How much science do you want in your science fiction romance? #ScifiRom


In a science fiction romance group on Facebook someone posted a complaint that most science fiction romance is fantasy, not science, which I took to mean that the “science” violated laws of physics. She gave the example of space travelers taking 10 years to get someplace, but being able to engage in instantaneous conversation. Not possible.

I consider myself more of a science fiction writer than a fantasy writer. To me, Sci-fi means futuristic. Fantasy means magical. Space travel to other planets, sci-fi. Aliens, sci-fi. Cyborgs, sci-fi. Unicorns, fantasy. Wizards, fantasy. Magic stones, fantasy.

The Facebook poster based her definition on the accuracy of the science.

I’ve taken biology, chemistry and astronomy classes in college, and I used to cover the “medical beat” for a daily newspaper, so I probably have more of a science background than the average person, but I fall way short compared to someone with an actual science degree. I know little about physics.

I research and fact-check what I know I don’t know. So in writing the Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance series I’ve read up on gravity, freefall, space shuttles, robot technology, stars, explosions in space, how a star “dies,” how long an unprotected body can survive in space. Many times I’ve nixed a plot point idea after discovering that in real life it didn’t work the way I envisioned –or the way I wanted it to.

But I admit I take creative license as do most other sci-fi writers. For instance, none of my space traveler characters have had to deal with weightlessness on spaceships or space stations. Nobody is floating around or bouncing off the walls. I operate under the assumption “science” has found a solution (i.e. a gravity simulator) in the future. As does nearly every other SF writer I’ve read.

Which leads to the collective creative license.  Why are most alien main characters bipedal? Why do most of them look more or less human? Do you really think they would all have a verbal language? Or that a simple “translator” would enable them to speak/understand our languages they JUST encountered? Or that there would be a “standard” language that everyone understands? Why does no one on a long space flight suffer the muscle loss that our astronauts do?

If I tried to be dead-on accurate about all the science, the story would suffer, at least the types of stories I could write.  We have yet to discover any life on any planet. How could I send my characters to a planet that science “knows” doesn’t exist?

The fact is, science changes anyway. Old theories are invalidated; new theories are postulated. Who’s to say that is scientifically impossible today may not be possible in 300 or 400 years? We keep searching for signs of water to indicate a planet supports or had supported life. Maybe it’s my ignorance speaking, but why do we assume life needs water? We need water, but maybe some alien insect doesn’t.

I find science fascinating—but only to the point where it exceeds my capacity to understand. Then my eyes start to glaze over, and I lose interest As a reader, I want to read an engaging story about characters I care about, not a science textbook.

We all know hunky 7-foot aliens looking for brides don’t exist, but we enjoy imaginative stories about them anyway. Once upon a time, traveling to the moon was pure fiction, but it’s not now. Maybe you can’t travel to the far side of the universe and send a message lickety split to earth. Does it matter?

I guess it does if you’re stickler for absolute accuracy.

How much hard science do you want in science fiction romance?

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12 Responses to How much science do you want in your science fiction romance? #ScifiRom

  1. The amount of science I expect in a book varies depending on the genre and the author. I can suspend disbelief a great deal. But, if I am reading a romance, (even if sci-fi romance) I expect the romance to be the primary focus of the story, not an explanation of the science behind the space travel. Like you, I don’t want to read a science textbook when it’s supposed to be fiction. Though, I think everyone has their own tastes and preferences. That’s okay. Everyone has to find authors and books that work for them.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You mention a good point: there is such a breadth in science fiction/science fiction romance. One subgenre or author’s style may not be the right fit; but another might be the perfect read.

  2. Anne Casey says:

    If I’m reading science FICTION, I don’t expect the science part to overshadow the fiction. I’ve always thought of it as a what-if, maybe-we-can, wouldn’t-this-be-cool genre. So, while it is good to sound plausible, it isn’t necessary to be scientifically accurate to what we know to be true in the present. Just my opinion.

  3. I agree. What’s the fun of writing a textbook when fiction allows you to boldly go a lot of new places and have a lot more fun?

  4. ML says:

    I think you need enough of the science to ground the story. I’ve read some that so flaunt scientific rules that they take me straight out of the stories. It’s another aspect of the world building that has to be respected.

    A good example to me is Michelle Diener’s Dark Horse series.

  5. I try to make my future world of the Sectors recognizable to us, and I assume certain things will exist, or problems will have been solved, and I never have my characters explain the science of anything. We don’t explain how elevators or microwaves work when we use them, after all. I’m more interested in telling a good story about my strong heroine and my equally strong hero. The universe is the backdrop and I try to make it plausible, as Anne said above. As I told someone recently, I kind of write “Ripley and Hicks from the movie Aliens only with more romance and a Happily Ever After” ending. That’s what I love to read so…very true that each reader will find a variety of authors that tell the stories the reader wants to immerse themselves in. (And I totally agree about Michelle Diener’s Class 5 series – SO good. As are your cyborgs, Cara.)

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I love your Sectors series, and one of the things I like most is the “realness” of your world. It is so natural. And the other thing I like are your heroes. They are all good, heroic, decent men. I like that a lot.

  6. Diane Burton says:

    Some readers (not to be too sexist but mostly men) enjoy reading detailed descriptions of how things work, so heavy on the science. I don’t need to know how my car works. I just expect it to run when I turned on the ignition. Same with a spaceship, hovercar, artificial gravity, teletransportation, and replicators. I don’t need to know how they work. I don’t want to read how they work, either. They just do. It’s all background. It’s essential that the world building be consistent. Great post & discussion.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You’re probably right about that–male v. female, although the person who raised the discussion on the Facebook is female. Conversely, men don’t care about certain details: they don’t care if it’s chartreuse or forest or lime, just tell them green.

      I also think it’s one of the differences between science fiction and science fiction romance, and men are more apt to read SF than SFR.

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