Now put romance, science fiction, and women into a blender (umm, not for realz!), and then pour out the contents. What's the result? A genre called science fiction romance (SFR).
What is SFR? Basically, it's a type of story that focuses on the intersection of romance and science and has an upbeat ending (a.k.a. the "Happily Ever After," another ubiquitous story element I'm betting you've encountered a time or two thousand). There's a whole bunch of women (and a few men) who write SFR. It's a genre for everybody, but is currently often written by women and frequently harnesses the female gaze. So it tends to be a female-centric genre.
Now, if you'll kindly recall, half of the global population is female. Let's just sit and chew on that for a minute. Okay, go ahead and swallow.
How long have science fiction and romance been around? Decades and decades. For many of us, there's never been a time when SF and romance didn't exist as a form of entertainment. Yet despite the obvious existence of science fiction, romance, and the women who write it, to many people SFR is all but invisible. For some of you, this may be the first time you've heard of SFR. But it's not a new genre. In fact, it dates back to the days of Star Trek fan fiction. In the 60s-70s, some fans wrote romance-driven stories involving various Star Trek characters. The tales were the type of stories that, for probably practical reasons, the original Star Trek could never air. They were of the forbidden kind, and even taboo.
Fast-forward to the mid-80s: authors of romance were not only incorporating science fictional settings into their romances, but seeking publication for them. In turn, publishers gave the books a chance. Subsequently, stories mixing romance, SF, and an HEA became an official genre, albeit a niche one. These books were in addition to the many romantic SF stories already in existence.
These days, SFR is a fast-growing genre. It expands upon both romance and science fiction in a number of ways:
- Explores the theme of love against the odds
- Invokes a "sense of wonder" through a romance lens
- Creates an opportunity for more character-driven SF stories
- Explores the theme of accepting the "Other" (e.g., aliens, cyborgs, androids, genetically engineered beings, etc.)
- Frequently utilizes the (underrepresented) female gaze
- Explores sexuality in the context of a romantic relationship in a technological setting
- Features a high action-adventure quotient
- Progressive elements (includes sexual equality; heroines with agency; extraordinary heroines; heroes and heroines on equal pedestal, especially a sexual one)
- Empowered heroines who use technology to their advantage to create a more even playing field
- Includes "hearth and home" type stories that focus on family issues and/or celebrate heroines as mothers in a tech-based setting
- Quite a few SFR books tackle issues of diversity, especially when it comes to alien characters and their often symbolic nature. When it comes to other kinds of diversity (i.e., racial, cultural, QUILTBAG characters, non-heteronormative romances), the genre could do better as a whole. But the stories that embrace diversity do so with gusto.
The reasons are probably many, but I'm guessing three are at the forefront: 1) the general bias against romance, 2) the use of the HEA, and 3) the fact that many of the authors in the genre are women.
The invisibility of SFR crops up in other ways. Apprehension about science among female readers leads to a reluctance to give SFR a try even if the science in the story is accessible. The notable absence or underrepresentation of SFR authors in "women in SF/F" lists makes discoverability a challenge. Same with the general lack of reviews in high profile venues. And the list goes on.
The list also goes beyond the books. It's a cultural issue. It's a race issue. It's a gender issue. But all of the above is why it's so important for science fiction romance to keep contributing to the global conversation about diversity.
The truth is that the kind of "What if…?" question SFR asks is as valid as any other. And it's here to stay.
Thanks for reading! For more information about science fiction romance, visit The Galaxy Express. My blog is a gateway to books, news, and other SFR sites.
Before you go, leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of Queenie's Brigade, my sci-fi romance from Red Sage Publishing (Think: The Dirty Dozen in space with a Latina heroine). Winner's choice ePub, .mobi, or PDF. I'll pick a winner at random seven days from this post (Monday October 21st) and announce the news here in the comment section.
Captain Michael Drake desperately needs an army to save Earth after a crushing defeat by alien invaders. When his damaged starship docks at a remote prison colony, he discovers Earth’s last best hope—an army to replace the one he lost.
But, Queenie, the feral goddess ruling the prison, has other plans for the rugged star ship captain. After imprisoning Drake and seizing his ship, she prepares to lead her blood-thirsty band to freedom before the invaders track them down.
Despite her intentions, Queenie secretly falls for the sexy, hotshot captain. Drake makes it plain he wants to win back Earth with her by his side. But is following her heart worth betraying her people?