So yesterday there was a mild kerfuffle – Kate wrote about it today over at Mad Genius club – with someone writing an article wanting to kick people off the SF book club. [Oh, not the real bookclub, on which I gave up about ten years ago after getting a batch of “main selections” which I couldn’t get into at all. (The one in that batch I got into was Diamond Age. That’s it. And I’ll never forgive them for making me skim some of the stuff they sent me.)]
My first thought on reading that article was “oh, good Lord, way to proclaim your ignorance before the world. And you a Professor, too.”
Because, well, look guys – I know there aren’t many Romance readers in my audience, so you’ll have to take my word for it, okay?
This author was trying to kick people like Bujold off the Sci-fi shelf and into “romance.”
[Sarah takes deep breath, and steeples hands, which she does when she’s about to deliver herself of a sermon.]
Listen, trust me on this one, sci fi has certain genre rules, certain ways of introducing information. If you don’t believe me, get together some of your friends who don’t read the stuff (what do you mean you don’t have any? Kidnap some strangers then. Totally okay.) and get them to read the first ten pages of any science fiction book you consider eminently accessible. They’ll drive you nuts.
I killed one of my first approaches to Darkship Thieves by taking it to a group of non-hardcore-sf writers. They wanted to know EXACTLY what the ship looked like. And the lifeboats. And all the history of the Earth since our time to Athena’s. All this information swelled the first chapter to five, and made it about as interesting as a text book.
This is because one of the techniques of science fiction is “wait and learn the world as the adventure progresses. This is how it works. The readers and writers both have internalized the rules of the game.
On the other hand, Romance has its own rules. I haven’t yet read enough to tell you all, but there’s for instance “the one” and his kiss will do things to you and… Relationships between men and women (or women and women, or men and men – romance these days is a broad church) will not be in the least realistic. If two people who just know are right for each other break up, there’ll be this feeling that no one else will do. This is not real life, this is Romance.
And the hybrid that’s called Futuristic Romance?
It would drive any science fiction fan insane. No, seriously. I’ve read three or four of them, by authors I LIKE in Romance, and it makes me want to … kick things. See, part of it is that they explain ALL THE WRONG THINGS. It’s like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. There are ways to introduce future tech, for instance, but they don’t know it, so they explain everything that doesn’t need it, and gag at everything that does. They give you more infodumps than Dave Weber, but all this stuff really doesn’t affect the world. They do the romance beautifully though.
What I mean is that when someone on the Science Fiction side starts ranting and raving about how this stuff is Science Fiction Romance and the stuff is Lois Bujold, your jaw sort of hangs open in awe and you go “Wait, what?”
Because it’s clear that the poor man has never – never, never, never – in his entire life read Romance. Though he might have sneered at it once or twice. To him Romance means “people fall in love” which uh… is not what the genre of Romance is as such.
I spent some time trying to picture anyone from the Romance side saying a Futuristic Romance wasn’t Romance because “well, it has all this tech.”
First, I can’t do that. Romance readers don’t care. I’ve read some pretty good historical mysteries that also followed romance tropes. They’re best sellers in Romance. Second, people on the SF side would laugh so hard at the idea they’d get cramps.
And you know what? Right now, Romance is THE best selling genre in publishing, bar none. Not only that, but only in the weird sub branches, it is more likely to sell better than the equivalent in the “real” genre. I realized this some years ago, which is why I’m studying the Romance touch, (not particularly good at it yet) so I can market SF as Futuristic Romance as well, and hopefully fly under both flags. Because I want the largest readership possible.
Which brings us to “WHY are you kicking people out of SF?”
I realize this is just a professor’s opinion, but I’ve heard the same around sf cons and from “just fans” – “Oh, that’s not real science fiction, that has romance.” “Oh, that’s not real science fiction, that has no engineering.” OR from the publishing establishment “Oh, that’s not real science fiction, that has no major sociological point.”
Look, the reason Darkship Thieves took SO LONG to sell was that the establishment saw “no sociological point” to it. They kept pointing me at The Sparrow as an example of what I SHOULD do.
The other reason – I’ll leave the connection as an exercise for the audience – is that SF is of all the genres the one that sells WORST.
So, basically what people saying “that’s not SF” particularly to well-selling books are doing is trying to make the ghetto even smaller, so they can…. Be properly marginalized? I have no idea.
This goes right along with a certain member of SFWA who made a survey in an attempt to prove readership is too middle aged, too white and not “diverse” enough. (Speaking of which, she flunked diversity. She has an entire section for Hispanic and it does include Spanish, but not Portuguese. This is roll on the floor funny, since families spread across both countries and in fact the difference between Lopes and Lopez is a matter of spelling. Not that I THINK Hispanics or Latin are a different race. They are a cultural subgroup – and there is no functional difference between Portuguese and Spanish, which even our government notes. Oh, sure, my mom would kill me if she read this – fortunately she doesn’t read English – but the difference between the North of Portugal and the South is bigger, culturally, than the difference between Portuguese immigrants and certain Cuban Immigrants [I had a crush on one, once, long ago, and his family was just like mine.] And certainly Portuguese of the North are closer to Spaniards of Galicia than to Portuguese of the South – there’s a reason for this. The North of Portugal and Galicia were one under the Roman Empire which I think is longer than they’ve been separate. BUT from over here, certainly the culture I grew up with has more in common with say Mexico than with the culture my husband grew up with in New England. Heck, I have more in common with Italians and Greeks, too, but that’s something different. If we’re going to give special cultural points to people of tannitude, I tan as much or more than most Spaniards, certainly than those with heavy Visigoth blood. And back when I spent more time outdoors, people here regularly thought I was South American. – end of side digression.)
Tell me, have I gone nuts, or have they?
Is it the job of a writer to choose the audience? More importantly, is it the job of a writer to choose the audience by exclusion?
I’m fairly sure that Heinlein did not like Fascists or Communists, but did you ever hear him ranting that they shouldn’t read his books?
On the contrary, right? If people we disagree with read our books, yes, we might persuade them, but more importantly, they’re buying the books and talking about them, and that will increase your reach. Look, kids…
Like this… If I heard tomorrow that Little Brown Shirts For Stalin had banned my books and were burning a million in public in front of the party headquarters, I’d throw such a big party… First, it would put me on the bestseller list. Second, it would make everyone who is against the Little Brown Shirts For Stalin run out and buy my book. What part of this is not delicious win covered in chocolate?
So why would you want to tell people they can’t or shouldn’t read or write in your genre? You know, Romance has some VERY sharp divisions. For instance, I can’t read most contemporary because it starts in bed and ends there, and I find this boring (no, I don’t find sex boring. I find WRITTEN sex boring. Deal.)
I read historical and Regency (which isn’t, really) and some mystery romance. BUT I wouldn’t touch the other stuff. But you know what, none of the Romance writers has told me that I’m not a real fan and they want me out, right now. If I go to one of their cons, they don’t say “oh, you’re insufficiently sensitive to the plight of The Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby” and therefore should stop coming. No, they try to sell me the Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby. Which is forlorn, but good try.
And for the love of heaven, no Romance con, and no Romance group, and no Romance author has ever said “What we need is a more diverse audience.”
You know what? If you put out a virus that attacks only the Y chromosome at any Romance con, no one would day (or two or three guys only.) BUT no one cares.
You know why? Because they’re there because they like writing and reading romance. It’s not that they want to change the world or right past injustices, or any insane crap like that. (Oh, a few of them might flap jaws about that, to sound important, but they don’t ENFORCE it.)
They want to sell books. And the people who attend, want to read books.
And you know what? Science Fiction was like that once. Oh, totally déclassé, with bug eyed monsters and girls in chain mail bikinis.
And it sold.
Now it’s all about social conscience and bringing in people by the numbers, and righting past injustices.
And it doesn’t sell.
What is the lesson? Yes, yes, I know. The establishment would say we need more consciousness raising. Right.
I’ll leave them to it. I’ll be over here writing things that will sell to the largest number of people possible.
Because writing is first of all my job. And if I’m not making that much money, I’m not doing my job. And second, it’s a form of communication. And if it’s not reaching as many people as possible, I’m not communicating very well.
If I wanted to be a social worker, I’d do that. I want to be a writer, so I’ll do this.
Science Fiction is what the writer says it is, and what sells to science fiction fans of any skin color, orientation, disability or language group.
I say it’s science fiction, and I say the auditors* trying to discern which atoms are sf and which romance and which picaresque adventure can go hang themselves.
*Pratchett fans know exactly what I mean.