Mixed updates and more on hard SF and messy emotions

First of all, I’ve been interviewed by British crime fiction writer J.T. Baptiste for the 12 days of crime series on her blog. We talk about writing, reading, favourite characters, Edgar Wallace movies and Dr. Mabuse, who is one of my all-time favourite villains. Also keep checking back, because a new interview with a crime fiction writer will be posted every day until Christmas. Up today is John Hindmarsh.

Over at the Pegasus Pulp blog, I’ve also been talking about pulp speed and writing like the pulp writers of old.

In the meantime, Tuesday’s post about hard SF and messy emotions seems to have struck a nerve, because it sent my blog stats through the roof, largely due to links by the excellent blogs Dear Author, SF Signal and The Galaxy Express. Meanwhile, I was dealing with translation rush jobs, incapable workmen building a garage and also sort of vanished into putting the finishing touches on what will be the last two e-book releases of the year for me (official announcement coming soon), so I missed much of that.

However, the discussion didn’t stop, so here are some more links:

Angela Highland responds at her blog here. It’s certainly interesting how many of us had similar experiences in our relationship to romance. We bounced off the genre during the “bodiceripper” era, turned to SFF and finally came back fifteen years or so later to find that the romance genre had changed.

Coincidentally, I also find that for the past few years, the majority of SFF that I’m reading was written by women (and the occasional non-binary person), because in books by women I can usually find well-written female characters and the chance of coming across misogynist fuckwittery is much lower. It’s not that I don’t read SFF written by men, because I certainly do. But mostly I find that they’re either books by men I’ve been reading for years or whom I know personally or books that come highly recommended from trusted sources.

Athena Andreadis pointed me to this older post on her blog about hard science fiction and how it’s often not very scientific and also focusses only on particular sciences, namely physics and computer science, while e.g. biology is ignored, which explains why e.g. Larry Niven is considered a writer of hard SF, while Lois McMaster Bujold or Joan Slonczewski are not. As always, she makes some excellent points, including the what passes for hard SF these often fails on every other storytelling front.

As a matter of fact, the jargon-heaviness and info-dumpiness of bad hard SF has also begun to affect other genres and subgenres by now. A lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly the subgenre known as “prepper fiction”, expounds in great and exhaustive detail on the specs of guns, ammo and – less frequently – water purifiers to the point that a disagreement about a rifle scope almost led to a law suit. Meanwhile, certain Tom Clancy thrillers read like manuals for submarines and other military hardware to the point that I once said, “I translate tech specs for a living, so I’m certainly not reading them in leisure time unless I get paid for it.”

Meanwhile, Australian SFF writer Patty Jansen (who among other things also writes hard SF that’s actually good) sticks up for the romance genre and points out that writing contemporary romance is a great skill and that every writer should try it at least once, even if they never plan on publishing it. Because the fact that contemporary romance sticks to the “dull” mundane world (which isn’t necessarily all that dull, since I’ve read some great contemporary romance in fascinating settings that I knew little to nothing about) means that it’s a great way to learn about creating rounded and believable characters and relationships. And SF could certainly use more of that.

Kate Elliott also pointed out this post by Jared Shurin at Pornokitsch about five things that epic fantasy could learn from historical romance. Once again, this is a post by someone who either isn’t very familiar with the (historical) romance genre or at least hasn’t read it in a while and then suddenly comes (back) to the genre and finds a whole lot to enjoy there. I also find his comments on the different structure of series in SFF and romance interesting, because they very much mirror my own experiences upon returning to the romance genre.

I second his point on historical romance having women with agency rather than harping on “But this is historically accurate, because all women were chattel in the Middle Ages” like some authors of epic fantasy tend to do – never mind that it isn’t even true. Though he is mistaken that women in historical romance only exist to have sex. First of all, there are whole romance subgenres out there which do not have explicit sex (e.g. traditional regencies and Christian romances, many of which are historicals) and secondly, romance is a female-focussed genre where the main protagonist is normally the heroine. In fact, you could argue that the hero only exists so the heroine has someone to fall in love and have sex with, though in truth the heroes are usually well developed characters with lives, interests, adventures and families (brothers, lots of brothers) of their own.

I also agree with him about the sex, though not every romance subgenre contains the same amount of sex or even any sex at all. Not that historical romance sex can’t be a tad ridiculous (sheltered virgins experiencing multiple orgasms and giving oral sex on their first night out – not very likely), but at least the sex is mostly consensual (some rapey old-school “bodicerippers” notwithstanding) and generally depicted as a positive experience. Whereas certain epic fantasies of the grimdark kind make me wonder whether anybody in these worlds ever had regular consensual sex without money being exchanged and whether any woman in those worlds ever actually enjoyed sex.

Finally, just to prove that not all men are as enlightened with regard to romance as Jared Shurin, last week a prominent male author declared that he had personally revolutionised and reinvented the erotica romance genre. Unsurprisingly, several women disagreed and hijincks ensured.

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