The most plausible technological elements in the world aren't going to hold my attention if the story's subtext strikes me as problematic in some way. And that right there is a reason SFR can be viewed as one response to the historic dearth of character-driven/relationship-themed science fiction stories. SFR is an area of growth for SF and is helping to increase its appeal.
During my recent reading experience, I encountered two areas of potential growth for SFR:
1) One book used "race" and "species" interchangeably when referring to the alien characters. They mean different things:
race - "a classification system used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation."
species - "Biology . the major subdivision of a genus or subgenus, regarded as the basic category of biological classification, composed of related individuals that resemble one another, are able to breed among themselves, but are not able to breed with members of another species."
Despite the pervasiveness of "race=alien" (particularly in North American culture), race is largely a social construct. By using "race" instead of "species" to describe aliens, sci-fi romance risks presenting alien characters as symbolic of a) anyone who isn't American/white, and b) People of Color--as in PoC are alien (i.e., strange/different) to white people.
Precise language is important because it helps avoid offending readers--and these days, one's readers could hail from anywhere in the world.
2) I've blogged about the use of contemporary slang in SFR before, but it's been cropping up again in my reading. Aside from intentional usage, such as stylized space westerns or characters who are designed in an obvious way as "friends of Old Earth," contemporary slang (especially in futuristic settings) can pull readers out of a story. The same goes for description using cultural shorthand.
When authors were only selling in the North American market, the slang/shorthand might have gone unnoticed by many readers. But now, with a global market within everyone's reach, this is an area where SFR authors can consider stepping up their game. Can they assume all of their readers will understand a story's cultural references? If not, it might be a sign to examine one's reliance on them (at least the more distinctive ones).
Curbing the use of cultural shorthand and creating story-specific slang puts more readers on a level playing field and helps make stories more accessible. I like to think of it as meeting readers in the middle, wherever we happen to live. :)
What would you consider to be other areas of potential growth for SFR, especially considering the increasingly global market?