Things have changed a lot in a fairly short period of time, and the world of cross-genres and subgenres has opened up a new array of possibilities for writers. As with any marriage, though, both parties — or in this case genres — bring baggage with them. This cargo includes both strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve decided to take a look at one of my personal favorites, the mix of sci-fi and romance. Science fiction can really be a writer’s dreamland. Almost anything goes if you play it right: extra appendages, out-of-body experiences, rapid changes in setting, etc. It’s like one of the characters says in the 2005 movie Thank You for Smoking. The tobacco company wants to make smoking look cool by featuring the hero and heroine sharing a smoke up in space in a new futuristic sci-fi movie. The main character, Nick Naylor, asks, “But wouldn’t they blow up in an all oxygen environment?” “Probably,” the movie guy answers. “But it’s an easy fix. One line of dialogue. ‘Thank God we invented the…you know, whatever device.’”
That’s the beauty of sci-fi. The impossible can become the possible through some new technological advancements or alien devices. There’s a freedom in that, but there’s also a pitfall. Professional writers, like most human beings, occasionally hit mental jams. A story is flowing along great, the plot has that edge, and then suddenly the author realizes they don’t know how to solve this conflict or that inconsistency. In the realm of sci-fi, the ease of adding in a “whatever device” as a magical solution can become a crutch. Readers are savvy, and most can spot a jury-rigged resolution.
Another benefit of sci-fi is the ability to create new cultures out of whole cloth. This can be a great deal of fun for both the author and the reader. The peril here, of course, is the language issue. A little alien speak or freaky name calling goes a long way. Some authors — and I’ve had to watch this myself — get too carried away. The reader winds up checking the language glossary every other paragraph for a translation or, worse, skipping whole parts altogether. Instead of truly reading those alien names made up of six consecutive consonants, three apostrophes, and two accent marks, you may do what I’ve occasionally tried and simply come up with some mental nickname starting with the same letter because you honestly can’t figure out how to pronounce what’s written. There’s a reason even multilingual people most often prefer reading material, especially fiction, in their first language.
Now let’s look at the other half of this equation: romance. What could be better than writing about love? Whether you’re single, married, divorced, or widowed, everyone can relate with love. That’s one of the greatest strengths of the romance genre — that and the fact that it’s such a powerful, positive emotion. The majority of the readers I’ve met read fiction as a pleasant escape or mini-vacation from the stresses and tribulations of everyday life. In short, they want to relax and feel good. Romance delivers.
One of the difficulties of writing romance, however, is striking the right balance between the characters who are falling in love. Have you ever read a romance story where the hero goes so far beyond alpha dominance that he’s just a sexist jerk? Or the heroine is so neurotic you want to shake her? Sometimes one character is volatile, and the other is so saintly they’re not even believable, let alone interesting. The pitfall of this genre is how easy it is to oversimplify the people and their relationship or overcomplicate it just to generate conflict.
So what do you think of this and mixed genres? I’ve found that it’s largely a subjective judgment as to whether something is a romantic sci-fi or a sci-fi romance (or whatever the genres involved are). Different people enjoy a different balance, too.
Join me next Saturday (9/3/11) to read what other authors have to say about sci-fi romance and mixed genres.