05 July 2010

Defining Science Fiction Romance

I'm confused. Confused by publisher labels on romance. And I'm wondering if the word "paranormal" is now being used for any romance that isn't a historical or a contemporary, including those romances that involve societies from places other than Earth. My guess here is that publishers think the term "science fiction" will scare away romance readers. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I could really use some help sorting out SF romance from everything else in the romance aisle.

I'm not a big fan of all the vampire, werewolf, were-jaguar, were-whatever books that have taken over publishing lately, but I certainly would agree that they're "paranormal." I'm afraid that some books that I would like, however, are hiding under the paranormal label. For example, I recently read Jane's Warlord, by Angela Knight, which I adored. It's described as a "sexy paranormal debut" by the publisher. But the hero is a soldier from the 24th century who time travels.

Sorry, but to me, that's science fiction. I'm pretty sure that I missed out on this book when it was first released (in 2004) because it wasn't marketed as SFR.

To me, science fiction involves at least two of the following: 1) the future (including the near future); 2) use of technology; 3) non-Earth peoples, societies or planets.

Check out a great interview with Heather Massey (of The Galaxy Express) here, where she defines SFR and talks about its recent publishing history. To Heather, SFR involves romance set in "technology driven settings." She includes steampunk in that category and since I know next to nothing about steampunk, I can't comment. But I totally agree that SFR must have some element of technological innovation that is not currently available in the early 21st century. But technology doesn't have to be the center of the story.

Jane's Warlord, for example, involves time travel, but the science behind it isn't directly relevant to the plot. After providing some basic principles of operation, Knight has convinced her reader that time travel is a reasonable technological development and structures her story around the resulting conflict.

My own erotic SFR requires space travel. It's a way for my hero, who is from a society descended from an Earth-based culture, to meet a humanoid woman from another planet. Most of the technological advances are implied; i.e., I don't get into the physics of space travel or explain how communications from the planet surface to the orbiting spacecraft function. My interest in writing SFR is in exploring social and interspecies differences, not in technology per se. But without the technology, there's a lot less to explore.


  1. I agree with you on the probable reason for marketing sci-fi as paranormal. I have a series set in a lost valley where the people are blue. At the time I began the series, there were no other paranormal elements. BUT it was marked paranormal because the people were blue.

    There are so many blended elements in romance now, I'm not sure it's possible to draw those hard and fast lines in the sand anymore. Yes, the story might require a space ship for travel to a distant planet, but then the hero/heroine might use telepathy to communicate. So is it paranormal? Or is it sci-fi?

    Perhaps we need a new category that indicates non-shifter paranormal? Or futuristic paranormal? It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  2. PS: Excellent excerpt for Antaren Affair! I look forward to reading it when it's released!

  3. Hi Anny, Thanks for your comment. I like the idea of a "futuristic paranormal" as a sort of compromise between the SF and paranormal categories. You're absolutely right about the blending of genre elements--it's a challenge for both readers and publishers.

    I wonder whether SF as a category will eventually give way to "paranormal" entirely. Given the rate of technology change, the worlds we create as writers likely won't stay "fiction" for long, which means that SF becomes less alien to us all the time as our medical / scientific / biological frontiers expand.

    P.S. Thanks also for the example of your blue "paranormal" people [eye-rolling here at the often impenetrable decisions of publishers].

  4. Hey, there. I am so glad you liked Jane's Warlord. I did a sequel trilogy called TIME HUNTERS which reveals the problem and why publishers keep using the paranormal label for books that are SFR. (I'm a huge SF fan, btw, and I love urban fantasy.)

    Anyway, the books are supposed to be a trilogy. (Warrior and Guardian are the two books. They're still available, btw.)

    After we published the first two books, Berkley told me they didn't want the third. The sales had gone down as the series went on. People love my
    vampire/paranormal series of the Mageverse, but too many of them didn't like the SFR Time Hunters series. Nobody said it was bad -- they just didn't buy it.

    On the other hand, I have a TON of people begging for the third book. It's very frustrating to tell them I haven't written it. I don't blame Berkley -- if the sales aren't there, the sales aren't there. I may be able to publish it as a long novella; that would seem to be my only hope now.

    So those of us who love SFR must be aware that we write it at our peril. Sad, but true. I would love to write all the cool SFR ideas I have, but my only option is to write them as either novellas or e-books, because too many readers just run the other way.


    Angela Knight

  5. Hi Angela! Thanks for commenting. The two Time Hunters novels are on my to-read list (as part of the SFR reading challenge--link is on left), though it's hard to imagine a hero to match Baran Arvid, who's about as swoon-worthy as they come. Maybe Berkley would consider releasing the third title digitally and then print a tree-book if it did well enough? I know SFR readers aren't that numerous, but I suspect they're incredibly loyal. I hope you write more SFR because I find the places you take readers to be pretty darn interesting.