Science Fiction For Boys, For Girls, For All

In a recent romance magazine that spotlighted science fiction, I saw a blurb about a reader who doesn't read sci-fi because of the woo woo or out there things. While I respect her for her reading choices, I still found it interesting that some folks still equate science fiction as 'crazy stuff that happens and can't be explained'. Sure we have genre distinctions now like fantasy, sci-fi and horror but as a reader and sci-fi lover from way back, it's always been so much more to me.

More after the jump!

Science Fiction has always been a genre about ideas and the great what if. What will the future look like if we continue with the social conditions of today? How will we be affected by technology that will make our lives so much easier but has the danger to render us lazy? How will we sustain our lifestyles if we find a way to replenish Earth's resources. Now some still believe sci-fi is escapist fic like romance. Some is, sure, but there's nothing wrong with escaping into a great wondrous read while expanding one's mind to the ideas within the story.

I've been enjoying the discourse of ways to get science fiction romance to more readers. Like with any genre, some books I won't read because they're not what I enjoy but there are others that I specifically look for. Respect to the world building and science fiction aspect of the 'SF' in 'SFR' is high on my list that I hope see continued even when the romance is on stage. But it's also the ideas themselves that come into play.

For instance, in KS Augustin's In Enemy Hands, while I thought the parts that focused on sex were a bit too explicit for my reading taste, I loved the fact that she bought up so many aspects of humanity. Is it wrong to manipulate another person if it's at the expense of helping the greater organization (that whole "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one" bit)? When is anarchy considered heroism? How much is too much control from a government organization over its people? Things like that amidst a love story stood strong as I became invested in two people who come to not only relate to one another but fall in love.

Now, some have and still squawk about sci-fi romance as something that seems like a contradiction. Science is about the mind while romance is about the heart and other more 'special' parts of the body.

Science fiction is about the mind and hands on approach, sometimes at the expense of deep characterization while romance is about the heart, body and soul and how they relate among a hero and heroine, often at the expense of the world around them. The best of each genre incorporates both and busts the stereotypes head on. On a greater level, the best sci-fi has the most memorable love stories and human interactions.

I noticed this recently, and most especially while watching the newly restored version of Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. If you haven't seen this wonderful film, get thee to Netflix, Amazon or your fave movie huse and take a watch. We have sci-fi at it's finest here filled with dystopic warnings of labor workers vs corporations, the caste system, the dangers of temptation and excess, a star crossed love story and mad science gone haywire. The themes are so wonderfully universal that they have appealed to many cultures throughout the ages and down to this day. In some ways, the movie itself can be seen as SFR at it's finest.

After we are introduced to the grueling conditions of the workers, we see a juxtaposition in the excess, somewhat dreamworld of the thinkers who own the corporations. Freder, son of the corp owner, is our hero who is met with a bevy of any beautiful woman of his choosing. They even practically fall at his feet!

But someone else catches his eye. The beautiful teacher and, in a way, leader of the workers named Maria enters the upper city giving the worker's children a tour. They lock eyes and Freder is a goner. So much that he chucks his whole life and runs to the city below which starts the main drive of the story.

Not only do we get Freder's fight to be with Maria, we also get to see Freder working against the system and eventually his own father as he fights to bridge the gap between the city below and the city above.

My description is rather sparse and thus I highly advise any reader here to check out the movie themselves for the amazing complexities in the plot, characterization and acting which is overall breathtaking. Amidst it all, I couldn't help be touched by the ending of the film. Freder's journey is that of mediator to join the hands and the mind together. He is the heart between the two that which makes up humanity itself.

I see SFR (or RSF for romantic sci-fi) as the same way.

For me, in the best stories that feature sci-fi and romance, we see the classic commentary of humanity, the socialization of technology and the ideas of the future or otherworld mixed with the character depths, emotion and involvement of a good love story.

Avatar Wallpaper created by Natalie88

Many condemn Avatar for being a flashy spectacle but fans of the movie and Cameron himself knows he weaves an awesome tale that not only incorporates but also acknowledges these ingredients. We get the theme of technology encroaching on nature, the advanced species not respecting those different from them mixed with the revelation of the main character realizing what is right while falling in love unexpectedly. On a side note, Cameron knows how to write strong female characters which is what romance readers and many SF action readers enjoy. Neytiri, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Lonette "Mace" Mason and Rose Dawson were all strong females who knew how to take care of themselves and the ones they loved. At the same time, they don't feel like male roles acted by women, they are complex: strong yet vulnerable, smart and on the ball, yet guided by the gut. The men are equally right up there with them but step in and take care of business when she needs him. The mind and hands connected by the heart. Man and woman, separate they are okay, working together, they are perfect.

Although SFR is relatively new to the publishing world, it's a classic theme in movies since, well Metropolis and most likely even before films. :-) I talked about this sometime ago at The Galaxy Express' recent Parallel Universe event but to reiterate, SFR and even SF itself is one that shouldn't be shrugged off as simple crazy unexplained out there stuff. I hope new readers will give it a try, even if it's something that is more social sci-fi that deals with humanity in a futuristic subtext. Just like all romance novels aren't the same, as I came to realize myself, not all sci-fi books are the same. But the really good ones will excel in connecting the mind, heart and body into one amazing story.


Maria Zannini said...

I think readers' perceptions are beginning to evolve. But it's a slow evolution. SFR teeters on a delicate balance.

And why is it people are more accepting when it comes in the form of a movie as opposed to a book?

Rae Lori said...

I agree, Maria! So many readers are checking out books outside of their genre based on book recs from their friends and family. That's one reason of many I'm very glad for sites like Goodreads and Shelfari. Books are reaching many readers thanks to word of mouth.

I'm not sure why folks are more accepting of a movie. Avatar reached so many people that may not even know what an SFR is or what books are available in the genre but they sure do love the movie. Maybe accessibility or perhaps it's easier for them to immerse visually than through the mind's eye? Interesting to ponder!

Heather Massey said...

Excellent post! Will be linking to this shortly.

@Maria Unfortunately, I think it's because most people would rather watch a movie than read a book. A film does the work for them whereas with a book, they have to engage with the text.

Maybe ebooks will continue to make reading more attractive and, by extension, niche subgenres like SFR.