The Perfect Cross-Over Genre: Science Fiction Romance

Reason and science vs. passion and feelings. Do they have to always be at odds, or can they work in harmony? In fiction, they partner up to produce immensely satisfying reads, especially in the Science Fiction Romance genre, or SFR. SFR is the ideal mating of two minds, the logical and the emotional and if you’re not reading it, you should be.

Lots of readers think of science fiction as a male-driven, male-dominated genre, cold and serious, while they think of romance as a female-driven, female-dominated genre, warm and, well, not serious, even frivolous (which is not true, but fodder for another post). In fact, women have been reading and writing science fiction, also called speculative fiction, since it first arose. Mary Shelley’s dark tale of Dr. Frankenstein is considered by many scholars to be the first true science fiction novel. SF is a genre arguably invented by a woman. Plenty of female authors have followed in Shelley’s footsteps to create some of the best and most important literature of the Western world. (For a list of great SF lit written by women in English, just do a Google search. Lists abound on the web, but you can start with this excellent one: The 23 Best Science Fiction Books by Female Authors.)

Unfortunately, a characteristic of great SF stories is that they rarely end in an HEA, or happily-ever-after, on the relationship front, a cheerless outcome if there ever was one. Frankly, SF can be a bit depressing to read if human relationships are your special interest. SF is thought-provoking, intellectually compelling, but, often, emotionally detached. It’s a bit of a downer when the protagonist saves the world, but is then stranded alone, set off from society and its inhabitants in the end? The protagonist might sacrifice everything for civilization (using science or outwitting it), but s/he won’t get his or her own reward. Heck, the love interest may not even survive the adventure—setting up one of the oldest martyr fantasies—a near-ultimate sacrifice that makes the SF protagonist a true hero. What’s more tragic than dying for one’s cause? Choosing some “greater” good over one’s soul mate. Today, despite many of the protagonists in women authors’ SF stories being female, they also don’t seem to win on the relationship front any more frequently than their male counterparts.

Consequently, when reading traditional SF, if you like the science, but you also seek happy-ever-afters for your characters, your logical brain gets fed, but your emotional one is left to starve.

Don’t despair. Even more popular than SF, best-selling HEA-driven romance (also invented by a female author, Jane Austen) blasts to the rescue. Romance, a genre dependent on comedy rather than tragedy, has a huge following of voracious readers. The subcategories are extensive, including historical, inspirational, paranormal, fantasy, erotic, and, fortuitously, science fiction. The SFR genre expands daily as more titles are added to the growing list of entertaining books. (To see a list of where to dive in, check out this previous blog post.) Upcoming films like Passengers, Ghost in the Shell and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets represent that growing entanglement between SF and romance in the wider culture (Comics have long commingled the two types of stories).

Essentially, authors who crave the merging of science with the heart have created science fiction romance, or SFR, to please both sides of the brain. SFR takes the best parts of space opera stories (sexy heroine + sexy hero + adventure in a technologically rich world) and builds a new blended subgenre for readers featuring both science fiction and romance. This post proposes a short list of why everyone who loves either SF or Romance should be reading SFR.

  1. Strong, smart female protagonists. Technology is a gender equalizing force. Women don’t need men to protect them when they are cyborgs or armed with advanced weapons. Why is this important? Gender inequality is still an issue in contemporary society, but often dismissed or treated as if it’s already a resolved deal. (It’s not.) The best SFR stories present the reader with an already gender equal world (yay) or often directly address that gender inequality with characters who evolve to become less biased through the events of the story. Generally, in SFR, the female protagonist is so clever or kick-ass that anyone, including the male love interest, has to face the truth: women are powerhouses who can take care of themselves.
  2. Forward-thinking, open-minded male protagonists. This is really just another take on reason number one. People born and raised in a sexist society are always susceptible to falling back on prejudiced ideas about men and women’s roles, especially in crisis situations. In an alternate world, set in the future, for example, it’s possible the characters have been shaped by cultures that have moved beyond these outdated ideals. Plus, men who are attracted to strong, smart women are already liberated from ideas about traditional male and female roles. Or, if they are still somewhat sexist because they are bigger and stronger, they are drawn to, respect and appreciate the female heroine regardless, and therefore, they are completely okay with being rescued by her should the occasion arise, which, in SFR, often does. It’s empowering for women to read such stories, and I suspect, for men, a bit of a relief to read. After all, who doesn’t want their life partner to put everything on the line just for them, regardless of their gender? (And, hey, if you really prefer the alpha male as protector, those SFRs abound too. Search out alien abduction and alien brides stories to start. And really, is there anything sexier than a huge, violent, withdrawn warrior softening up for the love of an intelligent female?)
  3. Human connection: enforced time together. SFRs are not solitary journeys; they are generally collaborative and communal stories. And what makes two people fall in love? Tension from time spent together plays a huge role, obviously. Getting stuck on a spaceship or on a remote planet, pitted against outside forces, teamed up to win against seemingly superior forces? There is no better set up for passion, trust-building and loyalty, essential components of committed sexual love. A heroine and a hero who save each other both physically and emotionally are bound to endure over time. They’ve already experienced the worst, all that’s left is to enjoy the best. Together. It’s the us-against-the-world model of what many happy relationships base themselves. Plus, truly admirable heroes and heroines are happy to share the spot light. Winning as a team is the best defense against the lonely impostor syndrome that takes the shine right off every triumphant success.
  4. Adventure. Science fiction is predicated on the idea that technological changes change us, possibly destroying our humanity, our capacity for compassion. In SFR, the characters are caught up in a world that has either turned darker due to scientific advances or a world that needs science to help defend it against some natural or external adversary. Therefore, the protagonists are living in a world with inbuilt agency, including a meaningful, active role for the female. There is no time to waste playing the helpless maiden. Both the heroine and the hero either need to survive and rescue themselves, or they need to join forces to rescue others against enemies that are using technology to control people or hording it for their own advantage. Lives are on the line. The characteristics that make the hero and heroine human(oid)—courage, superior wits, ingenuity, perseverance, adaptability, cooperation—are tested and strengthened. The resulting stories are fast-paced and exciting. Better yet, since the heroine is one of the central characters, the rules about who can be in charge and calling the shots is not limited to those with penises. In fact, the message in SFR argues that only as an equal team, that values every member and his or her individual talents and skills, can we overcome the challenges we face. Heroes and heroines are stronger together.
  5. Alien sex. Okay, this is admittedly the kinky and possibly more thrilling aspect of SFR. It’s intriguing to read about enhanced sexual experiences. Face it, in the real world, women have a tougher time reaching completion during sexual intercourse than men do, so what better lovemaking scenario could exist than between a woman with a male human (or not-so-human, but still of superior intelligence) partner whose biological makeup is sure to please. One of my favorite stories has the alien male protagonist endowed with both a naturally large, vibrating penis and an additional appendage above it that sucks on the human woman’s clitoris during sex. It’s like taking the best erotic fantasy with a male lover and altering his body to serve a woman’s specific needs, which takes us back to reason number one concerning why one should read SFR. Strong, confident female protagonists desire satisfaction, male protagonists seek to provide it, and in this increasingly popular genre, they both get what they need, even after the adventure ends.

Check out the SFR anthology, Baby, It’s Cold in Space for a sampling of new SFR stories. Available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also in Paperback.

SFRMABS Baby its Cold cover