Wed
Mar 4 2015 10:15am

Ray Guns and Relationships: Finding the Balance in Science Fiction Romance

Today we're thrilled to welcome Christie Meierz to the site, whose latest release The Fall, came out on Monday. Christie writes science fiction romance, and love in a galaxy far, far away are no strangers to each other. Christie is here today to talk about some of the romances that are iconic in science fiction romance, and how love—a human emotion—isn't such an alien experience to these intergalactic characters. Thanks, Christie!

The die was cast when I was thirteen years old and discovered Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray in my junior high school library. After that, I read science fiction voraciously—and the Harlequin romances my mother hid in her book closet. Problem? No problem! It was only later that I discovered I was reading in two different worlds.

Science fiction tells stories about the future, whether we long for it or dread it, and what might happen when we get there. Adventures or calamities, ray guns or relationships, science fiction considers the way things might be and asks, “And then what happens?” Its readers are usually looking for something new, whether that’s a new way of looking at the future, the past, or an alternative to the now, and so science fiction changes radically every decade or so. But there’s usually a mix of adventure and longing, and a fascination with what makes us human.

And what’s more human than romance?

Romance examines relationships between particular people, often delving into their pasts and how it affects their here-and-now. As beautiful as a wistful “what might have been” story can be, romance readers usually want a happy ending, or at least a happily-for-now, and they’re sticklers for characters that make sense.

Science fiction has never lacked for romance—even kinds of relationships that would be taboo in more conventional settings. Olaf Stapledon’s 1944 novel Sirius, for example, examines a triangle between a man, a woman, and a super-intelligent dog. But to be honest, many writers in the Golden Age of science fiction weren’t all that interested in relationships, except as a plot motivation. This changed in the 1960’s and 1970’s: an influx of women writers, and a shift toward speculative fiction that looked at culture and everything else that’s “in your head” as fertile ground for storytelling, have opened up a lot of space for tales that are good science fiction and good romance.

The fusion of science fiction and romance known as SFR is not just Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “damned mob of scribbling women” getting their Girl Cooties all over science fiction. It’s a character-driven subgenre all its own that runs the gamut from SF with a few romantic elements thrown in for good measure to scorching love stories in exotic, futuristic settings, and from painstaking attention to scientific detail to carefree disregard of the same, in any combination. So how do you find the right balance between science fiction and romance? After giving the matter a lot of thought, I’m not sure there is one. Every flavor of SFR has devoted readers; the writer’s task is to pick a ball and run with it. The balance that works for me, as a writer and a reader, needs a plausible level of science; your mileage, as they say, may vary.

In Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Local Custom, for example, a Liaden master trader name Er Thom yos’Galan is soon to enter a contract marriage, to give a child to his clan. But his heart belongs to a Terran woman, and although he had ended that relationship in Liaden fashion, he risks his honor to see her one more time before the Healers make him forget. However, Anne Davis is no pushover: a scholar, a single mother, she is not at all sure that she wants Er Thom back in her life; and her discovery of evidence for a common origin of Terrans and Liadens is political dynamite on both their worlds.

Lee and Miller write for the big picture: the universe of their Liaden stories is lovingly crafted and startling in its richness. But the characters are central, and worth falling in love with.

Lois McMaster Bujold's universe, on the other hand, is faster moving, and deftly shows you how a few ideas can change everything: altering the course of societies, breaking and forming relationships—and throwing up obstacles to those who have (yes) fallen in love. Shards of Honor tells the story of Cordelia Naismith, captain of a Betan exploratory vessel at the beginning of a war between her people and the Barrayaran Empire. Captured while conducting a peaceful scientific expedition, she discovers that her captor, Lord Aral Vorkosigan, may be a great deal more honorable than his evil reputation suggests. But their love story is not simply set against the backdrop of war; it explores the limits of forgiveness, scientific progress, and what it means to belong. Later books in the Vorkosigan saga focus on her son Miles, who is somewhat hyperactive as a lover, and who has his own crippling disabilities to transcend.

From short stories to novels, science fiction is about worlds and cultures and possibilities on a big canvas. It takes a particular kind of art to show those possibilities in the close-up details of a love story. Romance writers who want to dip their toes into writing science fiction can learn a lot from the “classics” (see this list of 100 must-read science fiction romances) as well as current non-romantic science fiction. New worlds, strange societies, exactly what goes on in the lab where your heroine works: there’s an endless palette for romantic storytelling.

 

 

Learn more about or order a copy of The Fall by Christie Meierz, available now:

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Award-winning writer Christie Meierz writes space opera and science fiction romance set in a civilization of empaths on the edge of a dystopic Earth empire. Her published works include her bestselling debut novel, The Marann, and its sequel, Daughters of Suralia, and two prequel short stories published in Into Tolari Space ~ The First Contact Stories.

Christie has spent a night and/or eaten a meal in all 50 U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Currently, she lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her mathematician husband and an assortment of stuffies. When she’s not writing, she writes about writing on her blog, Meierz Musings (christiemeierz.blogspot.com), and Facebook (facebook/christie.meierz and facebook/tolarispace), where she welcomes comments and friend requests.

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