When Genre Worlds Collide | Collection Development: SF Romance

Science fiction romance is about finding the perfect blend of flavors from two often disparate genres. To use a different analogy, think of romance as a universal donor: it can be set in any time period—past, present, or future—as long as the romance is at the center of the story and it resolves to the expected romantic conclusion, either an HEA (happy ever after) or an HFN (happy for now).

Sf could be defined is a universal recipient: it can be the setting for any kind of story; for instance, lots of sf works involve mysteries in science fiction settings (e.g., John Scalzi’s upcoming Head On (Tor, Apr. 2018). An sf romance (sometimes labeled “futuristic” romance) needs to feature both genres in equal measure, not merely the central romance but also the worldbuilding required to make its sf setting internally consistent and believable, no matter how far into the future it might be flung.

As sf romance exists in the blend of the two, it is a subgenre that is difficult to categorize and almost impossible to shelve. While there are some traditionally published titles in the conglomerate, this futuristic genre truly thrives in the digital and indie arenas. Owing to the science fictional worldbuilding required for solid sf romance, this is also a genre that lends itself to series, allowing authors to deepen the worldbuilding with each successive installment.

SUBGENRE SIBLINGS

Paranormal romance has many similarities to sf romance, and ­Nalini Singh is among the top authors in that world. Her “Psy-Changeling” series (Berkley) takes place on a near-future Earth inhabited by three distinct groups: the Psy, who rely on their well-­developed psychic abilities, the Changelings (animal-­shifters), and the “original recipe humans,” who are caught in the middle.

Just as sf embraces many subgenres, from space opera and military sf to postapocalyptic tales and science experiments gone wrong, so does sf romance. Perhaps the most difficult task for any librarian is convincing readers of each genre that these worlds can coexist in harmony and satisfaction. Offer up the titles below as a jumping-off point for the uninitiated. Many titles are also available as audiobooks. Starred (redstar) works are essential for most collections.

Marlene Harris is Solo Librarian, TAPPI (Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry) Resources Library, Peachtree Corners, GA, and is a library consultant in the Atlanta metro area. She is the founder of the book review blog Reading Reality and has reviewed for LJ since 2011, contributing LJ’s Best of the Year E-Originals online feature since its inception

Romance of the Future

redstarAnastasi, Jess. Atrophy. (Atrophy, Bk. 1). 2015. 329p. ISBN 9781682814321. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781633754447.

Anastasi, Jess. Quantum. (Atrophy, Bk. 2). 2016. 325p. ISBN 9781682812754. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781633756908.

redstarAnastasi, Jess. Diffraction. (Atrophy, Bk. 3). 2017. 451p. ISBN 9781682813997. pap. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9781633758032.

Anastasi, Jess. Escape Velocity. (Valiant Knox, Bk. 1). 2015. 242p. ISBN 9781507863503. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781633751453.

redstarAnastasi, Jess. War Games. (Valiant Knox, Bk. 4). 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781981174928. pap. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9781640633506.

ea. vol: Select Otherworld: Entangled.

“Valiant Knox” is set in a city in space that’s a cross between Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica, while the officers and crew fight against enemies both within and without. The “Atrophy” series hearkens back to the TV show Firefly (2002–03), complete with a scarred Mal ­Reynolds–like captain and aliens that seem all too similar to the Reavers. It will appeal to sf romance fans who come to the genre from TV and the fanfiction that it spawns—and they are legion.

Asaro, Catherine. Primary Inversion. (Saga of the Skolian Empire, Bk. 1). 1995. 386p. ISBN 9780812550238. pap. $10.99; ebk. available.

Asaro, Catherine. Carnelians. (Saga of the Skolian Empire, Bk. 15). 2011. 384p. ISBN 9781451638493. pap. $7.99; ebk. available.

ea. vol: Baen.

This long-running series is one of the best in which space opera meets romance. The empire is in a war that can only lead to mutual destruction, unless the two sides can make peace. This series features several “Romeo and Juliet”–type romances but with happier endings, as well as a fully developed science fictional universe that only acquires more depth with each title.

Bristol, Cara. Stranded with the Cyborg. (Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance, Bk. 1). 2015. 201p. ebk. ISBN 9780996145237. $2.99.

Bristol, Cara. Hunted by the Cyborg. (Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance, Bk. 6). 2018. 321p. ebk. ISBN 9780996839099. $4.99.

ea. vol: Cara Bristol.

Cyborg love stories have a dedicated following among sf romance readers. Bristol’s man-machine combines the ultimate alpha hero and the quintessential wounded warrior with appeal to readers of military romance, too.

redstarBujold, Lois McMaster. Shards of Honor. (Vorkosigan Saga, Bk. 2). 1989. 313p. ISBN 9780671720872. pap. $13; ebk. available.

redstarBujold, Lois McMaster. Barrayar. (Vorkosigan Saga, Bk. 3). 1991. 400p. ISBN 9780671720834. pap. $14; ebk. available.

redstarBujold, Lois McMaster. A Civil Campaign. (Vorkosigan Saga, 13). 1999. 544p. ISBN 9780671720834. pap. $14; ebk. available.

ea. vol: Baen.

The “Vorkosigan Saga” is a classic work of space opera military sf that contains several books that are also marvelous sf romance. Shards and Barrayar could also be classified as military romance, while A Civil Campaign is a Regency romance set in this far-flung, intergalactic empire.

Castle, Jayne. After Dark. (Harmony: Ghost Hunters, Bk. 1). 2000. 352p. ISBN 9780515129021. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101146989.

redstarCastle, Jayne. Illusion Town. (Harmony: Ghost Hunters, Bk. 13). 2016. 340p. ISBN 9780515155754. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698187429. (LJ 8/16)

ea. vol: Berkley Jove.

Centuries ago, the psychic descendants of the Arcane Society (written by Castle under her Amanda Quick pseudonym) left Earth to start a colony where their talents would be valued instead of hidden and hunted. Their new planet contains fascinating alien ruins that enhance their powers and presents new species of predators, prey, and even pets.

Cooper, M.D. Outsystem. (Aeon 14). 2012. 350p. ISBN 9781477651520. pap. $11.99; ebk. available.

Cooper, M.D. New Canaan. (Aeon 14). 2017. 447p. ISBN 9781545005781. pap. $15.99; ebk. available.

ea. vol: M.D. Cooper.

The “Aeon 14” series, also known as “Intrepid War” or “Orion,” is a military sf–type space opera featuring a heroine on the run who has been disowned by her own military but finds herself in the thick of the fight. It’s a fight to the finish for a kick-ass heroine who goes from convicted prisoner to terrorist to colonist in a galaxy-spanning journey.

redstarDiener, Michelle. Dark Horse. (Class 5, Bk. 1). 2015. 380p. ISBN 9780992455934. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780992455927.

Diener, Michelle. Dark Minds. (Class 5, Bk. 3). 2016. 286p. ISBN 9780992455965. pap. $14.99; ebk. available.

ea. vol: Eclipse.

This SFR Galaxy and Prism Award–­winning series chronicles women who have been kidnapped from Earth for their special powers and find allies—and lovers—among the aliens who rescue them. It’s part of an insurrection against an evil empire, where no one knows who their friends are and who is hiding an ­enemy.

redstarFisher, Sharon Lynn. Echo 8. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780765376374. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429960755.

redstarFisher, Sharon Lynn. Ghost Planet. 2012. 342p. pap. ISBN 9780765368973. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851207.

ea. vol: Tor.

Echo 8 is from the scientifically grounded, laboratory-based near-future side of the genre. A Seattle parapsychologist finds herself teamed with an FBI agent to investigate alien doppelgangers who are mysteriously appearing in the city and seem to be draining the life energy from the local population. A government study gone seriously wrong adds to the danger.

Everyone who dies en route to a newly discovered world becomes a ghost and is tethered to a living colonist who is not supposed to acknowledge their existence. Told from the perspective of one of those ghosts, this is a story about forbidden love—and the quest for control of an entire planet.

redstarHackett, Anna. At Star’s End. Carina: Harlequin. (Phoenix Adventures, Bk. 1). 2014. 137p. ebk. ISBN 9781306409957. $2.99. (Xpress Reviews 3/28/14)

redstarHackett, Anna. Return to Dark Earth. Anna Hackett. (Phoenix Adventures, Bk. 5). 2015. 220p. ebk. ISBN 9780994358431. $3.99.

redstarHackett, Anna. Crashed on an Ice World. Anna Hackett. (Phoenix Adventures, Bk. 9). 2017. 171p. ebk. ISBN 9781925539400. $2.99.

The Phoenix clan are intergalactic treasure hunters among the Terran diaspora centuries after Earth became a nuclear wasteland. The branches of this family help astroarchaeologists search for lost Terran treasure, lead settlers to new ­planets, and find love among the stars. They also revisit Earth and discover that it’s not quite as wasted as was originally thought.

redstarJackson, Vivien. Wanted and Wired. (Tether, Bk. 1). 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781492648161. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492648185.

redstarJackson, Vivien. Perfect Gravity. (Tether, Bk. 2). 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781492648192. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492648215.

ea. vol: Sourcebooks Casablanca.

Set in the near-future after an ecological disaster, this series adds both a political dimension and a bit of cyberpunk to its romances. In this Earth-awry setting, the protagonists fight with words instead of guns but are still doing their best to keep the world together, as well as fall in love and save the crumbling legacy of humanity. And Texas is independent—again!

Jones, Pauline Baird. The Key. (Project Enterprise, Bk. 1). 2007. 456p. ISBN 9781494965334. pap. $18.99; ebk. available.

redstarJones, Pauline Baird. Found Girl. (Project Enterprise, Bk. 6). 2017. 358p. ebk. ISBN NA. $4.99.

ea. vol: Pauline Baird Jones.

Part of the military sf/space opera subgenre, the “Project Enterprise” series follows air force pilots who are recruited to fly where no human has gone before—and discover hot aliens and a plucky resistance group fighting against the inevitable evil empire.

Koch, Gini. Touched by an Alien. (Katherine “Kitty” Katt, Bk. 1). 2010. 400p. ISBN 9780756406004. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101186329.

Koch, Gini. Aliens Abroad. (Katherine “Kitty” Katt, Bk. 16). 2018. 656p. ISBN 9780756412838. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780756412845.

ea. vol: DAW: NAL.

Aliens come to Earth in this humorous mashup of sf, urban fantasy, and Men in Black. “Kitty” Katt goes from being a mundane marketing manager to the president, alongside her alien husband, Jeff Martini, as they try to protect Earth and reach out to other planets that might provide advanced tech—or super­powered invaders. The couple marry in Book 3, Alien in the Family, but similar to J.D. Robb’s never-ending Eve Dallas titles, this series remains romantic all the way.

redstarLee, Sharon & Steve Miller. Local Custom. (Liaden Universe, Bk. 5). 2002. 320p. ebk. ISBN 9781625794260. $6.99.

Lee, Sharon & Steve Miller. Neogenesis. (Liaden Universe, Bk. 21). 2018. 448p. ISBN 9781481482783. pap. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9781625796226.

ea. vol: Baen.

For those who prefer their space opera more on the mercantile than the military side, the “Liaden” series also begins with a romance in its first two entries, Local Custom and Scout’s Progress, as a master trader from an intergalactic trading clan falls for a Terran woman whom he is not supposed to meet, let alone love. Many of the installments feature a romance in addition to the commercial skullduggery of a far-flung trading and political empire.

redstarLionsdrake, Ruby. Mercenary Instinct. (Mandrake Company, Bk. 1). 2014. 248p. ISBN 9781517451226. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781310599910.

Lionsdrake, Ruby. The Tracker’s Dilemma. (Mandrake Company, Bk. 7). 2016. 219p. ebk. ISBN NA. $3.99.

ea. vol: Ruby Lionsdrake/Lindsay Buroker.

Lionsdrake, who writes fantasy romance as Lindsay Buroker, has created a space-faring mercenary company who aid astro­archaeologists, hunt criminals in their spare time, and find galaxy-spanning romance. Readers who fall for this series will also love Anna Hackett’s “Phoenix Adventures.”

Owens, Robin D. Heart Mate. (Celta’s Heartmates, Bk. 1). 2001. 352p. ISBN 9780425212400. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781440624278.

redstarOwens, Robin D. Heart Sight. (Celta’s Heartmates, Bk. 15). 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780451488176. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780451488183. (LJ 12/17)

ea. vol: Berkley Jove.

Celta is a lost Earth colony filled with psychically abled refugees from a planet that derided their talent. The Earth descendants have created a new society that sees the usefulness of their powers. The series and the world build over time, and characters that begin in a secondary role move onto the main stage and vice versa. The romances are particularly well developed and explore many standard romantic tropes in this believably habitable setting.

redstarScott, Veronica. Wreck of the Nebula Dream. (Sectors SF). 2012. 186p. ISBN 9781477472675. pap. $10.99; ebk. available.

Scott, Veronica. The Fated Stars. (Sectors SF). 2017. 151p. ebk. ISBN NA. $2.99.

ea. vol: Veronica Scott.

The “Sectors SF” series combines space opera, military sf, and romance on a line of space-going cruise ships owned and operated by military veterans, many of whom are dealing with the same types of postservice medical and psychological issues as veterans on Earth.

redstarSinclair, Linnea. Games of Command. Bantam. 2007. 560p. ISBN 9780553589634. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780553903454.

No selection of sf romance is complete without a reference to Sinclair, who often tops the list of authors who first made readers fall for this subgenre. Games of Command is her most popular work and combines a terrific space opera setting with a cyborg romance. It also dips into the sentient and psychic pet subgenre, with its introduction of the furzels: big, fluffy, telepathic cats.

redstarVan Natta, Carol. Overload Flux. (Central Galactic Concordance, Bk. 1). 2014. 186p. ISBN 9780983174141. pap. $11.99; ebk. available.

redstarVan Natta, Carol. Jumper’s Hope. (Central Galactic Concordance, Bk. 4). 2016. 253p. ISBN 9780983174189. pap. $11.99; ebk. ISBN 9780983174172.

ea. vol: Chavanch.

This series combines space opera with lab experiments gone awry as the concordance loses its stability after a pandemic and its victims’ psychic genius goes berserk, creating chaos among the panicking population.

On the Web

All About Romance

All About Romance is a site for romance of all types and stripes. It includes a comprehensive list of sf romance, including reviews.

SFR Galaxy Awards

A panel of sf romance reader-judges present awards to their favorite subject-specific books (and other media) of the year in categories ranging from Best Hacker Heroine to Best Cat Hero, as well as slightly more traditional kudos such as Best ­Original Story and Best Epic Story. n

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