You put romance in my WHAT?
Imagine this scenario: Your significant other is reading a manly science fiction or epic fantasy novel when he suddenly begins to hyperventilate.
Have the aliens finally obliterated Earth? Have the dragons been rendered extinct by primitive hordes from the Kingdom of N’ai’noth?
No, he’s just come across romance—or even worse, emotion—in his novel. His pure genre has been infiltrated by relationships more than an inch deep.
In publishing circles, these things are called “romantic elements,” and they occur when devious authors slip bits of emotion-driven romance, sometimes entire subplots, into non-romance books, thereby tricking unsuspecting readers. The gall!
As romance readers, most of us enjoy reading other genres that have elements of romance in them. Is Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series urban fantasy, or is it paranormal romance? How about the Sookie Stackhouse series? Stephanie Plum fans might not remember which case Steph solved last, but they can tell you exactly when and why she ran over Joe Morelli in her car, and at which point Ranger stopped being a crush-only. Romance readers love these books, even though they’re technically urban fantasy or mysteries or thrillers with romantic elements.
Genre purists don’t like this pushy intrusion of romance, however, especially in historically male genres like westerns (as opposed to western romance), science fiction and thrillers. “I get this A LOT,” says best-selling author Allison Brennan, who writes thrillers with romantic elements. “From mystery/thriller readers it’s usually something like, ‘I enjoy your books, but I don’t see why you have to include so much sex.’ This is ironic, because my 400-plus-page books usually have less than ten pages of sex.”
Author Jason Sanford, writing in SF Signal notes, “At one recent convention I attended, a well-known [SF] fan expounded at length about his dislike of paranormal romances and how the subgenre was crowding out quality science fiction and fantasy books. I tried pointing out that his comments sounded like the old arguments people made against romance novels, but he didn’t agree.”
The longstanding stigma of romance is a hard thing to overcome, and might meet its biggest resistance from old-school sci-fi fans—ironic since romantic science fiction is a growing genre. “Science fiction has a hard time (finding readers) because people are intimidated by the idea of science,” says Pauline Baird Jones, an author of romantic science fiction. “I’ve been attending SF cons for several years and the big worry at them all is that the science fiction fan base is declining. But they still go bat-crap crazy (in a bad way) over romance.”
Sci-fi romance author Heather Massey has written that discrimination against women authors in SF’s early years accounts for some of the issues. On her “Galaxy Express” blog she writes, “If you’re a science fiction fan who purports to dislike romance in SF, you have to ask yourself why. Personal preference is one thing; outright dismissal of a perfectly valid SF-romance blend is another…If you’re afraid to admit the value of a science fiction story powered by a relationship dynamic, then here’s a ladder so you can safely descend from your high horse.”
So, if a science fiction novel with “romantic elements” isn’t real science fiction, and if a thriller with “romantic elements” isn’t a real thriller, does that mean they’re actually romances posing as other genres?
So, a question to romance readers: When you read non-romance genres, do you like a touch of romance in the story? Or is romance better left to, well, romance books?
Suzanne Johnson, who writes urban fantasy with a few pesky romantic elements, is the author of Royal Street, first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series. Book two, River Road, will be released November 13 from Tor Books. You can find Suzanne writing about speculative fiction, with and without romance, at her daily Preternatura blog, as well as hanging around on Twitter.