Genre Wars: Why is Science Fiction Romance the outcast?

***UPDATE JUNE 5th – Story has been picked up by Foz Meadows at the Huffington PostClick Here and see bottom of post for further detail.****

***Update, June 3rd – Mr. Sharp has responded, see bottom of post for commentary.***

****Update, June 2nd – I am happy to announce that this post, among many other great posts, has been featured over at SF Signal and they are sparking a much needed conversation about the future of Science Fiction Romance as an accepted genre, the changing face (and more importantly, gender) of Science Fiction and creating a more inclusive, accepting and open reading and writing environment. For more links to these other fantastic posts, please see the bottom of this article.*****

Original Post, May 30th, 2013, with updated commentary:

Genre Wars – You seem to have gotten some Romance in my Science Fiction? (And why this is not a problem.)

*Note: the main topic of this article is to discuss Mr. Sharp’s attack on the recognized and separate Science Fiction Romance genre. Though it does have commentary regarding female writers in Science Fiction, for the purpose of this post, Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance are treated as the separate genres that they are.

There must be something in the water. Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of posts made in the Science Fiction community crying foul for the rising growth of Science Fiction Romance. The latest post is from The Story Hub, in which Stuart Sharp takes a stab at the SFR genre, and by stab, I mean that he bludgeons an argument against the writing abilities, intelligence level and understandings of a whole genre of writers.

His article does have some very valid points about the differences between Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance, but what he fails to understand or point out is that the target audience for those genres are completely different. Science Fiction Romance writers are not looking to invade (pardon the pun) the Science Fiction bookshelves with covers of muscular aliens and stories of abduction. Our bookshelf is actually located in the Romance section of any bookstore or online venue, typically marked as Fantasy and Futuristic Romance and often just left of the Paranormal (or mixed in). There are certainly some SFR books which could be cataloged as Space Opera, a recognized sub-genre of Science Fiction that has been around since the 1930s (if not longer). There are other SFR works that I have read, such as Caught In Amber, that could very easily be categorized as Science Fiction Suspense. And still others could fit just as nicely among the spines labeled with the well known names of Science Fiction. Long point short, I think that this is less a question of a degradation of Science Fiction due to a new up-welling of Romance and more of a division of genres.

The argument of Science Fiction Romance giving the Science Fiction genre some sort of book-cooties is an old hat, and I most likely would not have bothered forming a response, but then I came across this paragraph in the article and nearly popped a circuit:

“Except that the new [science fiction romance] authors coming into the field don’t necessarily get them. Their references are all to do with The Formula, grand gestures, love triangles, the tropes of romance or chick lit or YA. They don’t understand the reasoning behind some of the arguments that have been bubbling for years. They certainly don’t get that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep reference you made in chapter three.”

What’s that you say? I wouldn’t understand? I am not sure if this is meant I would not understand because I am a writer who likes a bit of love and romance along side my spaceships and interstellar cultures, or if it was an attack against female writers in general, because let’s face it – we have all heard that tired argument that women can’t tell the difference between a warp core and a deflector array. Well, I will see your Dick (Phillip, of course) reference and raise you a Ballard.

I don’t want to turn this into an attack on Mr. Sharp, as everyone is entitled to their opinion on the internet. In fact, I want to thank him for writing an article that is generating quite a buzz and discussion. It is a discussion that needs to be had. I can also assure Mr. Sharp that we SFR writers are very open to this discussion and we in no way want to change Science Fiction as a genre, except perhaps to make it less of an “old boy’s club” and more welcoming to those authors who may not have read all the “required reading” before publication.

I love science fiction in all forms – from hard military science to soft Space Opera. Science Fiction is supposed to be the genre that opens the mind, explores the stars and the soul of humanity and it is supposed to be the most all inclusive genre where the possibilities are seen as limitless. I am glad that we have romance writers now offering a different spin on Science Fiction if even one reader of romance makes that leap over to Science Fiction because of an SFR they read sparked their curiosity to read some of the classics.

So, write on SFR and SF writers  and know that, at the end of the day, there is room on the bookshelf for everyone!

*Update, June 3rd: As of today, Mr. Sharp has replied to several comments on his original post, including a line which makes it appear that he was attempting to be satire, and backtracking a bit on some of what he wrote: “This is what I get for affecting the tone of a grumpy sci-fi person for comic effect.”  Indeed, Mr. Sharp, we of the SFR and SF community seemed to have missed the joke, and we are not laughing. Even if it was meant with a tongue in cheek, it hit on some major nerves that deserve rebuttals, evaluation and a continued discussion. But again, I do want to thank Mr. Sharp for writing such a gem on the internet that has certainly sparked some very strong conversations that need to be had.

*Additional update, June 3rd: Mr. Sharp has compiled a full rebuttal to the commentary surrounding his original article.

In his rebuttal, Mr. Sharp states that he feels he is being attacked and that many of the commentators, myself included, have inferred hidden meaning from his post and that he never was targeting women. Given the tone and wording of the post, it is hard not to. He goes on to state that he has Ghostwritten (*cough*) over 12 Science Fiction Romance novels. My reply followed along the same lines as the replies by Greta van der Rol and Heather Massey:

“Thank you for your continued replies and taking part in this discussion, Mr. Sharp. Your post hit a nerve with almost every female writer and writer of SFR (which, honestly, is a female dominated authored genre) because it was posted at the same time as several other articles regarding the issues of the sexism that still dominates SFF and the ongoing SFWA debate. This is why most who responded took it as a slight against SFR authors and female authors of SF. Call it bad timing or bad luck, regardless, your post has certainly lit the fiery passions of many – and for that, I continue to thank you.”

Heather Massey and I have both asked for his list of written works, to which neither of us has gained or is expecting a reply.

*Additional update, June 5th: Foz Meadows with the Huffington Post has written an exquisitely poignant article that sums up much of what has been said at Tracing The Stars, The Galaxy Express and across the SFR / SFWA community.

“Despite the fact that Sharp is doing everything in his power not to say so explicitly, it’s blindingly obvious that the authors he’s talking about, the ones who don’t get all the right references and instead are polluting SF with their chick lit tropes? Those authors are women, whose failings, according to him, are one with their femininity.”

Applause and exultation! It is so heartening to see that we are not the only ones who read the article that way, despite Mr. Sharp trying to turn it on us in his replies, stating that we are reading and inferring things that aren’t there, making us the villains for calling him out on it.That kind of chest-puffing machismo “satire” is the key problem with women being taken seriously in Science Fiction, and it needs to stop.

Recommended for Further Reading on this Conversation:

Continue the discussion with a post from SFR / Space Opera author, Greta van der Rol, where she takes a look at the genre differences from a reader’s perspective, and this post (Without Romance, Dune was Just a Book About Worms) by SFR and SF author Pippa Jay which explores what some well known science fiction books would be like without the romance they included.

The same issues aren’t limited to just SFR writers, either. Many (if not most) female writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy are having to deal with the ‘old boys club’ mentality, too. Click Here to read a post by e. Catherine Tobler on why she has chosen to part ways with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Truly, one does have to wonder what century we are living in.

However, as a counter point, Patty Jensen, a sci-fi author who has been on the receiving end of sexism when she was told point-blank by a publisher that they were not interested in her hard sci-fi manuscript because she was a woman, has decided to give SFWA another year to get their planets in order by renewing her membership.

Heather, over at The Galaxy Express (which has been a loud proponent and supporter of Science Fiction, Science Fiction Romance and the advancement of equal representation and opportunity for everyone in those genres) speaks about how the old way of thinking about Science Fiction needs to shift in order to stay relevant, retain readers and gain new audiences.

Dark paranormal and science fiction romance author Ella Drake tackles the issues of stereotyping in Science Fiction and how it relates to the issues being discussed regarding Mr. Sharp’s articles, the SFWA controversy and others.

Another response to Mr. Sharp and the issues happening over at SFWA was written from the perspective of a new SFR author, S.A. Huchton (previously spotlighted on Tracing The Stars for her release of Maven ) who should be celebrating the debut of her novel, but is instead feeling trepidation at the reaction to the genre she has chosen. (Don’t question your choice, Starla. From what I’ve read and the feedback you are getting, you have contributed a well-written addition for both SFR and SF readers to enjoy, and you should be proud, as we are very happy to have you with us on the bookshelf.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg makes this very valid observation regaurding the current debates among the SFR/ SF / and SFWA communities:

“I’m beginning to suspect that it is NOT “SFR” that is outcast, but SF itself!!! The standard modern defense against being accused of something (anything) is to accuse the people you wronged of doing the wrong that you did, but accuse so loudly their protests can’t be heard. I think SF is outcast and accusing SFR of doing the outcasting as a smokescreen for SF’s failure to ignite new audiences.”

And holy-moo, it keeps growing! On June 3rd, the conversation was picked up by the much respected Dear Author blog, with commentary on both the Sharp post, the rebuttals by Heather at The Galaxy Express and myself at Tracing The Stars, and about the SFWA back-and-forth, tying in everything together from the very important perspective of the Readers!

Misa Buckly over at Out Of This World Romance offers a well spoken and positive counterpoint in her experience as a SF/SFR writer and her encounters within the SF community.

Check out the SF Signal for a list of articles about these topics.

Additional recommended reading along these lines:

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17 thoughts on “Genre Wars: Why is Science Fiction Romance the outcast?

  1. I’ve always found it interesting that SFR seems to fall between the stools. In my own case, I’ve had more than one person say they would not have read my books because they ‘don’t like SF’ (nasty, geeky, scientific stuff). But then they do read them and – golly gosh – they LIKE them. Conversely, plenty of ‘I don’t read that girly, slushy romance stuff’ men have read my books – and guess what? They liked them.

    Sure, there are some SFR books around which makes those of us with a scientific bent roll our eyes. But then, look at Star Wars. How sound is the ‘science’ in that? And again, where would ‘Avatar’ be without the romance? (No story, kiddos)

    There’s room for everyone out there. Let’s all play nicely, shall we?

    • Oh, but the Force is completely scientific! *chagrin*. I honestly don’t mind a bit of fantasy fixed in with the science, and though I really enjoy books that have explained science, I won’t hark on an author for writing softer sci-fi or taking a step to the side with elements such as mind-reading, teleportation, empaths, etc. I have them in my own writing, but if Roddenberry can do it, why not I?

      • Heather at Galaxy Express flagged me on this budding conversation because I’ve been developing the “How Do We Get SFR The Respect It Obviously Deserves?” question at for years.

        Just started reading this comment that THE FORCE is not “scientific” — and I have to point out that actually, it is scientific. It’s just that the science is Metaphysics or The Occult, or Ancient Wisdom, depending on what school you studied it in.

        I probably will have more to say on this, but I want to get it out to my Google+ and Twitter followers.

        • Just want to point out that I was referring more to the scientific errors in Star Wars, rather than the Force. I don’t mind a bit of fantasy in my SF, either. But the ship that did the Kessel run in 12 parsecs? (A parsec is a unit of distance, not time) And starfighters zooming around in a vacuum just as they would in atmosphere? And being able to make a journey to another star system without a hyper drive? Those sorts of errors.

    • I’ve had the exact same experience with female readers who don’t normally enjoy SF but love my books, and male readers who expected sweaty pecs and girl stuff, but were pleasantly surprised at the level of plot, technology and scientific accuracy. Half the time I spend writing my current series is spent on research, and everything in the novels has a basis in fact (even the alien characteristics). Sure, there are romantic elements — just as there are romantic elements in Firefly, Babylon 5, Star Trek, Doctor Who and BSG. If Forbidden Planet were a book written from Altaira’s perspective, it would look just like any SFR story I’ve ever read. I don’t understand the animosity toward SF with romantic elements and/or SF written by a woman from a female protag’s POV (and certainly didn’t expect it when I set out to publish my first novel), but I have subsequently experienced it. After blogging about it last year and even being on a “Girl Cooties in SF” panel at CoyoteCon, I’m glad this dialog is happening.

  2. I’ve never read a science fiction book, however, my books tend to be classified as such, and that’s fine. It exposed me to new readers.

    There is room for everyone. With self-publishing, books can span across many genres, opening up readers to many different authors.

    Great post!

    • I would certainly classify your books as Science Fiction Romance (Well, your Six Saviors series for sure), and I don’t think the fact that you have not read Science Fiction takes away at all from the stories and characters you have written.

  3. I can’t say that I know many romance writers, because romance as a genre isn’t something I’ve ever really been able to get into. It’s just not my thing. (I’m thinking specifically of stories where the romance is the main throughline–stories with romantic elements are fine.)

    But the ones I do know are as well read as any other genre writers I’ve met: i.e., even better read than one might expect. And I wouldn’t consider being a PKD fan a valid measure; I love SF and have never been able to get into his work. ‘Tis what it is.

    • Agreed – I don’t think there should be some sort of pre-requisite list of reading for authors who are within a certain genre. I am also not a romance reader, aside from Science Fiction Romance and some urban or mythological romance. I prefer stories with meat on their bones that can both support and stand apart from the romance.

  4. Pingback: Invasion of the Girl Cooties | Cora Buhlert

  5. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. He slams for (assuming) that authors haven’t read the “canon,” then takes a hit at pale derivatives of the canon.

    Back in the 90’s, at my first RWA conference I can remember a discussion or conversation, not sure which about reading widely in the genre. It was required for women writing romance, but it was EXPECTED that the men wouldn’t. I don’t know how many actually did read widely, but there was this expectation that you couldn’t ask men to do that.

    It’s all pretty crazy and kind of sad. Good rebuttal, though. :-)

  6. Very well done. I’m not a fan of romance in general, but I agree that scifi romance is a legitimate subgenre. Not every scifi reader is that well read, and you don’t need to have read Heinlein to appreciate a good story. Great post. And congratulations on the boost from SFSignal!

  7. Thanks for the crosspost here. I was very surprised to see Mr. Sharp’s comment on my own post and he was very well-spoken and calm about the whole thing, especially given my level of hostility in my rant. I replied to him with equal measure to his comment, and I hope this really does help spark a rational discussion on this whole gender bias issue in SF/SFR. That it has people talking at all is a very good sign. If anything, it’s boosting the signal about the SFR genre as a whole, which will maybe result in new readers who want to see what all the fuss is about. It’s not an ideal reason for sales to go up, for sure, but it could cause more people to question the things they think of when they see SciFi or Romance and why they might see it that way. Questioning the “givens” of the world is what makes humans awesome. We need more of this “but, why/why not?” and a lot less “but of course” in the world.

  8. Pingback: #SFR #cooties and who gives a fuck? #sf ¶ Fusion Feuilletons

  9. I absolutely love this post. The rebuttals are incisive and clear. As a chick who has never been much of a romance person, the possibility of sci fi romances excites and interests me–the opportunity to have some brains with my love story is a delightful one. The response of the hardline SF community to sci fi romance is annoying, hypocritical, and ironically old-fashioned for a genre known to be progressive. I, for one, really hope that SFR takes off; the possiblities of writing darker, complex storylines that are more than just space operas means so many more options for the genre.
    Sure, some of the books will stink, but there are already plenty of crappy traditional science fiction books. We won’t die for a few more, and the price is minimal compared to the wonders of an expanding genre.

  10. Pingback: Don’t go into the tall grass! | Smart Girls love SciFi

  11. I am glad he is rethinking the issue and people are discussing SFR and the romance genre period. It just seems writers and readers of romance tend to get this type of reaction from some and I would like to think it was for a reason other than it being a genre dominated by females.

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