Let’s start right off with my contrarian take on extraordinary characters: Make them ordinary. Make them vulnerable. Make them real. Then give the character a twist that makes you giggle like a maniac. Start there and then you can do just about anything.
In my first book, ENEMY WITHIN, Ari is a fencing master, a starship captain, a bit of a scientist and an all around wise-ass. She does stuff I think we can all agree no one person could possibly do with the physical limits of the human body and the temporal limits of a single life span. None of it makes her extraordinary. It’s fun. It helps move the plot, but the thing that makes Ari interesting and memorable is the kernel of truth at her core. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There’s a tiny scene where the hero walks into Ari’s cabin and she’s playing a sound file on her room speakers –the mating songs of amphibians from a world she’s visited. That scene is real. A friend’s husband served two tours of duty in Iraq. He suffered from terrible PTSD upon his return and could only sleep if he slept in the bathroom floor with the shower running. Sit with that a moment. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have such a tenuous grip on a sense of safety? That emotional vulnerability – and a character’s reaction to it - is what makes heroines extraordinary, in my opinion. Ari was interesting because she was an uber-capable woman whose emotional and mental lives had been utterly deconstructed and left in ruins.
For the third book in this series, (the second is ENEMY GAMES, the third book is, as yet, unnamed) the heroine is deaf. She’s a freedom fighter turned mercenary, and a pyrotechnic/munitions expert, which translates into Edie blowing stuff up (this is the bit that makes me giggle and rub my hands together like some cheesy, second-class mad-scientist). Her people lost the war and subsequently turned on the rebels, afraid that the winners of that war would seek retribution from the populace over the battles fought by the freedom forces. If you studied World War II history, you know some of this occasionally happened in France when Germany occupied Paris. Imagine how you’d feel having put your life on the line for your people only to lose the war and then have your people turn on you, too. Resentment? Baggage? This seems to be where characters turn a corner from flat to fleshed-out. It isn’t about the fact that Edie is a mercenary/bounty-hunter tracking criminals on the fringes of legality. It isn’t about the fact that she’s deaf. The part that makes Edie interesting is her pain, her emotional sore-spots, her weaknesses.
Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses. Think through the heroes (male and female) of our world. Sometimes, we root for people based on that person’s strengths, but how much more intrigued are we by someone who has overcome weakness to achieve something? Remember the Olympic skater whose mother died the night before the woman was scheduled to skate? The skater wasn’t doing particularly well in the rankings, but that program she skated in her mother’s honor was a triumph that had the entire stadium on its feet for her. Why? Because every single human being watching could relate to the loss this woman had endured. Everyone watching wanted to believe he or she could pull an equally glorious success out of personal tragedy, even though most of us know that rarely happens. Lance Armstrong was reasonably well-known for winning the Tour de France, but the moment he suffered through cancer treatment and returned to cycling to win again, he was a household name. Again, every single person living can relate to being sick, tired, worn out – hopefully not to the life-threatening extreme of cancer – but we all have a basis for understanding even if the details are inaccurate. Right or wrong, our culture admires anyone who can bounce back from something so debilitating and wring a win out of it.
Let’s be clear. Extraordinary characters can’t breeze their way through their problems. Any success or triumph they wrest from their weakness must come at a cost, whether that is death – real or metaphorical – or whether that price is the sacrifice of a long-held goal. This is the part where your heroine has to demonstrate that she’s explored the boundaries of her vulnerabilities and has learned to cope. Or not. And that opens up so many stories with so many extraordinary characters. Get out there and write one.
For more information about Marcella Burnard, visit her Web site at www.marcellaburnard.com.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Let’s start right off with my contrarian take on extraordinary characters: Make them ordinary. Make them vulnerable. Make them real. Then give the character a twist that makes you giggle like a maniac. Start there and then you can do just about anything.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Welcome to 2010's Parallel Universe and many thanks to Heather for inviting me here. When she told the participants that this year's theme is "diversity", I didn't know where to begin. Diversity is exactly the reason I write SFR, and I'm not just talking about the diversity of characters, their traits and their sexuality. I'm actually being a bit selfish and talking about my diversity. Let me explain.
I have a very low boredom threshold and ideas are always popping into my head. SFR gives me such a broad canvas that I can come up with a variety of ideas and work them out through the genre. What I love about SFR is how it never constrains me. It also allows me to posit certain truths without having to walk the minefield of cultural sensitivities. For example, the majority of my characters are coloured. And why not? We already outnumber the white-skinned humans on this planet. Why shouldn't the future of a human-inhabited galaxy also be the same? Yet, the Republic (to take one of my universes as an example) is sufficiently divorced from current considerations that I can choose how I portray exploitation, discrimination and politics without somebody calling foul because I'm not citing history correctly. With SFR, I create my universe's own history.
With SFR, I can also afford to make my heroes more thoughtful. They don't require five hours' hard practice a day with heavy equipment to learn how to beat a villain into the ground. Maybe they only need to push a button. Or say a word. Under such circumstances, I can make both my heroes and heroines intellectual, thoughtful, even more vulnerable as a result of that, without taking away their intrinsic power. The men can be cripples, the women can be scientists, and there can still be romance, action and intrigue. In zero gravity, nobody can beat you at arm-wrestling! LOL
I can place entire societies side by side, comparing and contrasting them. It would sound like an anthropological study but it's in space, where I can also add all the science and whizz-bang gadgetry to the story that my geek heart desires. I can have a society where only a small contingent of men survive, and another where genetic mutations are causing a population crash, and wonder if the representatives of those societies can put their own problems aside long enough to come up with the obvious solution to their problems (The Commander's Slave).
And let's not forget the aliens. Can a tired widowed engineer really find the strength within herself to grab a chance at happiness with someone so divorced from her reality, a male-dominant hermaphrodite who also happens to be an ex-criminal (Prime Suspect)? Will a ship's commander give her heart a chance when confronted by a shapeshifter alien that she's been taught is the enemy of all humanity (On Bliss)?
But we even have alienness within ourselves that can be explored. Difference is not just outside our skins but underneath it too. How do you love a man who forgets you every two days (In Enemy Hands)? Can we rise above our upbringing (A Pirate's Passion)? Can a mercenary find charity in her heart for someone else? And can her pursuer (Combat!)?
I don't need to go to different genres in order to present these thought experiments to you: contemporary for one, historical for another, suspense for a third. SFR can easily encompass all this and much more, as previous contributors to this Parallel Universe have no doubt exhibited. By placing all these stories within a single framework, I can concentrate more on what I want to say, how the characters behave and grow, how their society functions, rather than the established guidelines of several genres and sub-genres.
By being so elastic, so open to diversity, SFR encompasses us all, each and every one of a diverse set of voices speaking to you this month. All we need now are the readers. Can we count on you?
Kaz Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. Her website is at http://www.ksaugustin.com, she blogs at http://blog.ksaugustin.com and she writes about food (as all good Malaysians do!) at http://food.ksaugustin.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter; just look for “ksaugustin”.
One of the first science fiction stories I read where the hero of a SF story wasn’t a strapping white male, was about a young telepathic Bangladeshi refugee living in a futuristic New York as an indentured servant/psychic on a leash. She was tough, poor, and smart and brave enough to work out how to save the man she loved and a child, even at a terrible physical cost. Even thirty years on, she’s still my gold standard for memorable, powerful non-stereotypical characters in fiction.
Unfortunately, finding leading characters in SF who break the straight white male mould is still harder than it should be. It feels sometimes like we’re stuck on Star Trek mode in an endless loop. All the aliens are bipedal humanoids, the black actors play the aliens (unless they’re hot black women, then they get to play the receptionist), and we only allow one or two token model minorities into the fully human cast. Everybody’s heterosexual, the captain is always Caucasian and omniscient, and almost always male.
It’s getting better, though, and with many more female writers gaining acceptance in the genre, we’re seeing more women, more GLBT people, and more brown and black characters. Which is as it should be because brown and black people have always been in the majority (over 80%) of the planetary population, and with China and India both heavily involved in the space race, there’s no reason why the new colony on that distant exo-planet won’t be founded by Krishnamurtis, Lees and Changs, rather than Smiths, Harrisons and O’Reillys.
However, the final frontier in science fiction turns out not to be space, but disability. More specifically, characters with disabilities who aren’t blind sages or Geordi LaForge and his magical visor. I can’t claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of modern SF, but publishers are certainly leery of disabled romantic leads, and I can’t off-hand remember a science fiction story where the main protagonist—not just the perky, disposable sidekick—had a disability for more than cosmetic purposes.
But why should this be the case? We can imagine faster than light travel and artificial gravity, but not a space environment where being blind, deaf or paralysed is just another personal characteristic to accommodate? Hey, some people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders are considered preferred employees in some industries—the same industries that contribute significantly to space travel and research right now, in 2010—because of their ability to focus and concentrate without becoming bored by repetitive tasks. Being autistic certainly doesn’t mean you can’t be a fully contributing member of society, so how come we don’t have an autistic hero whose powers of concentration save the day? And if sufferers of depression are among some of our most beloved artists and musicans, and respected politicians, why can’t they fly a space ship and engage in exploration? There’s no reason why physical or mental conditions accommodated to a lesser or greater degree on our Earth, have to be insurmountable limitations where there’s no gravity, when computers can produce output in many forms, or where, for example, being very small or light could be a positive advantage.
But I don’t want stories that ‘cure’ those conditions, or where no one ever has the slightest difficulty though they were born with what we would consider a disability now. Don’t give me Geordi laForge—the blind character who isn’t actually blind—or a deaf character who’s telepathic. Using such a narrative device sends the message disability is still a problem and can’t be tolerated in the character, unless it’s overcome or eradicated, and that, without such a cheat, people with disabilities are still unwelcome in the author’s universe (as they were in James Cameron’s Avatar.) That’s as erasing as not including characters with disabilities at all.
I want stories where someone’s physical abilities or disabilities are all part of who they are, what formed them, and what contributes to them being completely awesome and fascinating. Don’t make them extraordinary—by that, I mean, magical or superhuman—for those things. Just have those things there. They don’t have to save the world because their disability makes them superawesomely perceptive. They can save the world because the experience of being disabled has contributed to their character and their way of dealing with problems and challenges. It’s like someone’s religion, or their cultural background. These things make someone who they are, and who they are is what they bring to the fight.
So give me the story of the depressed deep space captain, and his navigator husband with PTSD, who fight off the ravening alien hordes, and live to fly another day.
Tell me about a deaf engineer who finds out about the sabotage threatening the lives of a million people living under an artificial sky on Mars...
...or the autistic astrogator who steps in when the pilot of a star ship falls desperately ill, and single-handedly lands the ship, ensuring the safety of the crew and passengers.
Where’s the blind artist whose vivid hallucinations inspire a planet full of empaths and telepaths to create a new and wonderful biosphere? And what about her wives who love and encourage her work, designing healthy living areas on ships for long-haul space travel?
And how’s this for a pitch? “She’s got a really big laser cannon. He’s a kickass pilot. Together, they’re chasing sky pirates, bringing them to justice. They don’t need their legs.”
Not including characters with disabilities—or excluding from the main heroic lead role, or refusing to allow them to be the part of the main romantic relationship—isn’t just insulting, it’s a terrible waste of the diversity inherent in our present reality, let alone of what we can conceive. That diversity of experiences is what helps human beings be so adaptable, and the most successful species on this planet. There’s every reason to believe it’ll help us be successful when we branch out into the rest of the universe.
I invite you to peruse the following titles of my stories with disabled characters, all of which can be found on my site:
Einan - PTSD. "Going Down"
Paole - Blind in one eye. "Many Roads Home"
Jumei - Partial paralysis caused by brain injury. "Home Ground" (free to read)
[My thanks to McVane and Anita for their gracious assistance with this article]
Ann Somerville grew up in one of Australia’s prettiest small cities. In 1989, she left Australia with a BA majoring in English, French and History, and a burning ambition to see more of the world and its people, and to discover this ‘culture’ thing people kept telling her about. In 2006, she returned home to Southeast Queensland with two more degrees (this time in science and IT), an English husband (and an English accent) and a staggering case of homesickness, vowing never to leave Australia again.
She now writes full-time, working part-time as a contract web programmer to pay for the small luxuries of life, but all she really needs is a laptop and an internet connection for true happiness. Her long, plot-driven fiction featuring gay and bisexual characters has been published by Samhain Publishing and elsewhere. Additionally, copious free full length stories and novels are available on her website. She also reviews GLBT fiction on Outlaw Reviews and blogs about writing, publishing, her life and many shiny distracting things.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Sir Jasper isn't ripping bodices, these days. He's ripping spacesuits… and he's just as likely to get his own thong whipped off!
One of the late Barbara Karmazin's memorable one-liners of SFR writing advice is "When writing, always strive to boldly go where no one has gone before, and this includes in the bedroom."
…Also, I'd say, in the bathroom, the dungeon, the cathouse, the doghouse, and the gladiatorial locker room. If William Shakespeare were writing today, in the space age, he'd write of alien "Nature red in tooth and claw."
Science Fiction Romance boldly comes with sex acts and situations that might be too offensive for publication if they popped up in any other modern genre. I don't count Graeco-Roman myths and legends as "modern".
Space aliens are not what one might call "politically correct". Most of our "good" aliens visit Earth illicitly, and quite often they are here to break a whole slew of our laws about kidnapping, abduction, sex slavery, forcible seduction, rape, human trafficking, grievous bodily harm, murder, vigilantism, animal abuse, torture and more….
We have cultural and religious taboos about having sex with other races (miscegenation was widely prohibited in the USA until 1967), not to mention sex with other species.
Aliens aren't just another race. They're another species. The proper term for sex with other species is either the loose British term "buggery" or the mind boggling "zoophilia" (or "zoosexuality"). I know, "zoo" does not mean every inhabitant of the nearest zoological garden.
In Greek mythology, the zoosexuality happens "off-stage", and with the exception of the Minotaur's father, the sexually excitable animal is generally a shape-shifting god. We're told that Zeus visited Leda as a swan, or Io or Europa as a bull, but that's backstory, and what's interesting is the consequences for the mortal woman and the resultant offspring.
Not so with SFR.
In Anne McCaffrey's Freedom's Landing, we're in the consenting woman's head as the cat-headed hero's penis penetrates her (slowly). Happily, his penis does not appear to have been barbed.
Should it have had barbs for verisimilitude?
*See footnotes for more fascinating trivia about diversity among animal penises.
Possibly it wasn't "that sort" of story. In many SFR erotica stories, the were-dragon, were-wolf or were-whatever-he-is makes love to the human woman while in his human form. But not always. There are romances where the shifter shifts during sex. And, there are romances where the hero is what he is all the time.
In 2004, Barbara Karmazin's THE HUNTRESS was a bold, ground-breaking pioneer of sexy SFR, featuring a reptilian hero with a double penis (like an iguana), a penchant for scent-marking household fixtures and fittings, and toenails so long and sharp that he could only wear sandals.
Rulagh's toenails rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not at all into toenails. I seem to recall a particularly nasty big toe with yellow nail in THE POWER AND THE GLORY by Graham Greene -- which has nothing at all to do with aliens or Romance.
Have you ever noticed how it is almost de rigueur for a Romance heroine to notice the hero's impeccably manicured hands? His well groomed, long --they are always long-- fingers? How often have you read a passage where the heroine notices with approval the hero's neatly trimmed toenails?
Part of the problem is that most of the heroes that our mainstream, non-SFR editors buy wear shoes, boots or top boots (or moccasins). Therefore, if the hero's feet are bare, other parts may also be, and the heroine does not need to draw spurious conclusions about his wedding tackle based on the length of his toes. However, if he is an alien, his feet are on the table, or could be.
Mixed metaphor intended. Metaphors are fertile ground for alien romance humor. I should warn you that I am more interested in the politics of sex, and the pratfalls of sex than in out-of-this-world orgasms. That's why I write what I call "Space Snark" ™
Speaking of the importance of non-standard body parts for world-building, Lisa Shearin does a fantastic job of reminding the reader that her POV character is an elf. Fantasy heroine Raine Benares checks out fanciable elf and gnome males with great appreciation for their elegant, pointy ears.
The closest that I have come to an exotic hero with edgy body parts is my alien king of the Volnoth, Viz-Igerd, whose titles include The Gravenclaw and "His Potency".
He has skin like a squid which can change color at will for camouflage or intimidation, fully retractable cojones (and so forth), and a "warhand" which is a surgically modified hand with claws that do not retract. It's less like something Wolverine would sport when enraged, more something either feathery and eagle-like, or hairy and bear-like.
He doesn't wear clothes. He is a proud (except for the voluntarily retracted genitals) traditionalist. On his own world, this is fine and dandy and supremely practical, but it does create certain problems when it comes to interstellar diplomacy.
Please see footnote for a description of the fearsome Viz-Igerd through human eyes. Or visit my Twit Wall and look for "A naked alien seen through human eyes".
Why are SFR writers able to write with such carnal diversity about gay sex, sex in ménages, sex with menageries (zoophilia pun?), and sex with members of other species?
Are our bestiality taboos learned or instinctive? Some say that our taboos stem from moral panic, others that the "Abrahamic religions" teach that God has a plan for mankind which involves specific, approved behaviors. There's also a fear of creating dangerous or unattractive mutants and monsters (such as the Minotaur). I suspect, there might also have been some concern in the wilderness years about competition from the Egyptian gods.
Others see "bestiality" as an issue of animal welfare and good stewardship. In fact, some laws regard animals as legal minors (like children) because they are incapable of giving informed consent.
Or is it all a matter of hygiene -- the potential for the interspecies mutation of parasites and diseases, and reasonable prudence enforced by various prehistoric "nanny states" for our own greater good?
Why does the world wink at a full range of carnal diversity in the case of romances with aliens?
Is it because the alien --or were-being-- is as smart or smarter than a human (by our standards of intelligence) so we don't have to worry about his welfare. We don't have to concern ourselves about his consent, because he is well-spoken, articulate, thoughtful, and socially responsible. He is not altogether lethal in the sack or in the mating flight.
And we can assume that anyone technologically advanced enough to cross galaxies has probably conquered his own parasites.
Bottom line: Almost anything goes in SFR, and that's okay because 1. They're aliens. 2. They're smarter than we are.
Diversity (also bifurcation) in animal penises
Instant gratification, look here
Iguana penes if you scroll to the bottom of the page. Lovely!
Under most common law legal systems, the term buggery refers to a criminal offence and has a specific legal meaning. In English law, "buggery" was first used in the Buggery Act 1533, while Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, entitled "Sodomy and Bestiality", defined punishments for "the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal". Neither Act defined what constituted buggery. Over the years the courts have defined buggery as including either:
1. anal intercourse by a man with a man or woman, or
2. vaginal intercourse by either a man or a woman with an animal
but not any other form of "unnatural intercourse".
At common law consent was not a defense; nor was the fact that the parties were married. In the UK the punishment for buggery was reduced from hanging to life imprisonment…. As with the crime of rape, buggery required that penetration must have occurred, but ejaculation is not necessary.
Cats' barbed penises
The male cat's ‘penis' is covered in hook-like barbs, and as he withdraws these barbs abrade the females cat's ‘vulva'. She will scream and turn to bite him. An experienced male cat will maintain control of her until he fees it is safe to release her and move away.
Rowena Cherry writes humorous, quirky, politically-incorrect SFR. She is particularly fond of trivia, etymology, puzzles (including chess) and word-play.
Rowena Cherry's books are: Forced Mate, Mating Net (short, prequel, e- only), Insufficient Mating Material, and Knight's Fork.
Excerpt from KNIGHT'S FORK
THE CLAW’D ARRIVES AT THE TRAJANT
“Good grief, son! What’s that?” Grievous blurted out.
Thor-quentin stood in front of the one-way hologram, looking ashen and about to puke.
The shark-eyed technicians looked more grim faced than usual, and the Trajant’s War-Star Leader –a normal-looking Tigron— was there, which was unusual.
“What do you see, Grievous?” Thor-quentin gasped.
Grievous supposed that the young Prince was virtually begging him to provide a running commentary, while Thor-quentin got a handle on his intestinal fortitude.
“Right. Well, I daresay if what you want is a fresh eye, I’m your man. If a translation is wanted, someone else’ll have to cut in.”
Grievous eyeballed the Imperial warriors. They all seemed stunned.
“I see a tall, good looking, bald-headed dude. He’d be better looking if he wasn’t so ferociously red in the face, but he’s one of those smooth faced chaps that baldness suits. Talking of suits, he’s wearing a skin tight, multi colored cat suit, or jump suit, and one punk looking gauntlet. Oh, Hell’s bells and buckets of blood!”
The gauntlet flared.
“That startled me. Sorry. His gauntlet just opened up, like an umbrella, or the ruff on the neck of those fierce frilled lizards. Hecky thump! Will you look at those spikes! Now he’s showing us his claws. I shouldn’t like to meet that chap in a dark alley!”
“Nor should I, Grievous.”
The dude was saying something. As he spoke, black warpaint appeared under his bright green eyes, like the glare-block that some professional athletes had begun to favor.
The penny dropped.
“Good lord! Is that the Volnoth King?”
“Yes,” Thor-quentin said. “That is my aunt’s Mate.”
Grievous felt his jaw drop. So he’s not wearing a cat suit. Ken Doll came to mind. Or paintball splashed, shop window mannequin. No rude bits and bobs to worry anyone. But that warhand was a nasty piece of work.
The extraordinary fellow held up an unrolled scroll, rather like something you might see in an ancient Egyptian or Biblical movie.
“Why is he shredding that thing with his wicked fingernails?” And why are you all looking scared shitless?
The War-star Leader spoke for the first time.
“Viz-Igerd, the Gravenclaw, the King of Volnoth, has issued a ‘Claw’d’, which is a limited declaration of war, to be settled by mortal combat between the challenger and the accused in a public arena.”
“Grievous, he has challenged me to a fight to the death,” Thor-quentin said.
“You, son? What the hell for?” Grievous spread his arms in the sort of appeal against unfairness that any umpire or referee would understand. “What can we do about this? It’s obviously a mistake. Can’t we get this mess straightened out?”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
I spent a lot of time mulling the topic of diversity for this blog event and found my thoughts doing a homing pigeon to a recent experience I had during a panel on civil rights at a science fiction convention. I came to the panel in support of a friend who is wise, kind and sees people by “the content of their character, first and always.” She doesn’t have to say she is not a bigot, because she lives her life in a way that you know it.
1. stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own.
2. the actions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., of a bigot.
At its heart, bigotry is a denial of and a rejection of the individual as a person. By refusing to see the individual instead of the group, by denying the basic humanity of someone, the bigot can feel comfortable with their perception because this or that group isn’t “real” or valuable. At its most extreme, this denial of “realness” can lead to denial of the right of life, liberty and any pursuit of happiness.
So one would reasonably expect a panel on civil rights to embrace individual rights and reject bigotry in all its forms, right?
Despite the promise of a “civil” discussion, I was—sadly—unsurprised when one of the panelists—a white guy—began his introduction by stating, “I am not a bigot.” Before he continued, I knew he really was a bigot, but—in his estimation—he was an “acceptable” bigot. He was bigoted against anyone who didn’t agree with him or made choices outside his box of “right” and comfortable with those “boundaries.”
For that hour, I felt under attack by a man who claimed to support a woman’s right to choose—and then didn’t—not a state conducive to bridging any gaps between misunderstood groups. Over time emotion faded, replaced by a mulling of what I would have said if I’d been seated on that panel.
From the program guide, the purpose of the panel was to score SF/F authors and literature on “how we treat our fellow humans and how literature and media deal with…civil rights issues.” There was a general desire that there be a more equitable representation of all groups in the industry—a desire marred by the comfort too many in the audience had with the one panelist’s bigotry.
It is my belief that these types of attitudes are now, and will be, detrimental to the future of science fiction romance—not to mention society as a whole—if we allow acceptable (i.e. popular) bigotry to dismiss or silence the voices that we don’t agree with.
Science fiction, and by extension, science fiction romance, are rooted in imagining the impossible, but we are so often limited by our own shortcomings and blind spots. There is a difference between not liking a book because it isn’t what we like to read and dismissing one because it doesn’t fit into our paradigm of how the future “ought” to be, or worse, because it doesn’t fit a currently popular point of view.
For me, truth can stand a challenge on all fronts and, to endure, it should be challenged by opposing ideas, and yes, even by bad ideas. I don’t believe we will triumph over bad ideas or bigotry by silencing those who hold them. That just drives them underground where they fester and grow, where they can hide until we grow complacent or look away. We need to expose all ideas to the bright light of day again and again. Ideas grow or shrivel when light hits them.
I believe SF/SFR has a role to play in shining this light. At its most basic core, science fiction requires a rigorous freedom to endure and flourish. SF/SFR authors can explore ideas in boundary breaking ways. We can set them in fictional motion and show how, if left unfettered, they might play out in the future.
If we set boundaries on how writers can portray that future, if we accept the limitations of “acceptable” bigotry, we risk losing more than a good read. I believe we need to reject all bigotry everywhere we find it—starting within our own hearts and minds.
BUT and this is a big BUT, true diversity of thought comes from acknowledging that people have a right to believe what they want to believe.
We need to despise bigotry while defending the right of people to feel it, believe it, and yes, write about it. Even though that panelist made me feel uncomfortable, I would never, ever seek to silence him.
We have a right to not like what someone else likes, but we also have a responsibility to defend their right to write the book they want to write. Freedom of expression will only endure if those who want it extend it to all expression.
Remember that every scientific advance, every new idea has been met with resistance by people who thought they knew what should and shouldn’t be. I think that is what struck me the most about the panel: how little had changed from flat world times. Humankind still thinks they’ve cornered all knowledge, when the evidence of history says all we’ve “cornered” is—once again—hubris.
Ideas triumph when people embrace freedom of expression as a basic right. When we seek diversity, I hope we can remember to seek it for all and not just a popular few. It’s so terribly easy to become unpopular.
Pauline Baird Jones is the award-winning author of nine novels of science fiction romance, action-adventure, suspense, romantic suspense and comedy-mystery. her latest releases are Girl Gone Nova and Out of Time (wide digital /limited print release). She's also written a steampunk novella called Tangled in Time that will release in 2010. She's written two non-fiction books, Adapting Your Novel for Film and Made-up Mayhem , and she co-wrote Managing Your Book Writing Business with Jamie Engle. Her seventh novel, Out of Time , an action-adventure romance set in World War II, is an EPPIE 2007 winner. Her eighth novel, The Key won an Independent Book Award Bronze Medal (IPPY) for 2008 and is a 2007 Dream Realm Awards Winner. She also has short stories in several anthologies. Originally from Wyoming, she and her family moved from New Orleans to Texas before Katrina.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Most alien species in SF/R novels are portrayed as more humanoid than alien. Most have kingdoms, democracies or dictatorships, just like humans. Most have a desire to explore, discover and/or conquer—just like humans. Some have the ability to fall in love with, and even interbreed with, humans—uh, just like humans. Hey, it works. It’s hard to have a love affair with a giant floating space sponge.
When I’m populating my fictional universes, I find it fascinating to play with human diversity. With SF and SFR, the definition of diversity expands beyond “variety in race” to “variety in human subspecies.” (A subspecies is the division of a species, by geographical isolation or other factor.)
Because of the vastness of space and time, I think there’s a low probability that we’ll ever encounter a “peer” alien race. We’re much less likely to deal with human-like aliens than humans who become alien by our own frame of reference.
As humanity expands beyond the microcosm that is Earth to settle new worlds, new moons, new places in space, the end result must be diversity. Man will adapt and evolve—either physically or artificially—to new environments.
Artificially? Oh yes, even now we’re dipping our fingers into the gene pool pie. One of my favorite SF characters materialized in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. He was a typical military sort, a young lieutenant who liked to play in anti-gravity airlocks, trade gibes with his peers, obsess about sex, and work on his doctorate when he was bored. He worked in space. Literally, in space. In fact, he’d been genetically engineered to fulfill a mission. Though human to the core in thought and motivation, this character was, physically, a four-handed space turtle. How diverse is that?
Things get even more complicated (and interesting) with technology. Bionic humans. Cyborgs. Artificial humans. Catherine Asaro’s Alpha is one example. The hero defies his chronological age with the help of medical nanotechnology. The heroine is a construct—an android—who kidnaps him.
Development of new mental abilities is another interesting area. In Linnea Sinclair’s Gabriel’s Ghost and Shades of Dark, Sully develops psi-based abilities that transform him into something feared and loathed by humans. (Unless that human is Captain Chaz Bergren.)
Even without genetic, mechanical or mental manipulation, diversity happens. This may come as a surprise, but recent research surrounding proto-dog suggests these changes may not require millions of years, but only a few generations! It appears Mother Nature has equipped our genes with the ability to spontaneously react to sudden shifts in the environment.
In the future, as we settle worlds with greater gravities, spontaneous evolution could cause the human form to become more dense and compact. Or conversely, in worlds with lesser gravities, residents could evolve as much taller and lighter-boned. Genetic pockets may exist where isolated populations with fixed genomes ‘breed true,’ or could harbor recessive traits that trigger super-human abilities…or lethal flaws.
There are myriad natural factors that might affect human diversity—climate, temperature, level of oxygen, light spectrum, trace elements in atmosphere, soil or water. Over time, unnecessary muscles or organs may enlarge or atrophy (blind cave people?), skin pigments may change (little green men wouldn’t necessarily be from Mars), hair may become unrecognizable or disappear altogether (after all, dinosaurs developed feathers). Still human—but different.
We may not even have to travel into space to encounter an environment that begins to remold us. We’ve been gradually altering Earth’s environment for decades. (Can you say Apocalyptic SFR?)
What great fodder for the imagination! My muse hearts diversity.
Laurie Green is an award-winning Science Fiction Romance writer who, in cooperation with several peers, founded the SFR Brigade, a community of science fiction romance authors, writers and professionals. She's also known as one of the proprietors of Spacefreighters Lounge - a blog that focuses on SF/R news, research and the craft of writing.
Seriously, isn’t it about time women ruled the planet? I remember as a child wistfully thinking if women were in charge of everything, everything would be better. We’d be more compassionate, more globally responsible, more peaceful. Rainbows and kittens would proliferate in abundance and all would be well, right?
Now that I’m grown, one of the things I love about Science Fiction Romance is the open canvas it gives me to explore some of the crazy ideas I had as a child, including the question, “What if women were in charge?”
Would it be the rainbows and kittens of my dreams? The more I thought about it, the more it disturbed me that most of the portrayals of women dominant cultures in popular fiction in both print and visual media went one of two ways.
Either, the culture was completely pacifist. It was a culture of art and healers, and sunshine and roses. Everything was in lovely harmony, but they were weak. Inevitably this sort of alien culture needed saving or protecting from some “evil” invasion. And they had no means to protect themselves.
The more I saw this type of female dominance appear, the more it disturbed me. In a way it was a little like the old idea of the “noble savage.” I felt as if this look at the nature of women flattened us out. It took our best giving natures, but undermined the complexity of woman-kind by making us all good, kind, and giving.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t get together with a group of ten women without having a wide spectrum of female complexity, to the point that it gets difficult to get things done with a large enough group of women. We are not all docile doormats, nor should we be.
Some of the most powerful and infamous global leaders this world has known were women, and they were not fluffy little kittens. From Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, heck even the bloody pirate captains Charlotte de Berry and Mary Reed, women have had some teeth, great tenacity, and certainly the ability to protect themselves and their interests through force and diplomacy.
Which brings us to the other female dominant culture that tends to pop up, the Dom dominant culture. If we do show women with some teeth, we tend to see them as either sexually aggressive or leather-clad dominatrix types.
Maybe we should shoot for something in between. When creating a female dominant culture, or any alien culture, remember that no great civilization in history has ever been all good, all bad, devoid of corruption, or unable to protect itself and its interests. Dynamics between women can be every bit as cutthroat and mercenary as male dynamics, but they can also have deep ties of loyalty and friendship. There’s strength in the female species. Look at a mother grizzly bear if you ever doubt it.
Let’s see more female dominant worlds as complex and interesting as we are.
Then it will really be a woman’s world.
Jess Granger is the national bestselling author of the Realms Beyond Series from Berkley. To learn more about Jess Granger and her books, visit her Web site at www.jessgranger.com. You can also follow her on Twitter ("jessgranger").
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
What if...? is the ultimate science fiction question.
The hazy space between hard science and fantasy is a SF writer’s playground. That stellar place where conjecture meets the impossible and everything is somehow exciting and plausible. A place that renders cynicism impotent. A cosmic cloud in which nothing and no one can “get to you” if you don’t want it to.
It’s the Mutara Nebula!
For every Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke), we have a John Carter of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs). The two couldn’t be more different—plausible SF and space swashbuckler—yet both have inspired generations of scientists, and command a preternatural excitement in readers to this day.
Romantic elements have existed in SF since the early pulp adventures. It’s an easy pairing—romance provides the human face for what can at times be a cold and sterile genre. There’s something inherently romantic and grandiose about trekking through the stars anyway. As a reader, the further we go from what we know, the more comforting the romance becomes. Why not just go one step further and give it a name—SFR.
For me, one of the great things about science fiction romance is its versatility. Fringe stories that may lean further toward one genre are embraced by SFR readers precisely because a balance between the two genres is so difficult to achieve. But this inclusivity is also a factor in SFR’s identity crisis; those fringe stories are automatically absorbed by either Romance or SF, or other misleading labels such as paranormal romance, in terms of cover art, genre classification, promotion, etc. SFR therefore becomes a cherished sub-genre without ever convincing “outsiders” it isn’t having its cake and eating it.
Is it cold, hard science with a splash of romance? Or lovey-dovey shenanigans in a starry setting?
But Science Fiction Romance is one of the most cutting edge genres in fiction precisely because it has the potential to depolarize two traditionally opposite readerships without compromising either of its component parts.
Anyone who doubts that, please consider these Top 100 Must-Read SFR Books posted on The Galaxy Express.
In The Promise of Kierna’Rhoan, Isabo Kelly blends action, politics, xenophobia, espionage, and a human love triangle, and the effect is seamless. Her unique world-building, particularly with the alien “shifters”, is proof that romance need not soften SF; and vice-versa, as Kira Farseaker’s passionate affair with David Cario is never diluted by the technology and out-of-this-world elements.
It’s a tricky balance to strike, though. Many writers are skilled at SF or Romance but not both (I’m still working at the latter), and a great many fringe stories don’t necessarily require equal footing be given both genres. The plausibility of the “science”, however, is as variable and subject to taste as it ever was, with equally successful SFR being written in everything from solid, speculative science (Manda Benson’s Dark Tempest) to giddy, Star Wars type space opera.
No one can say warp drives won’t be invented, or that humans won’t evolve with all sorts of outlandish traits (ESP, two heads, brotherly love, maybe all three at the same time!). And what was silly science way back when—walking on the moon, the micro-world, evolution—is now taught in schools. Anyone who states categorically that a SF concept will never become reality because it doesn’t fit with what we know has misunderstood science fiction.
“As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, draw me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron.” – A Princess of Mars
First comes the dream, then its capture.
Romance, too, need not preclude the highly unlikely—alien species being humanoid—any more than a good old-fashioned human love triangle. If the story is working and the characters compelling, SFR has an infinite canvas.
Consider Heather Massey’s article on Defining the Genre: Science Fiction Romance for an overview of the main categories of story type and labelling.
Personally, I dislike a HEA or HFN requirement in any science fiction. It strikes at the speculative heart of the genre. But I also understand why romance readers insist on them—that comfort is one of their primary reading joys. And at the end of the day, what if...? applies equally to any kind of ending.
SF and R. It’s a fascinating marriage.
Robert Appleton writes in a variety of genres, mainly science fiction and historical. His publishers include Samhain, Carina Press, and Uncial Press. He lives in Bolton, NW England, and enjoys kayaking and Victorian adventure novels (wishes he could do both together).
Visit his website at http://www.robertappleton.co.uk
or visit his blog at http://robertbappleton.blogspot.com
Monday, July 26, 2010
When Heather told me about the theme for the blog post being diversity in science fiction romance, I had to smile. SFR itself exemplifies some nice diversity between two genres with seemingly different rules. Looking closer, the two go together like lightsabers and phasers.
I’m fairly new to today’s SFR trend but I’ve always been a big fan of science fiction and fantasy growing up (and now that I think about it, SF/RE TM-Laurie Green ;-) or romantic sci-fi). Looking back, there were a ton of movies and tv shows that showcased some awesome action, eye popping special effects and a great story mixed with memorable characters experiencing what it means to be human, including falling in love with someone they click with. Some hardcore SF fans think that romance may muddy the waters of SF a bit. While that’s possible if certain rules aren’t followed (which can be said for SF itself), there are many instances that prove the two work well together.
In a comment section on another thread here at TGE, I wrote about some favorites of mine that showcase both SF and romance. My list included Strange Days, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Star Wars, Appleseed and the recent Avatar. I’ll even toss in Terminator and Aliens (no wonder I love James Cameron flicks).
Strange Days rates up there with one of my fave flicks of all time and I think it’s a wonderful example of how awesome SFR has been onscreen. Despite some minor plot flaws and a few disturbing scenes, this movie taps into the futuristic dystopia vision that issues a relevant commentary on today’s society. Even though it was released in 2005 and takes place in 1999, issues that are highly illustrated today still apply, including some nice cyberpunk elements. Underneath the social commentary, we get a story about a man who’s trying to get over his ex-girlfriend, climb out from under the shadows of his fear and turn his life around for the better.
Once an upstanding cop, Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny Nero was kicked out of the force when he became involved with a hooker named Faith Justin (played by Juliette Lewis) he rescued from the streets. Things went bad when she left him for a big time record producer and Lenny falls into selling wire trip videos (other people’s recorded memories) on the black market. All the while, Lenny’s close friend Lornette “Mace” Mason (played by Angela Bassett) holds a torch and a rocky friendship with him as he takes her kindness and affections for granted. All the while, Mace watches Lenny torture himself over and over broken memories with his ex. Ever since Lenny cared for Mace’s son years ago when her husband was arrested, they’ve been close; she often coming through for him when times were tough on his end.
Strange Days is interesting because Lenny and his relationship with both women go through a change. Mace forces him to face up to his lost memories and even though he’s blind to how she feels about him (at one point he ask her “have you ever been in love with someone who didn’t love you back?”) there’s a scene at the end that earns one of my favorite moments in cinema history. [Spoiler Alert!]
There’s also an interesting connection between Strange Days and Harlequin that I discovered some time ago. In their now defunct Silhouette Bombshell line, the guidelines stated they wanted a strong woman “who, when faced with an obstacle that challenges her as a human being, will stop at nothing to see good prevail over evil”. Angela Bassett was cited as one of the great movie heroines for writer’s inspiration to draw from. I’m sad to see the Silhoutte Bombshell line closed before it got its legs but the genre itself is wide open and ready for these types of heroines alongside a strong hero in the SFR genre.
Another awesome thing about the SFR film genre is showcased in its diversity of characters. One of my fave aspects of storytelling is diversity in its characters so I love it when movies, TV shows and books show an IR (or interracial) relationship (not to be confused with interspecies ;-) ), particularly when the female is a woman of color. Octavia Butler is known for a wide array of sci-fi/futuristic stories centered on diverse characters, often featuring a woman of color as the main character. In mainstream publishing this was unheard of during Butler’s time in the 50s and even so now it’s hard to find a meaty spec read with a similar character. Like any reader out there, I like seeing heroines who resemble me and my friends kicking butt, showing a little vulnerability and still getting her hero in the end. ;-)
The SFR genre is pretty new in contemporary mainstream publishing times but romance has always been a prominent part of the visual element of the genre, particularly in film. Star Wars is often cited as a good combination of adventure, romance and action in a futuristic setting but there are others who have made use of both genres well.
The Fifth Element is a movie as much about stepping up to save humanity from destruction as it is about finding out what’s worth fighting and living for as humans (love). Blade Runner is sci-fi noir at its best, centering around beaten cop and possible replicant Rick Deckard who is on the trail of renegade killer cyborgs. In true noir fashion, he eventually finds out one of the replicants is a recently discovered hidden model…and the one he eventually falls in love with.
The Appleseed movies—based on the graphic novel from Masamune Shirow—showcases a war devastated future about man and machine living in harmony in the utopia of Olympus. The internal conflict deals with main character Deunan Knute coming to terms with the fact that the love of her life, Briareos Hecatonchires, is alive and now a cyborg. The sequel, Appleseed Ex Machina, offers up an interesting love triangle with Deunan gaining a new partner after Briareos falls to injury on a run…curiously her new partner has Briareos’ old face and body.
With a mixture of action and adventure, futuristic commentary, awesome effects and production in an otherworldly setting and strong chemistry between its characters, it’s no surprise that romance between a diverse set of characters from different cultures and backgrounds will continue to gain momentum in the future of the narrative word.
Romance-Adventure-Mystery is Rae Lori’s motto as she strives to write stories that are romantic yet adventurous no matter what time period and setting. With a love for film, vampires and visual storytelling she couples the visual with art of the written word to tell her stories. Rae makes her home in the Southwest where she pens her stories and works as a graphic designer.
Heather's note: Author Marcella Burnard (ENEMY WITHIN) kindly provided another post when I had an unexpected schedule change. Her other post about extraordinary heroines will appear on 7/31.
Science Fiction has baggage. The genre is burdened by the perception that scifi is for smart people. Romance is encumbered by the perception that it’s just stupid girl stuff (and yes, I’m quoting males known to me, but who, for the protection of their dubiously valued lives, shall remain nameless). Now, add the depth and breadth of diversity – sexual orientation, ethnicity, interracial relationships, religion, politics, etc – and I wonder how you market that.
At my most cynical, I wonder whether you should market that.
Ultimately, I think the answer is yes, but with caveats. Identify the market. Let’s face it. A big portion of Middle America is going to actively avoid the kinds of relationships, religions and politics most SFR authors write about. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of us have already worked out the demographic mostly likely to embrace the accepting worlds SFR encompasses.
1.Highly educated – typically college degree or above
2.Young – or at least Gen X and later tends to be more accepting of diverse lifestyles (I have stats on this from a non-fiction book that’s 40 miles from where I am right now. Of course…I’ll grab it and post the source material in comments.)
3.Creative – not just artists, this includes problem solvers of all stripes – programmers, designers, doctors, scientists, etc.
4.Urban – includes suburbs
These are gross generalizations, naturally, because I bet every single one of us has an older relative living in a rural setting who hoards a secret stash of dog-eared science fiction novels. (Hi, Aunt Betty!) But these are established, die-hard fans of the genre. We’re after the new blood. So how do we as authors and readers reach the savvy, urbane hipsters of the world when a number of SFR authors are admitted geeks? Twitter? Other social networking sites? Offering workshops on college campuses? Signings at local, tragically hip Tapas bars? Do I have to drink absinthe?
Bring on the brainstorming. Where and how would you go about attracting new readers to the genre?
For more information about Marcella Burnard, visit her Web site at www.marcellaburnard.com.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
The theme for this year’s Parallel Universe is DIVERSITY. Without respect, there can be no diversity. I think this applies to our readers, as well as our stories.
I’ve never read TWILIGHT by Stephanie Meyer or watched the movie, but now I’m determined. See, I recently read something online which made me feel insulted on behalf of readers, Young Adult readers especially.
In an effort to learn the ropes, I’ve read many posts and comments by readers of TWILIGHT and a lot of other popular books. There seemed to be two camps of TWILIGHT commenters, those who love it and those who hate it. I’m one of the few people, it seems, who is indifferent. I’ve never been into vampires, except the alien kind. When readers make negative comments, I think it’s all well and good. It's passion and passion is good. Stephanie Meyer doesn’t lose any sleep wondering whether you bought her book because you hate it. She still gets her cut.
When authors make negative comments about TWILIGHT, on the other hand, I want to just toss them into a huge Time-Out Chair!
Let’s think about this, Kiddies.
If you’re an author, aspiring or already published, you want to SELL BOOKS. Right?
Guess what? Children grow up fast! Insults suffered during adolescence, especially, are remembered. One day these girls are going to be women. And they’re not going to like you one bit. Or your books.
According to what I’ve read, their mommies probably already hate you too, and not just because you called their babies stupid. Many grown women like TWILGHT too.
Here’s another Pearl of Wisdom:
No one learned a darned thing from ridiculing something they didn’t understand.
You want to sell books?
Show a little respect.
Next time someone raves about TWILIGHT, or Erotica, or the Holy Bible, or anything you find silly, insert your tongue between your teeth and bite hard. Then, try to understand WHY they’re so interested in it. You might just learn something useful.
If you can’t embrace diversity yourself, how are you going to write about it?
Okay, you can get out of the Time-Out Chair now.
Kimber An didn't have enough books when she was a kid and the ones she had didn't turn out the way she wanted, so she started writing her own. She grew up, did the college thing, and took care of a lot of other people's babies. She kept writing stories, but she knew they seriously stunk. She moved to Alaska, married a studmuffin pilot, and started making little co-pilots. Then, one day a star captain ignited her imagination and she knew it was time to share her stories with the world. She started up a blog and began to read voraciously. Published authors noticed and started sending her books to review. She reviewed lots of books on her blog, Enduring Romance. She wrote and polished four novels in four years, all YA SFR.On the fourth novel, SUGAR RUSH, she finally snagged a sale and signed with Decadent Publishing.
Parallel Universe: Dr. Rotwang or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Science Fiction Romance by Sheryl Nantus
"So, what is this steampunk thing all about? And what's science fiction romance, anyway?"
I've been asked that numerous times over the past few months as my steampunk western romance, "Wild Cards and Iron Horses", creeps towards release. And I know that for everyone there's a different answer, as there would be for any genre. If I say "romance" you have a different vision of what qualifies as "romance", as you would for "mystery" or "science fiction".
So let me give you my brief history of what and how I fell into writing science fiction romance before I even knew what I was doing. And why you might be a science fiction romance fan without knowing it.
A thousand years ago (well, okay, maybe only forty or so…) when I was growing up in Toronto, Canada I discovered comic books and wonderfully trashy romance paperbacks, both in my household. I'd buy the comic books and my grandmother would pick up the romances, usually Harlequins that she could trade in at the local used bookstore for a nickel apiece. (I *said* it was a long time ago!) I'd bounce back and forth between the superhero romances (what was UP with Scott and Jean?) and "traditional" romance novels.
I also overdosed on television. My mother brags to this day about watching the original STAR TREK with me in her lap, hardly old enough to know what I was watching but I knew that Kirk was one darned fine looking man. Moving on, I discovered DOCTOR WHO, WILD WILD WEST, MAN FROM UNCLE, I SPY and a slew of other television series that, while technically not science fiction, sure held a lot of science fiction elements.
Who didn't look at those amazing gadgets from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and wonder how they were built? Or drool over the toys James West carried in WILD WILD WEST that were just so out of place in the old West but yet still in place – there's steampunk for you. And later on we had the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, LOGAN’S RUN, SALVAGE 1 and so many others that I can't remember them all.
But the one link that they all had, to me at least, was an underlying romantic element. Who would Apollo end up with? Why didn't Skip admit his attraction to Mel? And why, oh, why, didn't Malcolm Reynolds end up with Inara at the end of SERENITY???
BRISCO COUNTY JR. JACK OF ALL TRADES. THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF JULES VERNE. Need I go on?
I went running to the bookstore, looking for stories that would combine my love of technology and my lust for romance. This of course led onto such fine authors as Linnea Sinclair, among others, who took the science fiction romance and embraced it wholeheartedly. Did I mention Lauren Dane yet?
Suddenly I discovered that not only did I want to read science fiction romance, I wanted to write it. All I needed was an actual name to put to the genre and now I had it.
And now you have it. I'm willing to bet that if you look back on your television viewing habits or your reading choices that you'll find out that you've been a closet science fiction romance reader or writer all along.
So next time you're asked what this science fiction romance is all about, ask him/her to look back at their own viewing and reading habits. Maybe he/she's been a science fiction romance person all along!
Sheryl Nantus was born in Montreal, Canada and grew up in Toronto, Canada. A rabid reader almost from birth, she attended Sheridan College in Oakville, graduating in 1984 in Media Arts Writing.
During her fifteen years of working in private security she was stationed at the United States Consulate in Toronto; various Consuls' residences as well as many hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area. She received training in many fields, along with being certified to carry a firearm while working as an armed security officer.
She met Martin Nantus through the online fanfiction community in 1993 and moved to the United States in 2000 in order to marry. A firm believer in the healing properties of peppermint and chai tea she continues to write short stories and novels while searching for the perfect cuppa.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Science-fiction, we are told, is the literature of hope – it’s about looking to the future and finding something worth hanging around to see. However, even the shiniest, most utopian future becomes as sterile as a spaceship corridor unless it has people to bring it to life. Real people, who live, grow and fall in love, rather than tour guides who exist only to show us how cool a piece of technology might be. That’s the real allure of science-fiction romance to me; I can read about the future in any number of ways, but through the vast diversity of SFR, that future is given a humanizing element. It is the admission that even in the darkest post-apocalyptic nightmare, there is a chance for two people to find each other and create a whole that is stronger than their individual parts.
Part of the appeal, as a writer, is the sheer scope of diversity that can be fit under the umbrella of SFR. At first glance, it looks pretty small; a subgenre of a subgenre. Then you get closer, and take a look inside. Like the Doctor’s TARDIS, there seems to be room for everything and everyone. Space opera and science fantasy sit side by side with dystopian cyberpunk tales and hard SF potboilers. Neon-soaked cyberpunk stories sit next to their kid brother, the Steampunk (who’s suddenly come out of puberty and is busy turning everyone’s heads).
And then there’s the characters – certainly SFR has its share of Alpha heroes, but it also opens its doors to the Beta-hero. Indeed, Betas seem to thrive in the future where their emotional openness and ability to complement rather than take charge is welcomed. Strong, competent heroines command starships and stride across a landscape that they claim and shape for themselves rather than allow it to overwhelm them. Aliens, from the nearly human to the decidedly not so, serve to reflect those things we both love and hate within ourselves and help challenge the notion of what it means to be human.
Even more impressive than the genre’s explosive population is its openness to trying new ideas. E-reading devices have dropped drastically in price, and even the iPhone’s small screen can display a fair amount of readable text. Traditional publishing still dominates the market, of course, but right alongside is a thriving small-press market that makes significant inroads through the capabilities of new media. Audiobooks, and more importantly, eBooks are a significant part of the market, more so for SFR than for most genres. Hope for the future translates into a willingness to explore other methods of delivery, and the genre is richer for it.
More importantly, if this is the literature of hope, look at the future we have laid out –inclusive, welcoming, and full of warmth, humanity, and most importantly, romance. Because that’s the greatest hope of all, nested at the heart of SFR. That no matter how much everything changes, there’s still the possibility to find that love that makes it all worthwhile. That is the future we’re laying out for ourselves and for our readers.
It is a great time to be reading, and writing, SFR. It seems like every door is open and the future is laid out in lens-flares and shining chrome (or leather and brass, if you’re of a neo-Victorian mind). Every month, the list of SFR releases gets larger. The sheer wealth of diversity available to us as readers is enough to induce choice-paralysis in almost anyone. The surge in popularity of steampunk has brought a whole new set of readers to the table, and that can only be a good thing.
We aren’t just shaping the future with our stories, we are living in the future already. Judging by the stories we’re telling, it can only get better from here.
J.C. HAY writes, knits, and sometimes writes about knitting from a secluded location in the middle of the United States. J.C.’s SFR novella, Hearts and Minds, is available through Samhain Publishing, while short works can be found in Twelfth Planet’s Aurealis-nominated anthology New Ceres Nights, Crossed Genres and Apex Magazine. Part-time film snob and full-time foodie, J.C. spends too much time pushing friends into new experiences and not enough time updating the website www.jchay.com.
In a recent post over at Hoyden About Town, Alisa Krasnostein, editor and publisher at Twelfth Planet Press discussed the invisibility of women in Science Fiction, specifically the lack of presence of female authors in magazines and anthologies:
“We still see low representations of women in science fiction magazines and anthologies, many awards shortlists, and in criticism of the genre. One of the issues that has become apparent is that those who commentate and review the genre wield much power in directing what works get read and recognised. To me, this seems like a significant wall that needs to be broken down in the quest to see women equally respected and represented in this genre.”
Like Krasnostein, many bloggers have brought attention to this issue and prompted a much-needed discussion of how great authors, who just so happen to be female, are being overlooked for inclusion. Despite Science Fiction’s current mainstream popularity in movies and TV, I think die-hard fans still feel a sense of insularity because as a group we’ve worn that loner badge for so long. While this inward-focused attitude has kept the genre going for quite a while, it’s ultimately self-limiting and narrows the choices when defining Science Fiction. Both this loner attitude and limited focus are fundamentally at odds with one of the basic premises of Science Fiction: embracing the alien “other.”
Science Fiction Romance breaks down these barriers to diversity in many ways. The most obvious way SFR authors “seek out new life and new civilizations” is that often those who write SFR are women and we give a voice to what have often been underdeveloped female characters. Romance by its definition provides a voice for women’s desires, but not to the detriment of male characters. It’s pretty common practice these days for Romances of any subgenre to showcase two points of view: the heroine and the hero.
While right now the majority of SFR writers are women, I hope in the future this equalizes. I know there are male authors out there who can and want to write three-dimensional heroines, especially when I read posts like this one from author Mark Charan Newton:
“I wondered, quite simply, am I writing women well enough, without resorting to the crudely-packaged fetish-extremes of the leather-clad-ZOMG kick-ass babe? Do I actually get women? Whether or not I did previously (it was too late to worry about that) it was certainly on my mind during the writing of City of Ruin.”
Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance present an opportunity to embrace the “other,” whether that other is the other gender, the other ethnic group, the other sexual orientation, or the other from another planet. From the many Danger Gal profiles I’ve written for my own blog, I’ve been confronted with asking myself as a writer and a reader: Why is this character this gender? Why is this character from this ethic group? Do these elements enrich the story or are they just default self-limiting tropes?
These questions are part of a story’s world-building and should contribute to its depth. Joss Whedon turned a gender and ethnic stereotype on its head with the character of Buffy Summers, who as a white, blond, teenage cheerleader bears a constellation of characteristics that form a proverbial bunny rabbit of timidity. Then he turned her into a vampire slayer, the one person in the world all evil should be afraid of. L.A. Banks’ Vampire Huntress series (the first of which is MINION) turns this idea around again with her portrayal of spoken-word artist and vampire slayer Damali Richards and her cadre of Warriors of Light who face-off against a master vampire. In SPIN STATE, author Chris Moriarty subverts all sorts of stereotypes with main character Major Catherine Li, a bisexual female United Nations Peacekeeper trying to hide her genetic construct nature and solve the murder of physicist Hannah Sharifi.
Make your character’s gender and ethnic background work to enrich your story. Have a reason for who your characters are. You may find a whole new way of looking at the world. As Science Fiction readers and writers we need to constantly ask ourselves the “what if”: What is the main character of this story were female and black? Or Asian? SFR provides unique opportunities to explore these elements through relationships.
What are some of your recommendations of Science Fiction Romances that examine and overturn ideas in gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation?
Lisa Paitz Spindler is the alter ego of Danger Gal, whose stiletto heels are licensed weapons and who keeps Ninja stars in her bra. Lisa, however, gets through each day on steady infusions of caffeine and science blogs, while constantly trying to beat her Free Rice high score of 45. Occasionally she writes science fiction and designs web sites.