Friday, 4 October 2013

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Romance in Science Fiction

Sept 17, 2013 Garneau Pub Patio, Edmonton Alberta
Part Ten – Romance and Science Fiction – A Hybrid Genre
Question:  You are currently writing primarily in the hybrid genre loosely known as Science Fiction Romance.  That’s a genre that combines the adventure and speculative nature of SF with the relationship focus of romance.  Would you agree with that definition?
Answer:    It’s seems alright.  The blend can vary a lot - sometimes it’s mostly romance with a little SF thrown in to carry the plot , sometimes it’s mostly SF with a little romance thrown in to round out the characters.  Sometimes there’s a significant helping of erotica thrown in.
Question:  Where would you place yourself on this spectrum?
Answer:  Somewhere in the middle, I suppose.  I like that SF allows me to speculate on substantial themes and subjects, but that the romance element keeps my characters grounded in very human realities.  I prefer to keep the romance content more on the emotional than physical level, but a little bit of bawdy humor can be fun too.
Question:  The SF/Romance genre is kind of a new development, that seems to be a lot more prevalent since the e-book and independent publishing transitions.  Do you agree, and if so, why do you think that is?
Answer:  I think that probably is true.  I think that it may be due to the fact that women are reading more SF, and they have always been more interested in the romantic side of human interactions, whether in a SF environment or not.  Not to say that they don’t like adventure too.  That’s one of the reasons that they read Science Fiction.
 Question:  You have been reading SF yourself for some time.  Would you say that the romance side of the genre has always been nascent, but is now manifesting much more due to the lessening of the gatekeeper function in publishing, which may have emphasized typically male tropes, stereotypes and interests in the past?
Answer:  It’s hard for me to say, as I was a voracious reader in pre-ebook days, but now my time is more focused on writing than reading, so I may not be a great judge of changing trends.  Having said that, I am inclined to think there may be something to the idea.  I recall reading writers like Andre Norton, who more or less ignored romance, even when I, as a reader, thought it  was imminent in the story.  But she seemed unwilling to deal with it or to develop the idea fully.  There were times in reading her books where I thought they ended before they should have, because she never confirmed the likely romantic feelings of the characters.  But you also had writers like Ann McCaffery, who had a lot of romantic interaction in her stories.
Question:  Ann McCafferey had a lot of romance or she hinted at it?
Answer:  No, she had flat out romance and love, though not erotica.
Question:  Going back to Andre Norton, she’s an interesting example.  When I was younger and first read her, I just assumed that the book was written by a male writer.  Do you think she may have shied away from developing the romantic potential of her characters because she didn’t want to let on that she was a female writer, and male writers just didn’t go there, according to the thinking of the gatekeepers of that era?
Answer:  I don’t know that she was hiding her gender or anything, but I don’t doubt that the publishers were happy with ambiguity, since they thought of the SF readership as primarily male.
Question:  Moving on to some other well known SF characters, we have the Mulder/Scully or Doctor Who/Female Companion relationships.  In those cases, the romantic possibilities are always in the air, the viewer or reader is teased, if you like.  Do you think that the writers were unwilling to consummate the relationships because it would take away that frisson of sexual tension that was there?
Answer:  Maybe.  With a continuing series, you have to keep the tension going, and you are constrained by the difficulties of keeping a relationship going, keeping it fresh and interesting to people who are outside of the relationship itself.
Question:  Plus, it means that the main characters can’t flirt and canoodle with anyone else, unless they are cheats, and that detracts from their likability.
Answer:  Yes, I have had to deal with this issue myself, where I had Kati and Mikal consummate their relationship before the end of the first book.  Then I had the problem of keeping things fresh and interesting between them, from the reader’s point of view.
Question:  So a “happily married couple” just doesn’t cut it.
Answer:  No, I am assuming that a happy couple can cut it, since that’s what Kati and Mikal are.
Question:  How do you handle it, then?
Answer:  One way I do it, is to split them up for at least part of the book.  That way they can each deal with different aspects of the adventure for a while, which allows me to develop two parallel subplots, which eventually mesh together.  That can include a nice romantic reunion.  It also allows them scope for a bit of flirtation with others, while they are separated.
Question:  You say that there are parallel subplots, but if they eventually meet they can’t really be parallel.  Not in a Euclidian story-space anyway.
Answer:  I guess this is some other story-space, where parallel subplots can meet.
Question: And meet with a bang.
Answer: And plenty of sparks.

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