Science fiction romance and the empire trope
When I was asked if I’d write a short piece on the Empire trope in Science Fiction Romance (SFR) I jumped at the opportunity. I’m a major fan of this trope in all its forms.
First, a bit on SFR. A friend recently asked me what the difference between Sci-Fi and Sci-Fi Rom was. Not to be rude, but duh. Ok, I had to step back a bit because unless you’re a writer, maybe it’s not a bad question.
Here’s the thing: a romance is going to end with, at minimum, an HFN (Happy For Now) and usually, an HEA (Happy Ever After). Pure sci-fi is usually heavy on the science and fiction. Romantic elements are generally just that—elements.
This is the real world, however, and every possible mix in between exists. Unlike sci-fi, an SFR always features a central romance and has an upbeat ending.
For the sake of this article I’m going to use “Federation” and other similarly constructed forms of government to fall under the empire trope because they all provide the same thing: framework and a set of built-in assumptions. I love the trope for this very reason. Is your empire on one world or does it encompass an entire galaxy? I prefer galaxy-wide for all of the technology that it inherently implies.
For example, you can’t have a galaxy-wide empire without the ability to travel from one end to the other. The implied technology is a playground in which I can pick and choose where to shine my spotlight. Faster-Than-Light travel, for one. How do you get it done? Interstellar portals? Hyper drives? This speeds things up. Decisions made can have impact within weeks or days. Are you ambling around the galaxy using solar sails? Things are going to move a lot slower. Either way, pick your spaceship and travel the galaxy.
You simply can’t say Empire and Science Fiction Romance in the same sentence without mentioning possibly the most famous example of our times. Can you say Star Wars? I was not quite a teen when the first movie came out and it changed my life. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on Lost in Space and Star Trek, but nothing had the sheer magnitude of George’s Star Wars.
Building a story in an empire or collection of confederations (hello Firefly, oh how I miss you) gives you parameters to work with, eliminating the need to start from scratch. The detail into which the author delves is entirely her choice. Is the empire integral to the story or simply part of the background?
A good example of an SFR with an empire and hard sci-fi elements is G.S. Jennsen’s Aurora Rising books. These are substantially heavier on the technology aspect than most SFRs. The romance was key but the main characters didn’t get jiggy until 70% through the first book. I was so wrapped up in the competing and fighting factions that the light romance early on didn’t bother me (much). When it came, it came hard and fast, just the way I like it.
In Jennsen’s books, the two confederations are key, as is their animosity toward each other. Not to mention the alien race that complicates matters further. The book would fall apart without the competing confederations it was built upon.
It seems unlikely that given interstellar travel, you wouldn’t, at the very least, be dealing with a group of loose confederations and, at most, an empire where the biggest and baddest simply takes what it wants. In Independence Day, aliens were coming for us because they could. ’Nuff said.
Personally I think having an evil empire or corrupt government is far more interesting than the alternative. Fiction is all about tension. Setting a story in a peaceful, harmonious framework just sounds boring. When building a romance, empire-based settings also give more opportunity for conflict, especially if our main characters are from different sides of the fence.
Here are some of my favorite SFRs with heavy Empire themes:
- G.S. Jennsen’s Aurora Rising series. Jennsen does a nice job of playing with the idea that an “evil empire” may simply depend upon which side you’re on.
- Pippa Jay’s Tethered. This story was interesting in that it raises questions about preconceived notions, social mores, and how those can differ across societies and even species. Love, sex and death were among the top contenders.
- Terminator. Not only an evil empire, but one consisting entirely of machines that were made by man. And the romance spans not only space, but time as well.
- The Fifth Element. The empire trope is more implied here, but I had to add it because I flipping love this movie.
My own Alien Attachments is set in the crumbling Sandarian Empire. With the world as they know it falling apart, the main characters struggle with a bond that is equally undeniable and forbidden.
If you’re looking for more, I just discovered the second set of “Stars & Empire: 10 Galactic Tales” is now out on Kindle. Hope you enjoy it!