Friday, December 9, 2011

Romantic Science Fiction

by Tam Linsey

Genres have been on my mind lately. Not just genres, but subgenres. Do I write "science fantasy" or "science fiction"? "apocalyptic" or "dystopic"? "science fiction romance" (SFR) or "romantic science fiction" (RSF)?

This last pair is what I want to talk about today, because I didn't know there was a difference until recently. Why do I care? Because I've had several agents who represent science fiction request my manuscript, only to pass on representation because there was "too much science" in my story.

Too much science?

How can science fiction readers not want the science explained? In my opinion, just setting characters onto another world and throwing in a space ship or two doesn't make something science fiction. There must be verisimilitude – credibility that such a world could exist. That is where the science part of science fiction becomes important.

I was baffled by the rejections.

So I did what any good scientist would do; I researched and developed a theory about why these agents didn't like the science.

Why are readers these days okay with novels not explaining how things work? This is where the distinction between SFR and RSF becomes important. Although these agents claim to represent science fiction, they are big names in the romance industry. As romance readers, they want the story – be it paranormal, contemporary, historical, or science fiction – to be about a relationship first and foremost. Any speculative, otherworldly, or scientific elements of the story must be less important to the plot than the romance. In fact, the story they want could not exist without the romance. The science is taken for granted. Science Fiction has become part of our culture. Other writers have already done all the speculation for us. Who hasn't seen an episode of Star Trek, or a movie with aliens or space ships? The proof is already out there. Why prove it again?

Most romance readers don't care about the science. They just want a really good story about a relationship.

They want Science Fiction Romance.

I like romance. Love is what binds characters together, and binds readers to my characters. But love doesn't dominate the story in science fiction. My manuscript, Botanicaust, has a love interest relationship, but the plot could proceed without the romance. In fact, it wouldn't be too hard to rewrite the novel and remove the romance altogether.

But take out the science, and Botanicaust falls apart.

I write Romantic Science Fiction.

See the difference? It is all a matter of where the emphasis lies. The rejections are because I've been targeting the wrong readers.

Do you like to know how the world works in the book you are reading? Or do you prefer to take for granted that things are the way the author says they are?

Reposted from Romancing the Genres.

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.


LizbethSelvig said...

Hey Tam,
Ahh, the question for the ages (at least for today's romance writers). I think thirty years ago (maybe even less time than that) we didn't have to worry about this, since the sub-genres of romance were just weird little mutant offshoots stuck away in the bookshelf corners. Nowadays, it's hard to find a plain ol' contemporary romantic book!

I love loads of detail in my books so I'm up for any amount of explanation whether it pertains to the world or the characters' relationship. In an ideal romance-writer's world, I'd have both, truly. I'd love a book where neither the science nor the relationship could get cut without hurting the story. But romance editors today don't want the detail -- they consider that to be bogging down the story, which to them is the relationship. Guess that just means, there's room for more books!!

Glad you write what you write -- I have no doubt it'll find a wonderful home and a huge audience!

Lizzie Newell said...

Bravo Tam,
This is exactly what I'm thinking about.
The question is why readers, agents, and editors are so down on science. I think it's been this way for about ten years.
I think there is plenty of speculation to be done particularly regarding biology. Romance is an essential component of biology. Can't have life(bio) without courtship and sex.
I think the problem is that science addresses scary problems such as genetic modification, global climate change, and stem cell research. With the current financial and political insecurity readers don’t want to face these things, and so when reading science fiction prefer stories which are a throwback to 1950s/60s technology and ideas such as space travel.
I believe that the pendulum will eventually swing with readers once again becoming interested in speculation.
Let's plan to be ready for when it happens. I do believe romantic science fiction belongs on the science fiction shelf where the science will be appreciated and the romance enjoyed, not on the romance shelf where the science will be considered a flaw.
I have yet to read a book on the romance shelf which is excellent science fiction, but I've read plenty on the SF shelf with excellent romance. I think romance readers will go to the SF shelf more readily than SF readers will go to the romance shelf.

Tam Linsey said...

Thanks for visiting, guys.
I'm with you, Liz - I like both romance and science in detail. But even my beta readers fall into one or the other camp.
Lizzie, I see a future where there are no shelves :) Amazon has eliminated them, so people browsing books will find what they like even easier, assuming the correct tags are placed on the book. And readers ultimately just want a good story. My goal is to write so that no one "notices" the science or the romance - everything just flows and feels like it belongs.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Liz and Lizzie make excellent points, and I like Tam's goal that no one notices the science. In my own genre (historical) I like it when the author weaves in an explanation/information as part of the novel.

My opinion is that there is an audience for every book, but the trick is for the book and reader to find each other. When you don't write something really obvious, like Regency romance, it's harder to make that happen. But I'm sure you will, Tam.

Tam Linsey said...

Great assessment, Lynn. The hard part is to unite reader and book. Good think I like a challenge!