Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Will It Take To Make Science Fiction Romance "Truly Excellent"?

I had recently read Zoe Archer’s COLLISION COURSE, so when I noticed a review of this action-adventure/military science fiction romance novella at Dear Author, I read the review and left a comment in appreciation of reviewer Shuzluva’s continued interest in science fiction romance.

While perusing the comments, I noticed the following comment by Charlotte, presumably in response to Shuzluva when she stated: “I’m on the hunt for the holy grail of SSFR and I’m a tough crowd to please.”:

I also often find myself dispairing over the lack of truly excellent space opera romance, but I, too, shall venture forth undaunted.

Please allow me to indulge in an instant replay of my reaction to her comment: “Wahhhhh!”

After that decidedly primal response, several feelings and thoughts came to me regarding Charlotte’s comment. First was the disappointment that science fiction romance was associated with a lack rather than an abundance of “truly excellent” stories. I realize this is the opinion of one person, but there’s also the possibility that others share the same perception. The only difference is that they didn’t leave a comment.

Second, indignation. I’ve seen how hard many SFR authors work and how seriously they take the subgenre these days. Plus, one reader’s gold is another one’s trash. Books that I thought were excellent representations of SFR were considered meh or flawed by other readers. And vice versa. All of our opinions are valid. So the “truly excellent” perception might vary from reader to reader, and across various time periods.

Third, resignation, because Charlotte had a valid point.

Most reviews of SFR books I’ve read (after reading the story, natch) have awarded them an average rating. That’s a worthy accomplishment, especially considering what has gone before (the “Dark Ages” of SFR) as well as that the subgenre has yet to break out of its niche status. Still, when discussing the “best” (blockquoted because “best” is so subjective) science fiction romances, the same names seem to crop up over and over again (Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherine Asaro, and Linnea Sinclair, I’m looking at you). Who are the authors joining their ranks? In this transition period of reinvention and rebooting, are the current generation of authors too "green" or inexperienced by comparison?

Is it even too soon to answer those questions yet?

Another issue is length and medium. The books most adored tend to be novel length mainstream print releases. To what extent is a science fiction romance story’s value associated with length and medium? Maybe there’s no correlation at all. Maybe it’s a matter of marketing and exposure. Ebooks don’t have the same visibility as print books. Where is the love for the outstanding novella-length sci-fi romances? That said, how many authors writing SFR for digital/small press publishers spend 6 months or more crafting their stories? Regardless of length, are the stories being churned out too quickly?

Another thought I had was that the issue is not simply about a lack of “truly excellent” stories, but about a lack of stories, period. Charlotte’s comment was a good reality check about where the subgenre is currently. It’s still growing, still finding its legs. Is it possible that more releases will translate to a wider selection of “truly excellent” stories for readers?

These days, mainstream print SFR novels are still few and far between, but there are plenty of established and debut authors in the digital realm. Part of me wonders if it’s just a matter of time before several or more of them prove themselves as authors of truly excellent stories. Or maybe their stories are already excellent, but they simply haven’t been discovered yet.

What will it take to help SFR reach the next level? More high concept/epic stories? More creative risks? More innovation with medium? I’m not sure, but I’m sure we’ll know it when we see it!

What do you think are the elements of a great science fiction romance?

Joyfully yours,