Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance

I posted the following to the B&N Bookclub Boards the other night and thought it should also appear here on my blog.

Character-driven Science Fiction uses science to explore human relationships all the time. The distinctions between Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance are just about where the emphasis of that exploration is placed.

A couple examples to illustrate my point:

In Richard Morgan’s Hard SF ALTERED CARBON, your brain can be “downloaded” into hardware and who you are can be put into another body. This happens to the protagonist, and it’s a sticky situation when he realizes his partner was actually in love the guy who’s body he’s been using. Is she falling for the main character, or is her attraction just because he’s using her lover’s body?

Susan Grant’s HOW TO LOSE AN EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL IN 10 DAYS is about an interstellar assassin, sort of like a Universal Soldier, built to be a killing machine by stripping out his humanity. What happens when the tech is removed? Will the humanity return? Can he deal with what it means to be human, which of course includes primal needs like love?

In Chris Moriarty’s SPIN STATE, the main character is a genetic construct, meaning she was grown in a vat, a type of clone. She’s faked her identity because otherwise she would have no rights. She falls in love with an artificial intelligence who routinely borrows the bodies of volunteers in order to be mobile. Can an AI be truly sentient and love another? The book also explores sexual preference issues. It has a seven-page list of citations on quantum entanglement—it doesn’t get much harder SF than that.

In Linnea Sinclair’s GAMES OF COMMAND, one of the characters is a cyborg who started having actual feelings and rerouted his programming to continue experiencing them. If anyone finds out he could be shut down. Can he experience real human feelings and continue to live as a cyborg? Is he human enough to have a real relationship with another human being?

All of these books explore what happens to our relationships when we start putting technology into the human body. In Morgan’s and Moriarty’s books the exploration of these relationships are definitely there, but they don’t take center stage. You could strip the relationship part out of them and you’d still have a story, a one-dimensional story, but a story nonetheless. In Grant’s and Sinclair’s books, the science is the relationship and the relationship is the story. You can’t have one without the other. I loved all four of these books, but I do enjoy more the emotional satisfaction at the end of an SFR novel.