Friday, January 05, 2007

IROSF Flirts with Speculative Romance

Cynthia Ward, rapidly becoming one of my favorite speculative fiction theorists, strikes a blow for paranormal romance in the current issue of The Internet Review of Science Fiction. "Paranormal Romance: Here, There and Everywhere with Science Fiction" takes the IROSF sub-genre spotlight with a detailed genealogy of fiction that currently culminates in our beloved speculative romance. You've gotta register to read it, but registration's free and the IROSF is a resource worth your attention.

Cynthia's article raises a point near to my heart: how paranormal romance is starting to burst through certain seams of romance fiction conventions. I don't mean to suggest that speculative fiction conforming to the happy-ever-after, monogamous, heterosexual standard has no value. On the contrary, I love em. But I'm also excited to see the development of what I'm starting to call speculative fiction about relationships.

Cynthia singles out several Mothers of the Genre, among them the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. While I was entranced by the romance between Lessa and F'lar (and how many among us didn't have a crush on F'lar or Lessa by age 13?), the Pern novels also deliver those delightfully fascinating relationships between the dragons and their riders. To me, Impression was always as emotionally moving as any human romantic relationship.

If I think about the science fiction and fantasy stories that stay on my shelf as keepers, they almost all have central plots that revolve equally around speculative elements and relationships. The by turns violent then disturbingly tender relationship between Morn Highland and Angus Thermopyle keeps Stephen Donaldson's GAP series an annual read for me. Guy Gavriel Kay's A SONG FOR ARBONNE and TIGANA never deliver a happy ending, but I consider them grandly romantic. Frank Herbert's DUNE series is as ripe with relationships as it is with ideas: Paul and Chani, Jessica and Faradyn, Alia and first ghola Duncan Idaho, series ghola Duncan Idaho and Honored Matre Murbella.

As much as I love a happy ending, I also appreciate the occasional tragic love story. As Cynthia states in her article, the movie Brokeback Mountain wouldn’t qualify under genre standards as romance because there certainly isn't an HEA, there's adultery and homosexual main characters. But the movie's plot is motored entirely by the characters' relationships. So of course I'm interested!

I respect the boundaries of the romance genre, because when I pick up a book marked "romance" I know that I'll be getting that HEA. But even though I love dark chocolate the best, that doesn't mean I'm not open to milk chocolate. Or caramel. Or spun sugar. Just as long as the experience satisfies my craving for something sweet.

But how the heck do we get bookstores to shelve relationship-oriented speculative fiction so we can FIND it? I leave that problem to a better mind than mine. Any suggestions?

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