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Romance Science Fiction, part 4

I started reading books in the overlap between romance and science fiction after reading a number of Linnea Sinclair's novels. I hadn't knowingly read romance before, and I deliberately avoided fantasy romance for the purposes of this project. Here are some of the things I've learned and conclusions I've come to at this point.

  • The overlap between romance and science fiction comes in three subgenres: romantic science fiction (RSF), science fiction romance (SFR), and Futuristics (Futs). Much of the SF I've read in the past has been RSF, even if I never read it that way. Human relationships in all their permutations are at the heart of most books, even when the bones of those books are in science and technology. The tension between engineering and human relations is what makes me think that writing SFRs are the most challenging of the three, and the most interesting to me because of it.

  • SFR strikes me as a small young genre, but this may also be a product of my fairly random selection of sampling. (I'm still very curious as to what wakarusa was referring when she mentioned "your mother's romance science fiction". RSF has obviously been around for decades. Futs? No idea.)

  • Even if the characters came from far-removed planets, they were all essentially human. My only off-hand memory of ongoing interspecies romantic engagements in books is from the Starbridge series. Does t.v. do a better job of exploring interspecies romance than novels do, or is this just a product of what I've happened to read? It may be easier to write convincingly about a species familiar to the author and readers, I'd think. I hypothesize that, like alien food, it's hard to describe unknown emotions. It's easier to conceive of the visual unknown than the tactile or olfactory - or does that just show I'm sight-dominant and prejudiced about imagination accordingly?

  • I have a suspicion - not founded on much - that Futs are most likely to be written by experienced romance novelists trying out the genre of SF.

  • On getting sidetracked: Although I set out to avoid fantasy romance, a chance friendsfriends page browsing led me to Socery and Cecelia (a frothy Regency fantasy novel). Also, as long as I was out and buying books, I finally bought and read The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. (Given I'm a fan of DWJ and guide books, this was overdue - and hilarious - reading.) Also, of course, I was well-and-truly sidetracked by Georgette Heyer novels.

  • I'm very curious as to the classifications of fantasy romance now.

  • Discovering Georgette Heyer has completely sidetracked me from this project in the short run, but I suspect I'll be back to it within a few weeks - especially now that I have such a good list of titles to explore!

Books recommended to me this week as a consequence of this project

Romance/Science Fiction
Ann Maxwell, Fire Dancer, Dancer's Luck, Dancer's Illusion, Timeshadow Rider
Sharon Lee/Steve Miller, Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem, Pilot's Choice
Connie Willis, Bellwether, Spice Pogrom, To Say Nothing of the Dog
Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice, Light Raid, Promised Land
Lois McMaster Bujold, Barrayar etc.
Sharon Shinn, Archangel/Samaria trilogy
Carter Brown, The Girl from Outer Space
Ken McLeod, The Stone Canal

Elaine Corvidae

Dorothy Dunnett, Lymond sequence
Jennifer Crusie

Related links: Pearl Awards; Speculative Romance Online; Romantic SF&F Weblog

All of the posts in this series can be seen via the common tag of romance science fiction.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 29th, 2006 06:17 pm (UTC)
Goodness me, what a treasure-house to explore! I'd suggest putting the Bujold quite high on the list, as she actually dedicated one of the Vorkosigan books ( A Civil Campaign, near the end of the cycle) to "Jane, Charlotte, Georgette and Dorothy" - not a bad set of literary heroines. Her fantasy books - the Chalion cycle, and the latest, The Sharing Knife are definitely fantasy romances too. I read the latter last week and much enjoyed it.

I adore Tough Guide - my copy was signed by DWJ when I met her a couple of years ago, so it's doubly precious!

Long-term you might want to investigate the other Sorcery and Cecelia books, which are also good fun, and Patricia Wrede's other books, more "straight" fantasy.

And Dunnett is just wonderful. She does make you want to follow in the footsteps of her hero, though, which is expensive - Scotland is merely a start. He is blond and blue-eyed. My type, it seems!

Have you really only now discovered Heyer? I worked my way through all her books as an undergraduate - which is why I have a very battered selection that were second-hand thirty-five years ago! The perfect books for a train journey or the bath, or when you have a cold and don't want to move far, I find...
Dec. 29th, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)
I wasn't particularly impressed with Shards of Honor but everyone enthusiastically swears they get better, so I'm happy to read another few and see how they go. It's thus far the only Bujold I've read - if I end up liking later ones, then it's good to know there's lots to explore!

I've already bought, though not read, The Grand Tour, and know that the third Kate and Cecilia book came out a few months back.

I haven't read a single Dunnett book, and really hadn't even consciously heard of Heyer before late October. (Although now I see references to her everywhere!) I've read a dozen of her works and have another three or four with me to read while vacationing. I just finished The Quiet Gentleman. Bujold I'm happy to borrow right now but, already seeing the rereading potential, I guiltily admit I've been buying all the Heyers.
Dec. 29th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC)
Heyer is like chocolate - perfect comfort food. I particularly like the super-competent heroines with dotty families - Frederica, the Grand Sophy, Venetia</>. I see no guilt in owning Heyer. Did you know An Infamous Army is required reading at Sandhurst, because her portrait of Waterloo is so detailed, gripping and accurate?

Dunnet researched her stuff very thoroughly, and there are fascinating details about early modern Scotland (and then France, Malta, Stamboul, Russia...) - the hero is a touch too good to be true, and the reader actively dislikes him for much of the first book, but he's a charmer, and most readers I know have been seduced by him!

I wasn't enamoured of Shards either - I think they improve about three books or so in. She uses them to play with a few different genres too, from space opera to comedy of manners. Worth keeping going a little while.
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:01 pm (UTC)
My guilt isn't in owning Heyer, it's in so compulsively buying quite so many books in quite such a short period. I had no idea any of her work would be required reading at a place like Sandhurst. I do, however, feel sure I've seen Arabella listed on lists of "books one should read" of some sort or other.
Dec. 29th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC)
In terms of 'your mother's SFR', I seem to remember a SFR -- or maybe it was waht you'd lable Futs -- cover on The Pile, i.e., a stack of romance novels and Tom Clancy thrillers about 2' cubed that lives next to my oldest friend's bed. Since it was a Fabio sort of cover, I'm guessing it was a Johanna Lindsay novel? There's also a Jude Deveraux time travel one. I think.

(there are perfectly justifiable reasons for my knowing this) (Really)
Dec. 29th, 2006 06:26 pm (UTC)
Hey, if you know enough to guess as sensible answers to my question, you have perfectly justifiable reasons for knowing right there. I suspect, however, you will not be surprised to know that these authors' names mean nothing to me. (Well, except Tom Clancy.)
Dec. 29th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
I bet you'd recognize the covers, though. They are the kind of high profile authors who commanded serious display space in bookstores in the 1980s (which might mean you're a little young).
Dec. 29th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
Supermarket checkout line novels!
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:40 pm (UTC)
yep! I remember this one now. My friend loaned it to me and I couldn't read it. But I think it is RSF, as it's set on another planet (I looked it up -- it's called Warrior's Woman).
Dec. 29th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
A minor note not worth editing the post again for:

Having finally realized what Regency novels* are, I now have context for Madeline Robins's Point of Honour, which was another of my springtime airport book acquisitions. (A mystery/romance set in an alternate history version of the Regency. It feels like it should be a fantasy novel, but it really isn't.)

* Books for people who want to read more books like those Heyer wrote.
Dec. 29th, 2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
Books for people who want to read more books like those Heyer wrote.

I think the nearest things I've found may be Sorcery and Cecelia and the sequels. Almost every Regency I've read has lacked Heyer's appeal.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 31st, 2006 05:56 pm (UTC)
I've read Tooth and Claw and liked it a great deal; enough that I promptly loaned it to my father to read.
Dec. 29th, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC)
On the point of interspecies romance, there was a book I read called Chroniques de Majipoor that involved some of that thang, which appears to have been called Majipoor Chronicles in English. Specifically it's the first story, Thesme and the Ghayrog. Heh.
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)
At some point in my teens I read three of the Majipoor books, beginning with Lord Valentine's Castle, but have only the foggiest memory of it. Mostly just the elaborate juggline sequences. I'm not sure I've read the Chronicles. Quite likely not.
Dec. 29th, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC)
For interspecies fun and excitement, you might try "Golden Witchbreed" by Mary Gentle. I believe this falls squarely into the RSF genre and it was quite an eye-opener for me when I pulled it off the shelf around age 12 or so, from the regular SF section at the library rather than the Youth SF section.

It's been years since I read it but it sticks out in my memory as having a very distinct alien culture with interesting gender setup and dealing with interspecies relationships. It was also pretty racy as I recall, but that could also be the lens of time skewing a 12-year old's view of racy.
Dec. 29th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
Looked up the book and found that Gentle did write a sequel. "Golden Witchbreed" ended with that feeling of having a second part and I can remember waiting for it to come out and never seeing it turn up in the library and giving up at some point.

Anyway - there's reviews on Amazon for "Ancient Light" which is the sequel though "Golden Witchbreed" doesn't appear to be available new anymore.
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:08 pm (UTC)
I haven't read any of Gentle's work. You sound like you're recommending Golden Witchbreed, but you may just be describing it as an example of interspecies relationship R/SF - it's not entirely clear.

It occurs to me that one complication with interspecies relationships in R/SF, depending on the nature of the species involved, is the taint of bestiality.
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:45 pm (UTC)
Is it bestiality if the beings involved are sentient and the relationship consensual? I'm thinking of Isaac and Lin in Perdido Street Station, frex. The image I got was that any taboo they were breaking was along the lines of miscegenation, rather than bestiality. Or the recentish Tepper (The Companions, perhaps?) -- although I'm not sure that there is sex between the earth person and the alien.
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
Argh -- although I the the Sharyn McCrumb dolphin sex is definitely bestiality ... not sure how I'd qualify the orca on human sexual assault in Startide Rising.

Dec. 31st, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
I don't particularly know where the bestiality lines would fall - I was just thinking of it as a hazard to be negotiated by authors and readers in dealing with interspecies relationships. You're right though - perhaps sentience all on its own means it's not a problem.
Dec. 31st, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
Both "Golden Witchbreed" and "Ancient Light" were reprinted in Britain about five years back in an omnibus edition called "Orthe", which is apparently not currently in print but may still be obtainable somewhere first-hand (and should certainly be obtainable second-hand) and may well be reprinted sometime: it was one of a more or less uniform edition of most of Mary Gentle's works, and the basic design is still being used for her latest novel, "Ilario", published only about six weeks ago.

A few warnings, though. "Golden Witchbreed" can certainly be read as R/SF and Mary Gentle says that "Golden Witchbreed" and "Ancient Light" were written as two halves of the one novel - but if you try reading "Ancient Light" as R/SF, the ending in particular is likely to come as a very unpleasant shock. And, even forgetting "Ancient Light", "Golden Witchbreed" does not have a HEA ending (in fact, while the books are very different in many ways, compare Ursula LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness"). Also, while I don't remember any hint of bestiality in Gentle's treatment of the interspecies relationship in "Golden Witchbreed", she has made something of a speciality in later novels of otherwise strong main characters in a submissive role in a sado-masochistic relationship ("Ilario" seems to be an exception - also, allowing for some odd gender roles, it can be read as almost straight romance/fantasy).
Dec. 31st, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you - your description of the books are helpful. Based on what you've said, her most recent might be the best (safest!) place for me to start reading her work.
Dec. 30th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
I believe time travel romances (usually the heroine travels into the past; but sometimes the hero travels to our time from the past, and sometimes one of them travels into the future) date from the 1980s.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )