our favorite Vulcan anyway.
Spock: “I'm impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.” (Actually, that’s a real line from the classic film. Add a “Dr. McCoy” in there and you can see how it could be very Spockesque.)
Following along this line, we could also swap Klaatu out for Tony Montana. After the soldiers fire on him, the alien commander utters the line, “Okay. You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!” Out comes Gort the robot, lasers blastin’.
Hmmm, now that I'm going there, wonder how Spock would work as the lead in a SCARFACE remake?
# 3 Spock in DUNE
Spock as Muad‘Dib? Let’s see.
Conquering his fear from the Bene Gesserit pain box would be a breeze. Planning strategic Fremen raids on the Harkonnens wouldn’t be a problem, either. But riding giant worms while high on spice…? That might bring out a new side to his half-human/half-vulcan self!
“The worm is the spice! The spice is…fascinating!”
# 2 Spock as the captain in WAR IN SPACE
Trust me, no matter who or what you recast in this movie, it could only help—be it Spock or a slightly used toaster.
Sigh. This project would probably never get off the ground, though. Once Spock sees the toy robot as the villain, logic would dictate he fire his resident Ari Gold and hurl him into the Doomsday Machine immediately.
“I suggest you take your percentage from this, sir.”
# 1: Spock as Han Solo
I can see it now: Obi Wan and Luke meet up with “Spock Solo” in the bar as he devours some “light” philosophical reading on Technological Determinism in between sips from his galactic sarsaparilla. “I understand that you need transport, which I can readily provide. However, your demands for haste and discretion dictate that my remuneration remain quite high.”
Luke: < blank stare >.
Obi-wan: “Don’t ask. Just sell your speeder.”
Luke: < another blank stare >.
Spock then steeples fingers and shoots first. Ahhhh, yes!
He’d also be an ace at playing the Harryhausen-inspired chess game with Chewbacca—but only so far. “Logic dictates that I occasionally let the Wookie win.”
I sense a tremor in the box office returns…!
So that’s my list. I want these projects rolling as tent poles by next summer. What would you toss into the mix, oh dear readers?
Here aboard the Galaxy Express, we’ve discussed the issue of science fiction romances involving humanoid aliens, others involving non-humanoid aliens, and the pros and cons of zoomorphism in science fiction romance. All well and good, but many of these stories feature romances between Earthlings and heroes/heroines from other worlds—human heroes and heroines, that is.
When I referred to the existence of fictional “aliens who share human DNA—sometimes as much as 100%” in my post on zoomorphism, author Jennifer Andersen (DEMONKEEPERS) encouraged me to develop a post on the subject. I thought, heck yeah, because I have a unique, academically stringent, and scientifically ironclad theory about the existence of aliens who resemble us down to the last atom.
Here it is in a nutshell: because we humans evolved here on planet Earth, it goes without saying, really, that they will also evolve elsewhere in the universe. Their location or whether we ever meet them is inconsequential. See, I just happen to know for a fact that the possibility of their evolution is 100%.
Okay, so my theory is about a hundred hypotheses short of a statistic. The truth is, I have a deep-seated fear that we are the only humans in the universe, past, present, or future. I don’t rightly recall when I first developed this fear (possibly sometime during my angst-filled, SF-obsessed adolescence), but I know I frequently resort to my special comfort theory whenever I encounter fictional aliens who are, for all intents and purposes, human like us. As a result, I feel less alone.
I feel immortal, even.
In truth, we would most likely experience extreme difficulty relating (linguistically, emotionally, psychologically, and physically) to genuinely alien aliens. So the widespread technique of creating human aliens nips that little bugger of realism right in the bud, especially where interspecies romances are concerned. In My You Look Lovely Tonight, Crystalline Entity, Syaffolee asks, “And if you’re trying to put some humanity into them, well, wouldn’t it just be easier to make them human?”
Stylistically, it is a whole lot easier. The choice to make the hero or heroine’s alien love interest simply a hot bod from another planet slashes worldbuilding efforts by over half. Language barrier? No problem: They could learn English, for example, by watching broadcasted signals from television series—like ALF! Plus, there’d be no need to worry about sexual compatibility. Easy peasy. The story then remains focused on the romance rather than on the heroine’s adjustments to the hero’s alien physiology. In other words, there’s no question about who’s doing what to whom.
On the other hand, I have difficulty engaging with alien heroes who are nothing more than exotic “I’m too sexy for my ray gun” studs whose sole purpose seems to be the awakening of a virginal heroine’s sexuality. I also question if a hero hails from a patriarchal culture. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but my hope is that when it applies, authors and readers are constantly re-evaluating the idea of patriarchy in a futuristic setting. Does it make creative sense to perpetuate such a trope?
My concern with human aliens is not so much the nigh-impossibility of their existence as how an author portrays them. When reading stories with heroes and heroines, I start evaluating how much trope (both romance and SF) is involved in their character development. I also assess the tone of the story as well as the level/sophistication of the worldbuilding. Some tales are more successful than others in creating believable, just-different-enough human-type aliens.
I’m happy to make the acquaintance of human aliens in science fiction romance. All I ask is that they prompt me to reflect on what it really means to be human, and to assure me that we're not alone.
What aspect do you enjoy about aliens who are basically human? Is there anything about such characters that you’d like to see explored, changed, or abandoned altogether?
Today is the official release day of Manda Benson’s DARK TEMPEST (Lyrical Press). It’s a science fiction romance with a pretty nifty cover to boot!
Here’s the story’s premise:
Hijacking a woman's spacecraft is definitely not the way to win her heart.
Gerald Wolff is a convict blackmailed into hijacking the ship belonging to Jed, a star Archer and descendant of one of the highest Blood lineages in the known galaxy, while he is but an outcast half Blood.
Jed has found Equilibrium by adhering to a strict code. Wolff’s intrusion into her ship and her life upsets the balance of her obsessively controlled world. His very presence confuses her, yet they must work together in order to discover why they are being hunted, and to stay one step ahead of their pursuers.
I must say, the content warning tickled the heck out of me: “Content Warning: Violence, sex, foul language, science.”
Science—ha! I guess what they mean by that is “Beware content that may stimulate your brain as well as your nether regions.” I love me some paradoxical warnings.
Here’s a recent interview with the author, courtesy of Nerine Dorman’s blog This Is My World. Ms. Dorman states that “…if you enjoyed reading works in the scope of the likes of David Brin, CJ Cherryh and Mary Gentle, I can say with authority that you'll most likely enjoy Manda's writing.”
Regarding her background, in the interview Ms. Benson shares that “I have an MChem and a PhD in Chemistry. I worked mainly in the areas of natural products and organic synthesis, which included biofuels, drugs design and coming up with ways to make novel polymers.”
Pssst—don’t look now, but I think with all that talk of polymers and organic synthesis, she’s trying to turn us on!
Regarding the cover for Nathalie Gray’s forthcoming erotic steampunk romance novel, FULL STEAM AHEAD, nothing can express my reaction better than OMG!* Feast your eyes on this striking cover, an exclusive made possible for you by the combined generosity of the author and Red Sage Managing Editor Theresa Stevens.
This cover is a super science fiction romance cover for a number of reasons. First, the airship is eye-catching and prominent. Sleek. It’s above the clouds so I’m anticipating the story will promise loads of adventure and airship battles. There’s not just one, either—two of them grace the cover. Those convey the science fictional aspects with aplomb. But what about the romance?
Answer: the color scheme. The cover spells out the romance with its deep reds, oranges, and hints of fiery yellow. The black clothing of the man in the foreground screams dark and dangerous hero. And it’s refreshing to see another cover with the hero’s face. (The more I reflect, the more I’m realizing that many science fiction romances feature the hero’s face. A possible mainstay for the subgenre, perhaps, to help distinguish it from paranormal romance?) I know it’s a stock photo, but I’m buying into his character already. I think it’s a safe bet that he’ll come close to matching the description of the hero in the story. I’m also wondering if the artist tinkered with the shadows around his face because his image looks hella sexy. Love the composition of the man and the airship at work here.
Contrasting nicely with the bold colors and block lettering is the sensuous curve of the word “steam.” That juxtaposition also conveys romance, as does the long red scarf. The billowing clouds contribute by lending the scene a bit of softness.
With steampunk romance currently making a mark for itself, well done, I say. As a science fiction romance fan, this is a cover I can believe in.
But wait a minute…since the hero of FULL STEAM AHEAD is featured on the cover, who is he, anyway? In a recent comment at the Red Sage blog, Nathalie Gray offered this peek into her hero:
“…Captain Phineas "Finn" Hamilton is dark-haired, and even if I don't mention just how exultant his follicles are, they are there.
Finn is a privateer, one of the best, running dangerous routes along the borders with the enemy (steampunk equivalent of bikers crossed with Vikings...the ugly ones), so he wouldn't have time to mess with his hair. On his head (which is long), or on his chest.
Plus, he's a wounded hero, physically and mentally. He has an awful scar from his last run-in with the enemy (a battle that cost him much more than a nasty scar, too). So definitely no time for the wax jobs.”
Wow—airships and a hero with exultant chest hair follicles?! Color me sold.
FULL STEAM AHEAD by Nathalie Gray will be on sale by Red Sage Publishing on March 1, 2010.
"Sometimes you feel like a nut / Sometimes you don't / Almond Joy's got nuts / Mounds don't."
The above jingle, of course, advertised “Almond Joy and Mounds in tandem. In a play on words, the "feel like a nut" portion of the jingle was typically played over a clip of someone acting like a "nut," engaged in some funny-looking activity, such as riding on a horse backwards.” Which made me go “Yes! Yes! That’s exactly how I feel about space opera!” Space opera that “plays fast and loose with science” makes me feel like a backwards riding equestrian nut—wild and happy and warm and fuzzy about a big ol’ ooey-gooey crunchy intergalactic adventure.
I’m an Almond Joy connoisseurs myself. Can’t get enough of the way the nutty taste of the almond blends with the super sweet coconut. I get cavities just thinking about it. And I’m unapologetic and will be forever and ever about my tastes in science fiction—especially space opera. Yeah, the science is often inexcusable, but so what? It’s fun. Often, it even gets away with delivering some pretty Deep Themes.
Sometimes, though, shoddy science fictional elements in a commercial (no pun intended!) space opera drives me nuts. Inject me with a dose of Mounds, stat! Really, if you think about it, much of the science in them is absolutely appalling. Many of them fall under the heading of science fantasy. There are plenty of times when I hope to learn more about real science in the context of an entertaining story with compelling characters. So I can understand why Ms. Delacroix points out that
“In a real sense, space operas are costume dramas with latex and lasers – they tell us more about ourselves right here and right now than about whatever might be out there in the galaxy in our future.”
And finally, even though I respectfully disagree with her assertion that space operas feature “bad science” across the board (Alastair Reynolds is an example of an author whose hard space operas features pretty stringent scientific concepts. I loved his CENTURY RAIN, but it would take me a couple of millennia to learn the science underlying the concepts in that book), I do understand the importance of making the distinction between fun, escapist science fiction and a thinking person’s science fiction. Both are valid—they just fill different needs.
Because, you know, sometimes you feel like a nut....
While the turbulent forces of publishing industry storms have been brewing, I’ve been wondering how science fiction romance readers, authors, and small press/digital publishers could take advantage of the changing times.
This isn’t to say that the traditional publishing model is on the way out—far from it. Mainstream print publishers will continue to be a driving force, but they are tightening their belts to maximus restrictus.
Even though SFR is a niche market, there’s no reason we can’t get creative about connecting the product with both current and new readers. Developing and implementing new strategies will require an innovative mindset and lots of elbow grease, but I believe there’s plenty of opportunity for science fiction romance to grow despite the sturm und drang. New seeds are being planted.
As I reflected on how to make science fiction romance a contender, ten points came to mind....
10) A new belief system is in order: The reader, not the bookseller, is the customer.
9) Customers are demanding affordable books, especially digital ones. (It bears repeating that paperbacks outsell hardcovers, and this article outlines “the shocking few [hardcovers] sold at that price [$20 plus dollars].” (Thanks to Jane from Dear Author for the link.)
8) Inexpensive ebooks can translate to higher profits. We can’t control the market, but we can control our own behavior. What, then, are specific, straightforward, and realistic strategies we can use to nurture SFR? How can we monetize the various components of our online community?
7) Authors could explore selling digital science fiction romances at competitive prices through their Web sites or in venues such as publication on the Kindle (more on this below the cut). In this case, you’re not just selling science fiction romance. You’re selling inexpensive digital content in an ever-expanding market. Plus, you’d reap a higher per-book income and reach new customers.
6) Aspiring authors should seriously consider bypassing New York altogether—at least for now—and either aim for a career in digital publishing or taking advantage of publication on the Kindle or through Smashwords (in which case, only serious entrepreneurs need apply (more on this below the cut). To refresh your memory, here’s a list of publishers who will consider science fiction romance.
5) Is there a small press/digital publisher willing to brand itself as the leader in quality science fiction romance? If not, it's an excellent chance to grab and own the brand. Opportunities like this don't come often, but here it is—a shiny apple waiting to be picked.
4) Readers (including those that are writers) can buy new, spread the word about their favorite books, and give feedback to authors about what they are willing to pay for ebooks. If you don’t have an e-reader but are willing to read a novella or short story on your laptop, let authors know.
3) Ebooks are the future and the future is here now. You may or may not be a fan of ebook readers in their present form (I know I'd like to see lower prices and better tech), but once a 10-ton train like this starts rolling—and it is—then it's either hop on and enjoy the ride or get out of the way. Paper will still be around for a long, long time, but digital is the future—something that blends well with this little thing called SFR.
2) People who like science fiction like gadgets. I know, who would ever guess? But, it's an important point to make. When this once-niche format called DVD first leaped onto the scene, the best selling discs were all SF related—first was STARSHIP TROOPERS, which was supplanted by THE MATRIX. People who like SF love new technology. And if that technology requires new media to drive it...well, you do the math. Hand meet glove.
1) The science fiction romance online community is its own marketing department. Not everyone can be a J.A. Konrath. But what might we accomplish if we start exchanging our skills and resources to help promote both authors as well as the subgenre? Sometimes it happens organically, but I’d wager an organized approach would benefit the community as well. How about we start the conversation right now?
I realize many of the ideas involve time and the building of new skill sets. And the idea of venturing out into the digital landscape, with its onus on the author to "Do Everything" can seem daunting. But in a niche subgenre like science fiction romance, I don’t believe anyone has to go it alone.
I’m also not alone in discussing alternate publishing business models:
Agent Nathan Bransford believes “It’s a Great Time to Be An Author” because, “In the e-book era, everyone will have a shot.” However, “this new era will require more of authors than just writing a book in a cabin in the woods and shipping it out for someone else to do the rest. It will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a whole lot of virtual elbow grease.”
“…crowdsourcing of fiction is becoming ever more common and does have the potential to make a decent return. Two examples - Lee & Miller wrote the first drafts of their recently published (by er Baen) novels Fledgling and Saltation a chapter at a time visible for all to see on the Internet. As I understand it, they raised somewhere north of $20,000 doing so - I think it may have been over 30k but am niot sure. That's not too different from the typical midlist authorial advance.”
Michael A. Stackpole, in his commentary about authors who lost sales because of the Amazon-MacMillan face-off, posed the question,
“What could these authors do to get more income for their writing? They could take all the stories for which they own the ebook rights, prep them for publication on the Kindle, and set them up for sale on their own websites. Sales of material from their own websites will pay them today. Kindle sales will pay them in sixty days. Between now and October, an author could easily and fairly effortlessly, pull in $1000 to $3000 via such digital sales. If they work at it, even more.”
“Make no mistake about it: the fight over ebooks is a fight by publishers to stay relevant. I’ve already pointed out that they are defending a grossly inefficient business model. Authors now have direct access to their audience and by going direct (even charging less than the publishers) authors can make money faster than the publishers will allow. Authors have plenty of content which they can sell digitally, and can generate more, faster. When you can make more off a $2 short story than you can off an $8 paperback set in the same world, and not have to wait 6-9 months for a publisher to send you your cut, you can take control of your own economy. [Emphasis mine]
Are digital sales to the point where they can supplant traditional publishing income? For some authors they are. Digital readers are proliferating, and the J. K. Rowling demographic is very comfortable with reading off a screen. They’re reading more. And if your work is not available digitally, you don’t exist to them.
It’s time for writers to stop lamenting how the inefficiencies of the old system treat them badly, and to embrace the future. If writers don’t take control of their future, they doom themselves to the obscurity that will swallow the current business model whole.”
an ambitious “"story-supported-advertising" business model…Writers wouldn't be selling their "intellectual property" at all. They'd give away their stories, and get paid for giving them away by manufacturers who see their products being bought in order to get access to the story.”
As publishers pull back from buying the rights to as many books as they try to husband their capital in fewer, more successful titles, they will open the door for new hits to be developed outside of their control.
“New hits,” of course, must mean science fiction romance! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
I’m at a point in my life as a reader where I’m starting to question the role of zoomorphism in science fiction, and by extension, science fiction romance. Despite the fact that I’m a fan of fare such as V and even THUNDERCATS once upon a time, I’m wondering if I’ve outgrown stories wherein alien characters possess an animal form.
To clarify, I don’t mean an alien animal form—I mean humanoid aliens that resemble Earth animals like reptiles, wolves, or pigs. To paraphrase Kevin Smith from his CLERKS screenplay, "JEDI was a bunch of Muppets." Talking pigs from the planet Pigsty in the Hoggerian Galaxy would be fine in a book if I were 10. But I'm not. I need some degree of verisimilitude to engage me.
I think my concern is when the alien is described solely in terms of his/her animalistic tendencies (e.g., an alien with tentacles that resembles is pretty much an Earth-based octopus). Assuming an author isn’t employing zoomorphism on an allegorical or metaphorical basis, there are times when its use strikes me as superficial worldbuilding. By now, science fiction has grown rather crowded with alien species that are some variation of lizards. I mean, honestly, are we that terrified of reptiles that we can’t stop projecting our fear onto imagined alien species?
Science fiction has used a fair number of Earth species for aliens. Lizards are right up there with insect-based aliens/bug-eyed monsters. Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series features a prominent secondary character, Vel, whose appearance is reminiscent of your average Praying Mantis. S.L. Viehl’s BLADE DANCER includes characters that run the gamut of animalistic accessories: fangs, claws, fur, you name it. And when you delve into realms such as furry fandom, one discovers there are legions of consumers who enjoy zoomorphic characters.
Ultimately, it’s the story and/or writing that play a definitive role. Execution can make the difference between a pulpy, campy story and one much more sophisticated in tone. In other words, believability. When zoomorphism is in the house, it takes a high level of authorial skill for me to suspend my disbelief. Done well, the characters feel organic to the worldbuilding and/or they’re compelling enough that their boar-like appearance isn’t a deterrent. But even in the hands of a competent author, I find myself distracted by characters whose hooves, horns, and tails resemble the cast of Old McDonald’s farm.
In Adapting Earth Animals into Alien Lifeforms, S.L. Viehl suggests that authors “Give your reader that point of reference, and then use your artistic skills to build up to something they’ve never seen before – but won’t get lost trying to imagine.” Okay, can’t argue with the idea of constructing accessible aliens. But is it possible to create exotic aliens that don’t alienate readers? Perhaps without using Earth animals as reference?
Writing on the subject, How Alien Should Science Fiction Aliens Be? blogger Peggy notes, in paraphrasing author Daryl Gregory, “that when (or if) we meet another intelligent life form, it is unlikely to be bipedal, let alone humanoid. The problem is incorporating such an alien alien (for want of a better term) into an entertaining story.”
In response to Mr. Gregory’s post, author Kelly McCullough states, “…doesn’t this kind of ignore that the main point of aliens in an awful lot of science fiction isn’t to portray aliens at all, but rather to isolate and examine some specific parts of the human condition?”
Unfortunately, we don’t have the 411 on what true aliens look like. For all we know, some of them will look like lizards. Or prawns. Ultimately, what I question is the view that a hog based alien is as “Other” as it gets, especially without the worldbuilding details to back it up. (Of course, that doesn’t even touch the issue of aliens who share human DNA—sometimes as much as 100%! But that’s a post for another day…).
So now, given further reflection and perusal of various articles, I’ve completely reversed my position that I’ve outgrown zoomorphism. Maybe I haven’t. I do know that my standards have risen considerably for this particular trope. But as long as authors execute stories with considerable thought, I’m certainly game for romances involving any type of alien creatures—even if they are adapted from Earth animals.
What do you think about zoomorphism in science fiction/science fiction romance? What elements make such characters believable? Are there any zoomorphic traits you don’t want to read about anymore? Also, does it make a difference for you whether it appears in books or films?
Nathalie Gray (FULL STEAM AHEAD) is blogging about heroes with hairy chests (which, as you all know, is a subject near and dear to my heart). She's also giving away one of her Red Sage books (winner's choice) so sally forth and comment (deadline to enter is tonight). Susan Grant (SUREBLOOD) reflects on the allure of "Otherworldly Men" at RomCon's FF&P forum. To celebrate the re-release of her STAR series, she's giving away a copy of the trilogy to one lucky commenter. As far as I can tell, the deadline to enter is February 14.
Over at Bev's Books, Bev has started a series of posts "Ten Nights of Love" which will examine the "dividing line between romance and erotic romance" through the lens of selected romances she's read over the years. Her posts struck me as relevant to our periodic discussions of heat level in science fiction romance albeit from a more historical perspective on trends.
Today I want to tell you about the “28 Days of Heart Campaign” (and yes, there is a science fiction romance connection!):
"All Romance eBooks Has Heart…
During the month of love, when everyone's attention is focused on matters of the heart, All Romance eBooks (ARe) is helping to fight the number one killer of women, heart disease, with their 28 Days of Heart campaign.
Beginning February 1, 2010, ARe, the digital bookseller that owns All Romance (www.allromance.com) and OmniLit (www.omnilit.com), will release one new novella per day for twenty-eight consecutive days. All proceeds from the sale of these shorts, which will be offered exclusively on AllRomance.com and OmniLit.com as individual eBooks, will be donated to the American Heart Association.
The stories cover all the genres, from Gay to Interracial, Paranormal to Historical, Contemporary to Sci Fi. They were generously donated by both best selling and up-and-coming authors from some of your favorite publishers including Kensington, Berkley, Pocket, St. Martin’s Press, Ellora’s Cave, Cerridwen, Samhain, Total E Bound, Loose Id, Phaze, Liquid Silver, Torquere Press, Siren, Amber Quill and more!
The stories range between 10,000 and 20,000 words, so they are a perfect sweet (or more accurately spicy) Valentine treat. Each includes a forward by author Charlaine Harris (of True Blood fame) as a show of support for the charity the stories will benefit. Indulge yourself this year for Valentines Day—enjoy one of each, and know you are helping a worthy cause at the same time.
In conjunction with our 28 Days of Heart Campaign to raise funds for, and awareness of, heart disease, All Romance is also taking the opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the wonderful romance blogs that help make the eromance reading community thrive. Every day in February, our newsletter will be profiling some fantastic romance blogs that we know you'll love as much as we do.”
Click here to visit Romblog With a Heart where you can check out the profiles of all your favorite romance bloggers. I’ll give you a heads up when the TGE profile is posted. In the meantime, I encourage you to support a good cause.
ZERO-G by Michele Hart is an erotic science fiction romance that might interest you (it’s also the only SFR among the list, but at least it’s there! Here’s the premise: Their love was out of this world...
Maggie Gates was madly in love with shy Will Hudson in high school, but he never made his move.
Two decades later, they’re trapped on a lunar space station for eleven days. A relationship between the two should be off limits, but that isn’t stopping Will from setting his sights on Maggie for conquest in the cosmos.
The shy boy she knew is gone, and this man possesses the will to storm her gates. Now he has the Moon and stars on his side.
I’m of the belief that not all so-called “trunk” manuscripts must languish in oblivion. Sometimes, as in the case of a niche subgenre like science fiction romance, authors simply may have to wait for market conditions to improve before they can successfully land a contract. However, time can wreak havoc with an author’s carefully laid words. I was reminded of this issue when a little birdie tipped me off about a science fiction book with a very interesting history.
The book was THE MORCAI BATTALION by Diana Palmer. I’d originally heard about it from Galaxy Express passenger Anne B., but because it veered toward romantic SF, I put it on my TBR list. That changed when Birdie informed me that while Harlequin’s LUNA imprint released the book in 2007, it was actually written decades prior.
According to the Author’s Note, THE MORCAI BATTALION was “forty-two years in the making.” Ms. Palmer went on to share that when she wrote the story, “…there was no Star Trek, no Star Wars….” She doesn’t reveal the exact year, but STAR TREK the original series debuted in 1966, so that gives you a general idea. Ms. Palmer was seventeen years old at the time.
This book’s origin story prompted me to reflect on the extent to which a science fiction romance has a creative “shelf life.” In other words, can too much time pass between a story’s first draft and the publication release date? How much of an impact do things like culture, the publishing milieu, individual author style, and genre trends have on books? Around this time, I learned about two other authors who wrote science fiction romances in the 1980s, but mainstream print publication eluded them for years—even decades.
I had to know more. I borrowed or bought copies of the books, and embarked upon a little experiment to seek out the answers to my questions. To qualify, what follows are not reviews or qualitative statements about the stories; rather, my goal is to cite specific elements from them and reflect on how strongly I feel these individual elements have stood the test of time—or not.
Here is what I discovered: THE MORCAI BATTALION by Diana Palmer
The galaxy is on the brink of disaster, the long-awaited truce torn apart by an unprovoked attack. The colony whose residents represented more than a hundred planets has been destroyed, and the new vision for unity in the universe is at risk. Faced with a war that would mean destruction and chaos, one man has stepped forward to lead those fighting for their lives. Undeterred by insurmountable odds, his courage inspires a team—the Morcai Battalion—to battle for the cause of peace…and love.
Ms. Palmer also divulged in the Author’s Note that she first sold it to Manor Books in 1980. Fast forward to 2006 when “LUNA Books offered me the opportunity to rewrite it, and put my original ideas back in.” Of the new version, she writes, “I have tried to mix the old ideas with the new innovations and keep the feel of the published novel of 1980.”
In retrospect, was that a sound idea? THE MORCAI BATTALION reads like a vintage science fiction novel. The countless old skool SF speculative elements, descriptions, and stylistic devices are the kinds I expect to see in pulp SF from the fifties and sixties, not in releases from the past twenty years.
The romance elements are so slight as to be almost negligible. That may change in the next two planned installments for the series, but this story is barely-there romantic SF. But I salute the author for including some romance, especially at a time when “romance” was a dirty word in SF circles (well, dirtier than it is now).
My concern with THE MORCAI BATTALION is not that it reads like a vintage SF novel. It’s that LUNA packaged it to appear as though Ms. Palmer had written the entire story from scratch in the past few years. Some of the revisions, yes, but too many other elements screamed that they’d retained their original form. Here are a few examples:
* “Amazon units” which are “specialized female attack” squads (p. 38). Would anyone really call a unit of soldiers “Amazon” commandos in the future? Maybe as a nickname, but officially?
* Incidentally, “The Amazon units were known even by outworlders like the misogynist Centaurians.” (p.38). So…every single one of the Centaurians is a misogynist. Uh huh.
* This book featured lots and lots of exclamation points. I’m not kidding—there were whole paragraphs with every sentence ending in one. I’ve! Never! Read! A! Book! With! So! Many! Seriously, it was very much like that.
* This story had its share of colorful space battles:
“Just as the Rojok ships stopped in space, their green magnabeams barely visible against the black of space, Stern suddenly realized what Dtimum was doing. Even as he watched, the green of the emerillium scatterbeams pressed closer and closer to the Rojok vessels…As Abermon threw the switch, the green light overtook the Rojok ships like a blinding blur of gaseous emeralds.” (p. 283)
* The story features an alien race of feline humanoids who appear human except for their eyes: “The huge elongated eyelids opened over great black orbs…They were the eyes of some human cat, slit-pupiled, unblinking….” (pg. 16)
I could go on, but to get the true flavor, you really need to read it for yourself.
In retrospect, might it have been more effective if LUNA had decided to go with a retro cover and marketed the book as vintage SF, a la the Harlequin Vintage Collection? I certainly would have had a different set of expectations for it.
Which points to another concern: what about readers unfamiliar with science fiction tales and tropes of decades past? I guarantee THE MORCAI BATTALION was a wallbanger for many of them. The cover promises something entirely different from the story within (a cover, incidentally, that’s pretty nice). I worry that books like THE MORCAI BATTALION will give other recently-released science fiction romance novels a bad reputation. Not because the story totally sucks because it has a unique appeal—that is to say, if one approaches it with a certain set of expectations. Those expectations are crucial as they relate to a reader’s understanding of the stylistic devices and the time in which the author wrote the original story.
I’m concerned because it seems to be a case where the publisher could have been more transparent about what type of story was being sold (the author’s note notwithstanding). TMB was released in hardcover by an author with a successful track record. That’s quite a loss for Harlequin to eat if it wasn’t successful (and I’m hearing that sales tanked). Therefore, this type of failed venture could negatively impact the marketing support other SFR Harlequin authors receive, especially ones who aren’t dusting off vintage decades-old manuscripts.
However, I’m not worried that TMB will turn readers away from SFR. It might turn them away from an SF novel that could have used a serious overhaul in order to be representational of current genre offerings, yes, but not from the subgenre itself.
She was shot protecting the president, and woke up naked, in the arms of a hunk…
...a hunk named Kahn, who told Secret Service agent Tessa Camen an outlandish story about traveling through time, saving the world, and a Challenge only she can accept. Kahn offers her proof she can't refute: Tessa has been brought forward through time to save Earth by winning an intergalactic challenge.
Kahn only has a few weeks to train Tessa to use the psi-abilities he insists she has. He is confident in the success of a time-honored method that uses sexual frustration to bring out her powers, but Tessa is dubious. She's a martial arts expert and can fight her way through anything, but she's never had much luck with emotions.
Luckily for Earth, Kahn can be very convincing...
Ms. Kearney shared in an interview that she wrote THE CHALLENGE “as my very first book. It went unsold for 12 years and ended up being published as my 38th book.” THE CHALLENGE was published by Tor in 2005. In another interview, Ms. Kearney notes that she essentially rewrote the book from scratch:
“The first time, I wrote it in two months. When I sold it, I threw away the first version and took four months to rewrite it. Since 12 years passed between the two versions, I’d learned a lot and started from scratch with the writing. I also changed the ending because after the TV show, Survivor, the original ending had become dated.”
The prose reflects her effort as THE CHALLENGE reads like any current romance novel. In fact, in terms of heat level and structure, it read to me like an erotic science fiction romance minus the explicit language. If you read it with that expectation, it delivers, as much of the story focuses on the sexual journeys of the hero and heroine. However, there were still clues alluding to its earlier origins and roots in both Old Skool SF as well as romance.
* Heroine, who is from present-day Earth, is a virgin. In the future, virginity is a requirement for contestants competing in “The Challenge,” but the story never explained why, at least not in my opinion.
* Zoomorphism alert! “When a creature that looked like a snot-covered octopus approached…” (pg. 181)
* The story contained a worldbuilding shortcut that painted an alien culture with a broad brush: “Our planet is a matriarchy…” (pg. 182)
* Despite the fact that at least one planet was a matriarchy, the book still had a case of patriarchal society overload. Here's one example: Hero reflects on heroine’s warrior skills/psi suit abilities: “What she did not yet realize was that her skill equaled that of most men…but he’d never have thought she could be so mentally tough, and remain so attractive.” (pg. 298) THE CHALLENGE is not the only story guilty of rampant patriarchies in a futuristic setting, but the woman who proclaimed she was a member of the matriarchy was depicted as unsavory whereas the hero, whose hailed from a patriarchy, was placed on the proverbial pedestal.
* Example of the story’s SF B-movie pulp elements: “…the Zenonite floated onto the stage and appeared to be one gigantic brain with two lidless aqua eyes…” (pg. 182)
* Old Skool SF Villains: “Jypeg looked up from his reports and sneered at Trask, his second in command.” (pg. 252) In nearly every scene depicting the Endekian villains, Jypeg, the leader, physically and verbally abuses his men. Appearance is described in terms clearly meant to convey ugliness=evil.
* Scene that would make Russ Myer (SUPERVIXENS) proud: While fighting Endekians, the heroine “...turned her suit transparent…The Endekian goggled, and her naked body was the last thing he ever saw before she shoved his nose straight into his brain.” (pg. 321)
The suit in question is a technological wonder that protects a body even in the vacuum of space. Wearers control its functions via their psi abilities (once that ability is developed). So, for, example, one can change outfits with a single thought. Probably one of its signature accomplishments is that it can eliminate bodily waste (in other words, no need to remove it while…well, you get the picture).
The author does address times when the suit has served as a life saving device or has made a difference for populations on the verge of extinction, but frequently this revolutionary marvel was used to enhance the sexual couplings of the hero and heroine.
My feeling is that THE CHALLENGE contained elements that Ms. Kearney could easily have updated for the current market. As a lifelong SF and fantasy fan, I can smile in amusement when encountering B-movie SF tropes like floating brains because they hold a special appeal for me, even while I frown in concern whenever an author (or filmmaker) recycles them. That’s not to say authors can’t or shouldn’t use them, but I question how effectively these tropes can be reinvented these days. I understand the context in which they originally made their appearances so it’s not a WTF? moment for me. However, readers newer to SFR may have a different reaction, and I worry it may not be a positive one.
It reminded me of this little-known 1988 flick, THE BRAIN:
See what I mean? I wonder if it’s time we laid to rest the ghosts of SF past?
In a fascinating turn of synchronicity, while reading THE MORCAI BATTALION I came across this post at Spacefreighters Lounge wherein Donna S. Frelick noted the following about Sherrilyn Kenyon’s BORN OF NIGHT:
Interesting to note that one of the leading ladies of paranormal romance, Sherrilyn Kenyon, has recently begun an SFR series with her novels BORN OF NIGHT and BORN OF FIRE. Sherrilyn says in the Author’s Note to BORN OF NIGHT that it was written in 1986-87, sold in 1992, and first published in 1996. My copy of FANTASY LOVER, the first in her DARK HUNTER series, lists a publishing date of 2002. So I guess that means she was a Skiffy Rommer BEFORE she was a paranormal phenom!
I immediately moved BORN OF NIGHT up on my reading list. This “experiment” was growing more curious by the minute.
In the Ichidian Universe no one was safe people were dragged from their homes and killed in the streets. Victims of a ruthless tyrant who was bent on being the sole ruler. Those who opposed him formed an alliance called The League, which fell under the leadership of the Quorum.
The Quorum realized that the best way to keep trouble from starting was to cut it off at its knees. So a separate group of soldiers was needed, The League Assassins. Highly trained and highly valued, they are the backbone of the government. But not even the League is immune to corruption...
Command Assassin Nykyrian Quikiades was born and trained to slaughter. Refusing to be a pawn, he turned his back on the League and has been hunted by them ever since. Though many have tried, none can kill him. Now his assignment is to protect Kiara Zamir, a woman whose father's political alliance has made her a target. She wants nothing to do with politics, yet she is forced to submit to protection or die.
And as her world becomes even deadlier, Kiara must entrust her life to the same kind of beast who once killed her mother and left her for dead. Old enemies and new threaten them both and the only way they can survive is to overcome their suspicions and learn to trust in the very ones who threaten them most-- each other.
So how much of this early draft survived? In the Author’s Note, Ms. Kenyon states that “Those of you who have read or who own the original Born of Night will notice the size difference. In this version, I was able to return the original scenes to the book that were edited out because they were deemed too harsh for the market at the time it was originally published.”
It appears as though Ms. Kenyon finally had the freedom to tell the story the way she wanted, which I applaud because here’s an author who has paid her dues. And I was looking forward to reading another science fiction romance (especially one that hit the NYT bestseller list). Much of the book has Kenyon’s signature elements. But as I read it, I discovered that some of the science fictional aspects retained the flavor of those conjured up by a young adult.
Here are a few examples that jumped out at me:
* Heroine Kiara is a prima ballerina and daughter of a military commander-turned-president of his planet. Somehow, this translates to her becoming a princess (the hero addresses her as "Princess" numerous times), but exactly how a civilian becomes royalty is never explained. She’s also—wait for it—a virgin.
* Kiara’s dancing is popular throughout several planets in the galaxy. Even now, we have hundreds (thousand?) of multi-media venues competing for our eyeballs. Would one ballerina become so popular across that many global populations—some of which are populated by “aliens”? Who’s to say it couldn’t happen, but it strikes me as a simplistic notion (but one that would appeal immensely to a young adult who might identify with such a character).
* A reference is made to an alien race known as the “Pigarians.” In all honesty, that alone made the book worth reading for me. Now there’s a name for an alien race I will not soon forget! Here’s a sample from a bit of the heroine’s introspection: “Don’t bet on it. For all you know, he’s a Pigarian with three eyes and buck teeth. Or one of the upright reptilian species.” (pg. 27)
* Characters draw conclusions about events outside a space ship by sound/motion alone. In this example, the heroine is being tortured by one of her kidnappers in a cell aboard a space ship: “He drew back to hit her again. A sharp lurch in the ship sent them tumbling. An instant later, a loud warning siren blared. “We’re being attacked.” The tall man ran out of the room at a deadly pace.” (pg. 14)
* Enough money can buy hero Nykyrian the most amazing things: “He’d purchased the planet several years earlier after deciding he was tired of living in cramped flats inside noisy, crime-ridden cities.” And his home “hovered in the upper atmosphere where the outside was coated with reflekakor—a mineral that would keep it from showing up on any scanners.” (pgs. 68-69).
* Zoomorphism strikes again. While at a bar, heroine notices the waiter: “Kiara looked up, slightly startled to find a waiter from an unknown species who’d brought the men drinks…The server appeared to smile, but Kiara couldn’t quite tell with the strangely shaped lips…Kiara watched the creature leave on four tentacled legs.” Uhh…how is walking on “tentacled legs” even possible?
* Colorful space battles—again! Hero is squaring off against the bad guys in his space fighter: “Nykyrian barely had time to dodge the blast of color that skidded past his ship into the darkness of space.” Oh, and what do you think of this bit: “Space fights were always interesting to watch. It seemed like there should be some sound. But there wasn’t.” Okay!
* In the next scene, the heroine is in another fighter and worried about the hero: “Kiara turned in Hauk’s lap as she tried to see what was behind them. She was desperate to see anything of Nykyrian.” Hm, if space is so dark, how could she see anything by looking out the window?
These elements and others lend BORN OF NIGHT a pure escapist fantasy feel, which is fine if that’s what one is looking for. But it also meant the science fictional elements seemed simplistic at times. Simple, say, as in the way a youth might perceive space travel and interplanetary politics. Characters traveled between planets like you or I might take a drive to the local mall.
I’m not sure Ms. Kenyon could have updated the science fictional elements without doing a complete overhaul on the story because certain details, like Kiara being a ballerina, were integral to the romance. BORN OF NIGHT strikes me as a deeply personal and indulgent book, and it helped that I knew about the story’s early origins beforehand. Otherwise, I might have been very frustrated to encounter terms such as “Pigarian” in a recent release.
I find it interesting that all three authors had an opportunity to make revisions to their stories before publication, and all chose to retain elements that harkened back to an earlier era of storytelling in science fiction. All of which made me wonder about authors writing science fiction romance now, and if any of them will have to wait ten, twenty, or even thirty years to see their book reach a wide audience. Gosh, I hope not (especially not with the digital publishing opportunities that exist!).
But what if they do? Will they be doomed to rewrite the story from scratch?