Science Fiction and Romance

I have written about the connections between the Science Fiction and Romance genres in several venues through the years but it’s a topic that seems to stir little interest among most SF fans. I’m not sure why. In my article remembering Tom Deitz from earlier this month I mentioned that “many Romance writers also publish books and short stories in other genres, including Westerns, Mysteries, and Science Fiction & Fantasy.”

One writer who has worked in both genres is Jacqueline Lichtenberg. A few years ago she dropped by SF Fandom to chat with us in the Andre Norton Forum. At the time Jacqueline mentioned she was one of the co-bloggers for Alien Romances, a blog for writers that discusses Romance which features alien or alien-descended protagonists.

So what brings this to mind now? Well, I came across this blog post about Science Fiction and Romance, in which the blogger asks if it isn’t time for Romance to find its own Gene Roddenberry. I’m not sure it’s that simple, though. I mean, it’s not like science fiction found Gene Roddenberry. It was more like Gene Roddenberry found science fiction and then found the right career in which he could launch his science fiction ideas.

Before there was Star Trek, there was The Lieutenant, which was a police drama that Roddenberry worked on. And there was also Wagon Train and a host of other television shows. Star Trek represented an evolutionary step forward in television entertainment that occurred because of a confluence of positive energies — I mean, things just sort of fell into place. Which is not to say that Roddenberry was just a warm body. He had to wage an uphill battle to create Star Trek and its eventually creation didn’t really cause any big, immediate pauses in reality.

In fact, the Star Trek phenomenon really didn’t pick up speed until years after the show was cancelled. Fandom certainly latched on to Star Trek early on but it wasn’t organized around the theme, didn’t have all the dedicated fan groups and events, and lacked the wherewithal to show the studios there really was money to be made with spaceships and rayguns. It would not be until George Lucas’ “Star Wars” took the film world by storm in 1977 that people began to realize that maybe all these science fiction films which made money were not simply flukes.

I think Romance has supported a science fiction sub-genre for many years. It hasn’t found a breakout point where it takes the Romance industry or science fiction by storm because other forces have been at work. People are fickle in their interests. 10-15 years ago you would not have found many science fiction fans talking enthusiastically about movies based on comic books (they really beat up on the Tim Burton “Batman” franchise). “The Phantom” failed to win any hard core SF enthusiasts other than me, so far as I can tell.

But come the 2000s and suddenly the studios cannot make enough superhero movies. We’re still celebrating the rebirth of Star Wars (with the “Clone Wars” among other projects) and even “Star Trek” has managed to find new life in a film franchise “reboot”. The odds of Romance seizing the attention of the general science fiction movie and television audience seem pretty long, to me — but they’re not hopeless.

For one thing, there has certainly been a shift in science fiction television and film-making that might open some doors for Romance. That’s because many of our favorite movies and shows now take closer, longer looks at relationships. Romance is not simply about relationships, it’s about “man-meets-woman-they-solve-conflict-and-come-together” in a way that emphasizes their feelings for one another. There are conflicts aplenty in Romance — conflicts, murders, spies, wars, and everything else that is so characteristic of science fiction, westerns, and other genres.

The thing is, Romance is generally perceived as being targeted at women, whereas science fiction has traditionally been targeted at men. Over the past decade studios have come to realize that women like science fiction too, but the women have been stereotyped and categorized (“they must be lesbians”, “they are geeky nerds who cannot stand up”, “they just want to drool over muscle boys with swords”). Writers like me, who have written about the fangirl daydreams, have not helped the situation.

Still, the fact that science fiction now recognizes that women actually like it is another small step forward in a long series of small steps. Women have been writing popular science fiction for years — C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, and Marion Zimmer Bradley led two generations of women writers to the top of best-seller lists. Science fiction has long recognized women as writers but only recently has commercial science fiction begun to cultivate women as fans.

This isn’t a case of women and girls writing to the producers of Xena and thanking them for creating strong female characters. This is the case of a powerful television network working to change its demographic. In a way, that was what NBC lamely attempted to do in the mid-1960s with Star Trek — as did also ABC with Battlestar Galactica. But both networks backed down, chickened out, and they played it safe. Both networks invested just enough resources to break down some barriers, stir up some interest, and plant some seeds.

I think that people in the Romance industry will have to find a similar powerful ally, even if it proves to be no more faithful and reliable than either NBC or ABC. What they need is for someone to take the idea of science fiction romance seriously long enough to actually put the concept in front of mass audiences. Once that happens, you may see resonances ping out from very unexpected corners. And then maybe there will be a true synergistic moment in which the two genres dance together and produce something that gains momentum.


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