Sometimes I like my romances with just that little bit of rocket fuel to flavor the plot. I’m referring to science fiction romance, or SFR. After all, if love makes the world go round, there’s nothing to say it can’t power a starship, too!
One of the best writers in the genre right now is Linnea Sinclair. She’s the first author I read who made me recognize that this was really a separate category, and not just an offshoot of romance or space opera. Sinclair’s Dock Five Universe series can be read as pure space opera, if you want. Sixth-Fleet Captain Chasidah Bergren is court-martialed for a crime she didn’t commit. After being railroaded through Fleet justice, she is committed to a prison planet from which there is no escape. Except…after Chaz kills a guard in self-defense, a man she thought dead steps out of the shadows to take her out of prison, and into the rebellion against the Empire. Gabriel’s Ghost is the introduction to Dock Five, followed by Games of Command, Shades of Dark, Hope’s Folly and Rebels and Lovers. The Dock Five universe is a complex one, a world of political machinations, power, money, and evil on a galaxy wide scale. At the same time, love, honor and courage still motivate and compel humans to rise above themselves, to save their homes and their loved ones. Love still conquers all, even if it occasionally needs some help from engineering.
One of the longest running and most honored science fiction series had its origins as a science fiction romance. In 1986, Lois McMaster Bujold published the novel Shards of Honor. This is the first book in her multi-multi award winning Vorkosigan series, and it is absolutely science fiction romance. Cordelia Naismith, captain of a Beta Colony survey ship, meets Captain Lord Aral Vorkosigan when they are marooned together after a raid on a newly discovered planet. When they are “rescued” his crew mutinies and she assists him in defeating the mutineers. He proposes marriage. She is captured by Aral’s enemies, tortured, and then rescued again. Eventually, she is returned to her home, Beta Colony. There’s this one little problem. Aral Vorkosigan is known as the “Butcher of Komarr”, and her people believe that he tortured her, not his enemies. They think she’s been brainwashed. She finally runs away to his home planet Barrayar, to elope with Vorkosigan. If that’s not science fiction romance, then what is?
The Vorkosigan series is ongoing. The most recent book, Cryoburn, was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2011.
Last year, the Galaxy Express posted a list of the 100 best science fiction romances. I’ve read over a third of the list and I’m working my way through the rest. Linnea Sinclair and Lois McMaster Bujold are definitely there. But some are a surprise. I would never have thought of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War as SFR. I loved the book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who reads SF. But it’s more like one of Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles written for adults and updated 50 years. On the other hand, there is a love story involved, but it is understated and very low-key, especially in the first book. Read it and see.
Howsomever, if you really want to get hooked on something, find your way into the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It’s an addiction. Either start with Local Custom or Agent of Change. Liaden is set in a future some unspecified number of centuries, or more likely millennia from now, after a space diaspora from some original planet, that may or may not be Terra, and a Terra which may or may not be Earth. Liaden is a universe of mercantile empires more than space armadas, but wars can be fought with weapons other than guns. So, Liaden is mercantile space opera. It is also about family, and family obligations, and duty and honor. And yes, each book does have a central love story. But mostly, they’re just plain good. The end of Crystal Dragon, I knew what was coming, and it still gave me the sniffles. What happened at the end was necessary, but it hurt.
But it was a good kind of hurt. The kind that makes you want to dive back in and read some more.