Too much romance or too many space ships

I’ve just been over to the Space Freighters lounge where I read a fascinating article about Romance Writers of America, which is cleaning its stable (as it were) of non-romance elements. And fair enough, too. The name says it all, after all.

But then the writer talks about science fiction romance, which is (I guess) what I write. She tells of her experience in a contest. Here’s the quote:

“I recently got contest feedback from a multi-published romance writer who was generally very complementary, but worried that I strayed into SF thriller territory, rather than romance because the romance was not more than 50 percent of the story and wasn’t resolved last.”


That got me thinking. I’ve never really pretended I write ‘romance’ as in genre. I write action-packed space opera with romantic elements and I’ve struggled to make the romance romantic enough. I think. But then again, my two Iron Admiral books satisfied the exacting romantic demands of Two Lips Reviews; they both scored five kisses and recommended read. Mind you, Morgan’s Choice didn’t quite make the grade as a make-you-sigh romance and neither did Starheart. Although the reviewer agreed both were great sci-fi.

picture of poster for AvatarSo I’ve fallen between the stools. Too much romance for science fiction, or too many space ships for romance.

And yet that’s a nonsense, isn’t it? Of course there’s romance in science fiction (the straight stuff). The most glaringly obvious recent example is Avatar. Without the romance there would not have been a story.

Let’s take another example, one a little more unlikely that might need a modicum of thought. Terminator. Come on, folks. If Sarah Connor hadn’t fallen for Kyle Reepicture of poster for TESBse and made John, the Terminator wouldn’t have been sent back through time.

Then there’s Star Wars and the chaste kiss in the Millennium Falcon. You don’t think that was romantic? Tell that to the folks who designed the movie posters.

Branding is such a difficult task. Do any of you have any answers?


12 thoughts on “Too much romance or too many space ships

  1. Doug (@AllanDouglasDgn)

    I’m sitting here trying to think of a sci-fi book or movie that didn’t have some sort of “love interest” as part of the plot. So far, I’ve got nothing. It does seem that this is almost a requisite element of almost any great story.

    I suppose clubs and guilds have to have some sort of standards to impose upon their members in order to keep their ranks from being filled with Not-Quites. Still, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Your example of Star Wars – I would not classify these movies as “romance”, yet the ongoing “love-loathe” relationship between Han and Leia added so much to the story that it cannot be overlooked.

    I should hope that as long as you write some books that are more mush than hardware you will be able to retain your membership. As for me as a reader, I like the ones that are more space opera than sexual tension, so I hope you’ll continue to write those as well.

    1. Greta van der Rol

      Thanks, Doug. I doubt I’ll be changing my writing style any time soon. Certainly my stories will most likely only appeal to a subset of the greater ‘romance’ market. I can’t complain; I won’t even look at a book with vampires in it. With the exception of Sir Terry Pratchett.

  2. Toby Neal (@tobywneal)

    I struggle with this too. My books are mostly crime/mystery, but it wouldn’t be fun (for me) without the romance, and actually Torch Ginger swings dangerously close to romantic suspense with a full fledged love triangle. I dive off the edge into steamy with the upcoming Marcella book, which I justify becasue she’s a hot tamale as part of her character and–shoot–I wanted to see if I could write some sex as well as romantic relationships. (Turns out I “do it” rather well, too) but how will all this play with readers? My sense is, that with self publishing we are building a following of our work. My goal is to have readers so loyal, so crazy for my books, they’ll read anything I dish out and be thrilled.

    I think that should be your goal, too, Greta. We are both capable of doing that.
    Aloha and friendship
    Toby Neal

  3. MonaKarel

    I have a somewhat different view of “romance” since some of my favorite (past) authors spent more time on characterization and plot than on sex, which is what most people think of as romance. Even the “sweet” romances “must include sexual tension” or editors won’t look at them. My favorite example is “My Brother Michael.” And incredible book, well worth looking up and reading (usually in the library)

    1. MonaKarel

      Probably a round about way of saying you are doing a wonderful job with your space operas. Keep on the way you’re going. Just write faster

  4. Regina Duke

    Greta, I think you are doing very well with your own in-between genre. As more authors take advantage of the freedom to write from the heart, more genre mixes will appear. Readers are smart. They know what they’re getting from your descriptions. Don’t worry about RWANDA contests.

  5. jccassels

    There has always been a romantic element to space opera. What would Flash Gordon have been without Dale Arden? Buck Rogers without Wilma Deering? Captain Kirk without the soft-touch filter, beehive-babe-of-the-week? Okay, maybe that last one is a stretch, but I really believe that you can’t have that kind of adventure without the swashbuckling romance. Errol Flynn always had a feisty damsel to pursue and his movies were billed as adventure, not romance, but really, switch out a three-masted schooner for a space ship, muskets for blasters… you get the idea.

    Why must science fiction be devoid of romantic relationships? I think the stereotypical science fiction fan who is young, male, tech savvy, hopeless with women, and living in his parents’ basement is an anachronism. It’s never been an accurate picture of science fiction fans. The sheer number of female fans attending San Diego Comic Con and participating in cosplay – as evidenced by the glut of pictures of women in costume floods the internet – proves that women, smart, attractive, successful women are fans of science fiction.

    My greatest complaint about my sf choices when I was younger was that there wasn’t enough exploration of the complexity of relationships over the vast distances of deep space. Relationships complicate ANY situation. If there is one thing writers have known since the time of Homer, women and relationships can take a simple war and complicate the hell out of it. Just ask Helen of Troy. I don’t think that story is considered a romance either.

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