Science Fiction - for Women?

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." Kenneth Olson, President and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation 1977

Be wary of predicting the future. No one can. But it’s fun to try, and that’s why science fiction is a well-loved genre in fiction. But it’s a genre that doesn’t seem to appeal too much to women. Why not?

A well known science fiction blog has been talking recently about why the phrase ‘science fiction’ seems to be such a turnoff for women readers. Some reasons given were: there’s not enough romance in the genre. Or, women still harbor the notion that science isn’t for women. (Say it isn’t so!) But when I think of well known science fiction works – they are virtually all written by men, for men, and do not explore romantic relationships in any depth.

So, a reasonable question raised in the blog is - should there be a new name for science fiction with romance? Are there enough female writers publishing stories with a strong science fiction element and a strong romance at the core?

Since I’ve recently sold a story which I’ve labeled ‘futuristic’, this question is of great interest to me. And, I must admit, I never realized there could be so much controversy over the labeling of genres.

We have several authors on this blog who write paranormal, and that genre seems to be reasonably well established as the home of all things ‘otherwordly’, involving characters and circumstances which aren’t considered factually possible in our world. The fairy I show here, for example, could easily feature in a paranormal or fantasy story, but not in science fiction.

Science fiction, mostly likely because of the word ‘science’ seems to encompass stories where the non-factual elements could realistically happen at some point, though not today. It doesn’t seem possible that men will ever really shapeshift into wolves, but it does seem possible that we will travel in space to presently unknown worlds.

"[Man will never reach the moon] regardless of all future scientific advances." Dr. Lee Forest, father of radio and the Audion tube, Feb 25, 1967

I used the phrase ‘futuristic’ to describe the genre for my story, mostly because it is set in the future. I enjoy using settings other than our own because there is so much room for plot manipulation. In different worlds, you can have different customs, and make them believable. If you’re writing in the future, you can massage some of those pesky laws of physics and other sciences through new inventions. That’s why stories set in the future generally have some element of science fiction to them. It wouldn’t seem to be “the future” if science and technology were exactly the same as it is today.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." Charles Duell, US Commissioner of Patents, 1899

Yet, I never thought of my story as falling within the science fiction genre because the romance is front and center. The ‘science fiction’ part is only as much scientific detail as I needed to support the plot.

There was some animosity on the blog towards romance in general, and alpha males and eroticism in particular. So the concept of ‘science fiction romance’ may be a hard sell. But I wouldn’t rule it out. I think you could find people fifteen years ago who said Anne Rice had covered the vampire world sufficiently well. Thousands of stories later…Never try to predict what people will like.

"[Television] won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox in 1946

So my question to you all is: Do you read science fiction? Do you care if it has a romance or not? Does the mere phrase ‘science fiction’ make you head for the hills?

But I want to end on this quote to inspire any aspiring author:

"We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out." Decca Records rejecting the Beatles in 1962


Nicole North said...

Great post! I've read and enjoyed several science fiction romance or futuristic romance novels. I find science fascinating, but I've never wanted to read regular science fiction. I've never been into the science fiction movies or TV shows like Star Trek, etc. either, but I know a lot of women are. I think what keeps me from enjoying science fiction is the sort of mechanical, computerized, unemotional, sterile feeling it has for me. I love to analyze relationships but not machines. But with the addition of romance to science fiction, I enjoy it. Congrats on your sale!

Ella Drake said...

For me, it breaks down to whether or not a science fiction story is character-driven or not. I don't enjoy SF that isn't about a character's journey & I definitely don't enjoy SF that doesn't have a happy ending. So, I don't usually read SF.

But I love Futuristics, SciFi Romance. Regardless of the setting or the amount of tech or science, the characters grow & I'm guaranteed a happy ending.

Love in space is full of fun!

Natasha Moore said...

I love reading science fiction romance - Linnea Sinclair and Susan Grant are two of my favorites authors. I love writing them for the same reasons you mentioned, the ability to come up with new rules/technologies, etc that work for my story. My EC novel Chains of Desire is probably considered "futuristic" but it takes place on other planets, the characters travel on space ships and use technological advances that have only come from my imagination - so it could be considered science fiction romance too. I hope to write several more stories that take place in that world because now that the "world-building" is done, the rest is the fun part :)

Looking forward to reading yours :)

Carly Carson said...


Thanks. I think you pinpointed something about the mechanical aspect of science fiction. Like Ella said, if it's not about the characters, it's not as enjoyable to me.

Natasha, I just got a book by L. Sinclair yesterday. I read the first chapter, but it was definitely the sterile all about machinery stuff. I'll have to persevere tonight. Everyone loves her.

L. A. Green said...

Wonderful post. :)

I'm a SFR fanatic as both a writer and a reader. My motto has always been: It's about the characters, not just the contraptions.

Though science and technology are important when used in imaginative ways in world building or as a catalyst for conflict and/or romance, SFR stories should be as much about the journey of the heart as the one through hyperspace.

Carly, I'm not sure which Sinclair novel you're reading, but any I'm familiar with are always about the characters' journey. The Dock Five series, especially GABRIEL'S GHOST and SHADES OF DARK are especially intriguing explorations of romance vs. the capacity of the human mind--along with some nifty space battles. GAMES OF COMMAND is still one of my favorite SFRs because of the uniqueness of the male MC and the ending that tested the strength of the bond between the characters.

What I love most about SFR is the sense of adventure. Ella's quote--"Love in space is full of fun"--is a great summary.

I'm always on the lookout for good SFR. Natasha, I'll be sure to look up CHAINS OF DESIRE. My peer, Barbara Elsborg, recently released LUCY IN THE SKY with EC, a light-hearted SFR/Erotica that I really enjoyed.

Carly Carson said...


Actually, the book is Shades of Dark. It opens with the h leaving H in bed, so already I'm disappointed because I like to enjoy the whole journey from first meet. But I guess it's just personal preference.

I like your motto!

Carol Ericson said...

I love Ray Bradbury, especially The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. I also used to love the Twilight Zone TV series. I haven't read a lot of science fiction lately. The YA books The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are sort of science fiction, but really more futuristic/dystopian. I'd definitely go for a science fiction/romance.

Ella Drake said...

Shades of Dark is the second in the series, so I can understand that jumping in could be a problem. I like to start with the first book in a series, too.

Humans. Cats. Boat. said...

Granted, I`m a long-time science fiction lover. In books, in movies, on TV. And it began with animé and manga when I was a young girl. And boy, can these crank up the romance!

I`ll read anything from the Elizabeths (Elizabeth Bear and Elizabeth Moon...great authors, both!). Karen Traviss did/is doing the Gears of War novels, from the video games. Not much romance in any of those books, you`ll say. Sure. But that`s why I have an imagination. I add all the lovey bits myself and am quite happy to do so. Just like I add the actiony bits in a SFR book that I find too calm.

With the erotic romance publishers and e-books, I find there`s more and more SFR out there and I`m loving every minute of it.

Carly Carson said...

Carol, aren't you one who likes to be scared? I watched one episode of Twilight Zone in my life and I still remember every scary moment.

Ella, I'm planning to persevere. People love her books.

Nathalie, that was one of the talking points on the other blog - that, as always, epublishers and erotic publ. are on the cutting edge. Once they prove the SF romance is viable, the others will jump on board.

Carol Ericson said...

Carly, yes, I like to be scared. TZ had so many classic episodes - the mannequins, the doll house, the stopwatch, the plastic surgery, and on and on. And each little episode was packed with meaning. I loved it and I loved Rod Serling and his ever-present cigarette.

Heather Massey said...

Great post, Carly! I like how you juxtaposed those quote within your piece. Very thought-provoking.

I agree that character-driven SF has a lot going for it. The "what if?" question resonates more strongly if authors explore the impact on people and their relationships.

I'd like to recommend that you start with Linnea Sinclair's FINDERS KEEPERS. I found it to be very romantic, and the SF elements accessible.

Many happy sales for your futuristic romance!

Carly Carson said...

Thanks, Heather,

I will certainly give Linnea Sinclair another try. Her many fans are certainly devoted!

Anonymous said...

What a great post.

I've gone round and round about this before but I agree that a true Science Fiction Romance has to have the heart at the core of the book.

Much of Science Fiction has the mind at the core of the book.

Now both heart and mind should be involved, and please don't anyone put up with the "women don't want "mind" nonsense.

I think women enjoy having their thoughts provoked, but they want to connect to the story with their heart.

I had an interesting discussion with my husband about the movie Braveheart. He wanted to watch it, I didn't. He asked me if I liked the movie, and I said yes, but I didn't want to watch it.

He asked why, and I told him it was too much. He didn't get what I was trying to tell him.

I asked him what he saw when he watched the movie. He said he saw a hero standing up for the liberty of his people and good eventually triumphing over oppression.

I told him I saw the mothers of the children hanging in the rafters sobbing on the floor, I felt the pain of a new bride raped on her wedding night by a stranger, a woman dying, a heart broken, and when someone finally stands up to stop the madness, he gets betrayed by a brother, tortured and eviscerated.

My husband was shocked, like he couldn't extrapolate the personal stories behind the bigger picture of the movie. He asked me why I focused on that. I asked him, how could you not?

And there's the difference right there. I feel like Science Fiction written by men for men focus on something women just don't see, while women writing Science Fiction for women focus on things men just don't see.

Can women write Science Fiction for men? Yes, and vice versa, but I think everyone needs to understand the differences in how the sexes interpret a story.

I think women assume they're going to find something they don't connect with in the SF aisles. I hope there's a new awakening of women to stories that are written with the human emotional connection treated in a way they enjoy.