Is it a Bird or is it a Fish?
So, over at Amazing Stories, there’s a piece titled When Science Fiction is not Science Fiction. It’s a personal view of some examples of books and series generally viewed as science fiction that could easily be considered as something else. It’s got a number of the Baen folks kind of hot and bothered because two of the examples (The Miller and Lee Liaden series, and the Bujold Vorkosigan series) are a) Baen books with a large and arguably devout following; and b) arguably romance. The other main example the author uses is the Wolfe Shadow of the Torturer series, which he regards as fantasy rather than way to buggery far future science fiction.
My view on the fuss and bother is basically “What the farouk?” I mean, really? How long is it since anyone has seen anything that’s pure any genre? Let’s face it, genre serves two main purposes: it’s a way for the marketing people to shelve similar stuff together (the primary purpose), and a way for people to identify members of their bookivore tribe – and this one happened more as an outgrowth of the marketing side. Without it people who liked romance would have found other ways to find other romance buffs, and western lovers would have connected with other western lovers by other means, and so on.
So, when Mister or Miss or Mrs or Miz Marketing Nerd looks at a book to decide where to shelve it, they look at two things. What’s it like, and will it turn people away. There are people who only ever read historical romances. They’d avoid SF romance so hard they’d leave a dust cloud in their wake. But the marketing nerds and nerdlets all know that if it looks remotely SFnal, the SF geeks will swallow it. They might bitch about it if it’s particularly bad SF with the romance or the whatever, but they’ll still read it. Or at least buy it then send it air mail out the nearest window. (How do I know this? I have read some really, really awful SF romance, usually marketed as “paranormal romance” but the only thing paranormal about it was the inverse ability of the author in question).
So when a book, or a series has really strong romance elements and a classic romance plot, along with a good SFnal setting and the usual SF geekery, is it romance? Or is it SF? Does it actually matter? (For my money, the answer is ‘no’. Amazon and other decent online stores have this thing called “tags” where you give it everything that’s relevant and don’t just try to pound the square peg into the round hole. As the actress said to the bishop… but that’s another story). It’s a lot easier to do that than to have the book sit in state alone on the shelf as the sole example of Science Fiction Fantasy Romance with Intelligent Goats. (What? What do you have against intelligent goats? They’re even friendly if you’re careful and bribe them with the right… oh, never mind.) Or Science Fiction Fantasy Western Thriller Romance. Or whatever.
Ultimately what matters is a book that’s good enough to keep enough people reading, with interesting and engaging enough characters that those readers will care what happens next. Who gives a flying farouk what the marketing geeks or the “I want my science fiction HARD, dammit!” geeks or anyone else wants to classify it? Arguably anything with a strong enough romance element is a romance. If you set it in the future and put exploding spaceships on the cover, not only do you make promises about the quality of the romance (did the spaceship explode for you, dear?), you tell the folks that haven’t got past the “Ew. Romance cooties” stage that there’s something in this book they can enjoy.