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Why SFR Blasts Other Romance Sub-Genre’s Tropes Out of the Sky: Part II


Following is the second part of Selene Grace Silver’s completely unscientific and statistically dubious survey of her own thoughts about the top ten dominating SFR tropes and why they function like other romance tropes, only on steroids. Click the Part I if you missed it.

Reasons #6-10 SFR Kicks Trope Butt: Sensual Setups

So we’ve covered the popular variations on archetypal heroes, let’s look at the more common variations on the archetypal romance arc.

Heroes’ and heroines’ meet-cutes tend towards the more extreme in SFR. Sure, the characters might meet in a bar and end up in a one-night stand like they do in Cara Bristol’s Trapped with a Cyborg, but it’s far more likely their meeting is more…unusual. The heroine isn’t just trapped with the hero on a road trip or during a snow storm, she’s likely been abducted in her nightie by evil aliens, who have crash-landed on an ice planet, leaving her to freeze to death until he finds her, or she’s been sentenced to a prison planet where either the extreme weather or the other residents are trying to kill them both.

Mail order brides might be big in historical westerns, but those gals only traveled half way around the world to marry their men, in SFR, the travel is more likely a thousand plus light years away across the universe with no return ticket. Our heroines will not discover ruby slippers to click together to get back home. We’re not on Earth anymore, Toto.

Whatever favorite situational tropes romance readers cherish in their contemporary, historical or paranormal books, SFR takes on the challenge of raising the stakes to their penultimate (ultimate resulting in death, as it sometimes does in hardcore SF, but never in the HEA-ending romance) potential, often serving up experiences that simply can’t be done in any other genre.

6. Calgon, Take Me Away! Alien Abductions

It might surprise those who don’t read romance just how popular the alien abduction trope is in SFR. Normally, something titled Alien Abduction would be classified under horror, not romance. In horror, the abducted usually become the victims of nightmare-inducing medical probes, or slaves on mining planets, or medium-rare steaks on some behemoth spidery creature’s dinner plate. In romance, though, alien probing and, ahem, eating ends in highly satisfying heroine orgasms. The only shock the heroine suffers from is just how quickly and powerfully her abductor brings her to climax.

When we consider that the alien abduction fear is a modern update on the whole sexual Nightmare of the Medieval period in which succubi would seduce and sex us up during our sleep, it’s not difficult to appreciate the power of this fantasy. It’s deeply rooted in our western psyches. While, paranormal romance can give us the sensual demon; SFR delivers the evolved, hunky alien version of little green men.

Why does abduction top the list of situational archetypes? Consider the drudgery of modern life: long work hours, long commutes, long lines at the grocery store. Seriously, so much of modern life is tedious and boring. Everyone fantasizes about getting away from everyday reality, but trading lines during regular life for lines in a Vegas buffet or for the rides at a theme park isn’t all that relaxing. For women, in particular, the exhaustion that results from a combination of trying to be everything to everyone, at work, at home, and even on vacation, is a condition not easily fixed with a twenty-minute bubble bath, (despite the soap advertiser’s promises). The thought of being eaten and/or probed turns readers’ minds to something other than cooking and gynecological appointments. It turns our minds to sex. (Please note, SFR readers are very sex positive.)

The idea of being taken and kept at the mercy of a large, competent and skilled lover far, far away across the galaxy where there are no reports to write nor emails to answer nor dishes to wash? The appeal is self-evident. Whether the hero ends up being the arrogant abductor, as in Eve Langlais’ Alien Abduction series, or the eager rescuer after the fact, like in Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarian series, this trope always ends up in a happy-ever-after for the heroine.

7. Cue Mendelssohn’s Wedding March: Alien Brides/Mates

Just like the popular mail-order bride stories in the historical western romance genre, this scenario depends on the ‘thrill’ of every bride everywhere dreaming of the moment she partners with a soulmate for life. Women are raised to chart their personal lives forward to this special moment in time. But that’s not what this SFR trope usually focuses its fantasy spinning efforts on.

The alien bride archetype is often less Cinderella and more Bluebeard. The SFR trope is more about the heroine surviving the honeymoon and building equality into the dynamic of the relationship. In real life, marriage can actually be scary for women. Not to get too dark here, but most women who get murdered are actually killed by their partners. And more men cheat on their wives than women cheat on their husbands. It’s dangerous to become intimate with a man, after all. It’s risky, both physically and emotionally. Alien bride stories raise the stakes of the archetypal marriage by increasing the danger of the spouse (see the Part I of this post) and further complicating the difficulty of marital communication between not only two genders, but also between two alien races. In Laurann Dohner’s Zorn Warriors series (technically more alien abduction than mail-order bride), the heroines find themselves in sexual competition with other females for their partner’s heart even after the mating.

The reason for this trope’s popularity? If the heroine in an SFR alien bride story can form a happy marriage with a giant, furry blue male who speaks a different language, then surely human females on Earth can do the same with their similar-sized fellow human partners.

8. The More the Merrier: Alien Ménages, the Highly Logical Path

Polygamy exists on Earth, even in the modern era, but it’s too often about the guys having multiple females at their disposal. In SFR, the females get their karmic justice. Sex stops being about making babies and starts being first and foremost about having great sex . Since women have the potential to orgasm more in a night than men, it makes complete sense to invite more males per female into the sexual equation so we reach our joined-gender-maximum-orgasm-potential. And we’re not talking about equally splitting attention between everyone involved either, one of the downsides of ménages (or so I’ve heard), although that’s okay too. This SFR trope is, primarily, a female fantasy-driven experience.

The alien guys understand (unlike their human counterparts so often misunderstand) that the woman deserves to be the “precious” center of the activity. Women need lots of sensual stimulation, so it’s highly logical to increase the males-to-female ratio to even up the odds of achieving orgasm equality. It doesn’t mean the heroine can’t have the one true love experience, either. In Kate Pearce’s Planet Mail, the extra guys are there to “help” the alpha hero keep his heroine prepped and aroused. Kind of the way romance novels keep women prepped for their real husbands, right? Unlike the actual world, unfortunately, where masculine jealousies might flare up–women being transferable property and all–these SFR stories create completely new cultures, ones that don’t see women as mereproperty, or as disposable, so sharing one female among several hot alien guys becomes a practical and acceptable relationship structure. In SFR, it’s all about practicality.

9. Set Phasers to Stun: Alien Invasions/Post-Apocalyptic Earth

Not all SFRs happen out in the frontiers of space. They can just as easily take place here on Earth. In these post-apocalyptic stories, the heroes are generally human males, but not always. They can be violent invading aliens, like in Stephanie Snow’s Demon’s Captive, or they can be retro raiding and pillaging Vikings as in Megan Crane’s Edgebooks, or they can be the surviving, honorable soldiers in Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad series. The attraction of the trope is that civilized society as we know it has been stripped away and we therefore are also stripped down to our most primal selves.

Sex under life-threatening conditions boosts the battery’s charge. Invasions by another country would be scary to consider, but being taken over by an off-planet alien race guarantees life-and-death conflicts on a daily basis. Only the strongest survive, so the options for mating with the manliest of the males becomes inevitable since those are the only males that survive to mate. And when it comes to interacting with invading aliens, it seems better to be desired sexually than gutted and run over like road kill.

10. Caught the Net of Love: Trapped Together

A quick survey of titles,  series titles and book blurbs in SFR will make obvious readers’ love for this trope. Trapped. Escape from. Marooned. Imprisoned.  A favorite trope, no matter the romance sub-genre, trapped scenarios promise few pesky interruptions or distractions between the hero and his heroine, other than each other, that is, so the storytelling focus can be primarily on the developing relationship between our two lead characters. As with all these tropes, the SFR game requires the players to double down and go for broke. The hero and heroine are more likely trapped in a life-threatening situation than, say, “snowed in” at the millionaire hero’s sprawling winter retreat for the weekend, cupboards full of food and the kindling and logs stacked neatly on the wrap-around porch, ready for cozy nights before the fire.

For example, in Claire Kent’s novella Hold, the heroine, an academic, is unfairly dumped in an underground prison full of violent men. Mating isn’t a choice for her–it’s her sole survival strategy. She hooks up very willingly with the strongest contender in sight.  Fortunately, his incarceration was the results of an unfair sentence too, and he turns out to be a good guy (after lots of rough quid pro quo sex, of course). SFR effectively blends the bad boy and the good guy hero tropes under these extreme conditions, something it’s nearly impossible to do without a lot of back-bending in contemporary romances.

Cara Bristol’s Stranded with a Cyborg is another example of the harsh, deadly landscapes our characters often find themselves in–the water is deadly acid on the planet where the hero and heroine crash-land. And lots of SFRs depend on the trapped-for-long-days setting of the spaceship as well. It doesn’t take long to figure out the consequences of attractive males and females living in close quarters in the middle of nowhere, a scenario perfectly exploited by Lopita Lopez in her Grabbed series.

As with the hero archetypes, the story arc patterns in SFR spin traditional tropes into something edgy and exciting. So, go get trapped with an SFR and leave everyday Earth behind.

Missed the first part of the post? Click HERE.


Why SFR Blasts Other Romance Sub-Genre Tropes Out of the Sky: Part I


Following a completely unscientific and statistically dubious survey of her own thoughts, Selene Grace Silver contemplates the top ten dominating SFR tropes and why they function like other tropes, only on steroids.

Typical to all popular fiction genres, general romance exploits its beloved tropes, from naughty bad boys to angst-filled love triangles. In speculative romance, these tropes tend to morph up in scale. Traditional bad boys become massive 7-foot tall super-endowed alien warriors who pair up with super smart heroines. Love triangles resolve themselves into happy ménages with male partners sporting enhanced appendages. If regular romances offer fantasies of how romantic love (and satisfying sex) might progress and resolve itself into happily-ever-after on Earth, then speculative romance re-imagines those archetypes and patterns into truly crazy but wonderful probabilities that expand beyond the mapped universe.

What if the hero actually could read a woman’s mind? What if a culture existed out in space in which women were valued simply for being female? What if the male body were designed solely to give women’s bodies sexual pleasure? The love affairs in historicals, contemporaries and even paranormals are generally confined by the limited expectations of a Western patriarchal society that too frequently treats women as disposable (hence the popularity of romance in all its forms—it’s the primary genre of fiction where a woman can repeatedly read to work through the psychological challenges of being labeled the “weaker” sex while still becoming the agent of her own story’s happiness). The underlying feminist instincts of the romance genre is another topic for another day, though.

Let’s look at the way SFR takes our favorite tropes and expands them into a new consciousness. In this first of two posts, we’ll look at the ways in which SFR enhances our male hero.

Reasons #1-5 SFR Kicks Trope Butt: The Heroes

In SFR, the guys are elite ALPHAS. To be the hero, they have to fight against incredibly horrible odds of survival on the frontiers of the universe. They frequently find themselves in life-threatening spaceship shootouts or navigating uninhabitable planets or a post-apocalyptic Earth. Perhaps they’ve crash-landed on a harsh plant (or been betrayed and dumped there). Enemies don’t run to the basic greedy human opponent or to Category 5 hurricanes either. We’re talking powerful Darth Vader-level enemies bent on galactic annihilation, or about malfunctioning escape pods with limited oxygen in the middle of nowhere, or about barren landscapes of meager subsistence and monstrous alien animals who want to kill and eat them.

These guys have to be tougher than the average ‘alpha’ cop or army sergeant to survive these challenges, generally, or very desperate. Not only are SFR heroes tasked with the seemingly insurmountable job of staying alive against ridiculous odds, they often take on the responsibilities of helping others survive as well. Fortunately for them, equally determined, tough and/or clever heroines team up to save the day, or the planet, or the universe. Scale is everything. In no particular order they are:

  1. Land, Sea and Space: SFR’s Superior Masculine Warriors and Soldiers

SFR stories love to showcase military men and women at their best. They have to be strong, smart and have moral scruples. It’s difficult to find a story in which lives aren’t on the line at some point during an SFR story. Couple that harrowing plot device with galactic-wide wars complicated by alien factions operating with opposing moral value systems, and chaos is often just around the narrative corner. SFR stories alternate between intense moments of stress and danger, interrupted by romantic retreats into private space cabins or cozy caves because these guys need their female partners in order to stay strong and steady, to persist. Naturally, to battle these kinds of odds, the soldiers and warriors are taller, broader, quicker (or more desperate) than the heroes of other romances. Think of them as testosterone amped with cocaine. Cyndi Friberg’s Battle Born warriors or Mina Carter’s Warriors of Lathardemonstrate just how over-the-top these guys can be.

2. If He Only Had a Heart, or Cyborg Boys Aren’t Easy

In the end, all SFR heroines, even the ones without military training or enhanced cybernetic features, like to do a little rescuing themselves, often in the emotional sense. After all, it’s the female superpower to feel our feelings and help others feel theirs. Frankly, it’s not that much of a challenge to get an emotionally-available modern guy to fall in love with a gal in a contemporary romance. There’s certainly less risk involved in a story when the characters are college-educated and their biggest life challenge is climbing the corporate ladder.

SFR readers like a more emotionally-challenged hero, and that means the strong and silent type Men with these characteristics have dominated female sexual fantasies for centuries.  At least as far back as Heathcliff. But before SFR, arguably only the archetypal cowboy came close to personifying the sincerely emotionless male character. In SFR, the emotionally-repressed cyborg represents the most extreme strong and silent guy. If regular male characters struggle to express their emotions, imagine the challenge for heroes who are part man, part machine. No challenge supersedes a heroine’s need to crack open a guy’s closed-off heart, especially if we’re not even sure he has human emotions underneath all those digital enhancements.  Best of all, these guys are sure to remain faithful afterwards, exactly because they’re unlikely to fall for just any girl.  It was taxing enough to fall for one. Laurann Dohner’s heroes in the Cyborg Seduction series or Cara Bristol’s Cy-Ops guys show that commitment means commitment.

3.  Ahoy! Prepare to be Boarded: Dare Devil Pirates & Adventurers

We have the protectors who will kill to save the heroine’s life. We have the cyborgs who only open their hearts to one worthy gal. But women all need to laugh as well. Especially in these life-threatening situations. So bring on the scoundrels and daredevil SFR pirates and adventurers.  Swashbuckling pirates of the 1700s might prove their muster in historical romances charting their way into unknown waters, but imagine them steering their spaceships into unknown worlds.

These cocky SFR heroes have honed their sarcasm and wit against vast stretches of mysterious landscapes, dodging galactic armies, outmaneuvering green aliens with octopus arms, and surviving ship breakdowns skirting the edges of black holes. They can crack jokes and live to tell about it. They can relieve the tension of a death-defying event with just the right line. Imagine the entertaining stories that eventually get told, cuddled up around the overheating warp drive, following the happy-ever-after. SFR pirates can be fun-loving or serious and driven by important social issues. Go light with Eve Langlais’ Alien Abduction incorrigibles or go serious with Linnea Sinclair’s classic SFR Gabriel’s Ghost.  Probably no greater fictional hero lives than space pirate/poet Gabriel “Sully” Sullivan.

4. The Better to Eat You With, or Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Shifters in Space

Vampires, Werewolves, Demons. These mysterious, powerful and dangerous creatures might rule the paranormal romance genre, but in SFR they tend to just be other humanoid races. So, in SFR, there are rarely issues of incompatible life spans, or bloody nocturnal rampages, or hotter-than-hell living quarters.

These shifting (or non-shifting, as those horns and hairy backs are sometimes permanent features) alien creatures sport all the delicious and dangerous animal instincts that society has tempered in the real world. It’s built into their DNA and the (generally) human heroine gets all the benefits without any of the negatives. If men and women are really two species, then alien shifters and human woman are as wild a pairing as it gets. Michelle Pillow’s Lords of Var series or S.E. Smith’s Dragon Lords of Valdier are good entries into this classic shifting alien trope.

5. Is that a massive laser weapon I see in your pants, or are you just happy to see me? Enhanced Male Genitalia

This trope mostly describes all the male heroes in all the romances ever, but only SFR gives readers big and hard with vibrating nubs and double wangs. Seriously. While there are also sweet romances in SFR, one of the things this sub-genre exploits to its full potential are sexual fantasies involving enhanced-specifically-for-female-pleasure alien penises and tongues.

In one of the more exotic SFRs, Kaitlyn O’Connor’s When Night Falls, the devil-inspired hero Lucien has two appendages, one that extends and “sucks” the heroine’s clit during sex, and one that is massive and vibrates. Lucien also exudes a chemical that causes her body to resist climaxing so when she finally releases, it’s cataclysmic. Tantric sex gone supernova. Cheesy? Maybe. Satisfying? Definitely. It’s like they say, in SFR, go big or go home. SFR readers say yes, yes, yes…

Read Part II of this post in which Selene considers the intersection of setting and opportunity, SFR-style, to identify five more romance tropes in which SFR pushes the boundaries of the romantic imagination.


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