SF = Science Fiction
SFR = Science Fiction Romance
There’s only one letter difference between the two acronyms, but a world of difference in the experience of reading either of them.
I have been writing in the fairly new SFR sub-genre for over a year now, and Faring Soul is an award winner. I have two series going in SFR, one with five books in it already. So I feel I have a pretty good grasp of what SFR is (and is not).
On the other hand, I’ve been reading “straight” SF since I was a teenager (which is far too long ago to mention an actual year). I jumped into the hard science fiction almost from the get-go, soaking up Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and softer authors like Wyndham, Haldeman and Resnick, plus many, many more. I’m still actively reading science fiction. In 2017 I will be publishing it, too. So I feel I have a pretty good idea of what SF is, too.
That gives me a unique perspective. It means I can see the differences betwee SF and SFR in a nuanced way that may elude readers until they actually see it spelled out.
I thought I’d do that here.
Science Fiction Romance
SFR is a sub-set of the massive romance genre.
It is relatively new to the genre and is a distant cousin to Futuristic Romance, which is romances set in the future. However, Futuristic Romance is still very much a romance at heart. The futuristic setting tends to act as backdrop to the romance story. Also, the sub-genre was popular in the eighties and nineties, but has faded to a tiny niche, now.
SFR, on the other hand, is a 50/50 blend of romance and science fiction, with all the hallmarks and genre expectations of SF mixing with the same genre expectations for romance. Neither the romance nor the SF stories can be told alone – take one of them away and the whole story collapses. They are interdependant elements.
SFR contains within it all the sub-genres of SF: Space Opera, hard SF, near-future, dystopian, etc., etc, with each SF sub-genre also intertwined with the romance story.
SFR authors who are well known in the genre include Anna Hackett, Linnea Sinclair, Celia Kyle and S.E. Smith.
Science Fiction is its own genre, although not nearly as massive as Romance, which takes the lion’s share of the fiction revenue, and also outstrips SF’s published titles by a massive 277% (according to book totals on Amazon as of November 20, 2016). But SF is still the second largest genre in fiction.
Science fiction is the literature of the future, although it has been argued that science fiction is merely a reflection of current cultures. As a metaphor for today’s issues, it works very well. It also does a grand job of opening a reader’s mind to possibilities, expanding awareness and empathy, and posing questions about the human state…all while being entertaining.
There have been arguments within the SF genre itself over how to define the genre. SF author and editor, Damon Knight, most famously said “science fiction is what we point to when we say it.” Most of the arguments that attempt to define the genre are focused upon the murky edges. The centre ground of science fiction is very clear. It is (usually) set in the future and focused upon elements of that potential future and how the (usually) human central character interacts with that future. The science fiction canvas is as broad and rambling as the romance field, with readers and authors break new ground almost every week.
It is often mistakenly assumed by non-SF readers that science fiction is a male-only genre, as romance is perceived to be a woman-only industry. Both assumptions are wrong. The romance genre has many male authors and also male readers, although male authors tend to hide their gender and most male readers are bashful about admitting they enjoy the genre.
Science fiction, on the other hand, was arguably invented by a woman, Mary Shelley, with her classic novel, Frankenstein. The genre has seen women editors, writers and readers throughout its history. However, at times it does appear that male voices in the genre are stronger and more readily received by SF readers. This is an ongoing argument in SF, with editors striving for diversity at every turn.
There are romance sub-plots to be found inside science fiction, and they are not always side-stories. One of my top favourite SF novels of all time, for example, Time Enough For Love, features a love story that drives Lazarus Long’s decisions for the rest of the story.
However, even when the romantic elements of a science fiction story are major secondary sub-plots, the story is still considered to be science fiction, usually ear-marked as “romantic science fiction”.
It is interesting that each major genre – romance and science fiction – have elements of the other. Romance has its watered-down futuristic romance, while SF has romantic science fiction.
Only SFR is a balanced mix of the two, so:
ROMANTIC SCIENCE FICTION
SCIENCE FICTION ROMANCE
Science Fiction, just like non-SFR romance, can’t be found on this spectrum. As a reader, you may or may not find elements of romance in it.
That’s the difference between SF and SFR. SFR always has both.
I’ve heard it said that SF and Romance is a “weird” combination and that they don’t mesh well…and even clash. This is a perspective argument. While science fiction examines the human condition (using the future as a metaphor), romance also examines the human condition, albeit with an intimate focus. So both genres are doing the same thing — one “macro” and the other “micro”…this would imply they are a perfect pair.
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