"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
We querried the
listers and here is what they had to say!
December 2000 Issue
Sometimes there is a fine line between what would be considered science
fiction, futuristic, or fantasy. How do you make the distinction?
Science fiction usually has more science than futuristics. As lifelong
sf reader, I got turned off to futuristics back in the mid 80s by a
couple of books I've heard some people praise loudly. They had nothing
to do with science or the future. What they were, were medieval romances
with minor changes. I quit reading them. Now that I know there are people
out there writing science fiction romances, I'll likely try them again.
Occasionally it is hard to categorize books--the Pern series has a very
Arthur C. Clarke's comment that the science so advanced that we can't
understand it, it will look like magic--I think there's a difference
between sf and fantasy. Fantasy uses magic--which has its own internal
logic (I prefer mine based on something akin to a magical system we're
Marilynn B: Many
readers use futuristic as a catchall term for all non-reality
The sf romance has more sf elements and can't be translated into a historical. My STAR-CROSSED, for example, is a sf romance because no society in Earth history is even remotely like Arden with the women in control and the men as sex slaves. It certainly isn't a true matriarchy. The story can't exist without that society either.
is based on a magical logic system rather than a scientific one.
Nancy C: In my opinion, sci-fi is based on some scientifically plausible scenario. Space opera, on the other hand, is pure adventure with StarTrek/Star Wars overtones.
of these deal often with galactic or global disasters/politics /whatever.
Multiple viewpoints and complex plots are welcome. On the other hand,
futuristics are romance novels with the focus mainly on hero/heroineviewpoints.
Sci-fi elements must remain in the background. Fantasy involves magic,
swords & sorcery, and anything in the realm of the supernatural.
This is how I define them.
Jane T: I
disagree about a fine line between sf/f and futuristic. Futuristic
me sci-fi creates new worlds, new concepts of societies and explores
more the possibility what if? I find that futuristics, even in their
best incarnation are basically genre books with a few elements of the
future thrown in. Fantasy seems to create a set of parameters (for example
the Golden Key by Melanie Rawn and two other authors) and sets the story
Leslie: I must admit to being new to the futuristics and sci-fi reading (though I'm finding I like it). I don't think futuristics or fantasies necessarily have to have great scientific detail, but naturally science fiction does to make the world realistic. I do tend to think of science-fiction as taking place in the future, but I am beginning to realize that isn't necessarily so either as another world could exist in our time and be much more scientifically advanced. Fantasy I think is the most open-ended. You can have fantasy in any time or place, the beings can take any form. But the story still has to make sense, there have to be some rules.
PNR Q.: Do you prefer futuristic worlds to be scientifically advanced, or more medieval, for instance as a result of an apocalyptic disaster? What makes these stories work for you? What makes them not work?
medieval world bit seems like such a cop-out much of the time. I get
the feeling that the author didn't want to bother doing the research
on our middle ages, wanted to be able to make it up so took 12th century
England and gave it a new name.. id it is after an apocalypse, I should
see changes. It shouldn't just recreate our world with cosmetic changes.
If it's more advanced I want to see real science, not just pseudo science.
J.D. Robb does a good job there.
Marilynn B: I'm
not a big fan of apocalyptic novels because they are so darn
Nancy C: I
like technologically advanced worlds. If I want to read a historicalsetting,
I'll read historical romance, although I have enjoyed manyfuturistics
with these types of backgrounds. What really turns me on
Jane T: Since I don't read futuristics, I can't comment here.
depends on the writing. Its a little harder to create an entirely
Leslie: Hm, well I really don't have a problem with either scenario as long as it is written well. Once the world is defined by rules, I want the author to stick with it.
Now if the author chooses to write a medieval type post-apocalyptic futuristic, it needs to written in such a way that I understand why the author chose to make the plot futuristic rather than historical. Naturally after a holocaust, people have to start from scratch, but it also opens the door to creativity. How can they start over in a way that does not mirror the past. I think this can present and even greater challenge, than one which features and advance culture where anything goes, because the author has to be creative within limitations.
What I really like are the contemporary fantasies like those written by Ann Lawrence and Susan Grant which brings contemporary Earth beings in contact with totally different cultures in the here and now. I think the possibility is fascinating that a world either far more scientifically advanced, or a medieval variety steeped in mysticism and magic, could coexist with our world right now. That facing it could be right around the bend, tomorrow. It makes me feel like I'm witnessing it first hand. Let's face it I'm not going to be around in the 25th century and I want to be part of the fun! Why do people love Close Encounters, ET, or even Men In Black? Because it presents us with a challenge in which we have to think on our feet and deal with the situation. Add romance and you have perfection, I cry everytime I watch Starman.
PNR Q.: With historicals some critics complain that the novels do not contain enough description to give the reader a flavor of the era, others find the books too difficult to read if foreign language is injected, or there is too, much description. Do you relate better to the characters if they have commonality with ourselves, ie. do you want to know about the food, the pets, the homes, the scenery?
Gil: I want the writer to get the details, they do use, right. No potato soup in the 12th century, and no hoopskirts either. Susan Johnson does this marvelously, as does Roberta Gellis (who has an M.A. in medieval history) and Susan Wiggs. Granted, I've been in the Society for Creative Anachronism for 25 years, but it isn't that hard to read a couple of books on social life and customs to get the general feel of the period.
descriptions of clothing for important scenes, ditto food and furniture.
I want just enough information to be there, but not so much that the
story slows down, or the details get annoying. In a futuristic or sf
Nancy C: If
it's a futuristic world, I want to know these details. That's part
Jane T: If
set during any historical period, I want a story to reflect what
want to know some, but not all in excruciating detail. I don't mind
think a certain amount of detail is necessary to get your mind into
the setting of the story. What makes this story futuristic? Again the
author needs to stick to the world that they set up. . Does the Wookie
drink coffee and eat ham sandwiches? You tell me. If your you throw
in exotic names for everything from the flooring to the small furry
animal sitting on it, and your hero's just returned from hunting wereleopards,
don't start talking ham on rye with mustard in the next breath, and
don't go overboard either, too many strange words are difficult to keep
track of pull one out of the story.
Besides being accurate, the details should define the mood of the piece. For instance in a historical romance, it adds to the aura of romance to go into detail about the rich fabrics of the clothing, jewels, and carriages, but nobody wants to be made aware of the fact that the stench in London could knock a person over!
Too many similarities can throw me out of a story as well, a cat by any other name is still a cat, so if you're not on Earth, come up with a different kind of critter. Pets don't have to be familiar looking, just evoke the familiar emotions from the owner. I suppose the challenge lies with striking just the right balance.
PNR Q.: Do you prefer these stories to take place completely within imaginary worlds or do you like some interaction with Earth inhabitants?
Gil: Depends on what story they are telling! Either can be fun.
Marilynn B: I
enjoy both if done well.
Nancy C: Either
one is fine. One of my favorite fantasies is the naive Earthling taken
into space who is awakened to other sentient beings and technology beyond
her/his dreams, as in my own book, CIRCLE OF LIGHT.
Jane T: Either is fine with me.
Lisa: Both, depends on what the author is trying to do.
Leslie: In most stories the hero/heroine, if not everyone else, are generally humanlike enough that they are no doubt synonymous with Earthlings in our minds no matter what part of the universe the story is set within. Of course it's nice to imagine a future Earth, and I do think that if you include Earthlings in a futuristic it should be because they stand for something. For instance in The Alliance by Patricia Waddell, the Earthlings were considered rather undesirable/impulsive aliens who were tolerated but not respected. Through her writing she conveyed the best attributes of our people, and the heroine won the respect that was her due. In this way it makes the reader feel good about who we are. But a book can be compelling and not include interaction with Earth. Catherine Spangler's two Shielder books are set in a fictitious quadrant but the issues are human enough, greed, prejudice, abuse, self doubt, resilience, resourcefulness, strength, and the empowerment of love. I think any good story really only needs to have something for the reader to relate to and root for.
PNR Q.: How readily would you accept non-humanoids as main characters? How about humanoids with different characteristics, i.e. unusual skin, eye color, etc.?
with me. Of course I had a terrible crush on Max, the blue-haired pilot
from Robotech! I think if you get too non-human looking--reptilian,
for instance--you risk sex becoming um,..bestiality? Or a bit too kinky?
Marilynn B: I can accept alien characters as main characters, but I think most readers soon begin to see these characters as humans or some Earth equivalent animal as they read. Hal Clement wrote a novel about a heavy gravity planet, and one of the main characters was a being from that world who was long and flat. I always saw him in my mind as a talking caterpillar to make sense of him.
made Mara's alien sidekick very catlike because I wanted
make a hero or heroine too alien or animal-like, you run the
Nancy C: I
like my main characters to be humanoid, although features can varysuch
as you mentioned. My protagonists all have special powers.
I love humanoids as main characters and I really don't expect them to
would accept them very readily. Julie Czerdzna(SP?) wrote a book with
a relationship between a sort of a shape shifter and a human man that
Leslie: I think differences from our standard norm can make the fantasy stories more realistic but the beings involved should be similar to each other in a real way. I don't think people are ready for humanoids mating with arachnids or reptilian beings even if they can speak, walk on two legs, and have intelligence. Minor differences aren't a big deal though. I do think readers need to relate to the main characters in some way. Sharon Shinn wrote a sci-fi romance in which the two main races of the world were humanoids with either golden skin or varying shades of blue. But the story dealt with issues we could relate to. Within the blue culture, the shade of skin was a visual determination of class, and of course it went without saying that the blue and gold didn't mix. But each had something that the other one wanted, one group had technology, the other resources. As one group's solution is to eliminate the other through germ warfare, individuals begin to examine their personal ethics. One tends to forget all about skin, hair, and eye color when one is immersed in a compelling story. The key is to make the story relate to the reader in some way. If you can find a way to do that with spiders and snakes, I won't stand in your way <g>.
PNR Q.: Do you think that romantic elements make this sub-genre more appealing to women? Do you think men are more likely to read a romantic piece of science fiction if release by a sci-fi publisher rather than a romance publisher?
Gil: Men tend to avoid the romance area like the plague. My husband will occasionally read a romance if I suggest it too him--usually an historical. He LHAO at Dara Joy's futuristic. It took him a bit to figure out it wasn't a bad fantasy, but a comedy...
one reason why I am trying to spotlight writers like Nancy Gideon, Christine
Feehan and others in the horror section--so that they can expand their
readership base. If the books are in the romance section, male horror
fans will NEVER see them, let alone read them ..but once they read
Marilynn B: I
don't think this is a gender issue because some men read romance and
some women read straight sf. Instead, it is a sf versus romance issue.
The element that makes romance in sf acceptable to sf readers is primarily
the scientific credentials of the writer. Asaro would never have sold
any of her sf romantic novels if she didn't have rock-solid science
in her books and an excellent scientific professional background (Ph.D.)
Romance readers tend to be more equalitarian and will read sf and sf
romance with or without hard science.
Nancy C: Yes!
Jane T: Yes,
of course. And I can be guilty of it myself, since, though I
think it makes more women willing to try it out, from there they
Leslie: I think people in general are concerned with image. If you consider the flak that women take for reading romance novels, you can imagine what would be said to a man who is noticed reading one. That having been said, you will notice that action adventure type flicks, from James Bond to Star Wars, and heck even The Terminator, have a degree of romance within them. Didn't Luke and Han vie for the Princess Leia? I think the difference may be in how the romance is perceived.
I think in romance novels the emphasis may be placed more on making the hero desirable to women. The perception is that women want to walk in the shoes of the heroine, she should be intelligent and have character, so we can feel proud of ourselves, but what they think we want most is a hot hero. (don't throw things at me <g> I'm talking about perception). If the heroine is plain and the stud loves her anyway that's even better. They see men as taking the "What's he got that I haven't got? I work out, what do you mean the heroine has a limp?" attitude toward such a story. In other words they are geared to women.
The action adventure genre is supposedly more male oriented, "Me Tarzan, look I saved the world. Aren't you lucky to have me around to save you honey? Hey dudes look, I got all the bounteous babes!" kind of thing. Women look at this and see it as Neanderthal and sexist. Is the viewpoint stereotypical? Sure, but that's how marketing sees the genders and that's how they promote them. It's like any targeted advertising, other people telling you how to be cool. Hey fellas if we dress this romance up as something else then no one will make fun of you.
Now I do accept that sometimes you do have to coax skeptics toward something they're afraid to try, but if you disguise something too much the folks who enjoyed reading it in the first place no longer know where to find it.