Today we have a special post in celebration of the launch of the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. We are introducing the team behind the scenes and their hopes for the future of the magazine.
The first issue is available online:
available in epub, mobi, pdf or read online via issuu.com
Heather Massey runs the excellent blog The Galaxy Express which discusses all things SFR- including previews of books and lively debates. She is also the author of many speculative fiction books, including Once Upon A Time in Space, Iron Guns, Blazing Hearts and Queenie’s Brigade.
KS Augustin is the author of many books, including space opera, fantasy, SF Romance, and even some contemporary and non-fiction. Her SFR releases include Combat!, In Enemy Hands, and Overclocked. She also runs her own micro-press, Sandal Press.
Diane Dooley is a blogger, an editor and a writer of romance, SF, and horror. Her SFR releases include Blue Galaxy, Mako’s Bounty, and Blue Nebula.
RK: WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF THE SFR QUARTERLY IDEA?
HEATHER: KS Augustin approached Paula and me about offering SFR news and entertainment via a digital magazine. She has the mad skillz to execute the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly so I was all like, “Where do I sign?!”
It was one of those zeitgeist moments, too, because her proposal emerged at a time when all three of us had already been involved in SFR in various ways (as bloggers, authors, advocates, etc.). Kaz saw an opportunity to expand SFR’s reach and seized the day.
It’s important to acknowledge that years before, authors Jennifer Dunne, Jody Wallace, and Joyce Ellen Armond ran the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter. That print magazine is the progenitor of the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. I salute the efforts of those three ladies and am honored to carry on the tradition. I’m also appreciative that our current team of three (!) can accomplish the same goal with all the convenience and advantages digital technology has to offer.
DIANE: It’s all Kaz’s fault! She made me. Just kidding *grin *I have great respect for her skills and jumped at the chance to work with her on a labor of love.
KAZ: I was getting frustrated with the fact that news on SFR plays to a limited audience. I thought we could get more readers, and across the gender divide, if we could just get the word out more. So I approached Heather and Diane about the problem, pitched an idea to them, and here we are!
I have to say, I don’t think I would have suggested the magazine if it wasn’t for the digital option. Having the mag presented as an online (versus printed) resource means we are not constrained by page counts or geographic location! (I’m in Malaysia, while the other two are in North America.) Having the technology available to go fully digital was a huge enabler for the concept.
RK:WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF SFR?
HEATHER: SFR tells a romance story in a technology-based setting. For me, these stories include some romantic SF, in which the romance is a subplot.
I look at how tightly the SF and romance elements are integrated. If one removes either the SF or the romance elements and the story falls apart, then it’s an SFR.
I also define sci-fi romance as awesome (not that I’m biased or anything. :P). SFR offers a way for me to enjoy a number of genre elements in one entertaining package: romance, science/sense of wonder, action-adventure, alternate worlds, and diverse characters. I can often count on SFR to deliver stories wherein the couples embarks on dual-heroic journeys and that explore the theme of love against the odds.
DIANE: Sci-fi with varying amounts of romance; Romance with varying amounts of sci-i. I tend to a looser definition than most.
KAZ: I mentioned this at the beginning of the magazine’s first issue because SF is such a problematic genre to precisely define. So, I dodged that particular question completely 🙂 and said that, quite simply, SFR is “SF with heart”.
RK: WHAT KIND OF THEMES, TROPES, AND IDEAS DO YOU SEE EXPLORED IN THE CURRENT SFR OFFERINGS?
KAZ: Military, military, military. I’m not saying that’s all bad, because I wrote a military SFR myself, albeit a more politically-oriented one (WAR GAMES), but that’s the one I see the most.
HEATHER: One frequent theme is that of “love against the odds” (e.g. the couple must overcome a villain or an evil corporation/government in order to be together).
Many stories focus on the heroine and hero rescuing the downtrodden/marginalized and helping other people in peril.
There’s a great variety of character occupations in SFR, especially for heroines: starship captains, bounty hunters, androids/automatons, scientists, etc.
Variety of settings is another feature of this genre (e.g., space opera, cyberpunk, near-future, steampunk).
SFR explores sexuality issues, often as it relates to an alien “Other.”
With many stories, readers can get their action-adventure groove on!
SFR offers heroine-centric stories. In other words, the heroines have agency and drive the story as much as the heroes (more so than the hero in some cases).
SFR also has traditional tropes familiar to many romance readers. This genre has its share of Alpha heroes; friends-to-lovers; “hearth and home” focus; secret babies; the Big Misunderstanding; wealthy heroes; dangerous bad boy heroes; vampires-in-space; innocent heroines who tame their heroes, and more.
Finally, SFR features people of color and LGBT characters (more would be great!).
RK: WHAT KIND OF THEMES, TROPES AND IDEAS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE OF?
KAZ: Non-military, non-military, non-military! 🙂
HEATHER: How much time do we have? LOL! Here’s my wish list:
People of color; anti-heroines; automaton/android heroes and heroines; more cyberpunk, biopunk, and steampunk romances; near-future SFR; more LGBT characters; heroine cyborgs; trilogies that follow the same couple; SFR that explores gritty/dark themes (something other than heroines in sexual jeopardy, though); and tentacles.
In terms of tropes, I’m keen to read more sci-fi romance that’s less about “battle of the sexes” and more about “battle of the personalities.” I’d love to see SFR expand upon little-used tropes (e.g., romances where the gender/power balance begins on an equal level) and invent new ones. Themes involving progressive and inclusive concepts will command my attention very quickly.
DIANE: I’d love to see more subversion of tropes, female villains, alpha women, cyberpunk romance, characters of color, and humorous SFR.
RK: YOU ARE ALL WRITERS IN THE FIELD. WHAT DREW YOU TO SFR?
DIANE: I was writing a sci-fi romance and thought I was inventing a new genre, LOL. I’d always loved both genres. I bumped into Heather Massey on a writers’ forum; she was also writing sci-fi romance and was a whole lot more knowledgable about it than me. I then went on a bit of a spending spree and one of the first SFRs I bought and read was by K.S. Augustin. And so it goes…grin I submitted BLUE GALAXY to Carina Press and it was accepted. I was thrilled I could write two of my favorite genres at once and it could be published.
HEATHER: Ever since being exposed to the Japanese animated space opera saga Space Battleship Yamato as a young teen, I’ve been in love with the idea of science fiction romance. I’ve had daydreams about SFR-themed stories since that time and have since pursued SFR in books, TV, and film.
I dabbled in Yamato fan fiction for a while, but writing for publication wasn’t in the stars for me until after I’d launched The Galaxy Express.
For me, writing SFR is a way to channel my creative energies while also expanding the entertainment content of TGE. It also helped that digital publishing really began to take off after I began blogging.
I contracted my first book, ONCE UPON A TIME IN SPACE, with Red Sage Publishing. Small press and digital-first publishers really got what SFR is all about and have been able to deliver it to readers on a consistent basis. I’m immensely grateful to be a part of it all.
KAZ: I’ve always been a geek, and have been reading SF since I was a child. But it started to pall when I realised that, in many stories, I could just swap one character for another (sometimes, even from different books!) and it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference! It was as if writers were completely ignoring our own humanity in order to wax lyrical about the technology, which all seemed a bit “off” to me, like missing the forest for the trees.
Then Harry Harrison came along with his STAINLESS STEEL RAT series while I was in secondary school and I was hooked! Here was James Bolivar di Griz, with his beautiful and deadly wife Angelina—a couple! Who had kids! And went around having wonderful galactic adventures! I believe Harrison was ahead of his time with such characterisation and, for me, that’s where the idea of writing SFR first came from.
RK:WHAT DO YOU THINK SFR HAS TO OFFER ROMANCE READERS? SF READERS?
DIANE: To romance readers: so many new and fresh possibilities, settings, plots, etc. It’s a galaxy just waiting to be explored.
To SF readers: character-based science fiction, sometimes with sexy bits *grin.*
KAZ: Variety. I think SFR has more variety than any other sub-genre of romance, although that could be my bias showing! LOL You can go from a thoughtful exploration of alien societies, to an historical-feeling space saga, to the question of how aliens might survive on Earth, to plain ole galactic-wide battles, and never leave the genre. Having said that, I’d like to see even more variety. The universe is the limit.
HEATHER: Lots of goodies! SFR offers the following to romance readers:
• fresh variety of characters (e.g., aliens, bounty hunters, starship captains, inventors/scientists, political leaders, androids/automatons)
• accessible science and a sense of wonder without overwhelming readers with technobabble info dumps
• SFR can make science exciting for readers who might have previously overlooked it as a source of entertainment
• SF themed stories told using the female gaze (i.e., a focus on issues important to women readers)
• action-adventure elements, and they frequently involve heroines at the center of the action
• kinky alien sex–sometimes campy and just for fun, but also taken seriously
SF readers can benefit from SFR in the following ways:
• character-driven stories
• stories focusing on little-explored areas of SF such as the impact of technology on romantic relationships and sexuality
• more tales written using the female gaze
• upbeat endings of a different kind (especially when one needs a palate cleanser from bleak dystopian stories!)
• SFR increases the number of women-authored speculative tales
• A bold exploration of sexuality and intimacy in a futuristic setting
RK: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES SFR FACES AS A GENRE IN GAINING A LARGER READERSHIP? WHAT ARE WAYS TO MEET THOSE CHALLENGES?
HEATHER: SFR is a niche genre because of its very hybrid nature. Authors of SFR have transformed part of the science fiction landscape by shifting the focus of their stories to an intense relationship in a technology-based setting and by giving the stories upbeat endings, but the idea of an SF story with a romance taking center stage is a relatively new transformation. That concept alone creates an enormous challenge because readers are still discovering what it’s all about. It’s so invisible, in fact, that people don’t recognize SFR even when it’s present in a high profile, blockbuster film like James Cameron’s AVATAR.
Some might say authors of SFR need to write great stories. That’s true to an extent and the genre certainly needs a higher number of titles to grow. Yet I also believe many great stories already exist. The real challenge is making them visible for readers. A severe dearth of marketing dollars coupled with a lack of mainstream print distribution for the majority of titles are two of the biggest visibility challenges facing SFR today.
There’s a perception among many women readers/romance readers that SFR has too much science and/or still employs SF tropes of the 50s and 60s and is therefore not for them. SF and romance have been segregated along gender lines for a long time so it’s no surprise that some readers hesitate to give SFR a try.
Additionally, some core romance fantasies (e.g., a seductive vampire lover paired with an innocent/ordinary heroine or a rakish duke and a virgin heroine) don’t always translate successfully to a technology-based setting where futuristic characters are the norm. The core romance fantasies SFR does offer are just as valid, but they may not be as popular.
It seems like a really dire situation, but there are definitely ways to meet the challenges head on.
The more authors who take advantage of digital-first and small press publishers who are SFR friendly, the better. That’s where the market currently is for SFR. The more books available, the higher the chances readers will find them.
An ongoing awareness campaign to help readers better understand the genre is crucial. The more familiar it seems, the more likely readers will take a risk on it. Every blog and Facebook post, tweet, and forum comment helps. Giveaways and regular SFR events are also effective strategies.
SFR advocates who band together is another way to build awareness. This grassroots approach is exemplified by publications such as the Science Fiction Romance Newsletter and the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly; the individual efforts of authors like Linnea Sinclair; bloggers past and present, e.g., Alien Romances, Spacefreighters Lounge, Smart Girls Love SciFi & Paranormal Romance, and The Galaxy Express; and author consortiums such as the SFR Brigade.
Not all readers want the same kinds of romance fantasies, so one of the tasks involves connecting SFR with said readers. The more efficiently SFR authors and readers tag the stories–especially with regards to Search Engine Optimization and metadata–the easier it becomes for readers to locate them. In other words, let’s keep talking about it!
DIANE: The challenges are getting romance readers to try sci-fi and to get sci-fi readers to try romance. To meet those challenges we need a variety of outstanding stories that provide a vivid and exciting gateway into the universe of SFR offerings. Of course, readers need to be able to find them…hence, The Galaxy Express, the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, Smart Girls Love SciFi, and others. These are some of the portals, seeking those readers brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and into a genre that has some serious depth and talent. *beckons readers enticingly*
KAZ: What Heather and Diane said! 🙂
The breadth of offerings, which is incredibly wide, from alternate history to cyberpunk; from space opera to steampunk. This, in my opinion, is the great strength (and also weakness) of the genre. Whatever you can think of within a speculative field can, I believe, be represented in SFR. Unfortunately, in such a milieu, it is absolutely impossible to cater to every reader. As a result, I think the SFR readership lacks the kind of focus that contemporary or historical romances have. (I may be wrong, but that’s my gut feeling.) This is where I’m hoping something like Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly can help bridge the gap, by having news about our beloved books in a central place and thereby encouraging readers to stretch themselves and perhaps reach out for a book they might not have considered before.
The other challenge is in the actual mix of SF and romance. Even within my own reader base, I’ve noticed a variety of responses from people. They’re reading the same style (mine) within the same universe (mostly) and yet they have very definite ideas on how much of an SF/Romance mix they’d like to see. Some like a lot, some like less. I’ve become accustomed to knowing that a segment of my reader base will not like a new book because of the mix I’ve put in and that realisation (separate from plot, pacing and character) can be tough for a new writer to cope with. Additionally, you’re not looking at the same sales figures for SFR as for, say, contemporary romances, even though I believe that plausible SF angles require more work and research. So, to put it in business terms, the ROI (Return On Investment) isn’t initially promising.
Having said that, the greater emphasis a number of publishers are putting on SFR (I’ve been reading several calls specifically for SFR in recent months) shows that publishers realise that there’s something very special in the air when it comes to that genre, so I have my fingers crossed that we’re on the cusp of something very large and wonderful that may even cross over to the male SF readership. That’s my daydream.