The intersection of love and technology, part I
Science fiction romance has a unique place and function among romance genres since so many of the tales occur in the future. A core component of the genre is the concept that the future will be a different place from the present—not just aesthetically, but also at all levels of society.
In particular, we expect that a story’s featured technology would have developed in conjunction with other societal changes. One kind of change inevitably affects another, creating a ripple effect. Think of how much societies across Earth changed when cars generally replaced horse-drawn wagons. We didn’t—couldn’t—just switch out cars for horses and leave everything else the same!
Technology especially has a wide-ranging impact. It affects everything from manufacturing to communication. Romance is no exception.
SFR’s very nature is rooted in created worlds that ideally reflect at least a few key changes at the societal and cultural levels. Readers expect the stories to take into account the role technology plays in those changes. Therefore, if the setting isn’t far enough removed from contemporary times, readers are in the position of having to question why they’re reading an SFR in the first place.
Additionally, “futuristic” or “in the future” generally implies many things will not only change, but also change for the better. (As a twenty-first century Earthling, I sure thank my lucky stars I can wear shorts and a t-shirt on a humid summer day.) Dystopian settings might be the exception to a progressive future, but even in those stories, usually everyone’s rights are repressed, not just women’s and children’s.
When so many hundreds of cultural changes have occurred in real life right here on planet Earth because of, for example, increased gender equality, why would an SFR story play out as if to minimize the importance of such changes, or act as if there were a point past which societies couldn’t progress?
For example, if I’m reading about a lesbian starship captain, I’m going to examine the text for signs that she enjoys the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Therefore, her HEA can involve marriage if she and her partner so desire. In other words, I’m going to expect that technological advances are correlated with significant cultural changes of one kind or another.
Think about this scenario: If a contemporary heroine time traveled to the far future, how would her beliefs about issues like female sexuality and gender equality be different from that of her futuristic counterparts? If an SFR claims there wouldn’t be any significant differences, the prose needs to provide a compelling reason why.
If an SFR doesn’t take into account the possibility of technology-influenced societal and cultural change in some way, then readers may have difficulty suspending disbelief. It’s a complex creative issue, and some stories seem to struggle with how to depict said changes, especially those related to female sexuality and gender roles. For example, a far future hero may say he prefers sexually experienced partners, but the story communicates a different value when it pairs him with a virgin heroine.
Some SFR stories function to project an author’s worldview, either consciously or unconsciously. Or the stories are processing contemporary issues such as gender role imbalances. A few authors may be purposefully writing allegorical stories—all valid.
Yet unexamined assumptions and biases can limit stories. This creates lost opportunities and results in fractured worldbuilding that provides little insight into the intersection of love and technology. An SFR with a contemporary mentality can undermine an author’s worldbuilding efforts.
An SFR’s subtext is important. It can either clash or align with the worldbuilding. Does a story predict certain technology-related cultural changes, or is it simply regurgitating contemporary beliefs and practices? Does it prompt readers to question their assumptions about issues like gender, race, and sexuality?
In the next issue of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, we’ll examine some areas SFR has the potential to explore in greater frequency when advanced technology is taken fully into account. See you then!