What is SF Romance?

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Rob Lopez

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I've seen SF Romance mentioned in a few threads in the past, and I meant to ask about them but never got round to it. Having come across the term yet again today (in a review) I just have to ask:

What is SF Romance?

And can anyone give me a link to an example of this (apparently?) new sub-genre?
 

Anninyn

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It's hardly new, really. It's been around since at least the nineties - I remember reading a fair number of them when I was in my early teens. They just weren't defined as that then.

SF romance is as it seems. A story set in an SF universe where the main plot is the relationship between two people. There'll probably be other sub-plots going on as well, as it IS SF. It shares things in common with Paranormal Romance in that sense.
 

dolores haze

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It's a combination of the SF and Romance genres. Some works are heavy on the SF, lighter on the romance. Some are heavier on the romance, lighter on the SF. Some are a pretty equal combination of both genres. I've read SFR that's also space opera, time travel, steampunk, superheroes, dystopian, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, erotica, YA, clockpunk, etc.

I recommend The Galaxy Express, run by SFR author Heather Massey as an excellent resource on all things SFR. I'm a regular contributor there. Link is in my sig.
 

Roxxsmom

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I still have trouble differentiating between what is considered a work of fantasy or SF genre wise where there is an important romantic subplot or theme running through the story (as many do) versus a work that is defined as a Sci Fi or fantasy romance genre wise. I assume it's a matter of emphasis, but seems like there's a huge area of overlap.
 

yttar

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There is definitely an overlap between science fiction romance and science fiction with romantic elements (or romantic science fiction). It's like the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy with romantic elements.

The main difference is what the story focuses on.

Does the primary plot revolve around the main characters falling in love and getting together? If the romance is the driving force of the book, then it's usually science fiction romance (or SFR for short).

Or does the primary plot revolve around the other thing that is happening to the characters, besides the romance? If that other thing, be it overthrowing the evil empire, taking out an enemy base, or saving a planet from extinction, is the driving force of the book, then it's usually romantic science fiction/science fiction with romantic elements (rSF for short).

The confusing part comes in with those stories that straddle the 50% mark, but then it comes down to author/reader/editor/publisher subjectiveness. Just like with UF and PNR.

Another thing is that SFR will follow more traditional romance tropes, structure, etc. while romantic SF will follow more traditional science fiction tropes, structure, etc.

An example of romantic science fiction is Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. And an example of SFR would be just about any of the books by Linnea Sinclair. Both of which can be found in the science fiction section. (Though Sinclair's books can also be found in the romance section.)

But I highly recommend checking out the Galaxy Express as mentioned above since Heather Massey has an extensive list of SFR authors and tons of information on the subgenre itself.

Yttar
 

veinglory

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It goes way back to when SF started. Basically the book complies with the requirements of both genres. My current favorite being the Liaden series.
 

chicgeek

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It wasn't until recently that this sub-genre came onto my radar. I had started reading Ann Aguirre's Grimspace series. It's totally Soap Opera -- we're talking new and interesting species, galactic scale political intrigue, dozens of different planets and plenty of kick ass space ship battles. But I did notice that there was an emphasis on the female MC's relationships, both her romantic entanglements and the people she comes to call family in the course of the series. I actually liked that, but I wouldn't say that the romance (there's an interesting love triangle, actually), was the focal point of the story. It was just one important facet of it.

Still, I noticed on Goodreads that it had been labelled as "Romantic Science Fiction" and I wondered at first if it was something of a re-branding, to attract a different audience. That might be true in Aguirre's case, but when I did a bit more research and sampled some other Romantic Sci-Fi, the few things I encountered read more like one of those low-grade romance novels with the intense cover, but the setting happened to be space. I gather there's quite a range. It's actually good to hear peoples recommendations in this thread, because I definitely think this sub-genre has great potential.
 

kuwisdelu

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I still have trouble differentiating between what is considered a work of fantasy or SF genre wise where there is an important romantic subplot or theme running through the story (as many do) versus a work that is defined as a Sci Fi or fantasy romance genre wise. I assume it's a matter of emphasis, but seems like there's a huge area of overlap.

An SF romance will for the most part conform to the expectations of a genre romance. For example, you can expect an HEA or HFN.
 

amergina

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An SF romance will for the most part conform to the expectations of a genre romance. For example, you can expect an HEA or HFN.

(Happy Ever After or Happy for Now, for those who don't know romance acronyms. ;) )
 

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I also recommend Catherine Asaro for those who would like a great example of a SF romance. She does hard SF (she's actually a physicist) REALLY well, IMO, and her books also all have a romantic theme. I believe the series is the Skolia Saga or something like that. I :heart: her.
 

kuwisdelu

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(Happy Ever After or Happy for Now, for those who don't know romance acronyms. ;) )

Yeah, sorry about that.

You can have SF stories that are primarily about a romantic relationship that don't conform to genre romance expectations, and that's when it wouldn't be a SF romance.
 

sunandshadow

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Robin D. Owens, Janet Miller and Kaitlyn O'Connor are some of my favorite authors of SF romance. (If anyone is unfamiliar with the romance genre in general, don't expect them to be tame, these all have sex.)

Aside from the happy ending, here are some other common conventions of the genre:

- There will typically be alternation between the viewpoints of the main female character and the main male character, whether the p.o.v. is first or close third. Or if it's a gay romance, the two main male characters or two main female characters. But the point is that these two characters get the lion's share of the screen time, though there may be a few small sections from the viewpoints of the villain (if there is one), a rival (if there is one), a secondary couple (if there is one), or some sort of best friend/sibling/matchmaker/sidekick character. Male writers also have to be aware that the genre has a primarily straight female readership who want the books to explore female issues of mate selection and male attractiveness. Something that's simply a gender-reversed hero monomyth where a female warrior kicks ass and wins a male maiden may _look_ like a romance novel, but it tends to miss the cultural point of the genre.

- There will typically be a limit on how much violence, horror, tragedy, or other dark stuff is allowed to happen in the story. The backstory can have that stuff, but if the main story has people getting slaughtered, tortured, or raped, it's probably not in the romance genre. That's a really common reason for slushpile manuscripts to get rejected, the author wanted to start with a bang so they start with a rape or murder shown directly to the reader, and this doesn't go over well with romance audiences. Also you don't want to have caused severe trauma to the main characters and stressed out the readers during the middle, this can violate the genre's contract with the reader and also make it difficult to plausibly deliver a truly happy ending. A bit of melodramatic angst is great, character abuse is not.

- Some kinds of sf tropes, like truly alien aliens, political backstabbing, gritty war, or dystopias, don't really have much of a place in a romance story. Which is probably why sf romance tends to come across as pulpy, cheesy, or fluffy to someone who likes hard sci-fi or high fantasy. Romance works really well with comedy, adventure, and mystery; it's halfway compatible with thriller/suspense, and that's what a lot of urban fantasy is; it's not much compatible with serious drama. Yes you can combine a love story with those sort of things, it just won't be genre romance. It really does need to be about a positive theme like love solving problems and people finding ways to be happy and fix their world.
 

Rob Lopez

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Wow. Looks like I've stumbled onto a whole new world next door that I didn't know even existed. Thanks for all the links and info.

And extra thanks to sunandshadow for a succint description that brilliantly covers all the bases.:Hail:

:)
 

thothguard51

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What is SF Romance?

Relationships with Robots or Andriods could be another part of SF Romance.
 

chicgeek

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- There will typically be alternation between the viewpoints of the main female character and the main male character, whether the p.o.v. is first or close third. Or if it's a gay romance, the two main male characters or two main female characters. But the point is that these two characters get the lion's share of the screen time, though there may be a few small sections from the viewpoints of the villain (if there is one), a rival (if there is one), a secondary couple (if there is one), or some sort of best friend/sibling/matchmaker/sidekick character. Male writers also have to be aware that the genre has a primarily straight female readership who want the books to explore female issues of mate selection and male attractiveness. Something that's simply a gender-reversed hero monomyth where a female warrior kicks ass and wins a male maiden may _look_ like a romance novel, but it tends to miss the cultural point of the genre.

- There will typically be a limit on how much violence, horror, tragedy, or other dark stuff is allowed to happen in the story. The backstory can have that stuff, but if the main story has people getting slaughtered, tortured, or raped, it's probably not in the romance genre. That's a really common reason for slushpile manuscripts to get rejected, the author wanted to start with a bang so they start with a rape or murder shown directly to the reader, and this doesn't go over well with romance audiences. Also you don't want to have caused severe trauma to the main characters and stressed out the readers during the middle, this can violate the genre's contract with the reader and also make it difficult to plausibly deliver a truly happy ending. A bit of melodramatic angst is great, character abuse is not.

- Some kinds of sf tropes, like truly alien aliens, political backstabbing, gritty war, or dystopias, don't really have much of a place in a romance story. Which is probably why sf romance tends to come across as pulpy, cheesy, or fluffy to someone who likes hard sci-fi or high fantasy. Romance works really well with comedy, adventure, and mystery; it's halfway compatible with thriller/suspense, and that's what a lot of urban fantasy is; it's not much compatible with serious drama. Yes you can combine a love story with those sort of things, it just won't be genre romance. It really does need to be about a positive theme like love solving problems and people finding ways to be happy and fix their world.

Again, not super familiar with the sub-genre on the whole, so I'm sure you're correct in your assessment. That being said, my introduction to it (the Grimspace series), basically entailed all of the things you listed as "no-nos" and it totally rocked. It's 1st person, and the Female MC is a kick-ass heroine (although her dueling love interests are more than just "male-maidens"). There's no rape (I can see why that wouldn't be well-received)... but there's a war on and plenty of graphic violence/tragedy. All of the "SF tropes" you mentioned are totally present. In fact, one of her love interests is an alien species.

But just because all of that is there, it doesn't mean the romance(s) of the series aren't front and center in the MC's mind. There's plenty of sex, too. And the series resolution is more or less a happy one, focusing on the love story as the curtains close.

I loved it!!

No offense, but if Sci-Fi Romance in general reads the way you've described, I probably won't like most of it. But that's just me -- I like all that other stuff. And romance. It just feels more realistic, while still being escapist and larger-than-life. I don't begrudge anyone for enjoying what you've outlined, though. You like what you like. That's the great thing about fiction. Everyone can find their niche.
 

Laura HK

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No offense, but if Sci-Fi Romance in general reads the way you've described, I probably won't like most of it. But that's just me -- I like all that other stuff. And romance. It just feels more realistic, while still being escapist and larger-than-life. I don't begrudge anyone for enjoying what you've outlined, though. You like what you like. That's the great thing about fiction. Everyone can find their niche.

SF Romance is a broad spectrum, but usually it's just either set on a different world, or in the future, and doesn't really need to fit all the conventions mentioned in sun's post (at least imo). Gena Showalter's Alien Huntress series is 1st person kick-ass female, with aliens. But Sherrilyn Kenyon's The League series is in the future, mostly outer space, told in alternating 3rd, with some aliens too. They all focus on the romance between the H/H (hero/heroine for non-romance people), but with quite a bit of action.

And it's not a new sub-genre. The very first SF romance I read was Restoree, by Anne McCaffrey and that was published in 1970. :) (But I didn't read it till the mid-1990s, as I wasn't even born in 1970!)
 
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WildScribe

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Sun, I don't know where you got those ideas about what a SF romance must constitute, but you're just not right. Hard SF, grit, dark plotlines, etc. are all welcome, and I've seen and read them all. I mean, you want to pull one from the headlines, Hunger Games is dystopian romance.
 

sunandshadow

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Sun, I don't know where you got those ideas about what a SF romance must constitute, but you're just not right. Hard SF, grit, dark plotlines, etc. are all welcome, and I've seen and read them all. I mean, you want to pull one from the headlines, Hunger Games is dystopian romance.
The "don'ts" I listed are for stuff that are officially, primarily, romance that belongs on the romance shelf in the bookstore. Hunger Games is definitely not a genre romance novel. Many people make the mistake of thinking of things like Romeo and Juliet, Carmen, and other romantic tragedies as romances, but they aren't Romance with a capital R, that kind of story is not publishable as genre romance. Grit and dark plotlines are not welcome and I would not read them if they were misfiled as romance. They make perfectly good novels, they just ought not to be published as romance but instead as one of several other genres, depending on what else is in the book. If the heart of the story is not about two people falling in love (in a rich and fascinating world not too off-putting for a reader to want to visit) and overcoming obstacles to find a happy ending together, it's not genre romance. SF romance is a subgenre of romance first, and only secondarily a subgenre of science fiction.
 
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WildScribe

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Certainly the characters have to reach a HEA or HFN ending as defined above, but that doesn't mean that a SF Romance has to be sunshine and light and fluff with robots in the background.
 

Laura HK

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The criteria I listed are for stuff that are officially, primarily, romance that belongs on the romance shelf in the bookstore. Hunger Games is definitely not a genre romance novel. Many people make the mistake of thinking of things like Romeo and Juliet, Carmen, and other romantic tragedies as romances, but they aren't Romance with a capital R, that kind of story is not publishable as genre romance. Grit and dark plotlines are not welcome and I would not read them if they were misfiled as romance. The make perfectly good novels, they just ought not to be published as romance but instead as one of several other genres, depending on what else is in the book. If the heart of the story is not about two people falling in love (in a rich and fascinating world not too off-putting for a reader to want to visit) and overcoming obstacles to find a happy ending together, it's not genre romance. SF romance is a subgenre of romance first, and only secondarily a subgenre of science fiction.

I agree with WildScribe. I've read several SF Romance books that are definitely romance, but have gritty and/or dark plotlines (see my post above). More recent books are less fluffy, in my opinion.
 

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In fact, one of her love interests is an alien species.
Alien love interests are quite popular, actually. I was trying to make the point that these alien love interests are preferred to be more or less mentally human. Cat-people aliens, winged-humanoid aliens, and on the fantasy side mermen, centaurs, and shapeshifters of all sorts, are all very popular choices for love interests. What don't work very well as love interests are "truly alien aliens", like giant silicon spiders or beings that communicate in 6 streams of information simultaneously, and that sort of thing.

No offense, but if Sci-Fi Romance in general reads the way you've described, I probably won't like most of it. But that's just me -- I like all that other stuff. And romance. It just feels more realistic, while still being escapist and larger-than-life. I don't begrudge anyone for enjoying what you've outlined, though. You like what you like. That's the great thing about fiction. Everyone can find their niche.
You're perfectly allowed to feel that way. Both women's fiction and urban fantasy, among other genres, tend to take a more gritty, realistic approach to relationships and love because that's what those audiences prefer. In point of fact SF as a whole often takes a more realistic or pessimistic perspective on relationships, unless it's coming out of the fairy-tale tradition. But the "official" romance genre and its fandom are a bastion of idealism and people who enjoy stories that they can trust not to be a feel-good read, something a bit cute and bucolic, cheering and titillating; not traumatizing or depressing. That is the boundary that does keep a lot of SF writers, even the ones who like writing about relationships, from going over into SF romance land. I'm just trying to explain that this difference of tastes does exist, and it's a very good thing, because everyone should have a genre label they can trust to include what they want to read and exclude what they don't want to read. I just want to dissuade any writers here who may have just "discovered" the SF romance genre from trying to write it without understanding or respecting the audience and their established preferences, because it's not the usual SF audience and they don't want just any SF book with a relationship in it.
 
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sunandshadow

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I agree with WildScribe. I've read several SF Romance books that are definitely romance, but have gritty and/or dark plotlines (see my post above). More recent books are less fluffy, in my opinion.
IMO It's a big problem when inappropriately gritty or dark things are published as romance. There have been a lot of new SF romance publishers emerging over the past several years, and some of them aren't familiar with the genre when they start accepting manuscripts for publication, or they decide they want to publish what they want to publish specifically to challenge the status quo because there might be money to be made in doing something different from usual, but the result is a big confusion of genre labels that's bad for both readers and writers.
 

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If so, then wouldn't this sub-genre extend back to the 30s? And wouldn't Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" count as SF Romance?

Or does "romance" as a genre require sex in the story?
Romance as a genre requires a female viewpoint in the story, unless it's a gay male romance. Assuming it's a male/female romance, if you're talking about an interspecies romance the female is generally the human protagonist, while the male would be the alien, android, or whatever love interest. Romance as a genre is about female desires and concerns, and grew out of fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast which allegorically presented the common historical female concern that they might be expected to marry a foreigner, and might not be familiar enough with him before the wedding to know if he had a bad temperament or was a good man who just had foreign looks and customs.

But, science fiction romance could probably be traced back to the early days of science fiction by looking at what was being written by women in the field at that time. Andre Norton perhaps. But the romantic ideals and structure weren't terribly compatible with the science fiction that was being published by primarily male editors for primarily male audiences at that time, so the heavily romancey elements tended to get compromised out of stories in the planning and editing phases, and female writers tended to avoid potential trouble by writing male main characters.
 
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