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Saturday, November 12, 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?

© Tam Linsey, 2011. All rights reserved.

12 comments:

Casey Wyatt said...

Tam, this is a great question. I had to really think before commenting. I'm a big sci-fi fan so I'm okay with the science behind the story as long as it's not pages and pages. But for romance, I have to say, I want the relationship as the focus with any background sprinkled in so the world makes sense.

Judith Ashley said...

What a thoughtful post. I read mostly for the story. If the facts are wrong, I may finish that book (just one of my many quirks) but I won't read the author again. If I trust the author, then I believe what they say and I don't need an explanation. Jean Auel's The Earth Children's Series has pages that I just skim because it doesn't matter to me how many grasses, etc. are on the plains. I know she did a ton of research and I admire that in her, but I don't want to read about it. It takes me out of the story.

So, I think it is a balance between enough information and explanation to establish your credibility without pulling the reader out of your story.

Tam Linsey said...

Casey - I don't read hard sci-fi for that same reason - pages and pages of explanations of gears and electric circuits just don't do it for me. I want character interaction.

Judith - Jean Auel is a perfect example! I read her first couple of books and loved them, but by the third, I was skimming all the facts, and I couldn't finish the fourth book. If I want to read a research paper, I'll find one to read - just don't tell me it's a novel!

DeNise said...

What a great example of the fine line we writers balance on. I too, read science fiction and skim when the characters needs become secondary to the science.

Tam Linsey said...

I hadn't realized how broad the "definition" of sci-fi is until I researched this article. On Wikipedia, they can't even settle on one answer!

Shea McMaster said...

Fascinating how finely hairs can be split. My primary interest is the romance, but I don't mind some science to explain the world.

Now that you have the situation defined, I'm sure your search will find the right agents/editors for your story. It's wonderful and only needs the right home to set it free.

Diana Mcc. said...

I enjoy suspending my beliefs and going with the author's. The romance should be the main stay of the novel, with enough "Sci-Fi" elements to make it set up the story and make it believable.

Good luck on finding a home for your novel.

Tam Linsey said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Shea. The road to publication sure is long! But I will get there.

Diana, thanks for stopping by. I like to hear what people prefer reading because it helps me figure out where I belong in the world of publishing.

Sarah Raplee said...

Hi Tam,

This reminds me of the difference between a romantic suspense story and a suspense story with romantic elements. It boils down to figuring out which plot line is the primary.

SF readers and romance readers have some different expectations. Your primary audience is the one whose expectations must be met.

I believe you are spot-on about your rejections. Target agents who represent SF, not romance. There's one out there who will love your book!

Sarah

Tam Linsey said...

Exactly, Sarah! Thanks for the encouragement. I'm working on it!

Julieann Thomas said...

Thank you for posting this, it's given me a lot to think about. I love military romance and science fiction. And thanks to your article I started hunting around and found military science fiction. Add romance to the end of it and the genre makes me happy.

Tam Linsey said...

Wonderful, Julieann! It is fascinating how defined the genres have become.